Thursday, February 25, 2021

The kampung’s unwritten speed limit

How time moves in the kampung has a big impact on how the twin declarations of MCO and emergency are perceived.

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Driving back to Kampung Mangkuk from Kota Bharu for a holiday trip one day, I hit a kid.

Not a human child but a baby goat. If it were a human child, maybe I would not be as sad now.

When I got out of the now-dented car, the kid was bleating hell, cursing me in goat language. It had flown quite a bit due to the impact and its leg may have been broken as it could not stand up. I stood outside my car, looking with wide eyes at the eyes staring back at me.

Bystanders told me to drive on. The kid’s eventual death by Proton Axia was forgiven, and a quiet apology was given to everyone although probably no one heard it.

When I resumed the drive, I was laughing like a pontianak. And just as pontianaks scare villagers, I scared my passenger.

I also laughed later that journey when I almost crashed into a lamppost and drove my car off the road into someone’s front yard.

I did not laugh from the comedic value of the moment. It was a way for me to cope with my panic after a very distressing experience. The moments went by so quickly for me because I wanted them to. And when they went too fast and endangered me, I did not even have a chance to panic beforehand like any normal person would.

But I was wrong to think I could go over 100kmh in a kampung time. It is my urban mindset that I always have to hit the gears whenever the road gives me an opportunity to speed.

No one is meant to go fast in a kampung. Kampung time exists as a collective property of the villagers and the place that they are in. No one can decide on their own how they want the time to go by. Each of them decides for each other, and the land and the sea besides them decide for them too.

In the kampung, time does not fly by. It creeps on slowly as everyone moves at a gentle pace, matching the gentle flow of their kampung time.

That day, I learnt how to go slow. At night, in Kampung Mangkuk as I drove through Pantai Penarek, the broken headlamp and the music from the radio broke the stillness of the small road. In such kampungs, quietness and dimness is a nightly routine for residents. The people are accompanied by the sound of the waves crashing and the offshore wind that comes with it.

Here, the vibe is a different tune from that of the city which stays awake in all its brightness and noise.

The stillness is also a chance for humanity to settle into its elements, and to seep into the buildings and tar roads that eventually crack with the force of the beach that refuses to accept gravel made not for the land of the seaside. Even the houses eventually captured the spirit of the people living in them.

While I was on that same holiday trip, the second movement control order or MCO was announced. If this was not enough to wear you down, a state of emergency was also declared by the king.

I woke up on Tuesday morning to my phone buzzing with notifications from news portals repeating the same context and headlines. My circles were understandably agitated, and criticism started to fill the space for discussion.

But in the kampung, all I could sense from the people was “What about it?” Sure, tourists may not come as often now. Shops and restaurants will have to close earlier or may not open at all. But still, the news did not concern the kampung people much. Maybe it was because cases are non-existent there, or their lives are centred on that secluded piece of land, detached from the hectic world of fast cars and fast people.

But for all we know, they did not have the need to feed off the chaotic moment that had crashed down on the people they did not even care about, brought about by people that they did not care about either.

Things still go by slowly. The stillness of the night may begin earlier, but even before the pandemic arrived, they had adjusted to the slow-moving life of the kampung.

I left Kampung Mangkuk on a sunny Thursday afternoon. The drive back to Kuala Terengganu to catch my plane was a drive with goats and cows that grazed and sat on the road, seeking comfort from the slow life, the only way of living they know about. Maybe if I had not driven so fast the day before, a kid could have sat comfortably on the road as well with its family.

As every mile brought me closer to the airport, I could feel the anxiety that I had before the trip catching up with me. How I wished I could bring along kampung time with me, back to the cities and towns of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur – but this would be naive of me.

I have deadlines, exams and all sorts of writing to think about. All those fast things that kampung people do not have to think about, in the slow life that they are living – the life I lack the courage to make for myself.

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