Krai, my beloved country

(Published in the Malay Mail. Click here for the online version) 

PAK Idrus, the ultimate apolitical blogger this side of the Cybersphere, once confided in me: “The weird thing about aging is that I found my childhood memories to be vivid in my head but I’d have no idea where I put my glasses five minutes ago.”

I know precisely what he’s talking about. Even though there’s a good two decades ahead before my reaching acceptable retirement age, I too have of late been recollecting my growing up years with stunning clarity (but please don’t ask me where my glasses are).

Like sitting on the 17th step of the Tangga Bradley (The Bradley Steps) in Kuala Krai, doing nothing more than simply staring out at the mocha-coloured water of the Sungai Kelantan as it flows hypnotically toward the hilir – end of the river.

Historians list the construction of the Tangga Bradley sometime between 1927-1929. It was named after the then Kuala Krai district officer Gerald Bradley, who reputedly was a very energetic man and cared deeply about the remote and vast territory spanning some 2,300sq km.

Kuala Krai town itself is 64km south of Kota Baru. The administrative district is notorious for its bouts of flooding at the end of each year when the monsoon causes the river to overflow its banks.

Tangga Bradley consists of a series of 79 concrete steps. Back at the time when I was growing up in Kuala Krai, I remember being in awe when told that people living in the vicinity of the river were able to forecast flooding in their areas – and how much time they had just by gauging the water level at the steps.

Tangga Bradley also served as mini jetty for those living along the embankments of the Galas and Lebir rivers. They travelled to Kuala Krai – the nearest town from their remote settlements – every Saturday in mini-boats and sampans. During these visits, they brought agricultural produce to sell in the nearby market, bought groceries and did their banking transactions. They never bothered with “trivial” thing like a wearing life jacket while boating along the river. They have never, as far as I know, done that until today. Life seemed so simple, nothing hanging around anyone’s necks.

From Tangga Bradley, I used to gaze at the few rumah rakit (“floating” houses built on rafts tied to the trees with thick ropes) bobbing up and down along the river. You could see from any step you stood or sat on, that the momentum of life was going full swing: pots and pans clanging against each other, sarongs and sheets flying in the river breeze from make-shift clotheslines, and agile children running and jumping from raft to raft. Their playground.

However, sometime in 1984, some ignorant despot of Kuala Krai thought that it would be a great idea to rewrite history and changed the name of the steps to, geddit, Tangga Krai. How imaginative.

I was baffled. I still am today. While every nation tries to conserve its historical sites, racing headlong to be on Unesco’s World Heritage List, we have erased an Englishman’s name from our history and replaced it with something so clinical. Duh.

French novelist Gustave Flaubert has an almost personal message addressed at us when he wrote: “Our ignorance of history causes us to slander our own times.”

So, sue me, but I wish upon that person who robbed me of a precious name and more, to a haunting “Krai” everywhere for the rest of his life.

● Elviza Michele Kamal is missing home and her stairway to heaven. She blogs at http://elviza. wordpress.com

Postscript: Friends, this article is adopted from my previous posting on 12 October 2008. Click here for the old version. 

19 thoughts on “Krai, my beloved country

  1. Dear Elviza,

    It`s really a tragedy when nationalism is construed to be eliminating anything and everything which are perceived to be reminders of a once colonial phase in our history.I still reminisce very fondly of those black statutes of Frank Swettenham,Francis Light etc which used to adorn the perimeter of the State Secretariat Building and the Selangor Padang, in my pre-school days.(Sigh!)

    And now even the MOE can mistakenly call my Alma Mater “Kolej Melayu Kuala Kangsar”on certain ocasions.For goodness sake, it`s called the “Malay College Kuala Kangsar”.Period!And this name has never been legally amended!Ever!

  2. Elviza,
    How true of what is said by Pak Idrus. At the tail end of our lives we seems to be recollecting many things of our past especially of our childhood days.
    Thanks dear.

  3. You made this foolish old man cried today… Thinking about that far away place where I grew up. I still remember the acrid smell of smoke from the nearby factories. Still, there is no place like home.

    You are a special, special girl.

  4. i love this piece~!

    yes…tangga bradley has been on everyone’s lips setiap musim tengkujuh of old…kerana radio malaysia membuat pengumuman banjir mengikut taraf air di tangga bradley!
    i too have many wonderful memories there…the fondest of all …Mengail Udang galah dari rumah rakit di situ…!

    yes, give us back our tangga bradley!

    pp

  5. I was nursing a jug of beer while browsing the paper yesterday. After reading this, my beer tasted nicer. Didn’t know whether it was the beer or you. Think it was you.

    Damn you married! All the good ones are taken.

  6. Yes Kuala Kerai Estate,the long winding train ride from Gemas,arriving at KB taking the local train and sampan to cross to reach the destination.It was back in the 70’s all way with my late beloved Granny to my Pak Long.
    Such was the trip waktu zaman ‘harga getah keping asap berbunga 20 sen se-kati’.
    Do you remember how and what hardship was,luv?

    Syukran Wa kul-lu ‘aammin wa antum bi khair.

  7. i like this piece. am glad my kampung name still Bunut Payong haha. keep on writing.

    nik
    anak kelantan in tripoli

  8. since mat bangkai has stopped blogging (i hope he’ll come back soon), i hope you don’t mind this 60-year old with heart a condition unleashing his memories sebelum it padam forever.

    i have been to kuala krai only once in my life. that was sometime in 1980. i was visiting the company branches in the east coast and it so happened that one of my colleages was on annual leave. this friend, the elder brother of the famous zang toi, invited me to his parents’ shophouse on the main street. i remember that amongst the unexpected pleasure was playing tennis with his father, in kuala krai of all places !

    i think i’ve apologised before for misspelling your name. in case you missed it, i’m sorry elviza.

    salam

    kassim ahmad

  9. Elviza dear,

    You are turning into a very fine writer/columnist. Sorry I missed you at MRT. Had to rush off somewhere. A belated Happy Birthday to you.

    PS: This Kassim Ahmad sounds like my bro … heheh, in which case you’ve got 2 fans in the family!

  10. Dear Ms. Elviza,

    Is this where all the sorry ‘tea & scones’ addicts takes refuge? Any room for one more poor miserable old sot?

    Yes, I’m with Higashi-san & your goodself & many others I supposed, old romantics who value & appreciate the past and the preservation of old historical names of sites, institutions etc.. Doesn’t make us any less patriotic or less nationalistic than the next fella. Yes what a shame when ppl forgets where they came from!

    Thanks for having me.

    Tommy.

  11. Happiest belated birthday Elviva & dearest son. I’m pretty a novice on blogsphere. Enjoyed reading your articles & touched by some. I was born in Machang way back in the ’60s & life was then so simple & carefree. My late dad was the movie operator for Ministry Of Information. A Negri 9 man who served the Ministry way before Merdeka. Luckily for me I can relate to so many states as my home! Kelantan, Perlis, KL & Kedah so much so that i can’t qualify for any state education fund to further my studies. Your article took me back to 1960’s as I was a young boy at Machang Town. Spent 3 early years of my primary at SRJK Pei Hwa (now SRK Machang). That’s how I got “achai” as my nickname! …back to you…yes, Names of streets, buldings, bridges etc of historical importance should left alone untouched by changes of times or government. Changing them changes their “souls”. I for once will not be able to relate very well with Tangga Krai! Let’s not be Talibans. For me Kuala Krai kept me awake all nite long a long time ago..as my family & me got up early traveling from Machang Town to catch a Mel train to KL! I’ve always loved Kuala Krai & the KTM mel trains! As I work in Kemaman now, I do drop by Kuala Krai on my way to visit my mum in Perlis. Thanks dear for the wonderful “write away”. I seriously hope that I’ll have the guts to one day write something of this life. Take care & salam. Achai1960

  12. SIR
    DO YOU KNOW A RAVI
    HE IS MY COUSSION
    HIS FATHER IS INDIAN ONE DR.THOMAS NATHAN
    HIS MOTHER IS MALAY FROM MACHANG BY NAME ROKIAH
    HIS FATHER HAD KLINIK CALLED RAVI KLINIK IN KUALA KRAI
    THEY LIVED IN JALAN DALE IN KUALA KRAI

  13. Kuala Krai was the first posting I received after I completed my teaching course in December 1989.It was the monsoon season when I reported for duty at the remote Manik Urai Lama Primary School and it was very depressing to see the dark clouds and the winding Galas River.It was an experience teaching in manik Urai as the villagers were friendly towards me.Back then in Manik Urai Lama , there were only 2 Indians – the Indian estate manager from Kuala Hidong Estate and me the teacher ! We used to greet each other whenever we met at railway bridge to cross Sungai Galas !It was also the same year when a rubber tapper shot dead a panther which was about to pounce on him !During monsoon , I used to take a sampan to cross the half submerged football field to reach the school!

  14. Kuala Krai was the first posting I received after I completed my teaching course in December 1989.It was the monsoon season when I reported for duty at the remote Manik Urai Lama Primary School and it was very depressing to see the dark clouds and the winding Galas River.It was an experience teaching in manik Urai as the villagers were friendly towards me.Back then in Manik Urai Lama , there were only 2 Indians – the Indian estate manager from Kuala Hidong Estate and me the teacher ! We used to greet each other whenever we met at the railway bridge to cross Sungai Galas !It was also the same year when a rubber tapper shot dead a panther which was about to pounce on him !During monsoon , I used to take a sampan to cross the half submerged football field to reach the school!

  15. Elviza,
    Thanks for bringing back the memory of Kuala Krai. I was born and raised in Krai(Guchil) but as you said, we might forget where we put our glasses 5 minute ago but the memories of SYP primary school,DO’s house,Telok, Tangga Bradley, Railway Station, mini zoo and and other nearby vicinities are still fresh in my mind. Yes, it has been more than 30 years when we were swinging from the tree roots behind DO’s house,running around the old wooden school block on top of the hill opposite main building(reserved for standard six only), checking the rumah rakit (pisang landing port)in Telok, watching the Jets ( team from Guchil) playing against other football teams in Krai district or just plain lepak at the padang. Krai needs to be vitalized and mortalized somehow.

  16. We have created a social networking website for our community. This website is now ready to welcome you and all your peers, friends and family.
    We hope you can give us constructive feedback in order that we can improve the site.
    Please do visit us and register now http://www.thekualakrai.com
    This is your home town.

    Warm Regards,
    Admin: The Kuala Krai Commnunity

  17. Hi Elviza, Great topic. I am replying to AMIGO. Hopefully you are okay with this.

    Hi AMIGO, Yes I know RAVI very very much. I am married to him. I am shaking whilst typing this, so so excited. We have been trying to find his relatives for a long-long time. His long lost brother and sister Tony & Elizabeth. Last he met them was 32 years ago, during late papa’s funeral. He remembers everyone (Uncle Sathi, Vasentha, Alex and others), and we have some pictures too. In fact, I just returned from Penang searching for all of you. I was at Phuah Hin Leong Road last weekend, in front of Late Grandpa’s house but unfortunately no one has any details of the family. I hope this message gets to you. Please call me: 011-12885502 (Nora Ahmad).

    Elviza – Thanks very very much. This means a lot to us. Regards – Nora

  18. Dear Elviza,

    Thanks for writing this great article. I am replying to AMIGO. Hope you don’t mind.

    Dear AMIGO,
    Yes I know RAVI very very much. I am married to him. We have been trying to find his long lost families for a long long time. He remembers everyone (Uncle Sathi, Vasentha, Alex etc). His brother and sister Tony & Elizabeth, which he last met 33 years ago. In fact, I was just at Phuah Hin Leong Road over the weekend (in front of late Grandpa’s House), searching for his roots with no luck, returned with nothing.
    If you get this message, please please call me : 011-12885502 (Nora Ahmad)

    Elviza – Thanks again. This means a lot to us. Regards – Nora

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