A SATURDAY RENDEZVOUS IN MUAR TOWN

The weekends for the state of Johor in the sixties began with half working day on Thursdays and a full day weekend holiday on Friday and the government offices would begin working on Saturday. Schools would start on Sunday till Thursday and the only government servants not working on Saturdays were the teachers. Most of these teachers would spend their Saturday morning in town as early as 8.00am. Saturday morning in Muar town of the sixties was known as Hari Cikgu (Teachers’ Day) and so we had Hari Cikgu on every Saturday throughout the year. When I left Muar town in the late 60s, Saturday morning was still the best day to show your presence in town and you could expect to bump into any of your school and class teachers in some of the coffee shops around. Some of these teachers were bachelors and a Saturday would be the best day to treat their sweethearts. Students like us too took the opportunity to be part of the scene particularly the older students of the Form Fives and Sixes who had girlfriends.

As early as 7.00am, Tangga Batu, situated along Jalan Maharani would be a bustling center of various activities; fishing boats arriving from the coastal shores along the straits of Malacca heading toward Bentayan, a place slightly away from the wet market; buses took their turn to take passengers from Tanjung Agas via the boats; cars embarked from the ferries carrying them from the north; few commercial vehicles would pass by on their way to the wet market. The only thing absent from the scene were the school children because it was a Saturday morning.

The coffee shops’ gutters began to be removed and ready to serve the coming inflow of customers. At the front portions of these restaurants could be seen the smoke of the grilling satay with the Wak satay fanning the burning arang. At the kitchen, 434 Muar coffee and tea leaves were already in place while the breads were lined up to be sliced and toasted. The mi jawa and the most sought lodeh had just been cooked and ready to be served.

Slightly less than a kilometer away from these scenes, I was already up and ready to have my bath. A would be teenager at the age of fifteen, I was raring to show my presence in town and to meet my close friends. Like most others of my age, they had the same idea and would be spending their time in town on every Saturday morning. Most of us had no telephones and as the present mobile phones lay fifty years in the future, we would normally make our appointments one day ahead. If any of us fell ill on the appointed time, our absence would be speculated as such because there was no way we could communicate with another on something wireless.

The broken morning was always soothing and welcoming and I was always cheerful; that was because I had no sweetheart, something I never had during my growing years. Having a sweetheart meant two things for students like me; cheerful or sorrowful. How dreadful the latter was as shown by the frustrated ones. I had always thought that our studies should come first although I never studied.

Young urban lads were quick to emulate western ways and I was one of them. We would be smiling at the mirror at least for fifteen minutes before we set foot on our bicycle pedals. My hair would be combed backward by the sides and the top of the forehead bulging like a small little hill. It was the hairstyle of Elvis Presley or Cliff Richard that we would usually ape. Our trousers were those were termed as the “drain pipe”, tight from the top to bottom, a fashion that has come back into the trend now. The girls had their skirts modestly just below the knees. And now it was time to show my presence in town.

The mid-sixties of Muar town was a town for cyclists although some cars were already on the road. Some would cycle to town from as far as Pagoh from the west, from the south were those from Parit Jawa and even Semerah and those from the northern parts stretching from Tanjung Agas up to Sungei Mati. There would be those who came by buses particularly the older folks and not forgetting those using the pawanchah (unlicensed taxis). On the streets of the town, trishaws would be busy looking for passengers with some transporting the womenfolk to the wet market and back home. Town buses would begin their routine only around 9.00am and as bus stops were scarce, they would stop anywhere and anytime whenever there stood a waving person. Sometime the bus driver would stop by a nearby bush and he would get out and run inside the bush to pee. Liked it or not the passengers would just have to tolerate and wait.

Jalan Maharani was the first road immediately after Tangga Batu, the site where the ferry service operated and this road was referred to as Jalan Satu during my time. Between Jalan Maharani and Jalan Abdullah were rows of shop-houses built during the thirties and most of them still stand today. Jalan Abdullah was thus referred to as Jalan Dua and this was the busiest road with cyclists taking most parts of the road and from both directions. Adjacent to these two roads was a long stretch of road known as Jalan Suleiman. This was the area where Muarians of the sixties would congregate and mingled with each other during every Saturday morning. They would come with their best clothes, shining shoes ‘drain pipe’ trousers with the back pocket showing a quarter of their combs.

As I began my short journey, my first stop was at the junction of Jalan Omri and Jalan Ibrahim where stood the house of Hj. Hasbullah. By now he had already gone to the padang fronting the Police barracks. He was the only person who kept cows in his house compound and it was at the padang that he would let loose these cows to begin their breakfast of green grass. No wonder the field was always trimmed and no grass cutters were needed, a good saving for the Muar Town Board. As I reached his house, his grandson Halim was already at the tembok with his best shirt, spotting the same hairstyle as mine. He was one of my close buddies, same age, good looking and walked like James Bond. Minutes later, as we both sat at the tembok of his grandfather’s house, Yem the third member of our small fraternity arrived and the three of us proceeded to our first destination; Wak Santano Satay and Lodeh.

Situated at the northern end of Jalan Suleiman, the restaurant was already filled with customers. Unforgettable personalities dominated the scene; the legendary Master Jabbar, owner of the private-owned school the Muar Hana English School, who would in later years become the town’s most sought petition writer; the most feared and respected Muar town’s vigilante Cikgu Ashaari; the handsome P.E teacher who looked like Elvis Presley Mr. Charlie Chua; the superb English teacher with the perfect pronunciation Mr. Subramaniam; the elderly adorable teacher Mr. Chiang Mong Hoe; the stout Malay Language teacher Cikgu Hasrin who would be enjoying his pipe and few other notable ‘masters’…Master Nasir, Master Majid, Master Ghaffar, etc. We greeted these wonderful people with great honour and respect and they carried themselves in public with dignity. Cikgu Hasrin was my Malay Language teacher from Form One till Form Five. In class he would be very strict and a no nonsense person but after school and outside the school compound he would turn into a fatherly figure. How I miss my wonderful Cikgu Hasrin although at one time he slapped me for playing truant that sent my head spinning and producing colourful stars over my head.

By 9.00am, the restaurant would be crowded and everyone would be enjoying their breakfast. The famous Muar lodeh is second to none and the mi jawa is the most delicious dish of the Muar “Italians”. And of course the satay of Wak Santano would surely be able to attract even Santana and his band of musicians. Across this restaurant was another restaurant with the most sought otak otak. Eating this otak otak perhaps could ‘double your brain’ tissue. A few steps from this restaurant was the once famous Malay bookstore of “Manaf Book Store”.

Manaf was a fairly short person with a tall beautiful wife. He drove a Mini Minor and would always drive the car with his wife along the stretch of Tanjung in the evening, grinning widely like he had just strike a four-digit lottery. If he happened to meet someone he knew, he would shout to his highest pitch and waved at the person, even though he had just met the same person at his bookshop just minutes ago. His public relations was superb. Manaf was a generous person and he would gladly treat you for a drink or a plate of mi bandung whenever he bumped into any of his friends. Once I had no money to eat and was feeling so hungry and I knew my problem could easily be solved with ‘Abang Manaf’ (as I called him) around. Another wonderful person I truly miss.

At the Wak Santano restaurant, the three of us would be sitting at our favourite spot which was near the counter where the owner known to us as “Ah Pong” an elderly Chinese man always with a cap would be standing and counting his money. The waiters were all elderly Chinese men and only one elderly woman who was perhaps the owner’s wife because she seemed very free to go inside the counter. The drinks would be served by the restaurant as well as the roti kaya bakar.

Normally after our breakfast, we would take a stroll along the busy road of Jalan Abdullah starting from Manaf Bookstore. The bookstore was perhaps the biggest in Muar town. Beside selling all school books, the store sold quite a number of good novels written by writers of the sixties such as Harold Robins and Earl Stanley Gardner. During my time, there were not many Malay novels but we did have a number of good ones written by A. Samad Said and other well known authors. We could get comics and magazines too such as the ‘Movie News’, ‘Newsweek’ and the Malay magazine of ‘Majalah Filem’.

Beside Manaf Book Store to the right was “Lajat Tailor”, the famous Malay tailor always with a smiling face. All my baju Melayu were tailored by him.

Few blocks away from Manaf Bookstore was the Asiatic cinema. It was normal for the cinema to screen cheap matinee for 0.25cents per seat on every Saturday morning. Most of the movies were about some American gangsters fighting the good guys. Most of those who attended were the trishaw pullers, the bus drivers and the conductors and some other who could not afford the higher price movies. School children too would fill some seats but only school boys.

More often these audiences understood not a word of the English language so the movies must be full of action for them to enjoy. They would speculate the story line based on their own understanding and so you could expect many versions. Once I attended this cheap matinee with my cousin Ajis Mak Enggor when we were both about seven years old and it was like watching a silent movie as we both did not know a word of the English language. It was just the thrill of going to the movies as it was about the only entertainment Muar town could offer. When I returned home, I would tell to my other cousins that I had just watched a movie. When they asked me what the movie was all about, I told them my version of the story which obviously was very much different from the original. If they asked me again, the story would have changed drastically.

Passing through the Asiatic cinema at this hour of the day was like passing through the wet market. The three of us had to squeeze in between the crowd to pass through and  sometime when it was over crowded, we had to walk in the middle of the road. With few cars passing by, walking in the middle of the road posed no danger. We had to use the middle of the road because by the side of the road in front of the cinema, parked bicycles occupied almost half of the road. Even the kacang putih seller and the air batu kacang seller too used this part of the road with customers surrounding them.

Further ahead from the Asiatic cinema was the famous “Tai Tong Textiles”, a garment shop occupying two shop-lots selling all kinds of clothing materials. Two blocks away was once the famous Chinese restaurant where young lovers would meet. The “Kim Leng” restaurant was the beacon for those sharing their quiet moments with their sweethearts while enjoying some cakes and drinks. Although they would meet their dates in the morning, there were many who preferred to spend their time in the late afternoon as most girls would be more free by then.

Along this stretch of road, we would encounter our friends and would greet each other and we would bump into each other more than two or three times but by then we would not greet each other but just nodded and smiled.

Immediately after the Kim Leng restaurant, we would turn back using the path of the shop-houses across the road. The Muar Bazaar was situated right in front of Kim Leng restaurant and this was the place where many families would spend their time. The bazaar was something like a very small shopping complex where few small outlets selling various kind of items. Along the pavement, there were few Arab traders selling religious books, muqaddam and the Muslim attires. Next to this bazaar was another famous restaurant for its mi bandung but it would only open for business during lunch time. When we returned back to the point where we started our stroll, sometime we would repeat another round and having satisfied ourselves, we would look for our bicycles and returned home for lunch.

Looking back, there wasn’t much excitement except for the slow walk along the busy road of Jalan Abdullah and bumping into some teachers and friends. If we were lucky, some school girls would be around to make our stroll more exciting. In the later part of the day when we met some friends, we would tell them that we bumped into ‘so and so’ this morning and sometime we would even relate the shirts and the shoes they were wearing.

So what made Saturday morning in Muar town so exciting that missing a day of Hari Cikgu would be an opportunity missed? Nothing. But when you lived in a small town like Muar town in the early sixties when the only entertainment was going to the movies, missing a morning stroll on a Saturday morning would be great opportunity missed.

You’d miss meeting some of your friends whom you had met yesterday evening, the day before yesterday and three days ago when some of them were enjoying their rojak and cendol waving at you while you were cycling by along the busy road of Jalan Abdullah.

You would not want to miss that opportunity.

 

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