Coretan nan random – Februari 2013

Itulah dia, tahun lepas beria-ia nak tulis blog, habistu tahun ni habuk pon tadak! Haiii, badan, badan.  Apalah nak jadi. Memang banyak kehidupan yang aku perhatikan dan alami di Thailand. Setakat ni, sudah kesemua empat penjuru Thailand aku jengok (“jelajahi” mungkin perkataan yang terlalu gah dalam konteks ni) – Chiang Rai dan Chiang Mai di utara, Ubon Ratchatani di Timur Laut (Isaan bagi org Thai itu sendiri), Kanchanaburi di barat, dan bumi Patani di selatan. Dan sememangnya Bangkok bagi aku sememangnya tidak asing lagi. Sekerap yang boleh aku balik ke KL untuk menziarah orang tua, sepertimana yang aku buat sekarang ini.

Pejam celik pejam celik dah 10 bulan aku tinggal di bumi Thailand. Tatkala orang Siam berbual, diam tak diam dapat jugak aku tangkap isi perbualan diorang. Kadang-kadang banyak yang aku dapat tangkap, kadang-kadang tak berapa sangat. Walau apapun, memang syukur Alhamdulilah, memang ada peningkatan. Yang paling aku puas, bukan riak atau sombong, cuma bangga bertempat, ialah sekarang aku sudah pun boleh membaca tulisan Thai. Masa belajar tu teringat masa mula2 mengaji Muqaddam masa kecik2 dulu – memang merangkak mula2, mana nak tengok tajwidnya dengan ikhfak, idgham, iqlab, semuanya kena keluar sekali. Lebih kurang samalah, bahasa Thai ni kita kena perhatikan empat perkara iaitu konsonan kelas, vowel pendek/panjang, penanda tona dan samada duku kata hidup/mati. Ya, aku sudah boleh membaca tulisan Thai, namun masih perlahan.

Bahasa Thai ni, bagi mata orang Melayu, memang akan diibaratkan seperti cacing. Tulisan tangan aku memang dari dulu tulisan sambung, cursive writing, jadi bagi aku memang tak kekok nak tulis huruf Thai, bila nak dibandingkan dengan member2 lain yang sekali  belajar kat dalam kelas. Kat Chula (tapi kalau dalam bahasa Thai tu sendiri drg panggil Chulalongkorn University, sama macam English, khas untuk uni terawal drg ni) kebanyakan pelajar lain datang dari Jepun. Kat AUA pulak, kebanyakannya mat saleh, ataupun farang, istilah yang digunapakai oleh jiran utara kita.

Siang tadi aku ke Ulu Kelang, pegi tempat pencetak Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, beli kamus Melayu-Thai. Lepas kawasan Datuk Keramat, kedai buku Dawana namanya. Walaupun aku tengah belajar bahasa jiran, memang hati dan jiwa aku ni terasnya memang Melayu. Hahaha. Memang ramai kawan aku akan setuju. Seronok dan teruja dapat belek buku2 kat kedai tu tadi. Hampir sejam jugaklah. Sebelum tu pulak aku dah ke Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, tengok buku2 kat Pustaka Mukmin. Kalau orang tengok mungkin aku dipanggil geeky lagi nerdy. Nak buat camane, dah dari dulu memang tabiat suka lepak kat kedai buku! 🙂

Aku ada harap haritu yang pilihanraya akan diadakan masa kebetulan aku balik kali ni, tapi memang tak sempat dah lah. Hujung minggu ni aku akan balik ke Bangkok. Orang Thai dengan baju kuning dan baju merahnya. Kita pulak dengan BN/BAnya. Siapa yang akan menang kali ni? Wallahualam. Aku pemerhati di bumi Bangkok; aku anak kelahiran Kuala Lumpur.


Ramadhan in Bangkok

It’s been a week since Ramadhan started. Bangkok is a buzzing predominantly Buddhist city, but the spirit of the Muslim holy month lives in the lives of its Muslim inhabitants. The are pockets of community in certain parts of the city, with Ramkamhaeng, or areas of it, being one where there is a high concentration.  I am most familiar with the area around soi Petchaburi 7, which has the Darul Aman mosque as its religious heart.

The mosque is two-storey, carperted and air-conditioned upstairs. At around 6.15pm the marbled ground floor, which would have already had rows of food laid on on the floor, would start to be filled by the pious (and not so pious!). The selection offered is more than adequate – there are dates, several types of kuih (kanom), cold drinks, murtabak, fruits and a hot dish (eg bubur pulut kacang, lepat pisang etc). The majority are Bangkok Muslims, but there are also Malay speakers from the deep south. I’ve made friends with a few of them – and we sometimes have chat over the nearby ‘teh tarik’ stall nearby. The area comes alive with stalls selling food – it is reminiscent of the pasar Ramadhan in KL, albeit to a smaller scale. Yet perhaps because of its smaller scale, the spirit of the holy month is felt equally as strong as in KL.

On the eve of Ramadhan, I had to find some earth to ‘samak’, having been in contact a cute and overly-friendly dog in Sattahip a few days earlier. It’s not such an easy undertaking. I couldn’t just go to Lumpini Park with a shovel, could I.  Central Bangkok is very urbanised indeed and the concrete jungle does not give up its soil easily.  I found it eventually in another nearby Muslim neighbourhood, near the Saen Saep khlong.

It was a semi-slum area in the middle of the Bangkok. It is located between two BTS stations, Phayathai and Ratchathewi. Wooden houses with corrugated zinc roofs built haphazardly with wires zigzagging the rooftops, young children laughing and running around the alleyways which were mostly just an arms length wide (sedepa), the chitter-chatter of housewives washing, cleaning, cooking, just managing their daily households, the smell of spices wafting through the air, the open doorways from which blasts out Thai music from radios, the flickering of the television sets which brighten the interiors of otherwise dark houses – I felt like I was in a movie set, transported back to a romanticised version of times gone by.
I made my way to the mosque (Masjid Falah), and was greeted by two ladies who were cutting vegetables in the compound. My Thai was sufficient enough for us to have a decent conversation – mind you there are still words I didn’t understand but there was no doubting that we both followed the conversation easily.  The elder lady sent a young boy for the bilal and I heard her mention ‘kubor’. This is interesting, I thought. The lady’s name was Hajah Fatimah, and the other lady was Zubaidah. She was excited to know I was from Malaysia and she said that she was actually Cham, and had distant relatives in Malaysia .

A young man appeared a short while later, he looked like he was an ahli tabligh. We made our way through the labyrinthine alleyway, and you could just sense that he was a strong member of the community – he knew almost everyone we came across and they in turn, greeted him. We soon arrived in a walled area, and true enough, it was the graveyard. Macabre thoughts of cleansing myself with organic matter from the deceased crossed my mind, but the young bilal, Muhammad, quickly dispelled this by taking some clean earth from a surprisingly fertile area of the graveyard away from the burial area. Into a plastic bag the soil went and again he navigated me back to the mosque, from which I then made my way to the hustle and bustle of modern Bangkok a mere 5 minutes walk away…

I reckon that Masjid Falah and Masjid Aman must be within 2 km of each other but the latter is located in more contemporary part of Bangkok. There are a few restaurants owned by south Thai Muslims – I met two owners who had worked in Malaysia before, one of whom was in Shah Alam for a few years. His shop is frequented by the local lads who’d just come out from the mosque after performing 8 rakaats of the tarawih prayers. I know this as I also do 8 rakaats, dengan ikhlas 🙂

The Ramadhan feeling is not amiss in Bangkok amongst the Muslim community, but to really feel a part of it, one should know Thai.

Thai ‘กู’ and Malay ‘Aku’

One of the websites that I visit from time to time is Catherine’s excellent (which she has very nicely said can be used  by men too ;)). A while back there was a conversation which discussed the appropriate use of pronoun used to describe one’s self.

I play it safe and use ผม, and wouldn’t naturally be able or would want to use the cruder กู. I hear guys  use กู much more frequently than is suggested by the language books. This is my take on it – it’s very similar to the usage of ‘saya’ and ‘aku’. The Thai กู (‘kuu’)  and the Malay ‘Aku’ are not really rude, but they are certainly crude, informal and unrefined.

You wouldn’t teach a foreigner to refer themselves as ‘aku’, would you? Perhaps some would, I dunno, teenagers with their penpals internet chat friends of the same age perhaps, but certainly, in a more civil and polite society, to have a foreigner use ‘aku’ word would be frowned upon, if not objectionable. I would argue that for a well-intentioned foreigner who would want to learn Malay in order to get access to certain functions of the state (for example routinely  conversing with government staff at the various public departments for form-filling matters and such)  it would be highly inappropriate and counterproductive to use ‘aku’.’ Saya’ would be perfect. It’s not overly polite nor does it come across as too stiff – it’s just right. There are now few people apart from those I have already known from school/university days that I would address myself as ‘aku’ naturally.

Going back to comparing Thai and Malay, it’s also easy to relate to how Thais use the word เรา (we/us) as we do this as well – ‘kita’. The last time I used it was when I was about 12 though. It’s somewhat too ‘cute’ to be used a personal pronoun after that.

Finally, dropping the pronouns entirely, too, isn’t all that uncommon. The context of the sentence would make it fairly obvious at most times to whom it refers to.

A Malaysian doctor in Bangkok

Bangkok is everything I had expected it to be. It’s alive, buzzing, noisy, hot, frenetic – the Big Mango. Being and feeling at home here somehow comes naturally – I know enough of the language, people don’t treat me as a foreigner, I have many Thai and non-Thai friends. The language classes at AUA allows me to meet many interesting folks from all parts of the world. The food is cheap and delicious, and KL is just a short flight away.

A weekend ago I was in Singapore to attend a friend’s wedding. It was somewhat strange just flying over the peninsular without stopping by in KL.  On the same day, there was in fact another wedding to attend to – a Thai one in Bangkok. Alas, I wasn’t able to attend the latter. Congratulations L and  K, and Selamat Pengantin Baru, as we say it. I have also been invited to a Javanese wedding in Jawa Timur next year by a course mate here at Mahidol. Really looking forward to that. I had jested with the chap, querying whether it was safe for me to travel to Indonesia 😉 Tak habis2 bergaduh!

There are several doctors from Myanmar in my course – they are a great bunch. We’re currently learning about malaria, and a recurrent theme is the high burden of the disease along the Thai-Myanmar border. There was interesting talk this morning from a a Dept of Health doctor, on elimination of malaria in Thailand.One of the topics he touched upon that piqued my interest was the situation in the deep south of Thailand.

The southernmost three provinces have been a very problematical area with regards to malaria control as the incidence is amongst the highest in the country. The Thai health ministry personnel couldn’t safely carry on their work in treatment and prevention programs with the troubles that are occurring.

I honestly don’t know what to make of the troubles in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat. Undoubtedly they are Malay, but living in a Thai state. Somehow it has to work. There are so many Thai Muslims living in absolute peace and harmony in Bangkok – I haven’t felt uncomfortable being a Muslim for a single moment here in Bangkok.

Oh yeah, also learnt was also reminded that the 5th strain of malaria parasite, Plasmodium knowlesi was found in Sarawak a few decades ago, and is now making its way into the medical textbooks.


One month in Bangkok

It has been a wonderful month. I am now officially a Bangkok resident.

Register with the Malaysian embassy. Tick.

Register at the local sports club. Tick.

Get a local driver’s license. Tick.

Open a bank account. Tick.

Register with a doctor. Tick.

Find the nearest mosque. Tick.

I have met may wonderful new friends – Thais and foreigners alike.  Everyday brings new experience. Bangkok is buzzing and heaving with activity. And hot. It gets really hot these days – 39C today.

The whole country celebrated Songkran recently. Sanuk maak for tourists but many residents remain firmly indoors. The local papers (The Nation and Bangkok Post are the two English broadsheets) write of the high death toll on the roads in the week surrounding Songkran. Reminds me of the road traffic accidents (hello Ops Sikap!) on Malaysia roads during the Hari Raya period, though I can confidently say that alcohol plays an insignificant role during the Malaysian Ramadan compared to the hot Thai Meesaayon month.

Everywhere I go I get mistaken for a local.  I’m yet to meet a Thai who starts speaking to me in anything other than Thai. I wish I could more confidently speak back and hold a conversation. I could, but only say the basic phrases. Should anyone ask my opinion about the recent problems in the deep south and I’ll be speechless. In Thai, anyway. Ordering food and asking for directions isn’t a problem. I also speak to the taxi drivers and motorbike taxi riders in Thai. They get what I say without me having to repeat what I’d said – that’s a good start!


Tahan – ทหาร

This is ‘tor tahan’ – a low class Thai consonant. It was only when going through the Thai alphabets for the umpteenth time that something clicked at the back of my mind…

‘Tahan or ทหาร’ means soldier in Thai,  whilst in Malay ‘tahan’ means to refrain/endure/hold back. The corresponding Malay word for soldier is ‘askar’. The root word is taken from Arabic, عسكري

However, there still appears to be some similarity between Thai and Malay with regards to the usage of  ‘tahan’ in terms of military meaning. The Malay term for defence is  ‘pertahanan’, which literally means ‘of defence’ – our Ministry of Defence is called Kementerian Pertahanan.


Belajar Bahasa Thai

Rentetan di hening malam…

Prosa minda di malam hari…

“Kenapa nak belajar bahasa Thai?…  Asyik-asyik kun kap kun kap memanjang… Mesti nak cari orang Thai ni. …  Kat sana cakap omputeh aje cukuplah… Lagi baik belajar Mandarin kot…”

Demikian antara komen-komen teman yang mengetahui saya ingin mempelajari bahasa jiran kita di utara. Ramai yang pelik melihat seorang yang asal warga KL, tanpa pertalian di Thailand , mahu menunjukkan minat dalam bahasa tersebut.

Thailand – negara jiran kedua yang pernah saya lawati (sebenarnya Singapura merupakan negara pertama, tetapi bagi saya ia memang terlalu banyak persamaan dengan KL, lebih-lebih lagi pada tahun 80an – ia tidak langsung terasa asing, dengan ini saya ikhlas bermaksud baik).  Keluarga saya pernah  melawat seorang bapa saudara yang ketika itu bekerja  di Kedutaan Malaysia di Bangkok. Tahunnya awal 90an. Masih segar pengamatan saya ketika itu, ramai sungguh umat manusia Bangkok berbanding kita di Kuala Lumpur.  Walaupun bahasanya langsung tiada persamaan luaran ketara dengan bahasa Malaysia, keramahan dan kemesraan orang Thai masih jelas terpancar.

Selang sedekad kemudian. Saya mengenali rakan Thai di fakulti universiti di UK. Teringat kembali akan percutian bersama keluarga di Bangkok. Sedikit demi sedikit, terutama sewaktu bosan, saya dan rakan berkongsi bahasa ibunda.  Dan setiap kali pulang ke Malaysia, saya perhatikan semakin banyak rancangan Thailand di kacamata tv. Nampaknya orang kita memang suka akan ceritera yang seiras dengannya – Indonesia, Filipina dan kini Thailand juga!

Dalam pada itu kagum saya melihat rakan-rakan di UK fasih berbahasa Perancis dan Sepanyol, sedangkan bahasa inbunda mereka adalah Inggeris. European Union menjadi kenyataan (walaupun kita getir sedikit akibat kegawatan ekonomi sesetengah negara ahli). Jalan bagi kerjasama erat ASEAN masih jauh dan berliku. Bahasa Inggeris masih menjadi bahasa pengantara bagi jiran-jiran terdekat yang berkongsi geografi, sejarah daerah dan cara hidup yang sepadan; jejiran yang sama dalam ketidakserupaannya.  Memang harus dan pragmatik bahasa Inggeris digunakan tatkala ini, namun apakah nasib bahasa-bahasa serantau kita? Bukankah kata orang lama sesungguhnya bahasa itu jiwa bangsa?

Selang  lagi sedekad kemudian. Kini timbul peluang untuk menimba ilmu di Krung Thep Mahanakorn, Kota Bidadari, “City of Angels”. Peluang yang baik untuk terus mendalami bahasa warganya.  Sambil menyelam minum air.

Tuhan menciptakan manusia berkaum-kaum untuk berkenal-kenalan. Untuk mengenali seseorang itu, tiada cara yang lebih baik dari mendalami bahasanya. Akan kita ketahui budi bicara dan isi hatinya.   Naskah  ini adalah hasil tulus saya yang tidak seberapa untuk merapatkan jurang antara dua budaya bersebelahan di Asia Tenggara.