Batal puasa in Machang

“We’re going to Godan, a place that is famous for people who aren’t fasting,” he turns to me and says in between giving directions to the driver.

There’s five of us in the car, driving through the streets of Machang. I look out the window and see a sign for a shop called Machang Fish Ball. The sign is quite basic with just a plain blue background, white lettering – in Latin, Chinese and Jawi characters – and on either side of ‘Machang Fish Ball’ there is a picture of a fish and a soccer ball.

“Just in front there with the Pepsi and Coca-cola sign,” my friend continues with the directions as we turn the corner and drive away from Machang Fish Ball and I see the Pepsi and Coca-Cola sign and the words ‘Restoran Aik Chin’.

We drive around the the corner to the front of the store. I look inside and see a few people, not too many, but relatively busy for a restaurant in Machang in the middle of Ramadan. I can’t get a good look but it seems, and I assume, that most of the people inside are Chinese.

My friend winds down his window and after he’s noticed by worker at the front of the restaurant, he does a quick count of the people in the car and yells out, “Ne!”.

“Ne?” the worker replied holding up six fingers.

“Ne,” replies my friend also holding up six fingers.

The driver begins driving off as I see the worker move toward the food table/cabinet and pick up a black plastic bag. We drive around the block and meet a friend outside a convenience store and he gets inside.

“Ne gapo?” I ask my friend’s brother, who is sitting next to me.

“Ne means six,” he replies.

“Yeah, I know ne is six, but six of what?”

“Oh shit, sorry,” my friend overhears us and turns around.

“What?”

“I forgot to ask for vegetables.”

“I hate you!”

We wait outside the convenience store for a few moments then drive back around the block. When we reach the front of the restaurant the worker notices us and walks to the car holding two full black plastic bags. He passes them to my friend through the open window.

“Tigo pulo ria.”

We give him the money and drive away. I’m not sure where we’re driving too, but we head out of Machang town along the highway that leads back to my friend’s kampung.

The guy in the passenger seat, who I met a few night before in the car from KL to Machang but I don’t remember his name, takes out a bong that he’d just made and pulls a cone. The bong is a small plastic bottle with a papaya stalk sticking out of it. I’m fascinated by this distinctly “kampung” bong. In suburban Australia people cut off bits of garden hose for a bong, in a Malaysian kampung they cut off bits of papaya trees.

After packing another cone, he passes the bong to the driver. While still driving down the highway, he bends down a little lower beneath the dashboard and pulls the cone.

We turn off the main road and drive through my friend’s kampung, past his house to the end of the road where we park and get out. We walk along a walking track down a hill and after walking at least 50 metres from the road, the bags are opened and we all squat around them. One of the bags has six plastic bags of teh o ais and the other has six packets of food wrapped in brown paper and held together with a rubber band.

I open one of the bags of teh o ais and put a straw in it and watch my friend open the packets of food one by one. The first had rice, some curry gravy, a piece of chicken, a small fish and a few pieces of cucumber. The second had the same and he passed that it to one of the others who placed it on the ground in front of him and started eating. The third and forth also had the same contents. The fifth and six, instead of having a piece of chicken in them had a whole fish.

I tried to convince myself that I wasn’t hungry. I thought that it could possibly work but since it was only just after 2pm I knew that I probably wouldn’t have another chance to eat for about five hours. I finally gave in and picked up the last packet of food when one of the guys asked me why I wasn’t opening my food to eat with them.

I opened the packet and threw the two fish onto my friends piece of brown paper that was spread out on the ground in front of him. In return he picked up, one by one, the pieces of cucumber he’d collected from the other packets and put it in mine, which I held in one hand while I ate with the other.

We suddenly heard some movement from the top of the path at the road. Some of the guys quickly finished whatever food or drinks they were holding and threw their brown paper or plastic bag and straw into the bushes, followed by whatever other evidence was in front of them. One of the guys ran off further down the track and continued eating. I just sat where I was, eating my food. I figured if I was found eating my food it would just be more absurd than anything. Why would this white atheist kid, who is for some reason in some random kampung in rural Kelantan, go to the trouble of hiding in the bushes to eat some food?

I noticed that in all the chaos of people running off while still eating and throwing rubbish into bushes, the bong remained untouched, sitting out in the open, in the centre of the group.

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