Saturday, April 28, 2012

By :Sager Ahmad (story and pictures)
From :

The homestay programme in Kelantan offers participants a choice of experiencing life on a fishing island or in a mainland kampung, writes SAGER AHMAD.

IT was a long, overnight train journey from Kuala Lumpur to Tumpat in Kelantan and we arrived four hours late as the train slowed down along many stretches as tracks were being upgraded. However, the journey was made bearable as trip co-organiser Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad had rolled out a special air-conditioned events coach with karaoke set for a non-stop supply of food, drinks and entertainment. Some of us caught up on our reading, penned notes and sang at karaoke sessions while others were engaged in lively discussions on current politics. On arrival, our group (comprising 40 members of the Malaysian Bumiputera Tour Guide Association lead by zack and the media) was greeted by silat and rebana ubi (drum) performances. From Tumpat, we would be going to two homestays — at Kampung Wawasan Laklok in Machang and on Pulau Pantai Suri, an island off Tumpat.

Island Surprise

After a typical Kelantanese lunch at Restoran Nasi Kerabu at the Cultural Centre in Kota Baru, we went to Kok Majid jetty for a 40-minute boat ride to Pulau Pantai Suri. The journey took us through several tributaries of the river dotted by villages. The riverbanks were lined with nipah palms and further inland, rows and rows of coconut trees. At the jetty, we were surprised to discover that Pulau Pantai Suri was not quite your typical island with sandy beaches, swaying palms and surrounded by blue sea. In fact, it doesn’t look like an island at all. It’s a cluster of islands in a delta, formed by soil sediment deposited by the river.

Look Ma, No Cars

The village turned up in full force to greet us — men, women and children — with goats, chicken and monkeys lurking in the background. As we walked to the village hall, we couldn’t help but smile to see our luggage being rolled along on wheelbarrows. These were very handy for transporting goods around the island as there were no cars and people moved about on foot or by bicycle and motorcycle. We were divided into groups of three or four to a foster family. My hosts were Rokiah Abdullah and Ibrahim Sulaiman, a coastal fisherman whose family was among the earliest settlers on the island. Dinner was rice with prawn sambal and kerabu pucuk nipah (nipah palm shoot salad), simple fare that’s a heavenly change for city folks. Those not familiar with pucuk nipah were amazed that a simple ingredient could taste so good.

Fresh Catch

That evening, the hall sizzled and reverberated with the sounds of gendang, gong and serunai as well as dikir barat songs. There was a silat performance and Moi Thai boxing demonstration by the islanders. Life may be simple for the small community of about 500 but the villagers proved to be a multi-talented lot. After the ceremony, we did not retire to bed though we were tired. Instead, we gathered at the jetty to see if we could catch some fish. Well, we did, plenty of them. The next, day we went out in a boat to watch members of our foster family haul in crab traps set the previous night. Crabs and prawns provide additional income for the fishermen aside from the fish they catch and sell as ikan masin (salted fish).

Then we took a detour to the rivermouth where the muddy teh tarik coloured water met the light green sea. In the distance was the darker green and blue of the South China Sea.

Poor Finale

To supplement their income, the villagers also make kueh kapit (love letter cookies), handicrafts and rokok daun (cigarettes made from the leaves of nipah palm). We watched a live demonstration of a beruk (short-tailed monkey) plucking coconuts. Lunch was served in the village hall, with a main dish of gulai kawah (meat curry cooked in large cauldron). Sadly, our foster families didn’t join us; we found out later that the committee members handling the homestay programme had left them out. That took the fun out of the finale. Village headman Che Othman Che Ibrahim told us that of the 12 inhabited islands in the delta, the biggest were Pulau Pantai Suri, Pulau Beluru and Pulau Tokong. He said the homestay programme on Pulau Pantai Suri started five years ago but was only actively promoted in the last two years, with participants coming from China, Japan, France, the Middle-East and Europe.

Let The Games Begin

We returned to Kok Majid jetty to board a bus for Kampung Wawasan Laklok in Machang. The drive took about an hour. The village was modern looking, with narrow roads, lots of fruit trees and friendly people but I felt there were fewer attractions here than in Pulau Pantai Suri. We were given an official welcome in a hall near a field where telematches would be held the next day. That night, we were entertained to a lively cultural show at the same hall. The head of my foster family was Abdul Rahman Che Lah, a small time contractor and rubber smallholder. He and his wife Che Som Che Isa, greeted us warmly. The next day, we took part in telematches, competing against the home team. There were lots of prizes for events that included coconut bowling, gunny sack race, reverse tug of war (where participants pulled the rope facing away instead of towards their opponents), panjat tiang licin (climbing a slippery pole) and bola hantu galah (football match on stilts) that had people falling over in stitches. It may be a good idea for Kampung Wawasan Laklok homestay, started last year, to include village attractions like rubber tapping, fishing in the pond, trekking through the secondary forest and visiting cottage industries.

Visit Kelantan Year

The Laklok homestay programme was officially launched by Kelantan State Secretary Datuk Aiseri Alias who said 5.75 million visitors were expected this year for Visit Kelantan Year 2008. He hoped the campaign would generate more income for the people. “Kelantan is unique and we hope to introduce local culture that visitors can learn about and appreciate.”

Farewell To Old Station

We left the village by bus for Kuala Kerai and boarded the train back to Kuala Lumpur. We were, perhaps, among the last passengers to use the old train station as not long after our trip, it was demolished. Kuala Kerai station was the last stop for the train in Kelantan until 1923 when the Guillemard Bridge was built across the Kelantan River and trains could go all the way to Tumpat near the Malaysia-Thai border. Unfortunately, the authorities did not see the importance of the historic old station in Kuala Kerai and the building was demolished.