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]