Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brushes with Death - #1

I travelled very often to different places due to work. The infrastructures of some places are haphazardly constructed and made do by villages.

On this fateful day, I travelled to a little town with my subordinates to source for products from an island. The sky darken with heavy clouds hanging above. Lightning flashed across the sky warned that any time these clouds will burst on us.

The driver drove at a speed of 90 to 100kmh. The roads from the hotel to the main road leading to the town were flanked by forests. Here and there were scattered kampongs (communities) along the way. Traffic was minimum and everyone drove like there were no tomorrow. I cautioned the driver to be careful because of the many turnings and we were not able to see on coming traffics. We narrowly escaped a few collusions. I am a driver myself and I know how dare devil we could get.

It was a long drive and I enjoyed the countryside serenity. Children walked to school 3 kilometers away. I am concerned for their safety. They ran after each other along the road and cars were not slowing down for them. The energy of this place will soon be taken over by modernization. I saw traces of vegetation being cut down to build houses. Along the way the driver stopped at a spot for us to go to washroom and replenished our Aqua. These small sheds were selling home grown vegetables, some wild durians and lots of pineapple. Since I speak a little Bahasa Indonesia, I asked him where were these 'nanas' from. He pointed at a side track and said there was a plantation inside. For Rup 5000 we could pluck as many pineapples as we like. I saw pick-up trucks filled with pineapples. I asked to see this plantation and to my amazement it was a very big plantation indeed. We bought some 'nanas' but not greedy enough to fill the whole Toyota Kijang.

As we moved along the way, I realized that local villagers travelled by motorcycles. A small bike with the whole family as passengers - father, mother, 3 kids and a big basket at the back. The whole family was balancing precariously on the bike along a road with fast speeding cars. I learnt from the driver that in this place, if you knocked down someone you must not stop. There is no time for you to think whether that someone is badly injured or dead, you keep going. The reason being if the police caught up with you, the amount they demand for fine and under table settlements can be more than Rup 100,000,000 and no guarantee that you get away 'scotch free'. Many died along this road especially at night. Street lights were not seen at the countryside and only when nearer to town. Handphone does not work here too. So I was told that these drivers will not stop to pick up anyone. If they saw an obstacle on the road, they will just hit it and go. Reason - there were 'robbers' that set this for unsuspecting people.

As we went further, we came to another town. We stopped to have refreshment. The driver recommended nasi lemak and otak otak with Teh O Beng. When you are in another country, try anything you like but take care of your stomach. Drinks should be hot or else you will have a 'running stomach".I enjoyed the 'makan' and my two girls have second helping and packed 100 sticks of otak otaks to bring home. The whole meal cost me about S$15.00.

We came from a clean country and have not seen so many houseflies on the eating table. I believe children today may not know how a 'housefly' looks like. Of course there were mosquitoes and wondered why these insects only bit us. While we were scratching our self crazy, the villagers gathered around laughing at us. We were their entertainment for the day.

I learnt a lesson. I must remember that in future I need to put on long pants and long sleeves Ts. We were so found of running around in shorts and short sleeves T-shirt and obviously our hands and legs were full of 'bums' of different sizes. An old lady said 'Darah manis'. GOD! she said we have sweet blood!

After 1/2 hour rest, we continued our way. We have to make it by noon and back before dusk. When we arrived at the little town, I realized there were more Chinese people. They were 'Teochew'. The driver parked the vehicle - ha.a.a Free parking! We walked along some tracks and arrived at a little jetty. I looked around and found that it was built with wood supported by coconut trunks. It was a domestic jetty for people travelling to and fro small islands around. The jetty was 'basic' - it has a shed, a few benches for waiting and we saw sacks of potatoes, vegetables, rice, meat etc. Probably these were to be transported back to the islands. The driver waved for a boat and we saw a few raced towards us. Prices were negotiated openly. Rup10,000/ person and another said Rup 8,000/ person and it went on. I decided money was not the issue but the condition of the sampan was crucial. These sampans were so narrow and how to sit three of us with one being 'heavy weight'.

Going down to that sampan was a feat. We have to climb down a ladder made of two coconut trunks and nailed wooden planks like a ladder. My two staff boarded and followed by me. The boat was bopping up and down. Fear aside, I am more concerned about being a laughing sock if I fell. Fortunately I 'landed' safely. I took a look at the boatman and to my astonishment he looked like a boy of about 12 to 13 years old. He was navigating the boat and the speed he was going was something I dare not try again. Sea water was splashing all over us and the sky decided that she was not going to hold out any longer. It started to drizzle. We were wet, wet, wet. It was exhilarating with wind and rain beating on my face let alone the danger of capsizing! Ha.a.a.a.a. don't want to think about it.

We arrived at the island jetty 15 minutes later to a warm welcome by the village headman. He showed us to the handicraft display area (not much an area actually). He showed us to the households doing these items. We negotiated the prices, selected the products, arranged the delivery and pickup dates and we were done. We travelled 5 hours (including boat ride) for an hour negotiation.

We were warmly invited to a sumptuous lunch. I am not a spicy person so spicy food is consumed moderately. However this lunch was a memorable one - it was super spicy that I can spew 'Fire'. During lunch the headman explained that during the early days, all the Sultans from Malaysia must be enthroned here. He showed us to a Mosque and also the burial ground of some of the well known Sultans. Was it the Majapahit period..? My Malaysia history is 'zero'.

We thanked the headman and time for another round of boar-racing.....rides! This time it was easier because the jetty was a wooden plank extended to the sea and we just stepped into the sampan. We waved good-bye and speed back to the main island. The sea was very rough this time. The boat bopped up and down furiously. The sky decided to shower us again. Upon reaching the 'jetty', there were boats of people taking turns to climb up the ladder. We waited for about 15 minutes. My staff watched how the people got up the ladder and they started to worry about themselves. They were not seasick but after bopping for 15 minutes I believed they were a bit dizzy now. When it came to our turn, we realized that the bopping was worst. This was caused by boats moving away, boats arriving and rough sea. Our little boat was pushed against the ladder but not able to hold still.

Looking at the situation, I moved to the bow and held the coconut trunks. I told my staff "Go now !". Gek moved forward hoping to put her legs on the ladder but the motion of the boat threw her backward. Cat was nervous. So I held the trunks and told them "Go now, faster !". This time the boat bopped badly and it was moving backward. Oh My God! what am I going to do? Part of my body was on the boat and another half holding on the trunks. I have to think fast! If I let go my hands, I will definitely fall forward and hit myself against the bow and fall into the sea. This is a 'sure' Die way! It was critical and I decided to jump - I JUMPED !!. The boat was too far back now so when I jumped, I fell into the sea. I went down, down, down! My backpack, my wallet, passport, documents and handphone. Once the bag hit the sea, the whole thing was like a holder. Water filled the bag and dragged me down further.

When I tried to surface, I saw from under the sea that a boat was pushed against the ladder. I hanged on to one of the trunk under water. If I surfaced, the boat would have CRUSHed me! I heard people shouting " Someone fell into the sea!, someone fell into the sea! ". My staffs were shouting my name. The boat backed further with the motor and I took this opportunity to surface. When the crowd saw me, the men tried to pull me out. Due to the weight of the bag and me, it was a strenuous exercise to hoist me up. Finally I was up and I saw my staff crying and their faces were pale. They later told me that they thought that I was DEAD because I did not surfaced after 'so long'.

I was wet through and through. One Chinese shopkeeper was very kind. She took me too her home above the shop and told me to hot shower while she went to buy me some clothes. She even made me a cup of hot tea. People were gathering outside her shop waiting for me to show up. Some commented I was lucky or I would be dead by now. I was very calm over the whole incident. Fortunately I am able to swim and have some common sense. I reacted fast enough not to surface when the boat crushed against the ladder. It would have been a 'memorial service' if I had.

On the way back to the hotel, my two staffs were still in the state of shock. The driver was shocked too. To me, I thank whoever that blessed me. Something told me to look up before I surface. You may say it was survival instinct but I knew it was both. I did not tell my Mum until a month later. She knew that my job is not dangerous but no one could tell what will happen as I travelled very often. This was my 1st brush with Death!...... Namo Buddhaya!

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