Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Mouse's Tale

Once upon a time, there was a generation of teenage boys, just on the brink of becoming men.

To prove to their mothers, their fathers, their community, themselves, that they were no longer just pliable and complacent children, they began to make some changes in themselves.

After school and in the evenings, they left their small neighborhoods and congregated in the streets of the city. New friendships were born, and a fellowship among the greater group was formed. While still loyal to their families, the young men's identities shifted to accommodate this new allegiance.

Music became their passion and guiding force; they adopted the dress, mannerisms and language of their musical heroes, and formed bands of their own. Sports were also a keen interest; their outspoken support of the local team bonded them, and gave them another avenue for expressing their enthusiasm for life.

Years passed, and these teenage dalliances gave way to higher education, emerging careers, and eventually, the commitments of marriage and family life. But the deep bonds of friendships formed on the dark streets and back rooms, all those years ago, have not only remained but strengthened over the years and challenges through which they have passed. Calmer, quieter, more responsible now, these men have survived the storms of young adulthood together; certainly their brotherhood will last for the rest of their lives.

* * * * *

This is a universal boys-to-men story that has played out, more or less, in societies around the world for centuries on end.

I want to share a specific chapter of this story, that happened in a particular time and place, as told to me by a special friend.

The time was the late 1990s.
The place was Kota Bharu, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Kelantan.
And the narrator of this story is one Mat Ja Abdul Malik.

I like to call him Mouse.

* * * * *

Before I launch into the story of the Kota Bharu Rebel Squad - for this is what the young men chose to call themselves - I need to explain a little bit more about Mouse.

A thirty-something civil servant, married to a school teacher, Mouse is still as passionate as ever about his hometown footballers, the Kelantan Red Warriors

He earned his nickname from me because of his unrelenting soft-spoken character and modest nature; thus the original moniker of Modest Mouse.

Like most Malaysians, his English is surprisingly good. But Mouse's bold use of his nonnative tongue, and ability to string together the quirkiest of phrases, puts him in a special category of linguistic acrobats. Here are a few examples of what I mean:

  • 4:31pm
    Mat Ja Abdul Malik                                                                                   

    oh wait, google translator? i never use it...
    • Diane Streicher

      oh. well what do you do when you read something in english that you dont understand?
      • Mat Ja Abdul Malik

        well, when i found unrecognize words, i try to set in my mind that, it just a decoration in between the words... 
        • Diane Streicher

          hahahahahahhaaha. wow. actually, that explains a lot about our conversations. 

          Later, we decided that I should learn to speak Bahasa Melayu, the language of Malay people.

          See what I mean? 

          So next time, when I share the story of the KBRS, as told to me by Mouse, be prepared for lots of word decorations and sideways sentences. Trust me, you will be entertained as well as informed. 

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