An Unlikely Day

Today was a special day of sorts. In the afternoon just now, I was going to apply for the MyKad. As usual, when going out, my hair would be pulled back and fastened into a pony tail with an elastic band. To make sure that it did not get dishevelled, I gelled the front firm. Satisfied that I looked good enough to be photographed for an identity card, off I went with Peter to the Jabatan Pendaftaran Negara (JPN) branch at Sungai Ara. It was packed to the brim when we arrived. Not wanting to wait in the heat, we decided to try our luck at the Balik Pulau branch. It was equally as packed. We figured that everybody must be taking the opportunity to get their MyKad done during this school holidays. I told Peter that I will get it done after the school term begins next year to avoid the crowd.

The kampung road at Permatang Pasir.
(Photo taken during an earlier trip there on March 16, 2004.)

The kampung house where Peter bought the air nira.

We then went to Sungai Pinang to fetch Peter?s parents. His father is Mum?s younger brother. On the way, we made a detour to Permatang Pasir to buy nipah palm toddy, also called the air nira. It is hard to find air nira in Penang as many mangrove swamps have been reclaimed for development. To get the air nira, the inflorescence of the nipah palm is cut and the sap allowed to drip into a container. The sap is collected twice a day, once in the morning and again in the mid-afternoon. It takes many inflorescences to produce 1 litre of air nira which looks cloudy. It ferments fast unless refrigerated. The air nira is slightly pungent but sweet.

Peter talking to the pakcik.
Nipah palms are in the background.

We had to traverse a narrow tarred path to reach the kampong house that sold the air nira. It was RM15 for a 5 litre bottle. Peter paid for one bottle and booked another. As he did not want the air nira to ferment, he left it there and told the makcik there that he would return to collect both bottles after we picked up his parents. On our way out of the kampong, we happened to bump into the pakcik who had just finished harvesting the air nira for the mid-afternoon and also told him that we would be back to collect both bottles later.

Titi Kerawang.

Petai tree.

There used to be a stream beside the clump of bamboo.

Century old durian tree towering above all.

One has to climb down steps made from rocks stacked into the hillslope to reach my uncle?s house. While Peter went to fetch his parents, I waited by the roadside and took some photos. There was the towering 50-foot petai tree by the roadside and an old durian tree that is more than 100 years old and reaching almost 200 feet into the sky and is still fruiting. There was what used to be a stream by the roadside which was cemented up when the road was widened. I used to catch little fresh water crabs and fishes there. Now, it is just a big longkang.

Fragrant leaves.

Air nira @ nipah palm toddy.

I specifically asked Peter to pluck some fragrant leaves for me. I do not know what it is called. Mum used to add these leaves with the bedak sejuk that she made to make it nice smelling. I will be leaving them all over the apartment. These leaves will still give off its nice fragrance many months later when it is all dried up and shrivelled. When I reached home, I got Peter to fill the air nira into a 500ml mineral water plastic bottle for me. I took a sniff of it and was put off by the pungence. In the end, I returned all of it to him without drinking any. I did not manage to apply for the MyKad but I am satisfied that I have some nice photos to show for a pleasant day out. It was not a day wasted despite the circumstances.

Author: Peter Tan

Peter Gabriel Tan. Penangite residing in the Klang Valley. Blissfully married to Wuan. A LaSallian through and through. Slave to three cats. Wheelchair user since 1984. End-stage renal disease since 2017. Principal Facilitator at Peter Tan Training specialising in Disability Equality Training. Former columnist of Breaking Barriers with The Borneo Post. This blog chronicles my life, thoughts and opinions. Connect with me on Twitter and Facebook.

9 thoughts on “An Unlikely Day”

  1. I’ve smelt the toddy thingy before and boy was it pungent!! It smelt like orange juice gone bad. I have never tasted it and I don’t think that I’ll be trying it anytime soon. The smell really put me off!!
    Nice photos you have there Peter. Reminds me so much of the rustic part of Malaysia 🙂

  2. Hi Peter

    Thanks for sharing ya photo’s and ur right , it wasn’t time wasted.
    I really like seeing photo’s of other countries and places it’s like sharing a sneek peek through someone else’s eye’s,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

    Guess that don’t make much sense , n e way
    cheers n tcz

  3. Cherry,
    Nipah palim toddy tastes nicer and sweeter than coconut palm toddy. It should not be left to ferment too long lest it becomes sour and more pungent. You should try nipah palm toddy. It is really nice if it is just harvested. Sometimes, it is mixed with stout, too.

    I like idyllic village scenes. Too bad Peter was speeding all the way. If not I could have taken a few more photos of kampung houses nestled amongst coconut palms and some expansive panorama shots of Balik Pulau and its surrounding areas which was really nice.

    That is why I like to watch Discovery Travel and Adventure Channel. Those sneak peeks into the lives of people in far away lands provides an interesting insight we would otherwise not know.

  4. Thanks for the trip down memory lane! My schoolmates and I used to go round Penang island on bikes and have picnics and swim at Titi Kerawang. *sigh* Don’t you wish we are still living in kampungs? But with broadband connection, of course!

  5. Lilian,
    Don’t we all wish we are living the good old days where the air is less polluted and the road less congested?

  6. I was born & bred in Penang. But, I have been residing away from Penang since 1979. I still visit Penang 1 or 2 times each year. Best years of my life were in 1970-74, when I was in secondary school. Those were carefree years. We cycled round the island, & spent many happy, carefree, laughter-filled days in Batu Ferringhi, Muka Head, Titi Kerawang, Lorong Selamat hawkers, …….. In the countryside, the bullshit is for real. And yes, I have tried toddy, but only late in my life, in Kelang a couple of years ago, where its mixed with Guiness Stout. Your pix certainly brought back many hApPy memories……… Thnx Peter…

  7. KS,
    Yeah, in the countryside the bullshit is for real but that is a disappearing sight. I remember going round island on a bicycle too. That must have been like half a century ago. Those were the days huh.

    I have tried both the coconut and nipah toddy. The nipah toddy is sweeter and more fragrant. The coconut one has a pungent smell. The first time I drank the nipah toddy, it was chilled and mixed with Guiness Stout. It was nice. We also had durians. That was asking for trouble. They say that toddy, Guiness Stout and durians cannot be eaten together. Well, nothing happened.

    You are most welcome. 🙂

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