Sometime back in 1970, a group of Universiti Malaya Arts students staged a play at the open theater in Lake Gardens, Kuala Lumpur. My father, along with Cikgu Hamdan, Cikgu Jabil, Cikgu Rupee, Ciku Si Aba and many more (most were teachers who furthered their studies at UM) were directly involved and father was appointed as the director of the play, which revolved on a group of officials from Melaka Royal Court paying homage to the Chinese emperor in China.
I cannot remember much of the play now as slightly more than 40years has passed. But I do remember my sisters and I being frightened by one of the actors who was dressed up as a Chinese character, much like one would see at a Chinese Opera: colourful robe; strange-looking black hat with 2 pony tails near the ears; and make-up which left part of the face with a deathly-pale look in contrast to the eyes which were blackened. Any kid of around my age then would certainly be frightened when jumped by such a figure.
Another part I remember well was when the officials were presented to the Emperor of China, where they were told to bow down and never look up especially when facing the Emperor. Failure to do as told would simply mean the poor fellow would lose his head. Literally!
The Emperor, speaking through a translator, inquired about everything there is about Melaka. When the subject touched on the food Melakans eat (the Emperor wanted to serve them there and then), an idea hit one of the officials from Melaka. He asked for cincalok, a dip greatly favoured by the people of Melaka, and knowing well that it is not available in China. The Emperor was bemused when his court officials were not unable to find the dip but was also unable to pronounce it well, finally settling on 'Cin-cin A-lok' instead of simply Cincalok.
Embarrassed at the inability of the mighty Chinese Empire to serve a simple dish to his guests, the Emperor asked them to make another request which that bright Melaka guy quickly replied "Kangkung!" (Water Spinach). However, noted the official, the kankung must be long and not have any of its part cut, except for the root. Also, the official requested that they be allowed to eat in accordance to their tradition. When asked about the tradition, he replied that they eat by hand and kangkungs are normally lifted high. In truth, such a tradition does not exist but was merely a ploy to sneak a look at the Chinese Emperor. And when served, that is exactly what happened. Well, at least in the play, it did.
About 2 days ago, I managed to watched a documentary '1421: The Year China Discovered America', on History Channel. From its trailer prior to the day, I knew it was regarding Admiral Zheng He's maritime expedition and did not think much about it as there has been several documentaries on it, and this one would most probably be a repeat of one. But somehow that day, there I was, glued for 2hours to the TV as I watched Gavin Menzies present his findings which were quite incredible, to say the least. I mean, the guy must have spent years and a good deal of money on this quest. Have to admit though, no matter how interesting the show was, it has little bearing for the guy whose blog one is reading now...save for a very short narration within an equally short time.
"When Zheng He reached Melaka, he quickly built a fortification there for his supply base. Later, when the locals began to show hostility, Zheng He appointed a puppet ruler to help quell them".
"The locals (present day Malaysians) were fed a fairytale version (regarding Hang Li Po and what we thought we knew about our history)".
The 2 quotes up there (not verbatim), were the main reason why I stayed till the end of the documentary, hoping Menzies would trace Zheng He's return trip and particularly about Melaka. Unfortunately, there were no mention on both and I am now left wondering about this new bit of information which, if true, debunks whatever I have read and learnt during primary schooldays. Would this mean Parameswara is simply an old folk tale and Bukit Cina was not a gift from the Sultan of Melaka to the Chinese entourage escorting Puteri Hang Li Po? Who was the puppet ruler Zheng He appointed then? If when Menzies mentioned is true, what is it our school history books been teaching us? I, for one, would not like my offspring to grow up acing in subjects such as history, only to later find out that Cincalok is actually pronounced Cin-Cin Alok.
Hang Li Poh 1
Hang Li Poh 2
ps. Do forgive my bad English. Someone from Kuantan and from the same social network remarked in disgust regarding this. While he may be right, online is the only place I can practice English.