Message in a Bottle — How One Man’s Obsession with Bottles Turned Into a Beautiful Museum

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My heart was pounding with excitement as the car entered the junction of the humble wooden houses at Kampung Baru Penarik, Setiu, Terengganu.

This small village is situated up the northern coastline of South China Sea fishermen homegrown with naturals and an unspoiled environment.

This is the first time my family and I have the opportunity to have a short trip to the house filled with a myriad of bottles. We learned about this house upon watching a documentary featured on TV, Majalah 3.

The existence of this house has gone as it has been featured several times in local and foreign media. There are even writers who are willing to fly as far as from France to have a look of the uniqueness of the house as well as the collectibles that can be found in the house.

Upon arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the owner of the house, Tengku Mohd Ali @ Tengku Enduk Mansur, or more fondly known as Tok Ki who was gardening in the backyard.

The owner of the “bottle” museum

The 70-year-old Tok Ki is a friendly man who is willing to share his interest with any visitors to the house.

Stepping into the bottle gallery, the father of nine kids started the briefing about the surrounding rocks and herbs laced the garden, rare species of medicinal herbs such as bunga melur, bunga kemboja and few more can be found in the vicinity.

The carcass of sea turtles also included in the collection. Coral reefs believed to be more than 8,000 years old can be found beside the wooden staircase at the entrance of the house.

Inside the house, I was amazed by more than 7,000 pieces of Tok Ki’s bottle collection. Those wide variances of well-kept bottles are stored on the rack DIY by him.

Apart from bottles he also collected other sorts of glasses such as mugs, perfume miniatures, and weird stuff obtained from the seashore. Various shapes of fishing net heads are also available.

Where do bottles come from?

Tok Ki started collecting bottles decades ago when he found a lot of bottles stranded at the seashore after a strong current in monsoon season. Some of the bottles were given as presents knowing his deep love for bottles.

It all started in 2005. At one evening, Tok Ki noticed many pieces of bottles found on the beach had been used by the boys for playing with firecrackers.

Worried that the action would hurt them and the public, he advised the children to stop playing dangerous kinds and offered to buy bottles for him, say 10-cent per bottle.

From that point, many bottles were sent to his house naturally. At first, his wife thought he wanted to use it as a storage for budu, a fermented fish infamous foodstuff in the east coast.

Only a jeweler would recognise a gem

Once, he was labeled as crazy for his interest, but Tok Ki didn’t care. After all, it is only ‘crazy’ who can create this madness. As the saying goes, hanya jauhari mengenal manikam.

According to Tok Ki, each bottle has its own sentimental value of anecdotes and life stories.

There is a bottle sealed with a letter that was thrown away in Korea decades ago by a supposedly anonymous couple.

From the date of the letter inside the bottle, it can be seen that it has been floating in the sea for 14 years before being discovered on Penarik beach. A Korean tourist who visited the place read the message as follows:

To anyone who finds this letter,

Please wish our family a happy marriage.

Tok Ki also informed us about the bottles that characterised the mystical point of view as shown in the Malay movies, many used the bottle to capture ghosts.

Thus, he jokingly said “If you ever see any weird creatures in the bottle, or a piece of coloured cloth such as yellow, red or black you better get away from it.”

Ghosts are usually locked up in the bottle before being thrown to the sea or river. This is a practice by certain Malay residences to capture evils from disturbing the people.

We spent about one hour venturing Tok Ki bottles collections

It was a worthwhile visit to a place that was full of knowledge. Those who would like to sharpen the saw about bottle mania please do not hesitate to come to Tok Ki’s place, rest assured you’ll be gaining something out of it.

“Do not forget to write this note – ‘Keep the beach clean that God has given us’.” Tok Ki wrote a short text manifestation of his total concern about the environmental and sustainability.

For more stories like this, read: From Trainee Doctor to Cake Artist — How Chef Naqiuddin Started His Cake Business “Triad of Batter” and 3 Short Stories From Malaysia’s Essential Workers And Frontliners.

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