Cendol Man in the city: susah mahu niaga
Encik Mahmood the cendol man was a sight to behold at Subang Jaya the other day, pushing his tricycle cart and trudging his lonely way through lanes choc-a-bloc with cars and the occasional pedestrian (merely college students or office workers hurrying to double-parked cars).
If he was aware that his presence, and that of his pushcart, might have struck a discordant note among the smart set splurging in airconditioned eating joints, coffee houses and kopitiam that line the street, he didn’t show it.
How’s business? Sini tempat tak boleh juai la. It was recognition enough that he knew the urban sophisticate saw him as a throwback, him and his tricyle, plank ice shaver, aluminium pots, plastic washing up pails and all.
As the occasional car slowed to pass, some frowned in annoyance, some had eyes only for a vacant spot, and a few, only a very few others, had a smile, perhaps at the small-town feel of it all.
So cute, you can almost hear them say. Ohh, so retro, so authentic, the arty-farty might go, gushing over the glossy patina.
Encik Mahmood might not be so amused.
He’s been all over. Brickfields ada jual, KL pun ada; saya punya kawan panggil saya mari sini, tapi tak boleh la. Mahu cari lain tempat. Sini punya budak mahu makan itu mahal punya tempat saja la. Tak boleh jual la.
College kids…one sought to hear an accompanying snort of derision, but there was no such thing. Encik Mahmood is a plain speaking man, plainly making no bones about it.
In that vast wasteland of consumer culture that is Subang Jaya commercial centre, in pizza land and burger land, among Taiwanese noodle shops and Korean bulgogi parlours, and ikan panggang by the mighty kilo, and all-night free-wifi big-screen nasi kandar shops on the corner that offer tandoori and fish ‘n chips and char hor fun, the humble pushcart and the humble bowl of cendol by the side of the road has no place.
The new young urbanite, cool and striving earnestly for sophistication and modernity as befitting his arrival among the bourgeoisie, brooks no reminder of simple small town beginnings and simpler times.
Unless, of course, you are a small-town boy yourself, as we all are, we outstation transients who barge our way into every nook of the Klang Valley with our incessant demands for the new, the extra-large, and be quick about it, and plunge into the eager arms of Messrs R.O.I. Profit, Motive & Co.
But where Mahmood and the pushcart brigade goes, the municipal officer sees cholera; where others see a slice of cultural history, the mobility lobby sees an obstruction to free-flowing traffic on streets cleansed of humanity and made fit for the suitably motorised.
Where the discerning gain a sense of who we’ve been and who we still are, the urban planner sees a case for dumping the Mahmoods of Everytown into those out-of-sight, rank, dank food courts of vile industrial-processed slop, where lives Din: not your friendly satay man, but a measure in decibels.
Is it a mark of how far we’ve come that the pushcart wallah has no place? Or more a mark of how much of ourselves we’re willing to cast aside?
When next you spot Mahmood the cendol man, stop him and buy one.
RM1.70 a bowl.
The nostalgia is priceless, and comes free.