Pearl of Faith

Malaysian Nasheed - Raihan

Raihan’s first and most successful album [tooltip text=”Praise” trigger=”hover”]Puji-pujian[/tooltip] released in 1997. It could have been a phenomenon all by itself, but in fact it appeared simultaneously with two other amazing albums of original Malaysian nasheed, [tooltip text=”Divine Light” trigger=”hover”]Cahaya Ilahi[/tooltip] by Hijjaz and a self-titled album by Rabbani. Together the three albums transformed Malaysian pop music, becoming the top-sellingest local records before or since.  The music industry rushed to create a category for them just to give them a music award, and proceeded to produce increasingly plastic imitation bands in their wake.  It is hard to believe nearly 20 years have passed. The Malaysian nasyid moment appears to be gone; the most popular religious music artist in Malaysia now is Maher Zain, a foreigner.  As their international presence has faded, websites that once existed just to translate the lyrics of Hijaz, Raihan and Rabbani have vanished from the internet. Bin Gregory Productions is left to fill the gap.

[two_first]Pearl of Faith
Iman Mutiara

[two_first]Faith is a pearl
In the hearts of humanity
Who of Allah have certainty 
Most Holy, Most Powerful
Iman adalah mutiara
Di dalam hati manusia
Yang menyakini Allah
Maha Esa Maha Kuasa

How can you, without faith
Feel your servanthood to Him
How can you, without faith 
Become a righteous servant of the Lord
Tanpamu iman bagaimanalah
Merasa diri hamba padaNya
Tanpamu iman bagimanalah
Menjadi hamba Allah yang bertaqwa

Faith cannot be inherited
From a righteous father
It cannot be bought or sold
Nor found washed upon the shore
Iman tak dapat diwarisi
Dari seorang ayah yang bertaqwa
Ia tak dapat dijual beli
Ia tiada di tepian pantai

By any means whatsoever
Though you may climb the highest mountain
Though you may cross an ocean of fire
Still it cannot be possessed

If you do not return unto the Lord (x 5)
Walau apapun caranya jua
Engkau mendaki gunung yang tinggi
Engkau merentas lautan api
Namun tak dapat jua dimiliki

Jika tidak kembali pada Allah (x 5)



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Original Malay Lyrics found at Lirik Lagu

English Translation (c) Bin Gregory Productions

Me and Damon Gupton

Damon Gupton

Sam Raimi.  Megan Fox.  These are but a few of the Hollywood names I have a distant, tenuous, nearly imaginary, and at this point fairly pathetic connection to from my time as a child actor.  Here’s another.  If you are one of the millions who have been watching the critically acclaimed TV show Empire, you have probably noticed the suave Detective Calvin appear across several episodes.

If you are a more dedicated TV watcher, you might have caught The Divide last year, a crime drama set in Philadelphia starring the same striking individual in the lead role together with other terrific actors like Clarke Peters and Nia Long.


Cast of The Divide



And if you’ve been quietly stalking Damon Gupton’s career for years now from halfway around the world (*cough, cough*), you may remember him as the monk Gyatso in Avatar: the Last Airbender.


Monk Gyatso


But if somehow you haven’t heard of him yet, you really ought to [tooltip text=”or surreptitiously download the next day if outside the US” trigger=”hover”]turn on the television Thursday night on NBC[/tooltip] and check out The Player, a crime drama set in the Las Vegas casinos, starring Damon Gupton as Detective Cal Brown.  I guess there is also some guy named Wesley Snipes in it.


The Player starring Damon Gupton


With his prodigious talent, his obvious charisma, his dramatic gravitas, the only real question is why Hollywood took so long to start giving Damon his due.  The answer could only be because he’s been putting an equal amount of talent and energy into a career as a classical music conductor – like, symphonies and stuff – leading orchestras all over the country!


Damon Gupton, conductor


I don’t mean to brag, but the fact is I performed onstage alongside Damon, and played music with him too.  Sometimes at one and the same time.  Below, I perform my rendition of “Toot-toodleoot-toodleoot-toodleoodleoot” on the recorder as Flavius Maximus, manservant to Damon Gupton’s Brutus in a rendition of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar by the University of Detroit Jesuit Harlequins.


Brutus and Flavius


All joking aside, nobody who knew him then would be surprised at his success now.  There are some people you meet who are clearly destined for great things.  All the best, Damon. You’ve got a fan in Malaysia.


Raihan’s Sesungguhnya, in English

Malaysian Nasheed - Raihan

A translation of the classic nasheed Sesungguhnya by Raihan into English.

In truth this heart longs for You
In truth this being longs for You
Yet I cannot understand
Why love still has not appeared
Yet I cannot understand
Why longing has not yet blossomed
Sebenarnya hati ini cinta kepada Mu
Sebenarnya diri ini rindu kepada Mu
Tapi aku tidak mengerti
Mengapa cinta masih tak hadir
Tapi aku tidak mengerti
Mengapa rindu belum berbunga

Verily though I may gather
Every jewel from the ocean floor
Verily though I may pour
Rainwater from Your seven heavens
Yet love will not appear
Yet longing will not blossom
Sesungguhnya walau ku kutip
Semua permata di dasar lautan
Sesungguhnya walau ku siram
Dengan air hujan dari tujuh langit Mu
Namun cinta takkan hadir
Namun rindu takkan berbunga

I try to offer
A gift to You
But maybe because it’s contents
Are imperfect, it fails to shine
Ku cuba menghulurkan
Sebuah hadiah kepada Mu
Tapi mungkin kerana isinya
Tidak sempurna tiada seri

I try to water it
That it may grow and blossom
But maybe because the water
Is not as fresh as the fount of Kauthar
Ku cuba menyiramnya
Agar tumbuh dan berbunga
Tapi mungkin kerana airnya
Tidak sesegar telaga kauthar

Verily though I may gather
Every jewel from the ocean floor
Verily though I may pour
Rainwater from Your seven heavens
Yet love will not appear
Yet longing will not blossom
If not for hope of Your mercy
If not craving for sympathy
From You, O Allah

Sesungguhnya walau ku kutip
Semua permata di dasar lautan
Sesungguhnya walau ku siram
Dengan air hujan dari tujuh langit Mu
Namun cinta tak kan hadir
Namun rindu tak akan berbunga
Jika tidak mengharap rahmat Mu
Jika tidak menagih simpati
Pada Mu ya Allah

Lord bestow upon me Your love
Lord grant me longing for You
That I may know
My gratitude belongs only to You
Tuhan hadiahkanlah kasih Mu kepadaku
Tuhan kurniakanlah rinduku kepada Mu
Moga ku tahu
Syukur ku hanyalah milik Mu

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Hard to believe it has been nearly 18 years since this first came out.  It is merely old now, but in another ten years it will be a classic. In the meantime I preserve it here.

Original Malay lyrics sourced from, compiled by Mastura AR

Inggeris translation mine.

Climbing Mount Santubong


Mount Santubong looms ahead of my morning commute every morning, as it has for a dozen years. I’ve skirted the base of the mountain countless times, on the way to Damai beach or Sultan Tengah’s tomb, but I’d never made it to the top.  Not for lack of trying.  Two years ago, my son, my father and I attempted the ascent from a distant trailhead late in the morning and had to turn back.  This time, a party of six of us went bright and early to the straightest starting point to the top, Bukit Puteri.


The Paunchy Bunch
The Paunchy Bunch


The climb gets steep right from the get go.  Maybe it’s for the best – If you aren’t in shape for the climb, you’ll find out right away. We were all first time climbers and didn’t expect the going to be as challenging as it was.  After the first leg, a 40-minute hike, we were breathing heavy.  “[tooltip text=”Breathless, in Malay” trigger=”hover”]Lelah[/tooltip]!” said Mahmud, our Syrian friend.  “Don’t say ‘lelah‘, say ‘La ilaha ill Allah!‘” and off we went.


Lebah Kelulut Hive
Hive of Lebah Kelulut, the stingless tropical honeybee


It was a very arduous climb for a bunch of middle-aged sedentary office workers like us.  One of our friends had to turn back, while my spry 17-year-old son scrambled off ahead.  That left me and Mahmud alone to keep putting one foot after another.


Rugged roots
Rugged roots


The first 30 minutes of stiff hiking gave way to two and a half hours of climbing ladders, grabbing ropes and clambering on hands and feet over rocks and criss-crossing roots.  At one point Mahmud says to me the ligaments in his knee had been bothering him so he rubbed it with olive oil in the morning before heading out.  I could only laugh at his foolishness. People from the Mediterranean, they think olive oil is good for everything.  Everybody in Malaysia knows that’s not true: Coconut oil is good for everything!


Life upon Life
The new grows before the old has died


The tropical rainforest continues to be a mystery to me.  Hundreds of species, but the canopies tower far overhead.  The random plaques nailed to the trees do little to help distinguish one anonymous gray trunk from another.  And yet one plaque jumped out:  Quercus somethingorother!  A dear old oak tree.  I had no idea oaks were present in the tropics, but come to find out not only are there five or six species found in Malaysia, the Oak genus is believed to originate in Southeast Asia!  Oakland County, Michigan: you stand in Malaysia’s debt.


More climbing than hiking
More climbing than hiking


As we reached the peak, the woods opened to a rocky outcropping upon which was a steel plaque bearing the story of Datuk Merpati.  It says here that Datuk Merpati was the founder of the Santubong settlement somewhere between the 10th and 14th centuries. Datuk Merpati – Lord Pigeon – could command frogs to plant rice for him, possessed a golden dragon and could travel from Santubong to Brunei in a single day!  The stuff of legends, you scoff in disbelief.  And yet you believe without hesitation that our present ruler can travel from Kuala Lumpur to Hawaii in a single day aboard a silver dragon, there to struggle in competition against his rival for the greater glory of the nation.  What can Datuk Merpati say to that?


Datuk Merpati
Datuk Merpati, the formidable founder of Santubong settlement


After all the huffing and puffing, reaching the top was anticlimactic.  It is said on a clear day you can see all the way to the mountain range on the border with Kalimantan.  But we climbed in the middle of two weeks of haze blowing in from the peat fires of Indonesia, the worst year for it in Kuching since 2007. I could barely see down the mountainside, much less out toward any panoramic view.  Still worth it, we all agreed, and a good reason to come back again.  The next target for The Paunchy Bunch is Mount Serapi, once the weather clears and our joints are well lubricated in coconut oil.


Hazy View
Hazy View

You can get used to anything

Pic by Orihara San

The hazy weather Kuching had the last few days made me think of an old song from my childhood. It’s by Fred Small, and it goes like this:


Fred Small, 1976

Found on Home-Style Stone Soup: The Streetwax Recording Collective

When I was a kid takin’ biology,
I learned about man’s adaptability,
So don’t worry about reapin’ the seed’s we’ve sown.
When the goin’ gets tough, the tough get goin’!
That’s why we’ve got nothin’ to fear.
That’s why we’ll live a zillion years,
‘Cause we can get used to anything!


You can get used to anything–
A sunny day with no birds to sing!
Nitty-gritty in the city makes your eyes sting!
Ozone depletion and Burger King!
A little poison in the food on your plate,
A little cancer when you’re fifty-eight
You can get used to anything!

The factory was billowin’ smoke.
Every mornin’ I’d wake up and start to choke.
My lawyer said, “Wow! This smacks of tort!
Leave it to me. We’ll take the bastards to court!”
The judge said, “Look at the investment they’ve made!
They’re not hurtin’ you much compared to what they’ve paid,
And you can get used to anything!”

Way down South in New Orleans,
You know the drinking water ain’t too clean.
The mayor, he says, “It’s perfectly fine!
If it weren’t, would I give it to children of mine?
Who cares what it does to a couple of rats?
We gotta wait till we all get the facts!
And we can get used to anything!

CHORUS: (…when you’re forty-eight…)

In the year two-thousand and eighty-four
You get a square foot of land apiece and nothin’ more.
Sometimes it seems a little tight,
But the TV’ll tell you it’s all right!
Clean concrete where dirty grass once grew!
No more trees to block your view!
And you can get used to anything!

CHORUS: (…when you’re thirty-eight…)

I use to eat bacon but it went to my brain.
Used to take deep breaths, but now they cause me pain.
Used to buy what I needed, not what’s advertised.
Used to cross the street and not be traumatized!
Used to buy fresh fruit at the corner store.
Used to go to bed without lockin’ my door,
But you can get used to anything!

CHORUS: (…when you’re twenty-eight…)


dally in the Alley poster-1991
Dally in the Alley 1991 poster, featuring the Don’t Look Now Jug Band (and the Detroit Incinerator)


You Can Get Used to Anything was performed by Eden Winter and the Motown hillbillies of the Don’t Look Now Jug Band, with another verse inspired by the Detroit Incinerator.  Here it is:

Way up north in old Motown,
The air has turned a funky brown,
Now the finished that monster with the big tall stack,
Everybody’s really gotta cough and hack,
Some say recycling’s the way to go,
They say Burn it! It’s cheaper don’t ya know,
And you can get used to anything.

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I remember singing the lyrics with a big brown van full of grade-schoolers hurtling around the metro Detroit area with the Huchingsons at the wheel sometime in the early 80’s.  I couldn’t believe there was only one website on the entire WWW that knew this song, and (with the greatest respect) that site looked ancient and in danger of disappearing.  So I have reproduced the lyrics in full.  Thanks to Mudcat and contributor harpgirl for keeping it alive!


Spelling Champions of Sarawak

The biggest annual national spelling tournament in Malaysia is Spell-It-Right. Starting early in the year, several of my daughters had participated in rounds starting within the school itself and moving to wider competitions from there.  Inattentive father that I am, I didn’t realize this was the big day, the State Finals, when I dropped Kak Yang off in the morning.  She thought it finished at 12, so when I rolled up at 12.30 to fetch her I was surprised to discover that my daughter had made it into the final round.  From a pool of 100 children that morning, she was one of 10 to advance.  From there things became significantly more intense. The rest of the story is told in the slideshow that you can watch by clicking the first photo.

The dedicated and hardworking English teachers of SK(A) Datuk Haji Abdul Kadir Hassan were there to encourage their students to the end and deserve the lion’s share of the credit.  Stay tuned to this website for results from the Nationals in October.

Mengapa rebung adiknya buluh

Bamboo thrusts dramatically out of the soil, clean, symmetrical, very sharp. The shoots grow fast, shooting over my head within a matter of days. Only once they have reached their final height, long slender swaying canes 25 feet tall, will they leaf out and send stiff woody side branches out from the nodes. They can grow so fast because all the structures of the full grown cane are already mostly present and developed inside the rebung. They only need to expand. Rebung is the term for the bamboo shoot, and it pops up in surprising places in Malaysia.


Sarong field
Stylized rebung in the kepala sarong.


Maybe for its power, maybe for its unique conical shape, rebung has been inspiring folk art for a very long time. The beautiful batik sarongs[0.5] worn by Malay women have two parts, the majority pattern or [tooltip text=”body” trigger=”hover”]badan[/tooltip], and a contrasting band of a different pattern or color, the [tooltip text=”Head” trigger=”hover”]kepala[/tooltip]. A very common pattern for the kepala is of two opposing rows of cones reminiscent of a backgammon board but which are in fact stylized rebung.


Rebung has been inspiring pantuns[1] too, like this one that is not afraid to ask the hard questions in life:

Dragging a shield while shaking in fear
Holding a telescope and flashlight too
How can Moustache be big brother to Beard
Why is Rebung’s kid sister Bamboo[2]]?


Bawa perisai terhinggut-hinggut
Bawa teropong sambil bersuluh
Kenapa misai abangkan janggut
Mengapa rebung adiknya buluh?



Umbut Nanas
Umbut Nanas – pineapple shoots


Rebung is edible. You might say rebung is a type of umbut[3] (although Malay grammarians may disagree). Umbut refers to the soft, tender growing shoots of basically any plant. In that early growing stage, the meristems of many plants are edible. Coconut is the most common. Maybe we could say it is the default umbut, but pineapple, gingery-type plants like lengkuas and tepus, even banana all have edible umbut, if you are hungry enough. Umbut of lengkuas and tepus is delicious in oxtail soup, or steamed and eaten with sambal. Banana umbut I found to be watery, fibrous and without flavor, a vegetable of desperation. Maybe I just haven’t had it cooked right yet. Pineapple umbut I have never tried, but there it is for sale in the market. Someone’s eating it.


Rebung cut in half
Rebung cut in half


Cutting away the outer scales of the rebung reveals all the nodes and other tiny plant parts waiting to enlarge. On the authority of my mother-in-law, after the rebung has been chopped, it should be soaked in salty water for a time. The light pickling gives it a slight yellowish cast, softens and removes some of the bitterness. Some only. Rebung is a bitter vegetable, and maybe for that reason it is often cooked in santan[4], whose creaminess can further take the edge off. On this occasion, she made rebung cooked in santan with summer squash, dried anchovies and turmeric leaf.


Rebung masak lemak
Rebung masak lemak


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Leave them be to prepare rebung
where the awful tiny hairs reside[5]
Leave those who are boastful and proud
Disaster is only a step behind pride
Biarlah orang memasang rebung
rebung itu banyak miangnya
Biarlah orang berlagak sombong
Sombong itu banyak malangnya


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0.5. Sarongs are more commonly known locally as kain batik for women and kain palikat for men. More on Malay garment technology previously.
1. Original malay pantuns courtesy of Malay Civilization.  Translations to English mine.

2. Bamboo comes from the Malay word bambu, but for some reason it is no longer commonly used here, having been replaced by buluh. Malay contributions to English previously.

3. Umbut kelapa previously.

4. Santan, or coconut milk, previously.

5. The base of the bamboo nodes has tiny fiberglass-like hairs that irritate the skin, called miang.  Miang buluh previously, in the context of harvesting coconuts.

The Years of Rice and Salt

The Years of Rice and Salt

An alternative history where all the Europeans die in the Black Death and the great civilizations of the world are Islam and China. Such an exciting premise. We follow three kindred souls through group reincarnations era after era. The way their essential inclinations and human potentials are encouraged or limited by the circumstances fate delivers them is my favorite part of the book and leads to some poignant moments. Details of the new Earth fire the imagination from time to time, like the terraced rice paddies along the valleys of California, or the survival of an Iroquois League state in the New World.

But most vignettes fail to engross in the unique developments or alternate directions life took. Instead there is a lot, just a whole lot of awkward dialogue that are essentially lectures to the reader, the main thrusts of which appeared to be three.

1. How little history can really be changed: Africans are still enslaved and brought to work the New World, WWI is still fought in the early 20th century with trenches and mustard gas. What is different often seems different by fiat.

2. The march of scientific progress is linear, inexorable and the true calling of mankind: the Galileo-type guy drops balls of the tower in Samarqand instead of Italy, a Tamil person discovers the theory of relativity, but there is nothing significantly different about the enterprise, including an arrival at a late 20th century benevolent positivism. (Although of course there are zeppelins.)

3. And the main obstacle religion: over a span of five hundred years, Islam does not get beyond (long, tedious, superficial) discussions about the need to Reject the Hadith and Lift the Veil, and as a consequence stagnates such that they fight WWI with camels and slave battalions while women are illiterate “cattle”, this despite the Muslim world spreading from the Congo to the British Isles to Central Asia.

The last chapter introduces some viewpoints on history that allow the book to be read a few other ways, but I found it muddled. In the end, I don’t see what this genre of alternative history accomplishes that isn’t accomplished by good history writing on the one hand (historical fiction, narrative histories, subaltern histories teach me more) or the unrestricted imaginary realms of hard sci-fi on the other. The Years of Rice and Salt didn’t really do it for me on either score.

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson on GoodReads.

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[Inspired by a premise similar to the book, Nikolaj Cyon produced a GORGEOUS map of an uncolonized 19th century Africa that holds far more wonder and curiosity than the book delivered.]

Alkebu-Lan by Nikolaj Cyon. Visit his website for hi-res versions and more.