Taking Over the Street

The most common forms of housing for the urban Malaysian middle class are the terrace house and semi-detached house (semi-d for short), which we would call a rowhouse and a duplex respectively in the States. Malaysia is a relatively small country, and land is at a premium. The common rowhouse unit will be built on 6/100ths of an acre, of which almost the entire space is taken up by the house. The front yard is walled in, and functions as the car porch. Often it will be entirely cemented, though some people will maintain a bit of green to the sides of the driveway. The streetscape outside the gates is often quite bleak. Sidewalks are not common. Between the perimeter and the street is the monsoon drain and sometimes a patch of grass between driveways where a tree may be planted.

At the same time, Malaysians are fond of entertaining, and have large extended families. So what happens when somebody living in one of these tightly built subdivisions wants to throw a party? They take over the street. Wedding receptions, children’s graduations, what have you, will be catered right out in the road, with a rented canopy pitched over the whole affair. In the picture, you should be able to see the dotted road median disappear into the middle of the party. You can make out the half a lane I managed to squeeze through just prior to taking the picture. It could be a minor inconvenience to some, but it doesn’t bother me. There’s a neighborly spirit that comes from throwing a party in the street that I would not trade away.

One story I’ve heard a dozen times about parties like these goes something like this: “I’m driving around a winding subdivision trying to find my second cousin’s wedding reception. I spot a big tent and a crowd of cars, so I park and head in. I take a seat, eat a big plate of food, and finally ask the uncle I’ve been sitting with, “So how is good old Yusop anyway?” “Yusop who?” Wrong Party! I was looking for the second great big tent down the lane on the left…” It hasn’t happened to me quite like that yet, though I have stopped and gotten out of the car at two different street parties before finally finding the one I was invited to, the third one happening in the neighborhood that afternoon.


6 thoughts on “Taking Over the Street

  1. Br. Zayn,

    Its hard to connect kenduri (as what I think you’re referring to) with party! There is usually almost a religious air about “kenduris” that makes it hard to think of one as a party. I am sure you know the difference & used it only for want of a better word, but maybe some of the other readers don’t.

    It is all very hard to explain literally – something that you have to live and experience to actually know what is actually meant. Maybe it is something like language. Most probably, I don’t really understand the true meaning and nuances of the English, Arabic, or any other language since I am a Malay. But it helps if you’re immersed in that culture and start to live it. I guess that’s how Muhammad Asad got down to writing and compiling his brilliant tafsir of the Quran after truly living among the Arabs for some time.

  2. Yes, a kenduri is what I was referring to. The word party doesn’t have to mean a raging kegger; a happy gathering of people is all I meant to suggest. I would be embarrassed if someone took me to mean that the malays were downing beers and dancing to rock at these events. At the same time, the most common kenduris, for wedding celebrations, are not exactly highly religious affairs. There may be some kompang or some tahlil going on inside the house, but for most guests, it’s simply show up, eat some food, pay your respects and go. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. For other occasions, like death rememberances or doa selamat, there is a more strongly religious atmosphere, i agree.

  3. Hmm…your identification of a kenduri as a party could have a ring of truth about it. But most probably it could be defined as a wedding reception, couldn’t it? Nothing important though, just some polemics..

  4. Assalamu alaikum

    LOL @ the wrong wedding reception!
    I remember those good old tent-type canopies from back when I used to live in Indo…brought back a flood of memories! 🙂

  5. Some of my wife’s family lives in such a rowhouse as you described, and so I’m familiar with that type of housing (they’re supposed to be rather cheap too, and my wife and I have talked briefly about purchasing such a home in the future, insha’allah).

    While having a party in the middle of a street sounds rather fun, I do appreciate the “void deck” of the HDB housing blocks here in S’pore. They’re rather spacious and quite versatile (have a wedding reception on one side and a funeral on the other 😉 ).

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