Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Do I have a soft spot for KTM Bhd?

Yes I do. More specifically to the Keretapi Tanah Melayu, as it was known in the 60s. If at all Tumpat is known for, it would be because the railway line ends here. So you would have the Sinaran Pagi, the train from Tumpat to Singapore and vice-versa. You would also have the Senandong Malam (?)from Tumpat to Kuala Lumpur. I guess this would be about the only occassion when these two great cities of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur are linked to Tumpat.

The railway provided a life line for the economic activities. My late father was a frequent user. In modern times, you could say that my late father was a valued client of KTM. As a fish dealer, he transported crates of fish in packed ice to the markets in Kuala Lipis and sometimes to Singapore, on daily basis. Daily too, my late grandmother would take the train to Pasir Mas to also sell fish and return by the mail train in the afternoon, together with scores of other ladies. I recalled my father taking me on train trips to Kuala Lipis during school holidays. As a child, the feeling of going to KL (Kuala Lipis) was as exciting as going to the real KL.

During the padi season in Kedah, men and women from Tumpat would take the train to Kedah, via Golok and onwards via South Thailand to Alor Star. I loved listening to these adults with their stories of their several months stay in Kedah. These were happy stories as they came back with cash in their pockets, the reward of their labor toiling in the hot sun of the rice-bowl of Malaysia.

As a child, the railway station was also our playground. During times of mischief, you hide and seek your friends in the “ghrobok”, the coaches. There were many ghroboks at the Tumpat Railway station because the station is the parking lot for these ghroboks. It was supposed to be out of bounds, but there was little or no fencing to keep us rascals out. This was a simple joy in the life of a kampong boy.

As a child, I loved to see the workers going about rearranging the locomotives. Called "shunting", these rearrangements did occupy a lot of time, and at times would also block the crossing to my Kampong Dalam Rhu.

To change the track, the workers used some complicated multi-track changers

or the simple single-track changer

The Tumpat Railway station can probably boast of having the biggest “turntable”, and probably the only one today. In the days of the steam engine, the Kepala Keretapi that pulled the coaches had only 1 engine. So, when it reached Tumpat, this KK must be “turned around” to face the other direction, to pull the coaches back to KL or Singapore. As kids, we sometimes helped to turn around the KK, much to the pleasure of the workers. They relaxed; we worked for no pay and enjoyed doing it. Win-win!

And where else can you find a huge crane if not here.

Next to the station stood a godown. It served many functions before. Known as “Gude Aye”, it must have started as a godown to store chickens, hence called Gudang Ayam. It was in this godown too that my friends and I mastered our skills in badminton. We played almost daily. I became pretty good. I remembered on the first night of my arrival in RMC, dazed and confused, the first question a senior asked me was what game I played. Without hesitation, I told him. And it was the badminton season. They tried me out the next day and then they put me to play single against the Captain of the College team. The game went to rubber set and I almost beat him. Immediately, I became a College player! My seniors didn’t tell me that I was playing against the Captain. Looking back, they did me a favor.

During the Indonesian confrontation, the Gudang Ayam also served as a forward location for the military to guard the coast of Kelantan against invasion. The team of Wataniah was headed by a Sgt Mohd Zain, who became a close friend to us. The Indonesian military did not attack us and the soldiers ended up as our badminton sparring partners. We were good enough to play with the adults. They supplied us free shuttle-cocks and we give them good fights. Win-win!

So Gudang Ayam became a Dewan Badminton and also a military camp. Multi-purpose indeed. There was also this multipurpose field, called “Pade Beng” which I believed belonged to KTM. How it got such a name is a mistery. This was where the Tumpat football league was played yearly. Out of here, I recalled 2 or 3 footballers became state players. The rest remained as estate players!

The sports meet were other big events in the annual calendar. Both the Tumpat district and school sports meet were held in this Padang. It drew large crowds. It had an air of funfare and carnival. Compare that to the school sports of current years!

When I talk about the sports meet, I must mention Mr Danapal Naidu, our teacher. He was Mr Tumpat, tall and physically well endowed. In sports, he was not an estate material, not just even a state material. He was Malaysia’s Discuss thrower. He too excelled in the other “throwing” events – Javelin and shot putt. When he threw the javelin, the padang was too small. The javelin landed over the fence into the police compound. Sadly, the padang is now the grazing ground for cows.

As I moved around to photograph the history of the railway, I recalled this light-house. Those days, it was the GPS for the fishermen of Tumpat. It had served well and now stood silently, forgotten. I was glad though that it was still maintained to a certain degree.

There were two other show-pieces. The “belalai gajah” was a reminder of the steam-engine era. The locomotive wheels were indeed great symbols of the railway. Located besides the light-house as a show-piece, they complement the railways’ supporting role in the economy of Tumpat. One served as a guiding light to the fishermen to return, while the other two symbolised the transport for the catch of these fishermen.

One day, I should perhaps relive those 4 years between 1967 - 1970 when the train was my mode of transport returning me home for holidays from RMC.


Anonymous said...

It's great to have read an essay of one's hometown so well written in pure English.


Anonymous said...

During my primary school, i remember,the train toilet papers(the fresh ones of course) were very popular amongst us students to be used as tracing paper (kertah nekop). At that time I had no idea what it was used for in the train..

Used to ride "shunting" trains as they, as we say it, put the trains to sleep in the yard.

ARZ said...

Now that you mentioned, I recalled that too. Imagine the toilet paper of yesteryears is the current tracing paper! One wonders how effective it was in the toilet.

Alberto Amorim said...

Would you please give more information about the Water Hose/dispenser at the pictures? We have a pairo f those in Brazil, and I wonder who made them, when, how it Works, etc. Thank you very much in advance. Best Regards, Alberto Amorim

Unknown said...

We really had fun riding the shunting train and hurriedly looking for " trace paper".
We collected a few by product of arang batu. and played as "Ketam " at the back of our neck.felt liked you were having a hair cut.