Everyone was talking about it, the beca people would tell you, the bus conductor on the bus you rode, the owner of the mamak sundry shop near your house and even the kacang putih seller would tell you that next week there would be a fun fair at the Padang Muar Club and it would be held for about a week. Small triangular flags of various colours were hung between the branches of the tall trees at the entrance of the Padang. The organizers need not have a big budget for its advertisement, the people of Muar town would gladly promote it for free.
In school at the tuck shop, most students kept reminding each other and even some of the teachers would tell their students. The fishmonger selling the ‘ikan parang’ would tell his customers, the ice-cream seller would tell the rojak seller and friends who met their friends at the Tangga Batu did the same. When you lived in a town where entertainment was hardly heard of, the coming fun fair would be the first agenda in every conversation. Even those working at the Grand Paradise were counting the days. Our maid-servant Mak Yang would not mind going to the fun fair every night provided there wasn’t any good drama to be aired on the radio. Of course among those equally excited was me and at home I did the promotion.
The distance between my house and the Padang Muar Club was four junctions away and it would take about twenty minutes of walking and hardly seven minutes of cycling time and normally we would take a walk because we did not have many bicycles at home.
On the first night, we were all gear up and sat at the tembok waiting for Mak Yang. I was wearing my school rubber shoes because yesterday it was raining and some parts of the field may not be dry. Unlike my leather shoes which grandma bought at the Bata Shop, rubber shoes could easily be washed with soap. I was wearing the same shirt grandma made two months ago. Every time she bought some clothing materials, the extra would surely be my shirt. The first time I wore it was during the Merdeka celebration when Malaya got its independence and since then I kept the shirt in the ‘gerobok’.
Grandma gave me two fifty cent coins carved with the image of King George of England. I put them in my pocket and tied them with a rubber band. Kak Fuzi was still bathing and Mak Yang had just finished washing the dishes. Kak Shidah and Kak Arah were with me at the tembok planning our programs.
“Ooi Cik Yang, nak ke Pan Pair ke?” (Ooi Cik Yang, are you going to the Fun Fair?) shouted our front neighbour as we began our journey. “Ahaa..bawak budak budak ni. Kalau ikut kan hati kami, tak kuasa kami” (Yes, bringing these children. If I had it my way, I would not waste my time), replied Mak Yang blaming us on the trip she had to accompany. When the first news of the fun fair reached her ears, she was jumping like a frog had just passed her way. She would talk about it while washing the clothes, while sweeping the floor and she would even tell grandma while at the kitchen. This morning she told Grandma that I had been pestering her to bring me to the fun fair and she’d better obliged and the way she told grandma was like something very bad would happen if she refused.
Half way our journey, scores of people from all walks of life were heading toward the Muar Padang with some bringing along their babies just delivered few weeks ago. Beca men were busy peddling with overloaded children, some cyclists had two small passengers sitting on the steel bar and one sitting on the rear carrier. The night was bright with glittering stars displayed on the high heavens. When we reached the entrance, the queue for the tickets was very long. Mak Yang had to pay twenty cents and we collected ten cents each for Mak Yang to get us the tickets.
Inside the Padang, we could hardly walk and right beside the entrance were the ice-cream man, the same kacang putih seller who told us about this fun fair, there was also a ‘putu mayam’ seller and few others selling their own production of junk foods. Young children of about three and four years of age were running here and there and there was one crying looking for his parents. Mak Yang was so excited that she sometime forgot the four of us.
There were many games available and the prizes ranged from teddy bears, toys for boys and girls, small hampers stuffed with can foods like the sardine, wooden rifles and many other small items. Most of the players were adults hoping to bring home these prizes for their kids. There was one fellow selling balloons that could float in the air and everyone passing by would surely stopped by to watch. At the far left end corner was a stage full of cheeky young men dancing the ‘rambong siam’ with the girls coming all the way from Thailand. The whole field was lighted with various colourful bulbs of few sizes. The sound of music came out from few loud-speakers planted on some tree branches complemented with some cries from babies tugged by the shoulders of their mums.
Suddenly I saw some people running and when I looked for Mak Yang and my three ‘sisters’, they were not at sight. I began to search for them frantically and was to no avail. Then I saw more people running again and this time I joined them.
One ‘kuda kepang’ player was on the loose. He was in a trance and the leader was chasing him. I watched him from afar in the midst of the crowd and I was terribly scared (Read about the ‘kuda kepang’ in my article “Muar’s Colourful Cultural Lifestyle (2)”). He was running wild but was not dangerous as he would not harm anyone but the sight of his wild behaviour was enough to make those nearby scrambled away. Then suddenly he ran straight to a tree and climbed the tree while holding the ‘rattan horse’ he was holding. What really puzzled me was the way he climbed the tree without using both his hands and he looked well balanced. Then he stopped at the first branch and just looked down. The leader followed him at the foot of the tree and showed him a bunch of flowers. Upon seeing the flowers, he descended and ate the flowers and the leader with his two assistants apprehended him. Since then, I would always stay from the ‘kuda kepang’ performance not until I was old enough to understand what this ‘kuda kepang’ was all about.
I began again searching for Mak Yang and my three ‘sisters’ in the midst of the crowd. It was not easy looking for them no matter how wide-opened my eyes were. Then I saw one area where two people were inviting passers-by to experience a ghostly scene in a small shack. There was a picture of a ‘pontiank’ (vampire), showing her two fangs covered with blood and a picture of another ghostly figure. I dared not go nearer and kept on looking for Mak Yang. At the right end corner was another stage with the ‘joget’ girls keeping their male partners mostly Malay elders very absorbed with their traditional dancing. To me they looked more like performing their ‘silat’ (Malay art of self-defence) than dancing.
I was beginning to feel hungry and I knew I had two fifty cent coins. I began looking for some areas selling something to eat and that was not difficult because the smoke where it came from surely had something cooking. I passed through the crowd with my eyes focused on the smoke not far away and then I saw one satay stall. One stick of satay cost me five cents and I had four of them and the ‘ketupat’ likewise was five cents per piece.
While enjoying my indulgence, I saw Mak Yang walking but she was alone. I ran towards her and called her and immediately she noticed me. She smiled and said that she had just finished playing the electric car and she played twice and now she invited me to play that electric car again. “Mana tiga tiga orang tu?” (Where’s the three girls?), I asked Mak Yang. She had no clue of their whereabouts and so I suggested that we should go looking for them and she agreed but only after she had her satay.
It was almost 9.00pm and as far as Mak Yang was concerned the night was just beginning. We went to few places looking for the three sisters and while looking for them Mak Yang stopped by at some amusement stalls and would laughed out loud if one player missed the target miserably. At one time she wanted to try herself but I told her that we should keep looking for the three girls. “Manalah budak budak tiga ekor ni” (Wonder where are the three girls), grumbled Mak Yang. Then we saw the ‘kuda kepang’ performance and this time they were more disciplined and Mak Yang was so excited but I distant myself. After some time of searching, then we heard a voice calling us, “Mak Yang, Din” and as I turned back I saw Kak Fuzi running towards us followed by Kak Shidah and Kak Arah. She was holding a packet of pop-corn.
Apparently they were separated from us after running from that ‘kuda kepang’ on the loose just like me. When Mak Yang saw Kak Fuzi eating the pop-corn she asked her the place where she could get herself a packet because the way Kak Fuzi ate the pop corn it was so tempting. She got herself one packet and treated the three of us with another packet to be shared.
While walking Mak Yang told us the way she drove the electric car and said it was fun and suggested that all of us should try it. So we all went to the place and bought ourselves a ticket each at ten cents per ticket. When our turn came, Mak Yang rushed first to the scene and began her ride. She was driving like an efficient driver, one hand on the wheel and the other waving at us and she was grinning so wide. My three ‘sisters’ and me took our ‘cars’ and we drove happily within the boundary.
After the car ride, we walked again and passed by the ‘rambong siam’ stage and I noticed the same cheeky young men on the stage dancing like the whole world belonged to them. Then Kak Shidah suggested that we should go home as it was almost 11.00pm but Mak Yang suggested that we could leave the place by 11.30pm. I was already feeling sleepy and so were my three ‘sisters’ but Mak Yang was still beaming with her eyes wide opened.
We left the place by 11.20pm because the four of us could not stand it any longer and we still had to walk for another twenty minutes. Many people were seen leaving the Padang and the Kacang Putih seller had left earlier because his products were fully sold. On the way home, it was Mak Yang who did most of the talking and we all listened with our eyes half closed. Then we reached the field of the Police Barracks where stood rows of stout trees that was always thought to be haunted. Kak Shidah was brave and told us not be scared but just walked slowly and steadily like nothing happened. We walked very closed to each other and Mak Yang was at the center with her eyes looking everywhere at the tree tops. It was a great relief when we passed the big trees and few yards away we saw our house and I was already half asleep.
The next morning grandma asked Mak Yang how was the Fun Fair last night? She told grandma that all the children had their time while she kept looking after them. Then she began her daily routine but somehow she was more hard working than her normal days. She washed the clothes and even some dirty linen that had been hanging at the kitchen windows for the past few days, swept the floor both downstairs and upstairs and did some other jobs not supposed to be done by her. Grandma was quite puzzled why was suddenly Mak Yang so extra hard working?
At around five while preparing for tea, Mak Yang approached grandma and asked her in a most disciplined manner, “Encik Ara, boleh tak saya pergi Fun Fair malam ni. Anak saya Mat tu asek ajak saya teman dia” (Encik Ara, can I go to the Fun Fair tonight. My son Mat keeps pestering me to accompany him). Grandma smiled at her and gave her approval.