By Ahmad Abd Hamid

THEY don’t know you, let alone know your name. But when you passed by their ‘kedai makan’ or eatery, popularly known as ‘nasi lambai’, whether alone or in a group, they would stand outside, wave their hands at you and shout “Mari Mat…mari” (Come Mat…come).

Of course, not everybody who passed the eatery was Mat, but most times the name did attract attention, given that those passing by would, incidentally be Ahmad, Mohamad, Samad, or mat for short.

Indeed, this was one of the many colours of Teluk Intan (formerly known as Teluk Anson), in the sixties and early seventies, which I miss very much. Going down memory lane, the memories keep coming back to me.

Teluk Intan, the capital of Lower Perak District is the third-largest town in Perak after the state capital Ipoh, and Taiping.

Those days ‘Nasi lambai’ was located at Jalan Raja, just a few metres from the bank of the Perak River. The name ‘nasi lambai’ comes from the word ‘lambai’ (wave) and the waving of hands by the owner and workers to beckon people to chose their establishment for their meals. Well, not everybody dropped by, but most of them did.

Those days the ‘nasi lambai’ business was good. People liked to frequent the place. Whether when you go to the town to pass the time or to catch a movie, the ‘nasi lambai’ would always be a must.

Teluk Intan had always attracted folks from the surrounding areas, as it is the nearest big town between Bagan Datuk, Kampar or Bidor, and the only one having three cinemas – the Rex, Capitol and Cathay. I hail from a village at Bagan Datuk, which takes about an hour or more to reach that modest riverine ‘metropolis’ by bus.

The old Cathay cinema, Teluk Intan.

If you want to watch new movies, especially during the festive seasons like Hari Raya, you have to come to Teluk Intan. That was the time when people thronged the town, and of course also making a beeline for ‘nasi lambai’, making it overcrowded.

The eatery was just a simple place with roof, chairs and tables for you to enjoy your meals and be caressed by the breeze from the vast expanse of the river. It was a simple but convenient setup, after all, you don’t need much time to finish your meals.

Those days ‘nasi lambai’ was popular because the food was cheap. A plate of rice, with a slice of fish curry, two or three slices of cucumber and a dollop of sambal only cost 50 sen. If you chose chicken or beef, it would cost 80 sen.

The meal came with free water for drinking but rose syrup would set you back 10 sen.

The scenario is now different. The ‘nasi lambai’ is still there and people are still coming. There are more varieties of foods available, but of course, you cannot get a plate of rice for 50 sen anymore, and the nostalgic sales pitch of “Mari Mat…Mari” has gone. One could feel the silence and loneliness.

People frequenting Teluk Intan now prefer the restaurants, food courts or fast food outlets. Perhaps those who were in the ‘nasi lambai’ business are no longer around. Maybe their sons or grandsons have taken over to shape another dimension to the business. But for the faithful ‘nasi lambai’ customers during its heyday, sweet memories will remain.

Not only have the original ‘nasi lambai’ gone silent, the cinemas, too have fallen victim to the times and the Cathay, Rex and Capitol have been relegated to a distant memory.

However, the Cathay Cinema building remains, albeit quite dilapidated. It used to screen movies produced or distributed by the Cathay Organisation, be it Malay, English, Hindi, Chinese, Tamil or Indonesian.

The Rex and Capitol cinemas, owned by Shaw Brothers, would also show Malay, Hindi, Indonesian and Tamil films released or distributed by Shaw Organisation, while the Capitol screened Chinese and English films.

During the festive seasons, when people also thronged the cinemas, it was difficult to get tickets. The sale of black-market tickets was rampant. Tickets were sold at a much higher price above the normal price. The choice is yours, take it or leave it.

Well, that was decades ago. Now all you can find are the lonely cinemas that still survive despite challenges they have to face against all kinds of modern entertainments.

And don’t forget the Clock Tower, also known as Jam Tinggi, which is one of the popular tourist attractions in the town. Built in 1885, the leaning tower dubbed the ‘Pisa of The East’, still stands majestically. Don’t miss it when you come visiting or passing through Teluk Intan.

The memories of Teluk Intan keep lingering in my mind. It has been quite a long time since I last visited the town. How time flies and how I wish the clock could be turned back. I miss you Teluk Intan. Country road, take me home…