Gift of Joy

Mum & dad [seated] with mum's sisters and their spouses
at the banquet for Felicia's wedding on November 15
Christmas is a time for traditions, family reunions and lots of shopping for the perfect gift for our dear ones.  This year, I kept to my tradition of shopping for suitable gifts from as early as August when I was abroad and all through the months before December so that there will not be a mad rush for gift shopping at the last minute.  Presenting beautifully wrapped gifts is also part of the fun so I made sure all the packages are nicely wrapped and tied up with ribbons by the eve of Christmas Day.

Even though giving and receiving nicely packaged gifts is part of the Christmas tradition, I know that some gifts need not be gift-wrapped.  I’m sharing this story because I believe this was the best gift I could present to my dad this Christmas.

Entrance to the clinic at Tiram Duku, near Gelang Patah
Dad’s health was unstable since his 92nd birthday in late October and by God’s grace, he made a gradual recovery to be strong enough to enjoy a lovely family reunion at our cousin Felicia’s wedding on November 15.  Needless to say, I was simply delighted to see him get back to his usual self.  

However in late November, his emotional health took a steep downturn because he was naturally affected by the sad news of three funerals for senior members of the extended family, all in the span of two weeks.  Then he started to talk to me about his own funeral wake.

One day, dad asked me how far is Gelang Patah from JB?  I told him that it’s now just a few minutes by the Kota Iskandar highway.  This question hinted of his desire to visit the district where he once worked with the Government dispensary there.  In 2009 I shared with readers about this dispensary in Gelang Patah with photos of the building as well as the inspiration for travel writing in my story, "Travelling" with Dad

The signage pointing to Kampung Pok with
Kampung Paya Mengkuang listed below!
While I’m aware of dad’s desire to visit Gelang Patah again, I deliberately asked him why he wanted to go there.  He replied simply, “To visit an old lady.”  This stirred my curiosity because I have not heard about such a lady before.  Dad seemed slow to answer when I quizzed him so my mum suggested with a smile, “His girlfriend…”

Dad told me to look into our telephone directory for Anuar Ahmad and the contact number given to him when he met them at Plaza Angsana several years ago.  I found a landline number and wrote it in big bold digits on our notice board so that dad may call them later.  There was no address listed there.  Privately, I was concerned that if this Anuar (I thought it was that lady’s son but it’s actually the name of her late husband!) may have passed on – and that lady too – this revelation would be too depressing for dad.

Kak Hasnah riding the motorcycle, leaving her
warung to lead the way!
I assured dad that I have arranged with our elder sister to go to Gelang Patah for a drive that coming Sunday just to see the place and its development, even if we failed to locate Anuar and his family because we do not have a proper address.  I know I sounded like a wet blanket but I tried not to build up too much anticipation to cushion dad for a possible letdown.

In the next few days, I managed to dig out a few more details from dad about this old lady.  Her name is Wok and when dad was working with the Government dispensary in Gelang Patah, our grandfather or Ah Kong, was based in the Gelang Patah Land Office where this lady was the gardener.  Dad used to prescribe and supply her with vitamins as health supplements because she was often sick.  They were good friends and every year for Hari Raya, mum and dad used to visit her family in their home in Kampung Paya Mengkuang.  After Gelang Patah, dad was transferred to Masai for the next 13 years and over time he lost touch with them until that chance meeting in Plaza Angsana when they gave him their home phone number. 

Kak Hasnah riding the motorcycle to show us the way!
I went to an event in Kampung Pok recently and when I told dad about it, the name must have triggered thoughts about revisiting that familiar area where Kampung Paya Mengkuang was also located.  He probably thought that I know how to get there but I must confess that it was more than Waze technology that got me there and back. 

While we set out that Sunday morning with much anticipation, I gently reminded dad that we will enjoy the drive and try to locate that kampong again because with so much development, the entire landscape has now changed beyond recognition.  Before leaving, we tried to call that given telephone number but it was no longer in service.  I reasoned that with the widespread use of mobile phones, most people have given up their landlines.  The weather was bright and sunny but our next disappointment was to discover that the building for the Government dispensary has been demolished! 

Kak Hasnah speaking to Kak Tom, eldest daughter of
Mak Wok to learn the she was with her youngest daughter
We took a slow drive around the nearby roads to be sure and finally had to accept the fact that we did not miss it but it was just no longer there.  We were quite sure it used to be behind the Shell station and now the area is occupied by new rows of small shops.

Then we headed in the opposite direction to locate Kampung Paya Mengkuang.  I could sense that dad was getting impatient and restless because the area looked too different since the time he was working in Gelang Patah and I tried to pacify him with reassurances that I will somehow track down that destination. 

We scrutinized every passing signboard to get an idea of our location because the Waze and Google maps that my sister was reading, did not give much help.  Finally, dad mentioned Tiram Duku, the name of another nearby village and this info helped to give us an indication that we were in the right area.  Dad wanted me to stop to ask the warung operators but I preferred to seek help from the any Police station. 

Kak Hasnah leading us to the home of Rosidah,
youngest daughter of Mak Wok
When I spotted the sign for Kelinik Desa Tiram Duku, I stopped the car because I felt that the nursing staff here should have a good idea of the area.  (I’m familiar with such clinics because our parents were working with the Health Sub-Centre in Masai.)  Dad attempted to get down from the car too but I stopped him because I was just going to pop in to ask for directions.  This proved how keen he was to find some answers!

Imagine all the patients turning and their eyes riveted on me when I walked into the clinic.  All of them were heavily pregnant women queuing up to be weighed and I paused for a moment because there was no nurse in sight.  In a bit, she came out and I spoke to the nurse in Malay to ask for directions.  The nurse gave me some directions and as I asked questions to clarify what she told me, one of the patients spoke up in English to give me similar but clearer directions.  I realised that we passed that particular junction she was referring to and thanked them before hopping back into the car, quite confident that we were heading the right way.

Dad meeting Mak Wok again!
I turned the car around and drove into that junction and we suddenly spotted the sign for Kampung Pok with other villages listed below including the elusive Kampung Paya Mengkuang!

Mum was quite sure that Makcik Wok’s house should be on the left side of the road, just a short distance away so I stopped and walked around a house that had many cars parked outside but all doors and windows were shut.  I shouted, “Hello!” repeatedly but not a soul responded.  Then I went across the road and asked a lady about the occupants of the house opposite and learnt that it was rented to several tenants.  This explained why there were many cars parked outside as the tenants may be asleep or have gone to work.

Dad and Mak Wok had plenty to reminisce on ...
Mum was still adamant that Mak Wok’s house was situated nearby so I asked mum to come with me to ask a warung or food-stall operator there.  A few customers were eating her food when we approached and asked for help to locate Mak Wok.  The recognition of that name was instant among customers, the stall-holder and other bystanders who know her but someone pointed out that there was more than one Mak Wok in that kampung!

That was when I discovered that Anuar was Mak Wok’s late husband.  By mentioning Anuar, they realised that we were after the Mak Wok wife of Anuar and not the other one.  They know that Mak Wok Anuar lived with her eldest daughter but also goes to her younger daughter’s home located nearby.  The helpful stall-holder, whom we later learnt is Kak Hasnah, asked a young man there to help lead us to Mak Wok’s house but (just as I suspected, the younger generation are not familiar with who the elderly are) he was reluctant to do so. 

While Kak Hasnah was giving instructions to that young man, I was just glad to know that Mak Wok was still alive.  I was deeply grateful that our quest to find Mak Wok for dad was going to be fulfilled – and that was the most important thing!

Rubiah pouring tea for us to enjoy
with snack of freshly fried tapioca
So I got behind the wheel again to wait for the young man to lead the way on his motorcycle, relieved that I could tell dad that we were so close to finding Mak Wok.  As I watched the exchange between Kak Hasnah and that young man, I realised that she was not getting through to him.  So instead of haggling with him, I watched him get off the motorcycle and she hopped on the bike to lead us!

So with her tudung flapping in the wind, Kak Hasnah rode ahead and I followed at a safe distance.  She stopped at the home of Mak Wok’s eldest daughter, Kak Tom, and we learnt that Mak Wok was not there but in the home of her youngest daughter, Rosidah.  I said “Hello” to Kak Tom and asked her to give a call to let them know that we are heading over to meet Mak Wok – so that she would not get too much of a shock!

It was easy for villagers to figure out what “across the road” or “dekat selekoh” [near the bend on the road!] means but as Kak Hasnah hopped on the bike again to lead us on, it was quite a distance away before we turned into a dirt track to see a few houses built in the clearing.  She wound her way around the overhanging branches of a tree, bumped along the path to the house in the middle, with its entrance facing away from us and beckoned me to follow.  Finally, finally we found our way to meet with Mak Wok at Kampung Paya Mengkuang!

Mak Wok, dad and mum [seated Left to Right]
with Rosidah [Left] and Rubiah [Right]
Mak Wok was seated on a plastic reclining chair in the porch, her knees too weak to stand up, and when I brought dad close enough to greet her, she happily declared, “Alhamdulillah!”  [Arabic for: All praise and thanks to God!]  While her legs may be weak, her voice and attitude was strong as she recognised mum and dad instantly.  Two of Mak Wok’s daughters there, the fifth Rubiah and youngest Rosidah, were also thrilled to see us.  They told us how uncanny it was that we turned up in such a timely way because just last night, their mother mentioned dad’s name!

Dia selalu sebut nama uncle,” Rubiah told us, adding that dad was one of three people their mother often mentioned and longed to meet again.  And dad was the only one who turned up so far.  Over sweet black tea and freshly fried chunks of tapioca from their own garden, dad and Mak Wok reminisced about the good old days and reconnected again.  

At age 85, Mak Wok, a mother of five daughters and four sons, is enjoying her retirement in the company of her children and grandchildren.  This Christmas, I know that reconnecting dad with Mak Wok again, is the best gift I can present to him.  Blessed Christmas, dad!


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