Taman Selera is situated along Jalan Suleiman, quite a near distant to the town center. This was the only place Muar youth of my time would flock during the night. Those days we used the word ‘kumpul’ not ‘lepak’. It consisted of small shop lots and these shop lots were lined-up forming an L-shaped. Fronting these shops is a spacious area filled with tables and chairs. Each shop served their own delicacies and there was one shop teaching beginners to drive. My uncle Mat Ketetel was one of these tenants and his shop served nasi lemak, Malay cakes and drinks. Beside my uncle’s lot was one belonging to the mother of Bakar Gagap (Dato) and Abu Juling (Tan Sri Abu Shahid) Mak Ara and I must insist that she cooked the best ‘putu piring’ during my time, in fact even till today I still can’t find any that can match hers. One shop that survives until today since its inception is Hassan Radio.
In front of Taman Selera was an Indian Temple and this road will lead you to the Rex cinema. Jalan Suleiman during my days was among the busiest road besides the famous Jalan Abdullah. Bicycles and cars would begin to pass the road as early as the break of dawn. Before reaching the Taman Selera from the south of Jalan Suleiman was a Shell station and besides the Taman Selera towards the west was a hostel for students of the Muar High School and besides the hostel was the famous Dr.Tan’s Dentist and next to it was a building where the most sought ‘Roti Bai’could be found. Next to it was a lorong leading to Kampung Kedah, a small community that was onced inhabited by those who came from the state of Kedah. Jalan Othman which is besides Kampung Kedah was once where the Rest House was. This Rest House catered only for the top governmnet officials and we had another Rest House situated near Tanjung, so Muar of my time had two Rest Houses.
Turning right from Jalan Othman towards north was the Post Office which was along Jalan Majidee and besides the Post Office was the Telecoms office. The Lien Hoe bus company’s building was right besides this Telecoms office. Fronting the Post Office was another row of shophouses and among the owners were Musa Hj.Ismail the son of Hj.Ismail Penambang and the Muar Malay Rice company belonging to tha family of Dato Othman Saat who later became the Menteri Besar. These are some of the places I can still remember that were once prominently situated within the vicinity of Taman Selera.
Taman Selera would begin to receive customers as early as 7.30am and they were mostly government servants. I would normally have my breakfast at Taman Selera during the weekend holidays (Friday and Saturday) as my school began very early. I would normally have my breakfast at my uncle’s lot and most of the time he refused to accept any payment from me.
My uncle Wak Mat Ketetel was once working with Syarikat Penambang selling tickets for those riding on boats to the other side of the town. He had two sons the eldest was Jaafar (arwah) and because he was gay, he was known as Jaafar Pondan. There were quite a number of gays in Muar town during my days. Wak Mat was always distressed about Jaafar but I guess we can’t blame Jaafar for being a gay. The second is Othman who once worked at the Health department spraying insecticides in all the mosquitoe areas. Once I was with him and during our conversation, I tried to kill a mosquito but he told me not to do so. When I asked him why can’t I kill a mosquito, he answered by saying, “If you kill these mosquitoes, then I’ll be out of job”. In spite of being slim in his physique, he is known as Man Boncit.
Mak Ara was a kind lady and her husband I called only as Pak Mat Teksi as he was a taxi driver for those on outstation trips. He was a tall man and very jovial. Whenever I wanted to go to Johor Bahru or Kuala Lumpur, I would surely look for Pak Mat Teksi and I always liked to sit besides him. On the way he would tell me lots of stories. He called me Din cucu Mak Enggor. One of his sons became one the most successful businessmen in our country. Known in Muar town as Abu Juling, his prominence to success is most remarkable. While most successful businessmen are highly educated, Abu Juling is otherwise. His is one story that can inspire those without paper qualifications to excel in their dreams. He owns Maju Holdings Bhd., a company that owns quite a number of public-listed companies listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. If you are in Kuala Lumpur and pass by a place called Maju Junction, that building belongs to his company. Like his father, Abu Juling is a jovial man and has helped numerous of his friends from Muar town to earn a good living. If you happen to meet him, please don’t call him Abu Juling for otherwise he will skin me alive. Only his Muar friends call him by that name. He is Tan Sri Abu Shahid, mind you.
Hassan Radio of course would repair your radio as television was still alien to us. Although television had reach Muar town in the early sixties, we could count the number of television owners as the aerials were prominently attached at the front of their houses’ rooftops. I can’t remember the name of the owner of the driving lesson class but I can surely remember his face.
By lunch time, the Taman Selera would be quite crowded. This would be the place where we could have some of the best Malay cuisine such as Asam Pedas, Sotong Masak Hitam, Singasam, Sup Tulang and few other Malay delights. The place would be less crowded after lunch and would be more crowded by tea time. At the road side you could only see parked bicycles by the rows and one or two cars squeezing in between these bicycles. People of all races would flock to Taman Selera with some queuing for Mak Ara’s Putu Piring. Today whenever I eat Putu Piring with some friends, I would always boast that none can ever compete with Mak Ara’s authentic taste.
The scene would become more lively by 5.30pm and many familiar faces could be seen. Man Tobing, Ajis Friday (named after Friday of Robinson Crusoe), Rahmat Bai, Onn Thambi, Hashim Keling, Mat Chin Peng, Mohd.Adib, Usop Lanun, Usop Sepuloh Sen, Awang Sepekong, Awang Boncoi, Yahaya Kerek (from the word crack) and many more ‘famous’ Muarians. They talked and laughed about yesterday, about this morning and about what happened during lunch. They talked about the same topic over and over and this same topic would still be the subject of their conversation tonight. They would laugh at the same joke whenever they met and tonight the same joke would be repeated to be listened by the same people who listened to that same joke this evening.
By 7pm, all of them would return home for the maghrib prayers even those who seldom pray would still return home as a mark of respect. Some of them would have their dinner at home and quite a number would spend their time having dinner at Taman Selera and they would stay waiting for their friends to come.
By 9pm, the place would be really crowded and extra chairs would be supplied to accomodate some late comers. At one corner would be boys from Tanjung, at the other end would be the Jalan Daud boys as well as those from Jalan Temenggong Ahmad and at the center would be those from the Jalan Joned group. Smaller groups from the Parit Stongkat as well as Bakri would also joined to make Taman Selera more lively and not forgetting the ‘casanova’ Salleh Uzir and his Badd Lads comprising Bakar Gagap (Dato), Amir Maksom the Muar Chubby Checker, Sahak Dresser, Ajis Mak Enggor, Mat Engkuek, Mat Hj.Bakhil and Mahmood Suleiman.
As for the Muar town girls, they would be at home doing their homework, listening to some radio programs and reading their history books. We could hardly find girls sitting together in one table during the night at Taman Selera. Muar town girls of my time were quite reserved except for a few who had gained the titles of ‘kacra and kacra melekus’.
By 11pm, the crowd began to disperse slowly and those from the Bakri would normally be the first as they had to pass the Malay burial ground. Those who were scared of ghosts would never cycle along the roads thought to be haunted and wouldn’t mind passing through a longer route.
Tomorrow night, the same people would be around and they would talk about the same subject they talked today and they would laugh at the same jokes maybe with some exaggeration. A small accident in the morning would later be added to their conversation. The first witness who saw the accident would relate the story of the victim suffering a small fracture at his leg. The one who heard it would tell to the third person but this time the victim’s leg was nearly amputated. By the time the third person told this same accident to the fourth person, the victim’s leg had been amputated in total. By and by this small accident were being told later that the victim’s head was nearly crushed, his leg gone, one hand badly damaged and he had to be hospitalised for at least a month. While they were talking seriously about this accident, the poor victim who suffered a minor fracture at his leg was at home eating bubur kacang while listening to the radio program of Sandiwara Radio.