I WASN'T born in Perlis, but I was brought up there. From kindergarten to Form 6, I was in Kangar, my hometown. How I miss Perlis, its atmosphere, the friendliness of the community, things that you just don't find in the bustling and busy cities of Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya.
In Selangor, if you want to have friends, you have to join groups and take part in activities. For example, if you want to know your neighbourhood, you have to join the surau community. Only then will you make friends and get to know people. If not, all you do is go to work, come home and repeat.
In Perlis, just by going to the market or fuelling your car at the petrol station, you can make friends. It all comes back to the hemoi culture as taught by our parents.
Some might say being hemoi is a bad thing. Some say the term itself is negative and should not be used, but for people in Perlis, hemoi is more than what it literally means. According to Dewan Bahasa Dan Pustaka hemoi means tidak malu-malu langsung or tebal muka. Loosely, the English equivalent is gregariousness.
The hemoi that the Perlis people understand is not being ashamed to talk or greet people. Some would say that being hemoi means we like to jaga tepi kain orang which is minding other people's business. To us, hemoi is getting to know the people around you.
We go to the market and while buying stuff, we talk to the people next to us who may be a complete stranger. Ask a simple questionsuch as "what do you plan to cook with that fish or vegetable?" and you may be surprised because that person may even tell you a recipe that you have not tried!
We may bump into the same people again at a wedding or some gathering. We may get to know that their sons and daughters go to the same school as ours, or that you actually may be related in some way. Once you get to know people, you get that feeling of responsibility and start to watch out for them. The feeling goes both ways. If they see your child doing something wrong, they will tell you so that you can take action. If you see their children doing immoral activities, you too will let them know.
The magic is that you will not be offended by this because you already know that person. By being hemoi you can actually help bring the crime rate down a notch. I am not saying it can completely solve crime but children will find it more difficult to take part in immoral activities if there is a chance that someone may tell your parents if they see you in action.
When I was a young boy in Perlis, my friends and I went to an abandoned house to play. I didn't tell my mother where I went but when I came home, she already knew that I had gone there. One of her friends had called her to tell her of my whereabouts. So you see, being hemoi is not all bad.
Ariff Merican, Kuala LumpurNew Straits Times Letters to the Editor 28 May 2014