Monday, December 13, 2010

Walking Into a Fairytale

My mother lived in Kuala Kubu Baru for nearly a decade, from the age of four to the age of twelve. That was about 30 years ago - which means Kuala Kubu Baru isn't that "baru" at all. But this blog update is not posted to criticise the name of a sleepy town near Rawang. Nor is it a sneaky way to expose my mum's age (she's not THAT old). Nope. This post will tell the story of a mother, her childhood home, and her 6-year-old son.

I guess I had a pretty good childhood. I grew up in places suitable to grow up in, befriended the right people, and had a great sister to share a childhood with. My mum, on the other hand, wasn't as well-to-do as a child. But she made do with what she had, and experienced her fair share of fond childhood memories despite shouldering responsibilities not faced by children nowadays.

Kuala Kubu about 30 years ago was a small town. Or maybe calling Kuala Kubu a "town" is giving it more credit than its due.. No, Kuala Kubu then was more like an overgrown kampung; not quite a village, but not quite a town either. It had a main road, some coffee houses, a school, a church which doubled as a kindergarten for the local children, a small river and a sprinkling of houses. But this overgrown kampung would be the template for many of my mum's childhood stories.

My sister and I grew up listening to my mum's childhood stories. We listened in glee as she told us how she boiled live fishes she caught in the small river behind her house. How she once ran from a bull while taking a short cut back from school. How she tolerated the bites of geese reared in her backyard. How she battled the neighbourhood boys for a durian that had just fallen to the ground.

My mum's childhood stories were our bedtime stories. Stories of a little girl in a little magical town of Kuala Kubu were more significant to us than Hansel and Gretel or Jack's beanstalk. Even now, it startles me that this "fairytale land" is a mere 30 minutes from Rawang. And it never occured to me that we would set foot on the magical soil of Kuala Kubu Baru - until we did just that yesterday.

The first thing my now-grown-up mum saw was that Kuala Kubu had also grown up in the last 30 years. The main road was wider and there were new buildings all around. But Kuala Kubu, like my mum, had not lost her character over the years. The durian tree was still there, and so was the stream. The church still stood, and so did her childhood house. It was great to see my mum's face light up reminiscing memories born long before I was.

We waded in the stream where my mum caught those unfortunate boiled fishes. We visited her primary school, where my mum could still remember the spot where she performed for a talent show (she got 2nd place, by the way). My mum showed the exact spot where she once sold fruits (just outside the town's theatre). But the highlight of the day was when we stepped into her childhood house, and met the very uncle who raised her as a child.

We didn't really expect to be welcomed by anyone when we approached the house. The sign outside said that the house was now a kindergarten. Other than that, though, there were few changes. Then we were pleasantly surprised to find out that my mum's uncle (now aged 82) was alive and fit as a fiddle. He led us into the house, and my family witnessed the touching sight of a niece catching up with her aged uncle. When we left, it was with a promise that we will return.

It was kind of surreal to see the setting of my mum's stories come to life around us. Seeing those places was like seeing an enormous beanstalk sprout from the ground beside a guy named Jack. Soon, though, reality struck. It came with the realization that many things have changed in Kuala Kubu. The short cut my mum once took home from school, for example, now did not lead all the way home. It was blocked by a brand new green fence.

For me, the scene that affected me most was seeing my brother walking hand in hand with my mum while touring my mum's primary school. Here was a mother looking back on her early years, hand in hand with a boy about to begin his own primary education next year. It made me wonder if my brother would have such nice memories to tell his children in 30 years. Right now, he doesn't even know how a goose looks like. He had grown up nearer to monsoon drains than rivers. We playfully referred to him as "the city boy", but it got me thinking: would he have a childhood as nice as my mum's?

We left after a few hours. Kuala Kubu had changed. My mum didn't have to tell us that the place in her stories was not the same place we now saw. But it was still Kuala Kubu Baru, and we were content with that. It was still my mother's home. We will return, if not for anything, to let my brother have a taste of kampung life. It would be to spend some time with my mum's aging uncle - my granduncle.It would be to remind us how important memories are to us. We will return.