Unfamiliar faces in town


The Indian-Muslim masters of cendol

A bowl of cendol pulut is a must. Rojak is optional. Time to head home and take a nap, I asked him for the total in Malay. He replies in Tamil. I start fishing for coins from my wallet. Haven’t see you in awhile. How’s your mother? he asks. She’s really well. I have not been back for quite some time, I reply in Malay. He smiles a confused smile before replying, so you can’t speak Tamil but you can understand? Yes, I replied, this time in English. For that one millisecond of a moment, in front of the cashier at Cendol Mustafa was the most awkward conversation in the world. We share a smile, a language we are both fluent with.

Every frame a labour

This uncles frame shop is the only honest business in the block, flanked by money lenders, prostitutes and a travel company. I ask him if he had any old frames that he didn’t want anymore, subtly hinting at the chest high stacks of frames partially hidden under mountains of dust, cob-webs and broken frames. Judging by the way he reacted, I must have been the first person in his 46 years of operation to ask for thrash. While he attends to a more worthy customer, I lift the frames within reach, only because there was literally no room for me to reach any further.

Broken portraits of members of the royal family, Buddha, Allah, Hindu gods, flowers, painted landscapes, studio portraits, cross-stitched home sweet homes, they’re all there; tokens of memory and guidance destined for the wall. Simple, almost broken black wooden frames were exactly what I was looking for. Again he looked at me with pitiful eyes, probably wondering how lost and lonesome one must be to walk into his shop looking for something broken. He fixed the frames with eager hands, carefully nailing the backboard in, dusting the glass with a half-sized feather duster. 10 dollars, he said with a smile. I walk out with the frames wrapped in old newspaper under my arms, forgetting to look at the name of the shop.

The New New

Time-tested, this might just be the only place in the world where your meal arrives before your butt lands on the chair. Not even instant or fast food, this is pre-emptive food. The only dish on the menu, the Capitol chicken rice is famous among those who grew up in old Kuantan. Now called ‘The New Capital Restaurant’, the name change was a mandatory requirement from the local council. Everything else about the place has remained the same. Looking at my bulky RB67 on the table, she stopped in her tracks from table to table and asked if I was a reporter. I stringed together an unnecessarily lengthy speech explaining my desire to photograph the things I remember seeing around Kuantan as a child. A simple ‘yes’ would have been better.

She had a beautiful face, with wrinkles showing off more years than I have lived, beautifully permed short hair, and a simple green-jade bracelet around her wrist. She came back later, telling me about the old camera that she still keeps at home. She can’t use it anymore, but it’s still there. Right next to Capitol is a shop selling cheap clothes and household items, inside a building that was formerly a cinema. Across the road is a row of shops, where I distinctly remember the corner lot being occupied by Bintang supermarket (before Kuantan ever had shopping malls). To the left of Capitol is a row of zinc roofed stalls, where my mother used to bring us to have ais batu campur(ABC) and a choice of mee goreng mamak or nasi ayam, on the one luxurious day a month where she could afford us a meal outside. The memories of old Kuantan still resides within all of us who have no choice but to remember.

We don’t live in old Kuantan anymore, but it’s still there.

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