Sunday, January 26, 2014
Behind the Chinese restaurants that dot Penang Road and the maze of other knotted lanes, very late at night, the neighbourhood would be enticed by a delicious waft of sour spicy soup.
Leftovers from the day's wasteful patrons, uneaten prawns, poultry and pork collected from serving plates, would be tipped into a large pot with tamarind, chillies and vegetables, then stewed over a fire.
The restaurant's less well-heeled patrons, the ones that approach the kitchen door from the back lanes, would carry the hot soup in recycled tin cans of about 5 inches high, back into the night from whence they came. Dinner and comfort for a few cents.
My mother remembers that it was delicious.
After her training in Alor Star, class of '66, my mother was posted to Baling, Kedah in 1970.
The hospital was tiny, sitting next to a mountain. The doors were weaved mengkuang leaves that swiveled. The hospital served the community consisting of rubber tappers. Not that her salary was generous. About a few hundred ringgit.
She stayed at the nurses' hostel just beside the hospital with 4 other nurses. The hostel was primarily a house on stilts, with an Ammah who would come to cook and then go on her way.
As there were only four nurses living there and duty rosters being what they were, it was not uncommon to be the only person at the hostel at any particular time. Being next to said mountain, there was hardly any discernible TV or radio reception. So afternoons were spent, not doing anything much. There was a cinema showing Hindustani movies in town. But that would entail a lonely walk back after the show.
Bear in mind, this was during the height of the Emergency and curfew was imposed after hours. There were soldiers in the area, as there were Communist guerillas.
She was serving here when the infamous Baling talks were held between the nation's founder, Tunku Abdul Rahman with Chin Peng, leader of the Malayan Communist Party. To say that the residents were not nervous would be a stretch.
She stayed for three years until her posting to Jerantut, Pahang.
We visited Baling today. The old hospital could not be traced. Development or perhaps, MRSM, has descended upon the sleepy hallow and there were so many people that to my mother, it is no longer recognizable.