[dropcap background=”yes”]A [/dropcap]house needs people to live. Empty, a house slowly decays. In the humid tropics, it decays with a startling quickness. Mak moved out of my wife’s childhood home, temporarily, to start a child-care business at [tooltip text=”Simpang Empat” trigger=”hover”]Four Corners[/tooltip], the small town connecting Bagan Datoh with the rest of the world. Nothing is so permanent as that which is temporary, as my old boss Joe Figa would say. Only ten years later was Mak finally ready to admit she is never moving back to kampung and gave us the green light to gut the house.
[dropcap background=”yes”]F[/dropcap]or two days, a few kampung boys, my nephew, my wife and I pulled load after load of disintegrating plastics, moldering fabrics, crumbling furniture and rusting appliances out of the house. There wasn’t much to save. Anything of real value had been taken by Mak down to Four Corners when she moved, or bit by bit over the years since then as she needed it. A few things were of some use to my brother-in-law who lives next door:
[dropcap background=”yes”]B[/dropcap]ut in the end was a big pile of rubbish. We called a scavenger to come have a look. Amazingly, with his hook and scale, he proceeded to weigh not just the metal scraps, but all the plastic, all the glass, all the foam, all the paper and paid us cash on the spot. Ok, not very much cash. But real, honest-to-goodness private sector recycling, and in the countryside no less! By comparison, most “recycled” materials in US cities wind up being landfilled in sorted piles.
[dropcap background=”yes”]W[/dropcap]hen the recycle-man left, I was left with just a few things that were of no use to anyone but I couldn’t bear to toss out. Above, a buffalo horn. Not just any buffalo horn, but the horn of the buffalo that fed the multitudes for my [tooltip text=”Wedding reception” trigger=”hover”]kenduri kahwin[/tooltip]. The horn of this buffalo:
[dropcap background=”yes”]T[/dropcap]he buffalo came down from upstate a few days before the reception, and spent his remaining time on earth in our neighbor’s coconut field. A team of seven or eight villagers brought him to his demise in an expertly coordinated operation. Surrounding him at a distance, they passed a bull-rope back and forth to one another, over and under and around him, all gently and delicately done so that it never startled. Then, with one tug, the ropes pulled tight and the buffalo fell onto its side, completely immobilized.
Most of the buffalo went to feed the kenduri. A few choice parts, like the tongue and the tail, went to the slaughter crew. The horns were split between me and my brother-in-law who also had his wedding reception that day. Upon the return of my wife and I ten months later to deliver my first-born son, Mak offered to cook up the last of the buffalo. Who could refuse?
I was sent up onto the roof where I retrieved the buffalo hide, which Mak had put there to cure in the powerful sun the year before. It was as large and rigid as the hood of a car. I had to literally saw off strips with a carpenter’s saw. That night, I ate buffalo hide masak kuning, cooked in coconut milk and turmeric sauce. The hide itself was rubbery and tasteless, but you know, anything cooked in coconut milk and turmeric sauce ain’t half bad. After all that history between us, could I bear to just that horn away? Friends, it resides in my living room now.
[dropcap background=”yes”]I[/dropcap] knew Mak was a bit of a hoarder, and I was half-expecting to find a bit of money squirreled away in the floor boards or an old pillow. Sure enough, I stumbled across hundreds of dollars in cash! Problem is, it was duit pisang, banana money. The Japanese occupied Malaya for several years during World War II . During that time, they set up a government and printed their own local currency the locals called duit pisang because of the banana on the 10-dollar bill. It was worthless by the end of the war, and not worth any more than that now. But I couldn’t throw it out – I had to ask my wife to duit.
[dropcap background=”yes”]B[/dropcap]ut nothing was more thoroughly obsolete and worthless than my final discovery. Money, horns, brass Hajj trinkets: these things were, if useless, at least recognizable. These objects, though, completely stumped by daughters. Even the recycle-man didn’t want them.
1. I met an old man in Sarawak who told me proudly of serving four governments in the course of his career: The Rajah Brooke government. The Japanese Occupation government. The British Crown government. The Malaysian government. How’s that for a dedicated government servant?
2. “Wow, cool. You made a 3D model of the save icon!“