A PICNIC AT TANJUNG

There wasn’t any decent beach around the Tanjung area and the only place where people could spend their time playing with the sea water was a small lagoon besides the residence of the District Officer. In fact it was hardly a lagoon, but a small curve with the left side full of mangroves and these mangroves dominated the whole stretch of the Muar river facing the Straits of Malacca. All along these stretches were very muddy but within the area where this small ‘lagoon’ was, there was a small beach area and the sands was bearable while the sea level was quite shallow allowing some new swimmers to enjoy their dips without any hassle. When the water tide was high, it could create an unpleasant scene with the incoming waves pushing aggressively towards the shore. It could be even worse when the wild wind from the Malacca Straits gushed violently. This was the only suitable beach area Muar town of my time could offer.

During the high tide, hundreds of king crabs (belangkas) would appear near the shore and every visitor would surely bring home at least five full grown king crabs. Of course not on every high tide these creatures would appear, it was quite seasonal of two or three times in a year. We would have them grilled to perfection and the cooked flesh was truly delicious but the most sought would be the eggs. Quite often when the tide subsided, the area would be filled with thousands of sea-shell creatures we called ‘senteng’. It is something like oysters except its shell is flat and quite transparent. We would normally fry it added with some home-made sambal.

This small ‘lagoon’ was the place many youths of my time would congregate to enjoy their dips near the shallow shore and those who had mastered the art of swimming would show-off with style slightly away from the shore. Young girls would come in groups with their colourful blouses and swinging skirts to please the eyes of many cheeky boys. Elderly men too would join in the crowd riding on their Vespas and Lambrettas hoping to hook female pillion riders for a breezy ride at the streets of Muar town.

It was a Friday morning, the first day of the weekend for Johorians. I had just finished packing the food we would be bringing to the beach. We had been planning to have this picnic three days ago to celebrate in conjunction with the Muslim month of Safar, thought to be a sacred month but we had no clue why it was sacred. Some Murian Muslims had left for Malacca to celebrate this event known as the ‘Mandi Safar’ at the beach of Tanjung Keling. As for us, we just wanted to be part of the scene and to enjoy the moment. We were not too religious anyway although we were adherence to the basic religious tenets of Islam, but we were surely oblivious on the sacredness of the month of Safar.

It was almost 9am and I was ready, well dressed with my colourful shirt of various flowery design I just bought at the Muar Bazaar. It was a three-quartered sleeve, a trend among youth in that year, 1963. As for my pants, it was dark blue tailored by my favourite ‘Mary Tailor’ that elderly Chinese male we all called “Mary” with a front tooth missing. This time he had replaced the normal buttons with ‘nyip’ (zip). My shoes was obviously the Clarks, which I bought at the Husseini Store along Jalan Maharani. The Beatles was a new pop band that would soon shake the whole world but until then, Cliff Richard and Elvis Presley were still dominating our lifestyle. When I combed my hair, I wanted to have that ‘jambul’ nicely fixed at the top of my head and I used the thick hair cream of Yardley brand so that it would not be easily shaken by the breezy wind at Tanjung. The food had been nicely packed, ten ‘nasi lemak’ wrapped with banana leaves, fried ‘mi siam’ and some curry puff. Yem would bring along with him the drinks. That was our agreement. I put all my food stuff inside my school bag which was made of rattan.

I did not have my own bicycle yet and that morning I borrowed Wak Jis’ bicycle without even asking him. When it came to my uncle Wak Jis, I always took him for granted and he never scolded me not for once. It was a beautiful morning and the sun was beginning to rise steadily partly hidden by the slow moving clouds. I wasn’t playing very much with my three ‘sisters’ any longer like we used to when we were relatively small. I was now thirteen years old and was already in Form One and Kak Fuzi was in Form Two. I was beginning to feel like an adult and those three to four years my juniour was looked upon as kids with running nose.

As I was cycling towards Yem’s house I saw Maniam under the cherry tree in front of his house. Maniam became my very close friend until we parted when I left for Kuala Lumpur in 1967. He was the most fairest Indian in Muar town, that’s because he is in fact a Chinese. When his mother was carrying him, his father passed away and later his mother married to an Indian man whom we called Aya. When he was born, he was named Maniam with an alias ‘Joon San’. They stayed three houses away from mine and I remember his sister named Lechumi and she looked very Malay because of the cross breed. In later years to come, Maniam and me met again when we were both in Johor Bahru and we renewed our friendship and became even closer. Later Maniam married to a Chinese girl named Jenny and what I understand he left for Hong Kong bringing along his newly-wedded wife to work as a journalist with a reputable local daily. How I wish I can meet my childhood friend Maniam again. Such a good man and many fond memories during our growing days.

“Nak pegi mana ni pagi pagi buta ni?” (Where are you going at this hour of the day?), asked Maniam as I waved at him. Maniam spoke very fluent Malay and of course he could also speak in Tamil as well as his native Cantonese. “Tanjung, ada piknik lah” (Tanjung, I am having a picnic), I replied as I cycled towards Yem’s house. Maniam waved back and smiled.

Yem was already at the small wooden bridge in front of his house holding his sister’s bicycle and when he saw me, he ascended and began peddling. We cycled abreast and began talking what to expect when we reached Tanjung. We passed the mamak shop ‘Kedai Amom’ and reached the junction of Jalan Ibrahim and Jalan Abdul Rahman. Scores of people were seen riding their bicycles heading towards the same direction. One or two Morris Minor and the new Volkswagen would passed by likewise heading towards Tanjung. Few others were walking, some in small groups as well as two or three couples making the scene that morning so exciting.

We passed the Muar Golf Club and few golfers were already with their golfing attire ready to tee-off. The youngest golfer of my time, Kadar Shah waved at me when he saw me. He was three years my senior and my age could not permit me to be his friend yet although we always met at his house. I was closer to his younger brother Mohammed Shah who was of my age group. Dato Suleiman Ninam Shah his father was in the field holding his putter. He was in fact very instrumental in creating this Golf Club. His Mercedez sports was parked at the side of the field and few other luxury cars such as Ford Zodiac was likewise at the scene. We then reached the T-junction where stood the majestic residence of the District Officer, the highest ranking governmnet officer. We turned left and few yards to our left we could see picnikers already at their reserved places.

We looked for a suitable area to park our bicycles and it was not easy as most of the area designated for bicycles was almost full. Some even parked near their sitting areas maybe to avoid being stolen. Then we saw Ajak (Razak) waving at us and with him were Apo (Jaafar) and Usop (Yusof). The five of us had agreed three days ago to plan today’s picnic and they both brought along their own snacks to be shared later. I could observe the shore at the small ‘lagoon’ was already filled with people and young kids splashing their bodies at the shallow waterfront. Some built sand castles only to be crushed immediately by the packed crowd mingling around the beach.

We chose a suitable site quite a distance from the shore under a tall tree. Apo brought along his acoustic guitar to be strummed later but for now we need to have our breakfast. Apo spread the small matt enough for the four of us to sit and we took out our food stuff ready to fill our empty stomach. While we enjoyed our breakfast, our eyes were focused at the surroundings trying to notify if any familiar faces were around. When we finished our nasi lemak, Yem felt uneasy and wanted to ease himself but there wasn’t any toilet around. The British had forgotten to build toilets around these areas and so Yem had to cycle fast to the Rest House which was about five minutes of cycling time.

While Apo began strumming his guitar with the other two singing Cliff Richard’s ‘Summer Holiday’, I decided to take a walk along the short stretch of the beach. I walked passed many picnickers all enjoying their food and I headed towards the lane that would lead me to the beach area. Even walking along this lane was not smooth like any normal days. I need to excuse myslef going in between some people who walked like they had the whole day with them. At the frontage of the ‘lagoon’ the crowds was extremely heavy but I managed to sneak through. Those inside the waters were really having their time to the fullest. Young boys running here and there with their shorts but the girls dare not show off their bikinis and so they just dipped in with their shorts as well. Further towards the open sea many well trained swimmers tried very hard to impress one another with their butterfly styles. It was a carnival and we don’t get this often in Muar town and so everybody made their morning worthwile. As I was enjoying the moment, I saw someone wearing the same shirt like mine, same design and colour and also a three-quartered sleeve. He must have bought that shirt at the same shop I bought mine. So I thought I’d better avoid meeting him face to face and diverted myself to the western side of the ‘lagoon’.

Many ice-cream sellers were around with their ringing bells giving out a loud clear resonant sound but the ‘Kacang Puith’ sellers had to use their voices to attract customers. Some selling balloons that could fly higher and higher puzzling every kids with their mouth wide opened.

Many familiar faces began to appear and we exchange greetings and the way we greeted each other like we had not met for years. “Hey apa khabar?” (Hey how are you?) was the normal greeting statement which we used last night at Taman Selera. My female contemporaries too began to appear and we could only smile at each other. As I passed them I thought of looking back at them but apparently they too had the same idea and so our eyes met again but I immediately pretended looking at someone else right beside them. As I was strolling enjoying myself I saw again that fellow who wore the same shirt like mine and so I turned back toward my female contemporaries and hoped this time they would not look back. I then decided to return to my four friends and maybe have a bite with the snacks they brought.

Yem was already back from the Rest House complaining he had difficulties looking for water but somehow managed to get some after some shouting with the Rest House manager. Then he decided to treat himself at the beach and the other three followed him and so I stayed alone at our site. I took the acoustic guitar and strummed my favourite “True Love Will Come To You” of Cliff Richard. It was almost forty minutes later when the four of them returned and by now we could hear from afar some chanting of the Quranic verses indicating that the Friday congregation would be performed soon. We decided to go back home and changed our clothes for the Friday prayer and to come back later. Then Yem said to me, “Just now we saw someone wearing the same shirt like yours.”

After our Friday prayer we all came back to the same spot to enjoy the evening except that I was wearing a different shirt.

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