Liza & I - one Spring break in New York
I was at the foreign students office one day when I came across the invitation to celebrate Thanksgiving with a teaching staff’s family. The invitation was for foreign students who were on campus during the holidays. I must have been with my roommate, Liza, I think at that time. Eager to experience a truly American Thanksgiving celebration, very happily we signed up for the dinner.
Not long after we put our names on the notice board, the foreign student’s office called, saying that we would be having Thanksgiving dinner with the family of a History professor. Okay…that we thought was going to be an experience worth going for. A few days before Thanksgiving, the wife of the professor called, introducing herself and told us of the pick up arrangement. And that even got us more excited.
Moi & Liza
Both Liza and I thought of what we were going to wear, should we be dressed in our normal slacks and sweater or should we go looking more cultured - donning a traditional Malaysian costume. It was between baju kurung or the kebaya. In the end, we chose the kebaya. I was going to wear my kerawang kebaya and Liza was to put on one of hers.
I remember this kebaya that I had. It was beige in colour and the sarong was the long batik lepas kain. Just before I left to study in the US, my late father had taken me shopping in Singapore!! It was indeed a treat for me. I remember shopping for materials to make baju kurung and of course the kebaya piece. I got the kebaya piece from one of the shops in Arab Street together with two pieces of batik sarong and telekung. Abah being Abah, would never compromise quality for anything else. He wouldn't mind paying for the premium as good stuffs would last a life time. True enough, those bajus and kain batik that I got more than 20 years ago still look the same, even after so many wears.
It was a very cold day, that Thanksgiving day. The dreary winter weather had started to test our tolerance on the wind chill and the sub zero temperatures. It was going to be a challenge for both of us, going out in our thin kebaya when the temperature was somewhere around 40 degrees Fahrenheit. But we were so gung-ho to promote our Malaysian traditional attire, cold or no cold.
The professor picked us up at our apartment around 4pm, if I recall well. It was almost dark by then and cold too!!! The temperature had dipped even further. Imagine both of us, in a kebaya and sarong and heels. Thank god for our winter coats for keeping us warm during the ride. One thing with these Mat Sallehs, they have gotten so used to the cold, at times some of them didn’t bother having the car heater on during the early days of winter. Bila dah berkepul-kepul mulut with asap, baru lah they all on kan the car heater tu.
A typical Thanksgiving dinner spread
Our host was very friendly and homely. They had two girls who were pretty young still, and with the two of us, it was dinner for six that night. The professor told us the story of Thanksgiving and what significance it had to the American families. They served us with the traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, potatoes, corn, cranberries and pumpkin pie. When offered red wine to go with the turkey, we politely turned it down and settled for milk instead. Dah jadik macam kanak-kanak sihat lah pulak. Servings after servings and I could feel there wasn’t much space left in that kebaya for me. I was filled to my lungs, nasib baik the buttons of the kebaya didn’t pop. My kain sarong was so tight that I had to go to the bathroom to loosen the tali pinggang.
My daughter Farah wears this kebaya now. Batik lepas sarong is substituted with beaded batik skirt, putting a little modern touch to go.
We thanked our host for their hospitality and stood for a while at the front door to wave him goodbye. As soon as we saw him driving away, we quickly ran into our apartment building and stood near the hallway heater. Ahhh…it felt so good!! Baru lah dapat rasa our toes and fingers yang were almost frozen earlier.
That was some experience we had, the Thanksgiving dinner was one and the cold was the other. After that dinner, the kebaya went straight into the closet and didn’t make its appearance till the ice melted and summer warmed the land.