Just as I was completing puzzle #23 in my word search book that I had brought along for the trip, we arrived at my granduncle’s humble abode. Long gone was the old termite-ridden wooden kampung house (which I could vaguely remember when I was there eons ago); which was now replaced by a sturdy concrete structure complete with a proper blue-toned zinc roof. We were greeted by the owners of the household – a slightly tubby and tanned gentleman called Mr Shukri – together with his wife who was his stark physical opposite. Both of them welcomed us heartily and readily with opened arms.
This high-ceiling house was unlike the compact shoebox-like apartment units that we have been so accustomed to back in Singapore. Though it was a far cry from a multi-million dollar bungalow, I could easily tell that the younger generation of cousins, nephews and nieces were awed by its magnificence when they were all smiles and were able to roam freely in the front porch and spacious common living area. Or perhaps they were just relieved to be able to stretch their legs after travelling for more than two hours. Soon after, we were pleasantly told to make ourselves feel at home and feast on humble yet comforting dishes.
Deep fried spiced catfish, catfish in a spicy coconut gravy and steamed tapioca shoot leaves were some of the many items on offer and the guests of Mr Shukri need not to be told twice. The combination of such comfort food and the Shukri family’s warm hospitality made us feel right at home.
Mr Shukri then turned our attention to his front porch where, scattered on the ground, were kilograms upon kilograms of different vegetables. The senior members of the convoy, of whom were mostly females, went somewhat mad; grabbed plastic bags which the host had prepared beforehand and dived in to get hold of tubers such as sweet potatoes, yams and tapioca roots (or cassava). Almost immediately, names of traditional recipes were dished out as they carefully picked the best roots of the lot. Madu nenas (literally meaning honey pineapples in Malay) and breadfruits were also on offer, much to the delight of the guests.
Soon after we filled the back of our trunks with the aforementioned treasures, we bade goodbye to our hosts; with long, wholesome hugs coupled with a few tears here and there. Mr Shukri’s doors were always open to us, as were ours, if he were to get the chance to visit Singapore. As we drove of, I kept marvelling about the simple yet fulfilling life of the Shukri household.