The social culture of Muar town in the late fifties was very much British in nature just like in many other parts of the country but of course with the mixture of our country’s ethnic multi-racial population. Although the Malay culture dominated most of its fabrics, the Chinese and Indian customs contributed quite significantly and that made our country very unique. When the country gained its independence from the British, the social environment was still quite British and the situation eventually became more local as years passed. Letters received from the government were still written in English ending with the statement “I am Sir, your obedient servant” to be replaced later by just ‘Yours faithfully’. Social gatherings were conducted very much to the western style and the meeting places were confined within the ranks of the elite.
Places where these people met would normally be secluded from the mainstream, therefore most of the time their meeting appointments were conducted at the clubs. Muar town of my early days had two clubs namely the Padang Muar Club and the Tanjung Muar Club. Let me bring you back in time and revisit these two clubs that were once the gathering points of many Muarians of various races.
THE PADANG MUAR CLUB
The Padang Muar Club was situated across the road behind the Grand Paradise. Alongside it not far away was a Chinese Temple the Malays called ‘Tok Kong’ and some called it ‘Lok Tang’. It was called the Padang Muar Club because it was situated inside the town football field. Alongside the the entrance stood rows of stout causarina trees with strong branches most ideal to sit and watching a football game for free. In the evening the field would stage many local ‘world cup’ aspirants to exhibit their skill. Most games were played by local teams and from other states. Sometime a foreign team would be invited to challenge our local players and quite often were the Koreans.
During the match, the audience would be standing right at the border of the playing field making it diffidult for the linesman to perform his duty. Whenever the ball reached the goal post, viwers from the other end would have no qualms to enter the field to have a better view of the scoring moment and would immediately scrambled back when the ball boomeranged. For the privilege few, they would be enjoying the game sitting at the verandah of the Club’s premise for a nominal monthly membership fee.
Sometime these viewers took the law into their hands and the referee had better be efficient as well as attentive. One wrong decision as far as these viewers were concerned, ‘flying saucers’ of various design could be seen flying over the field. A foul-tackling by the invading team let off the hook would be followed by continous shouts with disparaging remarks with some even challenged the referee to a fight after the game. When a local striker ran solo towards the goal post guarded by the back line opponents, the viewers would shout in chorus for the ball to be passed to an unmarked counterpart like as though the striker had a fantastic eye sight and good hearing. If he managed to score, then he would be the subject of every conversation for at least a week. But if he failed, not only the curse be thrown at him, he would be conferred the title “Si Tamak”. The goalkeeper too had better be on guard always because a simple home goal by the invading team would cost him a humiliating title of “Goalkeeper Bolos” with continous castigation.
Muar however produced quite a number of good players who later played for the Johore state. Among them was a close friend of mine named Shukur Hassan. He was one of the best wing player the state ever had and the way he ran, Murians Malays termed it as “lari macam lipas kudung”.
At the entrance of this football field was a famous Chinese hawker who served ‘roti bakar’ and ‘rojak tauhu’ and his tea was the most sought. By 4pm, his spot would be overcrowded and most had to enjoy their tea standing and even squatting. And so his tea became known famously as ‘teh cangkung’. For thirty cents, it was a fine high tea.
The Padang Muar Club would always have visitors throughout the day. During the colonial days, the club served government servants of the lower rank officers and clerks. They would patronize the club during lunch, tea and dinner. In the evening there were various games offered by the Club, prominent among these was the billiard game the Malays called ‘bola tonjol’. There was also a domino game, ‘bola longgok’ as well as card games. Gambling was prohibited but the Manager of the Club had always one of his eyes closed.
When the British left, the Club was run by the locals of all races. During the night, there would be a quartet performing to the tune of ‘Cherry Pink’ and the Nat King Cole’s latest. They would dance with proper attire from both sexes. When the jiving tune filled the air, the women’s skirts would blossom gracefully in tandem with their fast lively jazzy movement.
The Club’s kitchen served the best ‘mi hailam’ and the oriental beef steak we pronounced it as ‘bisstick’. And the Chinese chicken chop would always filled most dining tables.
And of course at one corner where the sign board clearly displayed “Gambling is Prohibited”, there could be seen few gamblers placing their bets while the Manager kept on pretending not to notice. Gambling came in many forms at the Club. Betting on winning points at the billiard table was too easy for the manager to pretend as no immediate cash could be seen even at domino games. But when poker games began, the manager need not pretend because he would not be around to notice.
Drinkers’ corner could be quite noisy with some standing holding their glasses hoping for others from the other side to notice. They always had trouble to finish a glass of orange juice but could easily gulped five to six glasses of beer within half an hour. And their voice tone could be heard even by those passing by the club. When they got really drunk, they could create a ‘mini riot’.
The Padang Muar Club had served its community very well. That would be the place to celebrate our yearly ‘Merdeka Day’. During the prophet Muhammad’s birthday, participating Muslim school children would gather early in the morning and then walked in rows chanting the praises of the prophet to the Sultan Ibrahim mosque. At the mosque they would be served with nasi briyani on a dulang to be shared with four people. Other religious celebration were also conducted on this historical field such as the ‘home coming’ of Lord Subramaniam of the Hindu religion and the ‘chingay’ procession of the Chinese community.
Once or twice a year, there would be a fun-fair organized by the local council in collaboration with local entrepreneur. The padang would be crowded with Muarians of various races, young and old. There would be a ‘joget lambak’ patronized mostly by the Malay elders, amusement corners of various types for children and also the intriguing ‘Kuda Kepang” dance. When I was small, I was extremely scared of this traditional dance as they would sometime turned into a trance and chased some nearby onlookers. There was one instance when one of their ‘kuda dancers’ climbed a tree while in a trance.
The Padang Muar Club indeed had served Muarians to its full mark.
THE TANJUNG MUAR CLUB
The Tanjung Muar Club was very exclusive during my time. Those patronizing the Club were mostly the heads of government departments, successful businessmen, entrepreneurs, well known politicians and members of various prestigious clubs such as the Rotary and the Lions Club. The location of the Club itself explained its exclusiveness. Situated along the river bank of the Muar River, it was once when British officers enjoyed their evening brew while discussing various topics of development. Beside the Club was a tennis court with British ladies showing off their lanky legs much to the delight of passing local male cyclists who would keep on passing by to please their eyes with great satisfaction.
Inside the Club was a well furnished interior presenting the majestic colonial surroundings of yesteryears. At one side there stood a grand piano to be played by a soloist in the evening providing soothing melodies of yesterday’s crooners. A bar displaying various brands of intoxicants was ever ready to pour into small shinning crystal cups for those absorbed in conversation. Sometime fishing boats would passed by the river adding more element in a mixture of splendored serenity. Young lovers would meet to discuss their likely near future and broken hearts would seek solace to heal their wounds. The Tanjung Muar Club of my early days will always fill a small portion in my memory box to be fondly remembered in perpetuity.
When the British left, Muar town had been transformed from a collection of outposts to a modern town. Buildings of English facade stood firmly on every road within the town’s vicinity displaying its grandeur of colonial architecture. It took no great pains for the locals to continue expanding the town with the infrastructure well in place.
When the locals took over, the club was opened for membership to all races and many came forward to fill the forms. Since then, many activities were organized such as annual dinners for clubs like the Rotary and the Lions club. I remember attending a New Year’s eve at the Club with my friends in 1965. We were young but too anxious to grow and ended up vomiting while cycling home after midnight. This episode would soon fill in some of the many anecdotes in this blog.
Like most kitchens in Muar town, the Club’s cuisine was second to none. The superb ‘mi hailam’, the oriental chicken chop, the juicy steak and many other Chinese delicacies were of high standard. Having your dinner at the Tanjung Muar Club was a real fine dinning. You need not put on your dinner-jacket, but you have to be properly attired to be served.