Photo Credits Here
By Lim Yi He
There is an oddly endearing charm to the sleepy little town by the foot of the hill. Just about five decades ago it was mostly still a swampy area, but it has since progressed into a quaint town with many neighbourhoods and one of the most prestigious secondary schools in the state.
The town is my hometown, Bukit Mertajam back in Penang, Malaysia. The Chinese name (大山脚) literally translates to “at the foot of the big hill”. It’s not a very famous town or one of the tourist attraction towns in Penang like Georgetown, but it holds a special place in the hearts of many as their hometown.
My neighbourhood has a lot of stories to tell. Despite its relatively tiny area, Taman Sri Rambai hosts my former school SMJK Jit Sin and a busy marketplace on top of its shophouses and residences. It’s such a small neighbourhood that you were familiar with most people from the marketplace – I still remember the old lady who makes very delicious char koay teow, but has since retired due to old age. Tuition centres liked to situate themselves at the shophouses near the school as it is good business, being within convenient walking distance from school for the students.
As a very old neighbourhood, most of the houses there are single-storey houses, with old-fashioned mosaic floor tiles and jalousie windows. People still have to get out of their cars to manually open the gates before they drive into the porch, although some have upgraded their gates to be automatic instead. The main road that goes through the neighbourhood was named after Mr Song Ban Kheng, a dedicated principal of Jit Sin whom my mother remembers fondly from her high school days, while the street that I lived on was called Jalan Tembikai, which meant “Watermelon Road” in Malay. Ironically there aren’t any watermelons lying around, but my house does have mango trees at the side planted by the previous owner.
There is a river, Sungai Rambai that runs through the neighbourhood and flows into a larger river, Sungai Juru. You can often spot people fishing and taking a jog along the river, as well as the occasional monitor lizard that sticks its head out of the water. It’s scenic and all, but the thing about living near the river is that it comes with the risk of flooding during the rainy season. In addition to our low-lying geographical position and old drainage systems, the risk is actually quite real and usually manifests itself during September or October. A flood meter was placed along the road to indicate water elevation levels and cars were advised to avoid highly flooded roads. I remember folding paper boats with my sisters on the bed where we were not supposed to come down from during floods and spotting random fish or leech within the floodwaters. And once, my sister had to take a lorry to school for her SPM (Malaysian equivalent of O Levels) because of the heavy flooding.
My hometown is but a small one by the hill, but it’s where my memories are. It’s a place that I shall still cherish, wherever I may go.