Saturday, June 30, 2012

Quick update

So, as many of you may have noticed, I have been twisting Malay proverbs into stories, for want of anything better to fill my blog with. Of course, I say proverbs, but as far as I could tell at the time, they could have been anything. That's the problem I'm facing at the moment. You see, in Malay, everything was so much easier to say. in English, we have idioms, proverbs, figures of speech, aphorisms, etc. etc. etc. but in Malay, all of those are categorised under one word : peribahasa. Of course, hyponyms of peribahasa would include simpulan bahasa, pepatah kata, bidalan, etc. etc. etc. but if one was feeling lazy and couldn't remember which class that particular peribahasa fell under, he would only have to write peribahasa and be able to get away clean.

Unfortunately, not so with English. Only earlier this evening did I bother to take the time to read up on the fundamental differences between idioms and proverbs, and I found out that I've already made a mistake. Fortunately, out of the three fables I've written so far, I've only erred in one of them: the first one. "Like the owl who misses the moon" is not a proverb, its a SIMILE. Dang. Well, I won't try to pretend that I've never made such a mistake like that by editing the post again, for it is only human to err (that one is a proverb, by the way).

The main reason why I started researching these differences is because of an obstacle that was presented to me by my next peribahasa: "kaki gajah"; translated, "elephant feet". What does it mean? Well, it means, "big feet". In Malay, this kind of peribahasa would be called a simpulan bahasa, and as unenlightened as I was, I was aware that this two-word phrase could not be called a proverb. I look it up on Google, and apparently, an idiom is "a saying whose meaning can not be predicted from its individual words". Basically, "raining cats and dogs", which means "raining heavily" is an idiom because, when you think of rain, and then you think of cats and dogs, the last thing that comes to mind is heavy rain, right? Therefore, it is an idiom, because the meaning is obscure and not what you would expect from the individual words. Make sense so far? Therefore, in that sense, "elephant feet" should be an idiom, right? Perhaps not. Because when you think of elephants, and then you think of feet, of course you're going to think of BIG FEET. Is this peribahasa not obscure enough in its meaning to be called an idiom? Ah, it is the little things in life that drive the strongest constitutions into insanity, like water dripping on a rock. (That one's a simile!)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Storytime - Don't assume that still waters hold no crocodiles.

There is a Malay proverb that goes "air yang tenang jangan disangka tiada buaya". Roughly translated, it sounds something like "Don't assume that still waters hold no crocodiles". What it means is, "Don't think that a quiet person is not capable of rioting".

It is a wonder that so many Malay proverbs have animals in them, but that's probably because in the old days, the Malays had to make proverbs out of the things they saw around them, which mainly consisted of animals at the time. As for this particular proverb, it probably originated from an old Malay folk's tale that probably went something like this:

There was once a pair of deer siblings who lived in the forest. They were a brother and a sister, a male and a female deer. The sister, who was the younger of the two, was more mischievous, and enjoyed exploring more, which often led to trouble. The older brother was the more responsible one, and often had to look out for his sister. Together, the two of them got along well between themselves and the other creatures of the forest.

Now, at this time, both male and female deers had antlers. Both the brother deer and the sister deer had majestic antlers adorning their heads, and the sister deer was especially particular about her antlers and took good care of them. Their antlers were also used for self-defense, for those times when they had to walk home through the dark forest at night.

On one particular day, the two deers stopped by the forest's river to have a drink of water. However, these days the river had been getting more and more congested with the ever-growing population of fresh-water fish. They kicked up the mud at the bottom of the slow-flowing river, turning the water murky. What's more, as the sister deer was bending her head to slurp water from the river, young guppies swam up to her antlers and nibbled at them on the surface of the water. The sister was most shocked by this, and quickly drew her head back.

"Brother!" She cried. "Can't you do something about these insolent fish? I can't see my reflection in this water, because they keep stirring the mud, and I can't even have a drink without them trying to bite my antlers off!"The brother, around whose antlers the fish had been happily leaping through, stopped drinking and laughed.

"Come on, sister. They not strong enough to do that, you know, and they mean you no harm. They just want to play. Try it! It tickles!"

The sister drew herself up indignantly. "No way! I refuse to let my beautiful antlers become the plaything of these pleasure-seeking youngsters. Can't we go get a drink someplace where there are fewer fish?"

The brother shook his head. "Dear sister, the whole river is teeming with aquatic life these days, from the hills to the ocean. Where do you propose to go? There's nothing we can do about it, sister, and the fish have their rights to live in this river. If anything, we should be treating them with respect. After all, we're drinking out of their home, you know."

She felt offended that her own brother should choose to side with the fish rather than herself, so with a huff, she turned away from him and walked further down the river. But her brother's words were true. There wasn't a spot in the river which wasn't filled with fish.

Then, she heard a soft sniggering coming from the trees. Looking up, she saw a monkey, sitting in the tree with a hand over his mouth and trying to hold back his laughter, although he wasn't very successful about it.

"What are you laughing at?" she asked him sharply.

"Sorry." The monkey sniggered. "It's just that I couldn't help but overhear your little... conversation with your brother just now." He sniggered again. "Poor little thing. You can't have a peaceful spot to drink water without having your beautiful horns nipped at, and you can't even check your own beautiful reflection. Such a shame!" And here he burst out laughing uncontrollably.

The young deer just waited there, staring at him and waiting for him to finish laughing. Eventually the monkey came to, and stood up, saying "Come now, don't look at me like that. Tell you what. What if... I knew of a place... where there were no fish?"

The deer's eyes lit up. "Really? There's a place in this river that is entirely free of fish?"

"Oh, it's not in the river, exactly. Further upstream, there's a place where the river branches off to a kind of lagoon kind of place. Its nice and shady, with trees everywhere and everything. And yes, not a single fish lives there. Goodness me, I wonder why that is!" He was unable to control himself and burst into a fit of laughter again.

This time the deer shouted at him. "Hey! Hey, stop laughing for a while! Do you think you could show me where this place is?"

The monkey grinned. "Sure thing, missy! Just follow me! Oh, by the way, try to be quiet, so your brother doesn't notice you when we pass by. You wouldn't want him to come along and spoil all the fun, now, would you? Now let's go!"

Before the sister deer could open her mouth to answer, the monkey was swinging off through the trees. Obedient to the monkey's orders, she treaded softly past her brother, so that she passed him by unnoticed while he was still drinking.

Further upstream, where the river merged into one from two streams as it flowed down from the hills, the monkey hopped down from the trees and joined the deer on the ground. Gesturing to her to follow him, he crossed over to the other side of the river by hopping over some flat stones sticking out of the water. She followed his steps, and nearly lost her footing once or twice, but managed to get to the other side. As they walked up the river bank, the monkey told the deer where they were going.

"As the river flows down from the mountains," he explained, "and comes near to the forest, it splits into two streams, which join back into a single river at the point we're standing now. As you can see, as we go upstream, we can trace back the river to the point where it rejoins. From here we have two paths, once that's clear, and one that's shaded with trees that block out the sunlight... and... make the place rather ominous... but! It is this half of the river which branches off into the lagoon. Right... here!"

They had been walking through the thick woods for a while, against the flow of the smaller stream, and they came to a point where the water flowed off from the path, deeper into the thick trees. Here the monkey stopped. "Uh... Well, just follow the flow of the water, and you'll get to the spot! There's only one path there, so you won't lose your way. Well, this is as far as I go, so, uh, goodbye, and have fun!" And he ran off, cackling, into the trees. The young deer had become rather afraid of the dark woods around her, but decided that since she had come so far, she should at least have a look at the place, and then return if it wasn't very nice.

But how surprised she was when, as she followed the stream, she arrived at a bright and sunny glade, in the center of which the water flowed into a clear, glistening lake, surrounded by sweet-smelling flowers and trees! This was such a bright contrast from the gloomy forest, that all of the deer's fears dissipated, and she was glad she came.

The most amazing thing, it seemed to the deer, was that in such a calm and peaceful place, there wasn't a single fish in the water! The deer was overjoyed, and ran up to the side of the lake. She tried some of the water, and it tasted as sweet as honey. She drank to her hearts content, and was glad that she had followed the monkey. No fish tried to bite her antlers, so she didn't have to be afraid of lowering her head to the water. And was the water clear? She straightened her neck and looked down at the surface of the water. The water was clear, and she could see her reflection in it. The sun sparkled off the water, and the deer admired the beauty of her antlers in the reflection.

Suddenly, there was a small movement in the water, and before the young deer could react, a huge beast burst out of the water right where her reflection had been, with its jaws open and lunging at her neck! Instinctively, the deer swung her head around to protect herself with her antlers, but the crocodile only clamped itself onto its antlers. With the weight of the huge moster pulling down her antlers, the deer could not pull away from the water, but continued to be dragged further and further into the lake. The deer, screamed for help, but realised that there wasn't anyone nearby.

All of a sudden, her brother leapt out of the trees. Calling to her sister to hold on, he charged the crocodile on the bank, and with an upward swing of his head, his antlers caught the crocodile in the neck, and flung him into the air. However, the crocodile's jaws were so strong, that he retained his grip on both antlers, and they were snapped clean off the sister's head. With a splash, the beast landed in the water, and swam off to a deep corner to lick his wounds.

"Are you alright, sister?" The brother ran up to his sister, who had collapsed on the ground, and was sobbing. "Don't worry, sister, its alright," he said. "The fish from downstream came to tell me that the monkey was trying to bring to this place. All of them, all through the river, lent a hand and led me upstream, right to this very spot. Do you understand why there are no fish here, sister? No fish will live here, because the crocodile is a difficult neighbour to live with. Now do you understand, sister? The fish are our guardians, and they patrol the waters to keep us from harm."

Since then, the female deer lost her antlers, and was unable to protect herself from danger. From that very day, female deers did not grow antlers, and only male deers were able to have them. As a result, many female deers would flock around a single male deer, so that he would be able to protect them all from danger. Since that horrible day, the female deer has not had antlers, and has had to rely on the male deer for protection. However, sometimes you will come across a female deer that has two small stubs where the antlers would otherwise be on a male. This may be the very same deer which, all those years ago, had both her antlers broken off by the crocodile.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Storytime: Bleat when in the goat's stable, moo when in the bull's stable

There is a Malay proverb that says "Masuk ke kandang kambing mengembek, masuk ke kandang kerbau menguak". Translated to English, it runs "Bleat when in the goat's stable, moo when in the bull's stable". What it means is, you should follow the customs of any place you visit. As the English proverb goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do". However, while the early Malays were well-versed in the behaviour and calls of domestic animals, evidently they did not know much about Rome.

Several Malay proverbs are based on animals. One wonders how such proverbs came into existence. As it is with most old sayings in any language, this one is probably traceable back to some old Malay folk tale. Don't take my word for it, but it probably went something like this:

There was once a time when the parrot was an incredibly good speaker. He spoke smoothly and eloquently, and was a very sociable animal. He would chat with any animal that happened to pass underneath the tree he was perched on, and made a lot of friends with his outgoing manner and his highly-entertaining jokes and anecdotes.

However, he was also quite a bit of a jokester. More than once, he played tricks on the other animals in the forest by imitating their voices and confusing them. The parrot possessed this incredible talent for voice mimicry, and it was so amazing that he could mimic the noises made by every creature in the forest, including the birds of the air, the beasts of the land, and the little fishies in the river.

On one particular day, the parrot woke up feeling rather jolly, and thought he would play a trick on someone. He took off from his usual perch in his tree and glided through the woods, looking for a friend to talk to. However, for some unusual reason, there was no one to be found. The forest was completely silent. No critters passed by on the ground below, not a single bird decked the branches of the many trees, and even the river seemed devoid of any sort of life.

"Pooh!" Said the parrot to himself, landing in a tree. "The lion must have called another meeting today. Who does he think he is, to call away every single animal of the forest to a single place like that? Pooh again, I say! The lion is just a big kitten with a lot of hair! I marvel at the way all the other animals bow down to him like blades of grass!"

With this, and other various exclamations of "Pooh!", the parrot flew off. It was evident that he wouldn't be able to meet anyone in the forest today, as everyone had gone to the lion's den for the meeting of the animals. But the parrot wasn't ready to have a boring day. His gleeful spirit wouldn't let him sit still, and he desperately wanted to play a trick on someone.

He continued flying as he mused over these things, and eventually found himself at the edge of the woods. Perching himself on a branch, he looked out over the vast plains outside the woods as he turned his thoughts over in his head. Then something caught his eye. On the other side of the field, he saw a little house at the foot of a hill. Outside the house, he saw some very strange animals, which he had never seen before. There were big ones and small ones. The big animals had long horns and long tails, while the small ones had considerably shorter horns, and had beards. These animals were, in fact, bulls and goats, and they belonged to the farmer who lived in the house.

The parrot becamer very curious, and excited, as he realised that here were some potential victims for his pranks. Silently, he glided across the field and over the farm animals unnoticed, and perched himself on a tree, where he observed these strange creatures.

While he was sitting there, a couple of goats came quite near to the tree to graze the grass there. As they talked to each other, they bleated at intervals between their speech. "Mek-ek-ek!" The parrot noticed this, and was fascinated. Here was an animal that made a noise he had never learned before! Instantly, a plan formulated in the parrot's mind, and he knew what kind of prank he could play on the goats.

Very soon, the farmer came out with his dog, and the animals were herded back into their stables: the goats into the first stable, and the bulls into the second stable. The parrot watched all this closely, and when the farmer and the dog went back into the house, the parrot left his hiding place and glided over to the goat's stable. There, he flew in through a window and landed on a beam. The noise made by his landing attracted the goat's attention, and they all turned up to look at him.

The parrot beamed down at them all from his perch. "Good evening," he said. "Mek-ek-ek!"
The goats stared up at him in wonder. One of them asked him, "What are you, and why do you soumd like us?"
The parrot replied "Why, I'm one of you, of course! Mek-ek-ek!"
"But you certainly don't look anything like us."
"Oh, pooh! What does that matter? Mek-ek-ek! Its obvious that I'm one of you! Mek-ek-ek!"

The goats looked at each other in amazement and whispered to each other. This strange creature that flew their window looked nothing like them, and yet it sounded just like them and claimed to be one of them. What did this strange creature mean to do?

Meanwhile, the parrot on his perch burst into a fit of laughter, and fell down on the beam, clutching his stomach and laughing at their confusion.

Suddenly, one of the older goats spoke up and said, "My brothers, I think it is very plausible that this fellow is indeed one of our kind, as he claims to be. I have seen a lot in my time, and I have known that high up in the mountains lives a kind of animal that is just like us and sounds like us, but lives completely differently! These goats who live in the mountains, called mountain-goats, can traverse the steepest of cliffs and survive in difficult conditions. Although they are quite different from us, they are still one of our kind. Now, it appears that this strange creature here has come from the forest, and as he sounds just like us and claims to be one of our kind, what reason do we have not to believe him? Perhaps goats live in the forest as well!" Then he turned up to the amazed parrot and said "Brother goat, I must welcome you warmly into our home! You will find that we are not inhospitable to our visitors!"

The parrot marvelled at the gullibility of the goats. Because of the words of one senile old animal, the whole herd of goats was greeting him and welcoming him like some long lost brother! The parrot hopped down from his perch and landed in the midst of the goats. At once, some food was brought out for him, and the goats treated him with the utmost kindness and respect.

"Well, this is certainly very nice!" Thought the parrot to himself, with his mouth full of food. "These funny animals which I have just discovered today are even more gullible than the forest animals! I never would have thought that possible! And now, I just had to play a simple voice-imitation trick on them, and they're lavishing me with treats and gifts! Absolutely amazing!"

Once he had finished eating, he decided to leave the stable as quickly as he could, before the goats found out about his trick. So he made up an excuse to leave, and flew out from the same window that he had entered. Once he was outside, he burst into laughter, and rolled around on the ground with tears streaming down his face. The way he had blindly led the goats into believing he was one od them was such jolly good fun in his mind.

Then he got another idea. He remembered that there were two stables, and that the other animals were in the second stable. He thought it would be a good idea to try to trick them too. He flew to the second stable, where found a low window, and he perched himself on the windowsill. Then, he greeted the animals inside with a loud voice. "Greetings, my brothers! Mek-ek-ek!"

When the bulls heard the bleating noises made by the parrot, they turned round to look at him, and all of them stared at him with intense ferocity. The parrot, however, did not notice this hostility, and actually had no idea that the bulls and goats were different animals.

The largest bull in the stable said to the parrot, "What are you, and what business do you think you have here?"
The parrot replied "Why, I'm one of you, of course! Mek-ek-ek! I have just arrived from the forest, and I have come for a visit! Mek-ek-ek!"
The bull stared at him. "But you certainly look nothing like us, and in fact, you sound just like a goat!"
The parrot grinned and burst out laughing. "Yes, exactly!" he said through laughter. "I'm a goat! Mek-ek-ek! I'm one of you! Mek-ek-ek!"

At this, all the bulls became very angry. They bellowed in an intimidating way that is unique to bulls, and stomped their hooves loudly on the ground. The parrot became very alarmed.

The large bull looked the angriest of all. He did not bellow, but pawed at the ground with his front hoof, and had his red bloodshot eyes fixed on the parrot.

"We have been enemies with the goats for years!" Yelled the bull. "And now you, you impertinent little scamp, you have the gall to flaunt your way over here and make fun of us? What sort of fools do you think we are? Be off with you!"

With that, the bull issued forth a horrendous roar, and charged full speed at the parrot. Before he could take flight, the parrot was hit full force in the chest by the bull, who was charging so fast he broke down the wall. The parrot was flung into the air, but managed to regain his balance and turned his freefall into flight. He flew off to the forest as fast as he could, while behind him the bulls were escaping from the stable and tearing up the ground in their madness.

Panting and wheezing, the parrot didn't stop flying until he was back at his own tree. He stopped there, and tried to catch his breath. Then, turning to the direction of the farm, he shouted "Yeesh, cool down, you hotheads! It was only a joke!"

Then he stopped. He noticed something strange about his voice. While he had always been silver-tongued, his voice was now distorted from the blow he had received from the bull, which must have damaged his throat, and he now sounded horrible! The parrot tried saying a few more words, but the sound of his own horrible voice rang loudly in his ears. Infuriated, he tried to scream at the clouds, but the only sound that came out was "SQUAAAWRK!!"

To this very day, the parrot's voice has a certain squawky quality to it, and even when he does speak, his words are indistinct and hard to make out. He can no longer speak as smoothly as he used to, and prefers to keep silent, to hide his own voice. However, he is still a friendly animal, and whenever someone wishes him "Hello," he feels compelled to return the greeting with a "HARROW!! SQUARK!!", and thus betray the sad story of how he lost his voice.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Storytime: Like the owl who misses the moon

There is a Malay proverb: "Bagai pungguk rindukan bulan". Roughly translated, it says "Like the owl who misses the moon". The meaning of this proverb is, "wishing for something that cannot be gotten".

One wonders how a proverb like this came into existence. However, it being a traditional Malay saying, it probably originated from an old folktale that went something like this:

He heaved a heavy sigh, and turned
his eyes skyward.
 Once upon a time, the owl was not a nocturnal animal. He slept during the night and looked for food during the day. He was often revered as a highly intelligent animal by all the other creatures of the forest, large and small, and the animals often asked him for help in solving their problems. He lived for many years, and indeed outlived many generations of the animals he assisted with his wisdom.

However, the owl, being a bird of extraordinary mentality, was one day struck by what is called "existential angst". He started wondering what the point of life was. He wondered what his mission was in this world. He wondered what would happen to him after his life came to and end. He pondered over these things for a very long time, and as he did, he observed many things. He saw how the changing of the seasons caused brightly-colored flowers to droop and wilt, and die as winter approached. He remembered all of his old friends, who had died of old age, a long time ago. In light of all these reflections, he took a turn for the worse, and resolved that there was no real point in his existence.

The owl's spirit was broken. He no longer had the energy to do anything. He did not look for food in the day, and he did not bother about sleeping in the night. He refused to lend his intelligence to the creatures of the woods, and by and by, he fell very ill.

One night, the owl was slumped against the trunk of his tree, high up among its branches, as he lamented upon his utterly meaningless existence. "What is my life to me?" He said to himself. "Every morning I wake up, and in the afternoons I look for fruits to fill my appetite, and at night I go to sleep, only to awaken the next day and repeat the same process. But to what end, ah, to what end? Is my life merely a meaningless cycle? Is it my sole and desolate purpose in this world to give my wordly wise advice to my friends, only to watch them fall victim to death, knowing that one day I shall be claimed by the same?"

With a cry of "Alas, alack!" He heaved a heavy sigh, and turned his eyes skyward. All of a sudden, he started. He was taken by shock. He leapt to his feet and his heart started beating rapidly.

There, in the night sky, was the round moon, shining in its full glory against the darkness of space, surrounded by glittering stars. Never before had the owl seen the moon like this before! He was fascinated by the beauty of the full moon, which appeared to be much more beautiful than anything he had ever seen before.

"What is this?" He cried. "What is this amazing luminescent form that I behold yonder in the reaches of space? Why, it is the moon! Why, the moon looks absolutely beautiful tonight! How could I have never noticed it before? I daresay the moon's beauty even surpasses that of the butterflies in migration, or the pink-tinged sunsets against the snowy alps! Why, I do believe I've found my purpose to live! Yes, it is the moon! I must make it my mission in this world to acquire that moon for myself!"

And with that, he ruffled his feathers, spread his wings, and took off into the night sky. He glided above the trees, and began flapping his wings tirelessly to gain height. For a very long time, the owl strove to achieve a higher altitude. For many hours, he flapped and flapped and flapped his wings, hoping to eventually reach the beauty of the moon and claim it as his own.

However, he flew for so many hours, that before he knew it, the sun was rising on the horizon. And the very moment the sun's rays penetrated the darkness of night, the moon suddenly disappeared!

The owl, realising that day had come, and that his hopes of reaching the moon were destroyed, was heartbroken. He was suddenly overcome by fatigue, as he had been trying all night to fly to the moon. He returned to the forest and landed on his tree. He was tired and hungry, and had just received the devastating blow of watching the moon disappear in front of his eyes. However, his spirit had regained its fire.

He thought to himself, "Alas! The sun has arrived, and with it comes the day! I cannot continue my mission for the moon, if the moon is nowhere to be seen! Nevertheless, I now know what I must do. I must rest and regain my strength, so that tonight I shall have the energy to try again!"

Before he could look for food, the owl was so tired that he slept in his tree. At dusk he awoke, before the moon had made its appearance, and he scavenged for food in the forest. Not long after that, the moon appeared again, in its full glory! At once, the owl began flying upwards towards the heavens. But once again, before he had come anywhere close to the moon's surface, the sun rose again, and the moon vanished.

The owl tried again the next night, and the night after, and the night after that. But each time, the sun rose and wiped out all his hopes and dreams before he could reach the moon. The distance between the owl and the moon was simply too great to be covered in one night!

Very soon, the owl gave up his quest of reaching the moon. However, his love for the moon still burned ever brightly in his once-broken soul. Even though he knew he would never be able to reach the moon, he would stay up at night and admire its beauty from afar.

That is why, to this very day, the owl sleeps during the day, so that he can be awake when the moon appears at night. And when we hear the owl going "Hoo, hoo, hoo," that is actually the sound of the owl's lamentations and love poems to the moon!

Orang Asli update (late)

I've been putting it off for a long time due to holiday-induced laziness, but its time to upload my photos from the camp to the Orang Asli village!

 One of the cars broke down on the highway before we even reached the village! I was anticipating a lot of difficulties during the camp, but it turns out that the biggest problem we faced happened before we even left civilization.

We eventually reached the first village where we were going to stay. As Orang Asli villages go, this one was actually quite nicely set up.

There was this puppy there too, and it kept following us everywhere.

 The following day, we hiked further uphill to our next village. As the camp commandant, I thought it appropriate to lag behind and make sure no one else slowed down or got left behind. As shown in the picture, bringing up the rear can be a very lonesome task...

There was this wild boar at the second village! It was chained up, as if it had recently been captured out of the forest. No, we didn't eat it.

The next day, we moved on to the third Orang Asli village. After spending the night there, we got up and painted the church. These children came to watch us, and later when everything was done, we played in the river with them. They posed for the above photo on the road outside the church, together with one of our camp counselors on the right.

I wish I could have taken more pictures, but a handphone makes for a rather inconvenient kind of camera. Nevertheless, visiting an Orang Asli village like that was a real experience, and I wouldn't mind going again. We really get to learn, and indeed get used to, their lifestyle outside of civilization.

Thursday, June 7, 2012


The camp was great, but I think I'm coming down with a fever. Tough luck.