By Yusuf Martin
It has been an odd year, a back and forth year, an uncertain but wonderful year.
In this past inequitable year, I shook warm hands with the local newspaper the Ipoh Echo, beginning an exciting new quest into the various New Years and beyond – with thanks to a certain generous woman, who has a penchant for antiquities and food.
2009 was also the year when Perak Academy, Perak Heritage Society and the oral history project all welcomed this mining pool wanderer, battered jeep and all, and entered my aging father-in-law’s voice into posterity.
This was the exceptional year when Gopeng got its very first museum – with grateful thanks to some very determined people – it was also the year when Gopeng nearly lost some of its old water pipe, amidst all kinds of wrangling and stubborn materialisms. It was in this fragile, unsettling year, that the last remaining tin dredge began to tilt on its base, threatening its previous stability, and stared into a distinctly unknowable future. It was a year in which rogues, bent on mischief elsewhere in Perak, sought to profit from collected historical artefacts.
As the last few dregs of the year were dripping from the keg of time, I was to recall that this was the year of my introduction to the still, quiet, tranquil wonders of Papan, and its fading beauty. Dodging Batu Gajah and its seller of the most remarkable mee rebus, I travelled, in my jeep, through lanes and roads to discover an altogether different type of feast, in the sumptuous museum at Papan. Although off the normal beaten track, the Papan museum is firmly wedged in Perak history as an historical site, with dedication to the war hero Sybil Kathigasu.
Ultimately, for me, it was a bookish year. It has been a year when several Perakian authors became published nationwide, and one book retracted. A year when I attended launches of books galore, yet encountering no book as illuminating, as a chunky, silver coloured tome explaining Ipoh and its shining history, from the age of tin. This welcome launch came prefaced with a fascinating, evocative lecture, and a thought-provoking stroll down memory lane, amidst friends.
In many ways, it has been a glorious year. These twelve months have been the time in which I have listened to celestial music, produced by a cerebral local artist, and have vibrated to the stringed beat of Malaysian culture and her musical traditions. This has been the most extraordinary year, when I have met with artists, musicians, actors, directors and a whole host of very talented people – discovering, meanwhile, a distinct lack of acting ability within myself.
Ultimately, it has been another year of challenges. It has been a dizzy year, of ladders and cats on hot roofs. A time when I finally conquered my longstanding fear of heights, by extracting said cats from said roofs, and briefly considered a fresh career dressed in red and white, slipping down chimneys.
It was a most remarkably wet year, of floods, and children fishing in streets, hoisting immature black tilapia into convenient containers, running, or rather wading, back to their doting mothers, full of glee and, of course, fish.
Trailing towards the year’s nadir, it has been, literally, a rubbish year. That is to say a year’s end concerned with rubbish, trash, garbage, waste. There, sitting on my galvanised wire fence, above roaming predator height, one full week after my wife had placed it there before leaving for her job in Kuala Lumpur, was our rubbish.
Each increasingly fragrant day that dawned I thought, “Well, they’ll pick it up today, surely, just to clear it up before Christmas, they will, won’t they, yes of course, says I, they’ll never leave it over Christmas”, but, how wrong can one man be? It was approaching Christmas morning, when I realised that yes, the rubbish collectors would, indeed, leave our rotting discards stinking, fly ridden over Christmas, because, well, they had.
Normally my sympathies would have gone out to the loaders of rubbish, the heavers of waste and potential fathers of Lonnie Donegan, but the stench was getting beyond bearable and the feral dogs braver and braver by the day.
The kampong gossip factory slipped into gear to deliver a myriad, and one, reasons why the rubbish collection had ceased. Arguments with bomohs, striking private labourers, dismantled waste truck – stories abounded.
Next door Pakcik, oracle and news vendor to the kampong, informed my wife, upon her return after one week of working in Kuala Lumpur, that the rubbish truck, was just that – a rubbish truck, and had been towed away to be fixed.
A fitting climax to another remarkable year, some might say, and they would be right – let us see what a fresh year holds.