Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Splitting the Atom: The Malay Male Family Values

Raya is coming. I'm heading to Kuantan tomorrow. Not for rest, mind you. Raya, for my family, means more opportunity to inflict and enjoy pain.

My parents believe that unless you are doing the impossible, like solving cold fusion, you are not working hard enough. And not working hard enough means you are useless.

In the past, if they saw me sitting down, that's a no-no. That's like, causing a huge embarassment to the family.

It took me years to get over that bit of emotional manipulation.

Every Raya, there will be a competition for who is the most pain. My father, stroke or no, will be cleaning the house. My mother will be cooking for guests tomorrow, though the only people who really eat the dishes would be my Chinese relatives.

When my father was in better health, he would go into the jungle a day or two before Raya, to cut down bamboo. He'd go on top of a hill, cut the bloody things, and launch them - javelin-like - to the foot of the hill.

Then, using his saw, he'd cut them up into pieces two-feet long. Stash them into the trunk of his car, and drive them home.

Usually, there would be around 40 sticks. I had the unenviable task of cleaning them. Using some coconut fibre and a piece of last year's bamboo, as well as some wires, I would fashion a makeshift brush. That's for the insides. The outsides, I just use 'Good Morning' towels.

Then, my father would cut a cooking oil can - the 50kg one. The big one, with his metal scissors.

Placing the 'daun lerek' - banana leaves are for amateurs - which could only be found in the jungle as well, my sisters would fill the bloody bamboos with glutinous rice and coconut milk.

Then, the lemangs will be boiled in the cans, for around four hours. Then, another four hours near a roaring fire.

The dual-cooking process ensures the perfect lemang. But it's too much fucking work! Fuck!

Why can't we just buy the goddamned things?

And the drama! Oh, the drama!

I would be assigned the heavy lifting. As well as pressing coconut milk from the flesh.

Here's the process. Around 15 years ago, my parents went to the border between malaysia and Thailand. Rantau Panjang. They found something. The Holy Grail - a coconut pressing machine. It weighs around 50-70 kg. So they lugged it around the small town and carried it on the bus.

Used to be that every year, my mother would use a coconut-gtaing machine - we have two! - and that was then. Even before that, she would hank down on a fucking kukur kepala thing.

CAPTION: A Housewive's Nightmare: The dreaded kukur kelapa.

She would hanker down, and start cursing everything and everyone as she grates 50 coconuts (40 for the lemang, 10 for everything else).

After the flesh has been grated, it would be my turn at the pressing machine. Cool huh? NO! It would have been cool, if it was merely pressing a button. But no. I am the motor. I was the one who would turn the thing and squeeze every drop of coconut milk from the flesh. SQUEEZE!

Fuck all that, man. Nowadays, we just buy the coconut milk. We buy the ketupat pulut.

And cookies, well Ikea has a lot of those. Some signature cookies, we still do, like Biskut Jakarta which replaces butter with something else to get that salty, tangy taste.

Biskut Dam, as it contains another secret - how to make the surface texture spongy, in order to make it extra crispy.

Biskut Arab, also known as Biskut Makmur. Yet another secret, as it melts in your mouth, instead of crumbling.

The rest? We buy everything.

And still, I know that the family will still find some drama. I don't want any more drama. I just want to go back and sleep. Maybe watch TV. However, I have an inkling that there would be tasks to do. Herculean. Like, cure cancer or AIDS, or eradicate poverty or some shit like that.

My real task would be to convince them that you don't have to be in pain, to accomplish everything. That's World War 2 talk, man. Even hard work, becomes less of a chore or burden, when you take out the emotional, righteous components.

You want to be in pain, you want to be right, while making others wrong, then that's exactly what you get.

Oh well. I'll see what I can do.