By: Dato’ Zawiyah Baba, Association of Retired Womens’ Librarians
The 4P (Persatuan Pustakawan Perempuan Pesara) or Association of Retired Womens’ Librarians had their April monthly luncheon in this remote village of Sungai Bil, located about 30 minutes from Tanjung Malim. None of the group’s members had heard of this kampung before the planned visit, except of course our gracious host Dato’ Dr. Zaiton Osman. However, the visit to Sungai Bil was preceded by a good number of other gatherings enjoyed by 4P members.
Throughout the years since the 4P luncheon series began almost fifteen years ago in 2002, it has patronised a good many restaurants and enjoyed lunches at the homes of dear friends in Bangsar, Taman Tun Dr. Ismail, Damansara and Kota Damansara in Kuala Lumpur as well as in Bangi and Shah Alam. Since 2016, 4P’s choice of venues has extended its geographical boundaries to Penang and Ipoh, thanks to the ETS trains which the group found to be very convenient, efficient and cheap, especially for pensioners like us 4P members.
Our membership has increased too as more and more retirees joined the group. At the last Aidilfitri gathering at Ramlah Khalid’s home in Bangi on 20th July 2017, our dear friend Norsham Muslim who had been missing from the last few get-togethers, came with her sister Ruby. There were also Thuraya, Miskiah, Salmah and Aripah who also missed the last few luncheons. It was a great pleasure too to welcome Y.M.Tunku Noraida and Dr. Nor Edzan, a fresh retiree from the University of Malaya, to our group that day. In addition to the wonderful spread of nasi dagang, rendang, pizza, there were contributions of masak lemak nenas and ikan masin from Zaiton and fish curry from Zainab. Ramlah also laid out an array of cakes and desserts as well a good variety of Raya cookies which filled her table to the brim! I believe we more that did justice to the goodies served.
Lunch at Azian’s home in Ipoh
The visit to Ipoh on 22nd February 2017 was another treat to a home-cooked lunch at Nor Azian Hashim’s lovely home. Azian was formerly a librarian at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia. This was our third trip on the ETS, the first one was to Penang, followed by a trip to Bukit Mertajam for the wedding luncheon of Puan Sri Zainab Kader’s youngest daughter, Zaidah. As always, we enjoyed the train ride very much as we had each other’s company and found ourselves at Ipoh railway station in no time at all. Ramlah, who had driven to Ipoh the day before, was on hand to fetch some of us, while the rest took a taxi to Azian’s house and arrived after a short ride.
Azian was waiting for us at her home and warmly welcomed Mrs. Khoo Siew Mun, Dato’ Zawiyah Baba and Rosna Taib with hugs and kisses. As soon as we settled down we could not help but admire the very neat, spacious and tastefully decorated house. Azian invited us to help ourselves to the chilled drinks and a variety of nuts, dried fruits and crispies which she had thoughtfully laid out on the coffee table to welcome the weary travellers from Kuala Lumpur!
Azian’s passion for things artistic and beautiful was amply manifested in the house’s tasteful décor, colour scheme and furniture. The paintings which lined the walls interestingly also included her own noteworthy amateur efforts. Every item of decoration was meticulously and beautifully displayed. Having known her since our university days as classmates and college mates, I find her home personifies her gentle and sensitive nature and her affinity for aesthetics. The publication of ‘Soliloquy’, a book of her own poems, perhaps testify to these traits, especially her appreciation for the beauty of language. Her small but attractive and well landscaped and carefully tended garden she owed to her husband Rosly. It was a lovely setting and a pleasant ambience for our lunch.
After quite some time, Ramlah arrived with her passengers, who coincidentally were the senior members of the group, Datin Mariam Kadir, Dato’ Dr. Zaiton Osman and Puan Sri Zainab Kader. It has nothing to do with age before beauty and what not although we were pretty indulgent of their tardiness. Apparently they had stopped at the well-known Kampung Kacang Putih on the way to Azian’s house to savour the best kacang putih Ipoh had to offer. Fortunately they remembered their friends who went by taxi and thanks to the generosity of Ramlah and Zaiton, we each had two large packs of muruku to take home!
Once everyone had arrived there was excited chit-chat and generous compliments of Azian’s beautiful and spick and span home. Before long, it was time for lunch. Azian served us several delicious home-cooked dishes which she single-handedly prepared for our lunch including traditionally cooked sup tulang, prawn sambal, fried-fish and sweet and sour fish with fresh green salads to complete the servings. Azian did mention that Rosly helped with cooking the rice. We had fruits and Malay kuih-muih for dessert with contribution of Ramlah’s sumptious carrot cake. It was so nice of Rosly to send really delicious popiah from the renowned S.S.Ali of Ipoh and cucur udang for us, although he could not join us as he was working. There was much laughter as we partook of the delicious offerings and shared old stories and jokes.
Azian made us feel at home and gave us the run of the house. We used two of her immaculately kept bedrooms for our zohor prayers. Despite doing all the cooking for our lunch, her kitchen was very neat, clean and tidy. We had time to explore the well-kept garden with its gentle fountains against the Japanese bamboo plants. Rosly has certainly done a good job with the garden. A pity we had to leave soon after lunch as we had an unscheduled visit before taking our train back to K.L.at 6.00 pm.
The 4P’s visit to Azian’s was complemented by a surprise visit to Ramlah’s family kampung house, not too far from Azian’s. True to tradition, it was built on stilts with a tall wooden staircase. The house is spacious and longish, made almost completely of wood with modern toilets and bathrooms. The compound of the house was filled with fruit trees including rambutan, mangosteen and papaya. It is an ancestral home belonging to Ramlah’s husband’s family. Ram has of course had 4P lunches at her home in Bangi on a number of occasions and is always a wonderful and generous host who spoil us with her delicious home-cooked meals particularly her wonderful desserts. In addition to the kacang putih, Ram, generous soul that she is, brought back for us an Ipoh pomelo each. Our Ipoh sojourn was brief but complete.
Apart from cross-border luncheon venues, the 4Ps had also ventured into the kebuns of some of our members, rural retreats of kampung houses with orchards. The first kebun the group ventured into was Zainab’s at Ulu Selangor exotically named “Hacienda Hermosa”. It can hardly be described as a kebun as it is more of a resort in a rural setting with chalets, orchard, herbal garden with lush green compound and manicured lawns. Then there is Miskiah’s kebun near Banting, “Dangau Aduka” a lovely wooden house on stilts with a tall staircase leading to the front entrance of the house. The stilts were high enough to provide a spacious open area below the house which can be used for entertaining, with natural light and fresh air provided by the gentle breeze. That was where we savoured delicious home-cooked kampung food prepared by our gracious hostess, Miskiah.
Kampung Sungai Bil
Zaiton’s kampung retreat in Sungai Bil is the third of 4P’s kebun adventures. She had mentioned in passing her family’s kampung house in the village of Sungai Bil which at the time none of us had been before. Zaiton was also very modest about it saying that it was ‘just a kampung house’. But we were rather intrigued at the prospect of venturing into yet another remote rural outing. With Datin Mariam Kadir’s, Datuk Norkhayati’s or Yati and Puan Sri Zainab’s persuasion particularly, Zaiton agreed to host the 4P group at Sg. Bil on Friday 28th April 2017. As none of us had been there, we quickly arranged to car pool to make sure we got there safely and on time.
On the appointed day, five vehicles left Kuala Lumpur with 4P members from various locations in Kuala Lumpur and Bangi and made our way to Tanjung Malim and Kampung Sungai Bil in Selangor. Zaiton of course left much earlier from Bangsar with Bibik Tin; Yati left with Mariam from Damansara and Bangsar; Rosna Taib and Linda Yip from Sentul and Gombak, Maimunah Kadir and Ramlah from Bangi and Zainab and Zawiyah from Taman Tun Dr. Ismail. We all arrived safely but not before making a couple of detours due to taking wrong turnings. With directions given by Johari, Zaiton’s driver at the entrance from the Sime Darby signage, we entered the kampung road all the way into the interior and across the bridge over the fast flowing rock-filled river called Sungai Bil. Whereupon we arrived at this vast clearing with what looked like a palatial building looming in the horizon. It was an amazing sight to behold!
So this is Zai’s ‘just a kampung house’! A splendid dark timber house built on high wooden stilts spread over a sprawling expanse of well-trimmed lawn fringed by fruit trees and rainforest. What a magnificent view and quite a contrast to the kampung house we had imagined. As we approached the house, we spotted high up on the veranda, Zai and Yati vigorously waving to us and motioning us towards the parking area. Wandering on the vast grounds below on her own was Mariam armed with her camera, exploring the area on foot, busy taking in and photographing the exotic natural surroundings.
Nab and I made our way up the high wooden stairs to the house. Upon reaching the top of the stairs, we found a large square space which separates the two main parts of the house. On the left wing are the three bedrooms in a row, and towards the right is the main house with its spacious kitchen, bathrooms, wash sink area, spacious dining, lounge and veranda outside. The veranda overlooks the vast expanse of space approaching the house as well as the bridge and the river. What a spectacular view! We complimented Zaiton on the beautiful house but she unhesitatingly credits her dear husband Kadir entirely for his brainchild, dedication and meticulousness in accomplishing what was his personal project.
We heard tales that monkeys abound in the nearby forest and would often congregate in the square of the house looking very much at home. Fortunately they decided not to come by while we were there, otherwise there might be hysterical high-pitched screams coming from the house!
It was about an hour’s journey to Tanjung Malim, another 30 minutes to Sungai Bil. By 11.30 am all had arrived. Mai and Ram were the last as they had stopped at the Yik Mun Restaurant in Tanjung Malim to sample their famed kuih pau before proceeding to Kampung Sungai Bil. We had earlier savoured curry puffs and samosa and dough nuts for coffee break. At 12.30 pm, we helped Bibik Tin put the dishes on the dining table for our much looked-forward to lunch and what a spread it was! There was asam pedas ikan (tenggiri) and rendang ayam, specialities of our hostess, mee Siam masak taucu from Yati, kerabu from Zainab, ulam-ulam and sambal belacan from Mariam. For desserts, we had Ramlah’s jelly pudding, kuih koci from Zawiyah, dragon fruit from Mai, chocolate brownies from Rosnah and Linda brought chocolates which she got from her trip to Australia and bananas. It was a truly sumptuous lunch enjoyed in high spirits while we chatted and traded jokes in the lounge and on the veranda.
After lunch and zohor prayers our plans to explore the grounds and Sungai Bil were thwarted by the heavy rain. But Mai and Ram as well as Rosna and Linda, being more adventurous, had set their minds on swimming in the river. When the rain reduced to a drizzle, they went ahead to swim in the river. They were careful though to stay close to the banks of the river. We read in the papers weeks later that a young man on an outing with his friends was swept away by the strong current after a heavy rainfall and drowned. Apparently the Sungai Bil waterfall is a popular picnic area and there have been incidents of drowning before. Visitors and picnickers to the area are warned not to swim in the river after a heavy downpour as the river becomes swollen and the currents rapid, strong and dangerous.
We left Sungai Bil later that afternoon on a high with a satisfying sense of having experienced the unexpected and the awesome; the magnificent kampung house in a remote rural area, the lovely lunch spread, the great company and the intriguing aura of Sungai Bil and its surroundings. We departed from Sungai Bil with a deep desire to be back. Terima kasih daun keladi Zai.