Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Delightful Hometown TEMERLOH



Temerloh is the home of the Patin fish (Silver Catfish), one of the most prized freshwater fishes in Malaysia.

Located about 130 km from Kuala Lumpur along the Kuantan–Kuala Lumpur trunk road, delightful Temerloh is the second largest town in Pahang Darul Makmur.
And it is also “my kampung”, as the Malays say. My grandfather lived there and the whole of Batu Satu (first mile) Village of Temerloh seems to be dominated by my relatives (of the Sumatran Kampar clan). My grandfather’s house is still there, and it fronts near the Sungai Pahang.

But before I take you to the attractions of Temerloh, I’ll flash back on my times and happy childhood memories there.

REMINISCENCE OF TEMERLOH

Temerloh holds a special place in my heart – it’s the place where I was born. Interestingly, the house where I came into this world more than fifty years ago is still there -- one of the government quarters in the town.


I visited it recently (and many times before that,whenever I’m in Temerloh) and except for the different coat of paint (it must have had countless new coats since my family moved to Raub more than 15 years ago) the structure remains unchanged from the house I lived decades ago.

Even though I stayed there only for the first 6 years of my life, nostalgic memories live on, and I can still remember vividly in my head, the thrills and happenings during my childhood years there.

In particular, I remember possibly my first great achievement in life. It was when I was about five years old I passed the big bicycle test (in the sense that I cycled unaided for about 100 meters non-stop without falling) on my father’s huge China–made bicycle.

I remember also particularly well my first day in school - at the Al-Wosto School not far from Temerloh town. My house was about 13km away, and that morning I took the motorcycle with my other elder brother who go to the same school. That was the secondary school i entered, my primary school was at Raub.

But that first day of school is remembered for the buzz I created to my family. As it was the first day of school, all the form one students were let off earlier than the higher standards. I was supposed to board the school bus home with my other brother, but since I didn’t see them after school, I decided to just ride all the way back home by myself.

I remember my mother was cooking when I reached home alone, and I startled her. Of course my mother (my father, and everybody else too) thought I was too young to ride all the 13 km of twists and turns from the school. But anyway, I had reached home safely, and it was just a surprise to everybody then that at my age I knew the way home.

HISTORY OF THE TOWN’S NAME – FROM KUALA SEMANTAN TO TEMERLOH

The old name for Temerloh is Kuala Semantan.

The word Semantan was said to originate in the old days from a Brunei born person by the name of Osman, and with Malays, as with all mankind, I believe, it is human nature to shorten names for ease of reference and calling. In this case he was called Seman.

Seman was an expert in silat, the Malay art of self-defense, and was said to be invincible (he cannot die, that is, ….but of course he’s dead now) and the village folks always refer to him as "Seman Tahan" ("tahan" means strong or invincible). His reputation as a silat master spread far and wide and he had many students learning the silat skills. As a mark of respect to him, the folks named the river "Sungai Seman Tahan".

It was also said that he possessed many boats (perahu kajang) which were used to transport rattan, rubber, etc. and he kept all his boats at the river bank to wait for goods to be brought by the villagers. He quickly became a successful businessman, and the others referred to the place where the boats are located as "Kuala Seman Tahan" ("kuala" is river-mouth) and as usually the case, the place, for ease of calling, was shortened to Kuala Semantan.

Name Change From Kuala Semantan to Temerloh

The change of name from Kuala Semantan to Temerloh was also significant. It was thought that while Kuala Semantan was meant to designate the old area, the town actually covered a bigger area, and not just at the mouth of the riverbank.

The name Temerloh was derived from the Malay word "mereloh" meaning "sleep". It is said that "Temerloh" came about when an Indonesian Minangkabau settler who came to settle at the place noticed an orang asli (aborigine) who slept ("mereloh") all through the day without a care in the world.

Perhaps as a mark of amazement on such lazy conduct (..the Minangkabaus are known for their diligence..)and perhaps for lack of other names to give, or probably just in jest, he then called his settlement there as "Temerloh".

Maybe (..I’m not serious here..) because the place was filled with people who liked to "mereloh", the name stuck permanently for its stark reality and truth.

And I can confirm that when I was small, I remember a young uncle of mine in Temerloh, who seemed to yawn incessantly and sleep most of the time. But then…again… this is not an unfamiliar story about teenagers, right? Ask any parent..

THE PATIN – A FISH LIKE NO OTHER!

Temerloh town sits at the confluence of the Pahang and Semantan Rivers, which is why it is rich with freshwater fish such as Patin (silver catfish), Jelawat, Baung, Tenggalan, Lampam, Belida, Tilapia and Kerai.

As the home of the Patin fish, the Temerloh folks have special dishes that bring out the best taste of the fish. Two of my favorites are the ikan patin masak tempoyak and the ikan patin asam rebus.

Actually there are three species of patin, based on its breeding, and hence to connoisseurs, there are slight differences in the taste. A patin fish has smooth flesh and when grilled under a firewood, or barbequed and eaten with sambal asam, …um mum…oh my… I’m not just salivating, I’m drooling already. It tastes like... well... it’s indescribable. Try them yourself, okay?

But please do forgive me for going into raptures over this fish. I just can’t help it. It’s not because I am Temerloh-born that I am biased, or that I have any economic reasons. But it’s just that I have eaten all kinds of fishes, and I still regard the Temerloh patin as the best fish in the world!! The patin tastes smoother and sweeter than any fresh salmon (or other fishes) by the yard!

The cheapest patin (about RM5.00 per kilogram) that is available at most supermarkets in Malaysia is the one bred in the lakes or large pools where the water does not run.

The one that fetches the highest price (up to RM100.00 per kilogram) is the wild patin caught in the river and which has a slightly whiter shade of silver on its body scales, and a slightly longer mouth (pout).

The less expensive river patin which costs about RM12.00 per kilogram is the one bred in the special breeding cages at the riverbanks. The restaurants in Temerloh use these patin for food dishes and most people will come to the riverside to buy them.

But as an aquarium fish, the patin is not that very good looking. Other river fishes like the tenggalan, kerai and the kelah (the green and especially the red kelah) are sought for their shiny silvery scales which, when reflected in the aquarium water, will shine and look like jewelries. That, I believe is good feng shui to the Chinese. These fishes are also easy to keep in the aquarium as they will eat anything.


If you want to see the place where patin and also tilapia fishes are bred in the cages in the riverbank, from Temerloh town just follow the road to the Temerloh Rest-House to Kg. Bukit Pak Silap. And then proceed to Kampung Bangau by the river. Here there are at least five places along the road where the fish is sold live. (Watch for the signboard at stalls that say “Patin / Tilapia”).

Although the fishes are kept in cages in the river, thieves sometimes come at night in boats and steal many of the fishes. That is why the breeders co-operate and keep vigil at the site at night. (And they keep warm at night by having fresh grilled fish with asam pedas and soy ketchup over campfire!! Oh, I envy them).



RIVER-HOUSES

If you come to Temerloh now, from the old bridge over the Pahang River, maybe you can see a few houses floating on the riverbank.

In the old days I remember there were more of these river-houses, and I remember my parents taking me to one of the houses to visit friends during the festival of Aidil Fitri. The house was like any other on land except that it was swaying a bit because of the movement of the river waters.

I remember my father related that these river houses increased in numbers during my grandfather’s time, after Pahang (in fact most of the east coast of Malaya then), was inundated with floodwaters of unprecedented severity in 1926. Old folks refer to this big flood as "Bah Merah" or "Red Flood".

Many houses especially those located near the river were destroyed by drift timber during that huge flood. As a means to have a flood-proof house, the enterprising folks consequently built river houses tied with ropes to the riverside to prevent them from drifting!! How ingenious -- the houses will float according to the level of the river water!!

But perhaps because of hygienic and legal reasons, very few of these river houses are now in existence, and, if there are any, of course their days are sadly numbered.

PEKAN SEHARI ( "ONE DAY MARKET")

There is a famous Sunday Market place in Temerloh, called "Pekan Sehari". In fact this Pekan Sehari (One Day Market) is said to be the longest and biggest in the whole of Pahang. You can find it along the riverbank in town, at the vicinity of the Temerloh buses terminal.

At the Pekan Sehari, villagers from surrounding (and even from far away) kampungs bring and display their goods for sale. All kinds of goods and commodities can be found -- from fresh vegetables, meat, fishes, fruits, spices, local cakes and, well, anything attractive and edible that is, -- are sold here.

The sellers come normally by the riverboats early in the morning, and take their place before the customers arrive about 7.00 in the morning. There is a boat jetty at the river there. And Sunday mornings are busy days when boats come and go ferrying passengers and goods to the Pekan Sehari.

You will find the master weavers selling their hand-made mengkuang (pandanus leaves) crafts and items like mats, bags and baskets, and other creative local souvenir items.

When in season, you will find local fruits, such as the besta or mangosteens, durian, rambutan, duku, mata kuching and langsat. These fresh fruits from wild trees of the kampungs taste delightfully better than those from the commercial orchards.

For fish lovers, there is also a variety of freshwater fish available here, some freshly caught, from the surrounding villages. The prices available here are indeed cheaper than the market downtown.

This Pekan Sehari is a big affair to the kampung (and also town) folks, and there is joy and merriment inherent in the buying and selling of the goods. Friends and relatives from different villages meet and shake hands here. They have jovial talks, and light banter.

Well, if you’re in Temerloh, do take part, join the crowd. It’s free.

I can’t really describe the thrill. You’ll have to participate in it.

And, if you have nothing else to do, just take a boat ride on the river for fun. And enjoy the scenery.

WILD-LIFE PARKS, CAVES AND MINIZOO

Apart from its variety of fish population, the town of Temerloh also offers a variety of jungle and wild-life experiences.

The Kuala Krau Wildlife Reserve, a virgin forest reserve with untouched flora and fauna, is also where you can find the Elephant Conservation and Sanctuary and the Seladang Breeding Center. And Gunung Senyum Recreational Forest, a paradise for nature and cave lovers is just about 20km away.

A delightful Deerland Park located at Bukit Rengit, Lancang, is where you can learn not only about deers, feed and touch them, but also other animals such as ostriches, peacocks, tuna deers, nilga deers (India) and wood-duck (Canada).

Here (in Deerland Park) you can also find varieties of local herbs and plants, and savor the special herbal drinks prepared, as well as participate in many activities like trekking, cooking and surviving in the jungle.


Mini Zoo

But if you can’t visit the virgin forests and natural caves, you can alternatively visit the town’s mini zoo, located at Jalan Bahagia, near Kampung Sungai Rabit. The mini zoo, covering over 1.5 hectares of land, contains many different species of reptiles, animals and birds.

Monkeys, porcupines, tiger, black leopard, civets, bear cat, bears, sambar deers, lesser mouse-deers, the Malayan gharials crocodile and alligators, and a very rare albino monkey, are some of the animals there.

About 26 species of beautiful birds, including pheasants, herons, eagles, chickens and the green-winged pigeons can be found there. As always, the talking mynah and parakeet, will say hello (and other welcome speeches!) to you.

This mini zoo is set up by the Wild-life Department and in fact you will find that it is surrounded by the offices and quarters of the Department.

There is also a mini wild-life museum comprising of taxidermied (stuffed) animals there.

Tickets to the mini zoo cost RM2.00 for adults and RM1.50 for children.


RECREATIONAL AND SPORTS FACILITIES


A town must also have recreational parks for its dwellers to relax and have fun and for the children to expend their energies.

Well, a recreational park is located right in the middle of Temerloh town, behind the Courthouse, called "Taman Bandar" (or Town Park) where you can find a skate-board track, playground, jogging trails and a mini stadium. Children will definitely enjoy the facilities there.
The Temerloh Stadium

For athletics and field games like soccer and hockey, the Temerloh Stadium is located further down-town on the right-side of the road to Triang, before the bridge over the Pahang River. It caters for all kinds of sports activities and is usually fully utilized during the weekends.

I remember (aww..I’m reminiscing again..) this Stadium was, many years ago, the same field that we children of the neighborhood played all kinds of games on – football, rounders, catch-me-if–you-can, the whole lot.

Did I tell you that the house where I was born is still there, up on the hill, facing the Stadium below. I remember in front of my house there was a mangosteen tree that I liked to climb and play "lastik" (catapult) with my friends. And also there was a mango, rambutan and kapok (or kekabu) tree in the neighborhood.

These trees except the "kekabu" tree are no more there, cut down to make way for the macadamized road.

(P.S. – "Kekabu" is similar to cotton fibers and it is used for pillows and mattresses in the old days).

Back then in 1960, the field was just a "padang" with grasses and two wooden goalposts – no covered spectators’ stands, no athletics tracks, no lightings, nothing. I remember this same field was always flooded during the year-end monsoon season. This is because the mighty Pahang River is just across the road and when it overflows during the monsoon season, the field too would be flooded.

Monsoon time, as all Malaysian east coast folks know very well, is a time to play, splash and have fun in the flood waters. And I remember well, when an older friend living nearby made a raft out of bamboo trunks, and we had a fun time water rafting round the flooded field. It was not dangerous as the waters were quite stagnant in the field, compared to the rush of the river across the road.

This older friend was also the one who, during the dry season, took me to the river and we collected kepah (shellfish) by the buckets at the sandy areas of the river.

Well, THAT’S ALL FOLKS, as Disney would say. End of my stories...(or is it?)

TEMERLOH HOSPITAL

This rather new Government hospital opened in 2005 and located about 3km from Temerloh town (on the way to Chenor) is one of the most modern public hospitals in the country, with state-of–the–art medical and health facilities and equipment. There are specialist clinics and reference centers, and apartments and quarters for staff, nurses and doctors situated in the big modern complex.

The old general hospital in Mentakab town has been turned into a specialized hospital. This was the hospital (Oh..oh.. story-time again…) where I was warded for chicken pox. I was about five years old then, and stayed there for a few days. Well, it was a scary place for a child staying in an hospital ward in those days, but I had my dearest mum for company and comfort.

(P.S. I don’t know about other children, but back then nurses were pretty scary people to me. Not now though, I wish more of those friendly nurses were around me, even when I’m in good health!!).

FAMOUS PERSONS OF TEMERLOH

Famous persons born in Temerloh (and they are depicted in the Pahang Heroes Museum ) include Pak Sako (colorful writer and politician), Sudirman (lawyer-singer who won the best Asian entertainer award at the Royal Albert Hall in London), Datuk Siti Nurhaliza and also Datuk Bahaman – the Orang Kaya Semantan (nationalist warrior and leader, who fought the British).

I will relate to you the stories about these and other Pahang personalities by and by, with the grace of God, in another story.

And also about other towns like Mentakab ( originally known as "Pasir Rawa"), Lanchang and other towns and villages in the Temerloh area.

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