Love thy neighbour

Bukit Setiawangsa is magnificent after the rain. I stand at the balcony to breathe in the cool crispy air of the night. My thoughts drifted to my childhood – that part of my childhood when we were neighbours with the Tongs.  

You see, earlier today I was visited by members of the Tong family whom I have lost touch – for what seems like an eternity. I grew up with the Tongs as my next-door-neighbour in that godforsaken district of Kuala Krai.

They are a typical Chinese family. No, let me rephrase it, they are a typical Chinese family from Kelantan, who speak fluent Kelantanese dialect and culturally… very Kelantanese. Ever so sensitive to the feelings of the community in which they live, the Tongs have this rule – one must not mention the fact that they consume pork in the presence of their Malay neighbours and friends. It is just isn’t nice. And they don’t eat in public during fasting month out of respect for their Muslim neighbours and friends. The list goes on…

My family and the Tongs lived next to each other in perfect harmony. I recall wearing black for an entire week – in mourning for a close member of the Tong family who had passed away.

I also remember fondly Ah Kong, Mr. Tong’s father. Grandpa Ah Kong would open their kitchen door and called me with an offer I could not resist, a pack of “biskut masjid” in his palm. Just for me. Grandpa Ah Kong died in his sleep 10 years ago, so I was told. Ah Kong, dear, dear Ah Kong, used to take me – “lil” Elviza – on his old Raleigh bicycle around the little neighbourhood. May he rest in peace.

The Tongs have three children: Tong Chin Fei, Tong Chin Aun and Tong Wei Wei. Their only daughter, Wei Wei, was my playmate but with somehow more timid disposition as opposed to me. Our playtime was often interrupted with her shouting out in Cantonese “Ma! Noli (my nickname at home) taolah!” which means (I think) “Ma, Noli pukul!” But Mrs. Tong, more often that not, would chide her gently to stop complaining and keep playing with me as she and my mother continued to exchange gossips…until the cows come home.

I left for boarding school, I never got to see them as often as I would like to.

Our relocation to Mama’s hometown marked the end of that beautiful friendship with the Tongs. But I spotted them – years later – when the entire family attended my wedding. Sadly, they left early and I didn’t get to say hello.

Earlier today, Mrs. Tong walked into my office, took a moment’s pause before throwing her arms around me. Her eyes were brimming with tears as she kept saying that she could not believe I am all grown up. After all the hugs, my mother, who insisted on coming to the office with me to meet them, “plonked” herself on the sofa and invited Mrs. Tong to sit next to her. Once seated they just couldn’t stop talking. Old habits, they say, die hard. So true with Mama and Mrs. Tong! They reminisced about the good old days and talked endlessly to make up for lost time.

Mr. Tong, whom I swear hasn’t aged a day since the last time I saw him, spoke about Ayah and his regret for not being able to attend my dad’s funeral seven years ago. Chin Aun, still the same mischievous “boy” whom I knew, winked at me, stuck his tongue out and teased me like he used to. Aiyaa! Not so cure anymore-lah when you are already grown up. Chin Fei is happily married with a daughter in tow. And Wei Wei, she is all grown up and now working in Penang.

I was touched by the visit of the Tongs after all these years. Their visit is a testimony to the strong bond of friendship between the two families (the Tongs and the Kamals) despite the years of separation. This is because we understand what it means to be neighbours irrespective of our religous belief and ethnic background.

Have a good weekend folks.

*[Biskut Masjid is a small biscuit with a round base and hard icing on top of it. The hard icing looks like a minaret, so we kids call it biskut masjid]


21 thoughts on “Love thy neighbour

  1. so the opposite of my story abt neighbour. 😉 urs is of course the good version. hard to come by nowadays.

    is tht wht the biscuit is called? i love them too. in fact, my frens who are goin back next mth asked me wht i want fr back home, and tht biscuit is def 1 of them tho id have to give the description everytime i tell someone wht i want. to me theyr always, ‘tht small round biscuit with hard icing like ice cream on top and sold at pasar malam’.

    Oh Farina… you pour soul being so far and out of reach from home. Just tell me if you need me to fed ex some of those little devil of biscuits for you

  2. Your story reminds me of a few good friends we left behind in Kota Bharu, Kelantan. We all kept in touch for many years after we moved to Klang. Everyone respected each other’s cultures and religions. That is what I miss. It is so hard to find it today.

    Hello Sister, I don’t know what’s gotten into me lately, but I tend reminisce a lot. I call it “getting-old” syndrome. How are you doing Sista?

  3. i knew its existence for years, but this is the first time i heard its name – biskut masjid – how apt. the icing on top does look like dome of a mosque, and hence its name. and the domes come in a variety of psychedelic colours, don’t they? lovely, touching story “lil” Noli, a fitting start to the Merdeka month.

    Dear aMiR,

    They call it by many names, example: biskut bunga, its just the kids around my area call it biskut masjid. He he he… thanks for the support my friend. I really appreciate it. I look forward to finally meeting you one of these days.

  4. oh that ah kong used to buy in bulk for his 13 grandchildren whenever we visit 🙂 sometimes we (the elder ones) will just bite off the top sugar icing and give the biscuit to the younger ones! heheh see how bullying we are? 😛 back home, everyone in our block of apartment knew each other too (most of us have lived there for 20-30 years) so the uncles, aunties and children, all knew each other since we were young..from schooling, when we hv bf/gf, start working, married, n now some of us with kids in tow. Like j.t. thats something I missed most too…

    Dear Winniethepooh,

    Ohh… are just like my sister. She only eats the top part. What a brat…

  5. we called it ‘sek’kut bungo’. There was a factory near my house in my early age [renaissance kb now]. we always like to pay a visit to one of the window.. don’t remember which one, as the makcik there, very very very kind one lor… she’ll gave us some every time so we don’t kacau her la.. kekekeke…

    Hah! I know people will find out what I mean by “biskut masjid”. Its everywhere, I just don’t know the real name. Take care friend

  6. “This is because we understand what it means to be neighbours irrespective of our religous belief and ethnic background.”

    So very true…Those days when many were still colour blind.

    Sadly many, especially those living in urban ares only know rheir immediate neighbours & conversation is confined to “hello & goodbye.”

    Dear passer_by,

    Usually we are too busy to make the effort these days. Everyone is working around the clock, the spirit of muhibbah is fast dying.

  7. Correction:

    Sadly many, especially those living in urban areas only know their immediate neighbours & conversation is confined to “hello & goodbye.”

  8. Very touching story and and very nostalgic too.
    Its not that such a neighbours are hard to come by but really sometimes we didnt try to be neighbourly ourselves. I have such an experience which I want to share and I will be writing it in my blog.
    Kuala krai? I used to stay there too in 1982 till 85. Remebered the yearly floods in Guchil. lucky thing I stayed in a house on high ground. Some houses were flooded till the rooftop.
    Elviza, thanks for sharing it with us.

    Dear Silhoute,

    The flood in Kuala Krai is a yearly event one must not forget! I remember going to school in SM Sultan Yahya Petra amidst the pouring rain and rising water level. What a memory. Thanks for dropping by.

  9. This is the Truly Malaysian Spirit. Let’s all embrace this vision of all of us together as one bangsa. For the sake of our next generation. A truly Muhibbah nation respecting each other’s religion and culture but all sharing one common idealistic and one vision to a progressive Malaysia.

    Yoke Mei! Haven’t seen you around so long. How are doing? Hopefully everything is great at Raja Eleena. The true malaysian spirits can be seen everyday in Resaa, isnt it?

  10. As ‘a malaysian in riyadh’ said, your post is ‘a fitting start to the merdeka month’. Of all the things I miss dearly in Malaysia is this wonderful neighbourly spirit that is so evidently missing especially in urban areas. Even the biskut masjid is not so easily available.
    Later today I’m going to invite my neighbour for tea and see if I can go and seek this biskut masjid and supp with them. I did this when I was a kid. I’ve forgotten to do today. Thanks for the reminder.

    You are most welcome my dear…glad to be of help however little that is. The mee rebus misses you

  11. With stories like these, sometimes I wonder what is all these racial and religious things are all about. When I was a child, I remember well that “keling” jual roti (yes, we did called him by that name and he was not angry) and Ah san in “seluar katok” who went around the kampong with a big bamboo basket at the back of his kapcai buying duck and chicken. When I grew-up, I dated a chinese but it failed after we went to separate countries to study. Now I have two neighbours, a chinese and a malay. I said “hi” to the chinese a week ago. That was our longest conversation so far… Same with the malay. I think I have a problem.

    Dear Sofiairdina,

    Time has changed my dear…everyone is busy climbing the corporate ladder or whatever it is that they are doing. Things like getting to know your neighbour does not seem so important anymore.. Take care

  12. Hey Elviza,
    Your story reminded me of my own family’s friendship with the sweeper (and family) who works in my mother’s school. We (the kids) call her Makcik (no need put name here). They live in Bidor, deep in the kampungs, and we go there every year (sometimes more)…My parents always brought clothes, toys and food when visiting, and in return, the family will always pile durians and mangosteens and all kinds of food into our car, along with the occasional daun pisang…
    A few years back, Makcik came down with a serious neurological disease, and for about a year, she was in and out of the hospital in Ipoh…My mom and dad used to go and visit almost every day, with us in tow every now and then. And how she used to get up and salam my mother everytime.
    And when she passed away on Jan 1, we made the early morning trip to her home in the kampung, a headscarf loosely tied around our hair. I remmeber how Makcik’s very old mother came and threw herself into my mom’s arms and sobbed throughout the whole thing (washing of the jenazah, prayers etc).
    Your post here reminded me of our own relationship with Makcik’s family, so thank you…

    You are most welcome Daphne dear…

  13. Salam Elviza:

    Those were the days….you had good neighbour in the Tongs and they too had a good neighbour in the Kamals.
    I do hope there are still lots of Tongs and Kamals in our country.

    Now I know its called biskut bunga and biskut masjid. Sedappp…..

    W’salam TA,

    Tu lah, I never know they are also called biskut bunga before this. It has always been biskut masjid for me…

  14. E,

    We get these so-called muhibbah stories in the MSM but somehow, the ‘personal’ touch is not like those in the blogs.

    During Aug ’69 until about end of ’79, I stayed in Kepong Garden. Yeah, just imagine a malay family moving into that area AFTER May 13th. My parents bought a single-storey corner lot with an indian family on one side and a chinese family on the other.

    It didn’t take us (especially my five sisters and I) long to get to know the teenagers in the neighborhood coz we had to get to school in the morning by bus and…uhh..we appeared ‘glaringly’ brown. Soon enough, our home was THE house for Raya gatherings. For obvious reasons. We were the only malay family.

    Between the pre-dominantly chinese and indian families plus one each of thai and eurasian, we bonded beautifully despite the tragic day.

    For the guyz, football was the cohesive factor. We can argue and yell at each other on our favorite English teams but race was never a reason to divide. The neighborhood badminton court was the venue for all the guyz to gather after dinner and sometimes, we’ll wave to the cops driving by. It’s also the time to get an ‘after dinner ciggie’ for the ‘younger’ blokes with ‘lookouts’ eyeballing to see if any of our parents were in sight.

    Gee, I wonder what the girlz did. Perhaps, gossip and giggle on who’s cuter.

    We need to re-live those precious times and make sure it is not lost forever.

    Your posting brought back pleasant memories.

    And hey, how can I ever forget my first kiss..with a chinese girl. But that’s a story for another day.

    Eh, why you just stop at the first kiss? Thats the most interesting part my friend! Now, dont try to be cheeky, go on and finish the whole story. Duh…

  15. NIce story.. that reminded me when I toured Kelantan earlier this year, we visited a Chinese Cikgu in Kampung Cina. He dressed in sarong, spoke Malay with his family, and read and writes Jawi. he even has a Malay name.

    Thanks friend! How have you been? All is good I hope

  16. so sweet of u to offer Elviza. *hugs*. tak payah hantar, nanti bila u datang holiday kat cali, bolehlah bawak untuk i. 😉

    oh dearest.. dunno when is that going to happen. Its gonna cost me a bomb to visit you plus all the logistic I have to carry with me. What about I just wait for you come home instead?

  17. hello! just trying to be a good ‘neighbour’ here to say hello to you!

    Hello back, sorry, I just realised I missed replying to your comment dear… when are you coming home?

  18. i had neighbours like that once. dunno where they are now. Can’t even remember their names, except for their son Ah Meng, who was my boyfriend back when i was 5…. hehehe… kici kici sudah gatal…

    You had a bf when you were 5? Tsk tsk tsk… how young can one start?

  19. Dear Ms E,
    Auntie kan ,masa kicik dulu ade boifren panggil Ah Lek.Die dok kedai ayah dia baiki basikal …I was heartbroken when he got married to Ling Ling as he like to teased me ..”Ani wa mau kawin sama Lu ,mak Lu sudah kasi….” I was 6 and he was about 24 and when I asked my mother she said all (meaning dad too!!) agreed and they laugh about it.

    After that I saw Ah Lek in different light until the day he got married.The last I heard he was in Japan….

    Dear Auntie E,

    I think you shoulf trace him all the way to the land of the rising sun provided Mr. Lebar Daun doesn’t mind that is. And do tell me whether or not you still see him in a different light.

  20. My first time here 🙂

    I cheered a loud YEAY when I found biskut masjid (can’t remember what i actually call that) at an Asian shop in Christchurch. Finished my first packet in seconds.

    Oh! Welcome to my page Ubisetela. Always enjoy your blog & the beauty of Christchurch in it. Found your name incredibly intriguing as well. Because “ubisetela” normally use by the Kelantanese & Terengganuan. Biskut masjid found in Christchurh? Damn… they have gone global….

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