DURING my vacation di Langkawi recently I stayed at Ulam Inn in Pekan Padang Matsirat. Its owner, Hadi Yusof not only provided me with the best hospitality he could offered, but was ready to spend his priceless time with me - at times we were engaged in lengthy and deep conversations...well on what subject? Oh, it was about life!
During one of our discussions at the visitors' lounge, a 'Mat Salleh' teenage girl who was busy wiping away dusts from books in a rack, caught my attention. Hadi said she was Alice, a 18 year old teenage from Germany who could speak 'good' English.
Alice was so engrossed in her work; she seemed 'not bothered' with activities around her such as the loud conversation between Hadi and me or, perhaps she was a 'gadis pemalu' (a shy girl next door) - a Malay term to describe a 'very polite' young female. Well 'some Malays' said this trait was looked upon when old folks were in search for a 'calon menantu' (a candidate for their son spouse).
After she had finished her work, the girl raised up and asked Hadi if he had any more work for her. Her tone was 'very polite'...she did not forget to use the 'magic word' - please - oh, I dreamed 'what's a beautiful day' if my own teenage daughter would come over to me and said for example: "Dad, I had finished cleaning the toilet, please could I now mop the floors..."
Hadi answered that he has no more work for Alice; she could have a rest but the girl instead took a broom and began sweeping the floor. Oh, what 'a beautiful scenery' I saw that morning - a 'Mat Salleh' girl 'swaying' a broom up and down the floors which I had never seen in my lifetime. Perhaps the 'Mat Salleh' girl fit perfectly to be my 'calon menantu'...well I was just dreaming and joking...
I asked Hadi who was that 'very polite girl'. He said she was from Walkaway - an international group that helped travelers to find accommodation in faraway lands - and in his case, Hadi provided free rooms to one or two such travelers at a time and during my stay at Ulam Inn, I was fortunate to see 'Alice in action'.
Hadi said as a mutual understanding for the free accommodation, the participants offered to do some work for a fixed hours in a day such as 'what Alice had done' - oh, perhaps that explained why the girl was seen so busy and engrossed in her work..it was an exchange for a 'free room'.
During our conversation, Hadi said "let us ignore about the 'rewards of free stay', but focus on the good traits shown by some 'Mat Sallehs' who stayed at his inn. Talking about Alice, Hadi said he was very impressed with the attitude of the girl.
"If she is given an hour to work, we would be guaranteed the best from her...yes she would never 'main-main' (playful) and mind you she is sharp in time. If she is required to start work at 9:00 am, she is ready before the said time and at 9:00 sharp she is on her job and then gave her full attention throughout the working hour," said Hadi.
Hadi said by getting involved in the Walkaway program, it could help him in his woes finding good workers among the local. "It is very difficult to have a trustworthy helper...youths in Langkawi are spoilt for choice. They could jump from a work to another...there's a lot of opportunities here but sadly they become too choosy...if they did not like with their work or you as their 'boss', they just leave you just like that..."
Talking about the 'Mat Sallehs' who stayed at his inn, Hadi said many were of the disciplined types - they obeyed the inn rules and very concerned about time. And they were very punctual!
"If we organized a trip and agreed to meet at a certain place, they were sharp in their time. They too would never smoked and boozed at designated places...in short they know how to behave accordingly but of course there were some black sheep...well its normal in every society," said Hadi.
The Ulam Inn owner said his seven rooms traditional house attracted many 'Mat Sallehs' and one reason why they love it was because he did not fixed charges for the rooms - his tagline was 'Just pay how much you want'. But this service is available for weekday only.
He said based on his observation when some 'Mat Sallehs' brought along their children to stay at his inn, their parents inculcate manners and disciplines to their boys and girls. To inculcate is to teach through frequent instruction; for example the 'Mat Sallehs' children were told not to make noise in the guests room; then whoever made a slightest sound was reminded again and again.
The 'Mat Sallehs' too portrayed and showed good examples to their boys and girls. If there was a notice board which said that it was not allowed to smoke and drink at a designated place, the parents obliged and by doing so they taught their children to respect other people's way of life.
Hadi was in the opinion that the majority of 'Mat Sallehs' were successful in disciplining their young generation - they were known for the fine way of living such as being punctual about time, lining up while waiting and boarding public transportation and speaking up in 'good language' like saying 'please' and 'thank you' but sadly without 'iman' (faith) their civilizations are in the brink to collapse.
"A father could disciplined his son, but in many cases when the son became a grown up man, he could do ill things to his parents such as suing them in courts for their 'little mistake'. They adore freedom regarding all matters, so they think it was their rights do to anything they wish such as making love in public places...
"Yes, without religion (to be exact 'iman') that their worldly actions would carried consequences in the Hereafter, the majority of them think they are free to do whatever their wish...this contribute to the downfall of the Western civilization.
"Some of them realized their world of emptiness thus 'they go their own way' in searching for the meaning of life, perhaps this could explain why Alice is here," said Hadi.
After hearing Hadi's explanation, I reached for my bag...and then handed over to Alice an English translation of the Qur'an (The Meaning of the Glorious Qur'an, The Final Revelation, An Explanatory Translation by Muhammad Marmaduke Pickthall) which at first she was reluctant to accept but finally gave in with a 'malu-malu kucing' (shyness overpowers wants) reaction! - ES