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Archive for April, 2007

15 – Music Video

April 26, 2007 Leave a comment
I watched ’15’ by Royston Tan 2 years ago. It was disturbing and I didn’t know what to make of these nihilistic children. Watching this Music Video again brings back cringe-worthy memories of the movie.

Enjoy it, people. And watch the full-length feature, if you can.

 
Categories: Music

Dick Lee songs….

April 26, 2007 Leave a comment
Good lord! Dick Lee’s a satirist at heart!
Enjoy people. His take on National Day and Hokkien songs.
Categories: Music

Story 2

April 19, 2007 Leave a comment
Oh, why must there be blood on his hands? They’ll find him out and send him away again. He should have refrained. But instinct reacted before thought advised. He should scram from the hospital but somehow the floor tiles were too interesting for him to leave.

“Excuse me” The worry in it cut deeply into his preoccupation.

“Yes?” He looked up slowly.  

It was a lady in frumpled clothes. She seemed to him like a cat caught out too long in the rain; sodden and deeply unhappy.

“They said you saved my girl.” She sat next to him and placed her hand on his arm. Her face displayed a tattoo of anxiety. “You held her together until they took her here.” 

He nodded. The fluorescent lights swam. There. Not there.

“She needs you.” He flinched. “You’re the same blood type as she is. She needs a blood transfusion.” How did she know his blood type?  

“The blood banks are empty.” Her grip hardened. “Please.”

“Isn’t there anyone else?” He squirmed.  

“No.” Silly, stupid man. Would she have come otherwise? He wanted to plead defiance and leave. His throat and muscles wouldn’t obey. Her hand was still on him, a great weight despite its slenderness.

She got up and pulled on his arm. “Come with me.” His seat ripped away from him; plastic on skin Velcro.

She pulled again. It lifted him to his feet and in tow behind her.  

“Come.”

***  

“We’re making mummies.” He thought.

There were bandages everywhere in the room that they’ve come to; in piles next to algae-coloured safari beds, as neat rolls on surgical trolleys but mostly wrapped around people on the beds. Their pained moans drummed summonings for nurses and doctors who attended to them in a rush; pushing aside and snapping impatience at visitors with each pass.  

The duo stood by a makeshift bed. A young lady slept in it. Her chest was bandaged and there were ugly splints on her leg and arm. Cuts and abrasions showed wherever there was skin. She seemed whole. But he knew the ruin hidden under the gauzy strips. After all, he had pinched together, using his hands, the torn edges of her flesh earlier. Remembering his actions, it was enough for him.

He tried to retreat but his captor still clung onto his arm. She pulled him back to the bedside firmly, cooing gently “She needs your blood. Save her again. Please.”  

A tiny red dot appeared on the bandages covering the lady’s sternum.  

“I can’t. I have to go now.” He tried to retreat once more. Again, she prevented him “Please.”  She cooed.

“My blood is bad!” He exploded. “It’s not a cure! I can’t save her that way!” He blinked and swung his head around; expecting to see a sudden lull but caregivers still rushed around and patients still moaned.  

The dot slowly grew into an irregularly-shaped stain. A clean red stain.

“I know. The hospital knows. It’s ok.” He goggled at her “You wouldn’t be responsible for her after that. It’s ok.”  

But it’s not. He spent so much effort hiding and containing his taint. Now, they wanted him to taint others? Fat chance. Yet, she’ll die now. If given his blood, she’ll have some time before it consumes her. She could do wonders with her life. Maybe there might even be a cure by then.

Maybe there might not be a cure.  

“No. I can’t.” He disengaged her fingers from his arm and turned to leave.

“I can go now.” he thought, oddly happy in his decision.

“You bastard.” He didn’t turn around. That’s why he didn’t know what hit him. Only that he was on the floor and the side of his head felt remarkably numb and big.  

“Bastard! Then why did you save her? Did you save her to die in front of me?! Bastard!” She slammed something into him. Pain screeched. He rolled around madly but the blows landed easily. Each one harder than the last and snapping things in him. No one came to stop her. He hissed at her with broken teeth but quieted soon after she’d shattered almost everything in him.

The young lady’s bandages were still stained. It had gone crusty maroon. A fat tube ran into her veins. It was transferring blood from newly dead to barely-alive. The lady in frumpled clothes slumped against the bed. She even managed a little smile.

Categories: Stories

Bad day

April 19, 2007 Leave a comment

It was a lousy ending to the day. George was dusty and somewhat muddy. He paced around his living room, flinging sweat onto his furniture, as he cursed the bureaucrats who had shut off the water supply. It really wasn’t the Utility Board’s fault. They had informed him via posted mail. He remembered belatedly the contents of the letter.

“Dear Occupant,
We are sorry to inform you that your water supply would be cut from 8pm, August 08 2006 to 8am, August 09 2006 for the purpose of upgrading existing blah bleah up yours, worthless slave blah bleah blah …

We apologise for the inconvenience caused.
The Utility Board
Providing for the Nation’s Needs”

It didn’t help George one whit. He was faced with spending the night picking grey dirtballs from his armpits and smelling his own stench. All he needed was a quick shower somewhere. At this thought, his eyes widened as he remembered a 24-hour swimming pool with shower facilities. It was merely 15 minutes away.  

Hurriedly, he crammed his shower essentials into an old travelling bag, threw open the front door and slammed it shut behind him.

George squeezed through a path between a gaping canal and the backyards of murky houses. He heard occasional cars whoosh from place to place in the distance. “Drunks and losers.” He thought. George laughed at himself: they weren’t the ones who were heading to a public shower in the middle of the night. Immediately, he felt self-conscious. “If anyone looked out now, they’ll see a homeless tramp.” George thought he looked the part too, a grubby man who carried his only possessions in a ratty bag.

He made a left turn out of the path and jogged up a flight of cracked steps. An old big tree overshadowed his ascent. He kept his head down to avoid the long ropey tendrils that swayed from the shadowy branches. George rounded the tree, tip-toeing over thick twisted roots that haphazardly radiated outwards, and scurried for the streetlights ahead.

The pool and its showers were just down the street and past the bend. There weren’t any houses here, just a road dotted with streetlights and cordoned by bent wire fences running in parallel to the road. George, intent on getting his shower, did not notice the police car slide up next to him. 

He stopped. So did the car.

A tinted window rolled downwards to reveal the ugliest face that George had ever seen. Thick, cracked lips bordered around a half-gaping mouth while the rest of the face was squashed upwards into a perpetual squint. George wanted to slap the face back into the car. It had no place in this world.

“Evening” Ugly intoned. He was a tuneful baritone “Where are you going to?” Every word was enunciated perfectly. 

“It’s going to sound strange, officer.” He gave a tiny laugh. “I’m going to the swimming pool to take a shower.” George stole a glance at the driver. All he could see were massive hocks of meat on the steering wheel.

“Really?” Ugly snorted disbelievingly. It even sounded good. “Step back please”

George followed orders.  

The door clicked and swung open. Ugly stepped out. His uniform sagged sadly on his frame and flapped whenever a breeze blew. Idly, George wondered if living skeletons were possible. The policeman’s utility belt hung impossibly huge around his waist.

“Well then. What’s in the bag? Could you open it for us?”

The other door opened and revealed Meat Hocks. The resemblance to the Incredible Hulk on steroids was uncanny. The big man rested his elbows on the car roof. It dented slightly. George gulped in a deep breath as he cowed under the other’s stare.

Slowly, George unzipped the bag and held it open by the handles. He turned the bag towards them and showed off its interior.

“Freeze! Don’t move!” Ugly and Meat Hocks had pulled out their service revolvers. They looked ridiculous. Meat Hock handled the gun like a squirt pistol while Ugly trembled under the weight of the revolver. Still, George froze. His eyelid twitched under their stares.

Ugly snarled “I said. Don’t move!”

George’s mind was whirling. “What’s wrong with these guys?! What’s in my bag?”

“I’m not moving.” He shivered. “Look, I’m not doing anything.”

“Don’t move!” Ugly roared.

George shouted back “I’m not moving!”

Meat Hocks squeezed his squirt pistol. It bellowed.

“Such a loud sound from so small an object” thought George. He sat down heavily, flooding the pavement with urine. His bag tumbled to the ground; vomiting toiletries, towel and clean clothes around him. Abstractly, he wondered where he was hurt and how large was the exit wound.

He waited for pain. Tears scoured his cheeks, leaving clean tracks behind. He was going to die unwashed and smelly on a dirty pavement. He waited for pain. Where was it? It was late in coming.

George haltingly looked down at himself, expecting to find ripped gulfs in him. There weren’t any. He smelled gunpowder but it wasn’t on him. Meat Hocks smiled. It was full of cavities. The brute squeezed into his side of the car.

George tried to reach for Ugly but his legs were locked into place. Ugly saw what he was doing and laughed. He jabbered gibberish to Meat Hocks. And they roared raucously. George blushed and tried to reach for Ugly once more.

He missed. Ugly stepped into the car. He winked at George as if they were in together on some big secret. They drove away with the windows wound down. George could hear their mean laughter and gibberish floating back to him. He couldn’t understand them at all but he remembered that he could once upon a time. He couldn’t remember why he was here.

George sat there for a long time, his hand still reaching out to an absent assailant. His dirty face streaked clean by tears. It was a lousy ending to the day.

Categories: Stories

We must eradicate violence firmly.

April 18, 2007 1 comment
Yahoo! News reported that a Japanese mayor was shot dead by a mobster. I would have never expected them to act like American gangsters; Japanese mobsters revenge themselves quite elegantly.
 
This quote by the Shinzo Abe (Japanese prime minister) seem rather permissive to me. "This murder, which took place in the middle of an election campaign, is a threat to democracy," Abe said early Wednesday. "We must eradicate violence firmly."
 
So the Yakuza can do whatever they want as long as there’s no violence? No wonder, Japan’s going to the dogs. In Japan, everything’s ok but don’t ever rock the boat or make too much noise. Appreciate any comments about this. I’m not quite sure of Japanese mentality yet.

Links out: Yahoo! News on shooting

Categories: Observations

Same Same but Different

April 18, 2007 Leave a comment
I keep talking to people (locals and travellers) while travelling. An accomplishment in itself because I’m not much of a talker. In fact, I’ve been charged with being anti-social for most of my life. My best guess is that travel forces me to interact with life around me.  

This story’s about two people gave me charity while I was wandering through Asia. I must have looked like a tramp yet… well… you can read for yourself.

***   

There is man called Kassim, I say ‘is’ because he still lives in northern Malaysia. I met him at a beach in Terengganu while resting my weary feet on a thick wooden bench. He has a small white car where the backseat was filled with carpets. He scrunched up to the wheel when he drove. “The Russian Boy is eighteen years old. Sama sama like you. Walking and walking. I gave him a lift and brought him to my house. He stayed for two hours; from 12 to 2pm.” Kassim reminisced just before he stopped the car. He went into a house to do some business with people.

There is a man called Lek. I hope ‘is’ because bombs were exploding with alarming regularity in Thailand’s Deep South. I met him while asking for directions in Yala. He puttered up to me on his rickety motorcycle. He also owns two big cars: a Volvo and a Honda. I happily stretched out my legs in them. “There is a famous Chinese stall there. Many people go there to eat. A bomb exploded and killed twelve people.” Lek pointed out a shuttered shop as he spun his Volvo to the left. He showed me Yala town: bombed shops; Muslim schools; deserted parks spanning the river’s length.

The man called Kassim speaks little English and much Malay. “I have five children. Three sons besar. They have own children. Two children still kechil. They are in Pakistan.” he said over a dinner of Nan, Dhal and Kema. After dinner, we ran into Kassim’s younger compatriot who respectfully greeted us with handshakes and fingers on the elbow of his outstretched arm. They spoke at length in Pakistani; the younger man bent forward a little and deferred much to Kassim.

The man called Lek speaks some English and much Thai. “Two years ago, Yala was nice and clean. Now it is dirty. Everyone is afraid of foreigners because we are afraid that they bring bombs here.” Grey rain stormed and howled outside the café where we had strong black coffee and weak tea. The only other customer was a young girl wearing a tudung (Islamic headdress). She moved inside the café to avoid the deluge.  

The man called Kassim lives in a little wooden house hidden with other small wooden houses in a tiny lane off the main road. The rooms are barren but plush Persian carpets cover the floor. White cotton robes hang from nails pounded into rough wooden walls. There is running water, electric lights and little else. “I hope you don’t mind my house. My house is bad. Not beautiful because I live alone. But it is home.” He said as he held the car wheel steady over the stony and bumpy lane.  

The man called Lek lives in a double-storey house made of clean ceramic tiles and painted concrete. Inside the house, shelves overflow with books and academic journals. Old Buddha statues cluster in a corner with his collection of old watches. The TV is hidden in a recessed shelf and a laptop connects him to the internet. “Welcome to my home!” Lek exclaimed as he stood outside the main door. His arms were wide open as if ready to give me a bear hug.

In the house of Kassim, I watch Kassim spread out a mat and change his skullcap. He stands on the mat and puts his hands on his belly. He mutters and inhales deeply every so often. Then, he kneels and presses his forehead against the mat. He repeats the process a few times. “Come, I finish praying. We go eat now.” Kassim prays once more when we get back. 

In the house of Lek, I saw Lek flush red as he looked at his phone in disgust “My uncle in Bangkok called me and ask me why why? Why I take a foreigner in my house?” All his and his family’s photographed past stared out from the walls. “You saw my friend at the photo shop. They called my uncle and he called me just now. I cannot understand them. I think I am right to take you into my house.” I say nothing but nod in commiseration.  

That night, in the house of Kassim, I slept in my sleeping bag and swatted buzzing insects from my face. Kassim snored gently on the floor next to me; he is enveloped by an inverted mosquito basket (a mosquito net which stands on its own). It is deathly quiet and peaceful. I had trouble sleeping. Damn those mosquitoes! 

That night, in the house of Lek, I slept on a mattress in his living room. We had been chatting away until midnight. I woke up to something snort, grunt and roar. There it was again; blasphemous obscenities growling from hell’s depths: words from the soldier who was killed just last week by a robber two doors from the house? I had trouble going back to sleep.

The next morning, we said goodbye at the bus station. I waited until Kassim’s little white car dwindled into a speck on the long road out / Lek’s rickety motorcycle turned the corner. Then I sat on my backpack and waited for a bus to rumble to a stop before me.  

Lek and Kassim. The former: a Buddhist, academic and collector of fine, old things. The later: a Muslim, itinerant salesman and far from home.

They’re both same same but different.  
 

Yala 
 
What to do
Damn fine question.  

Getting there
From Betong: By taxi or mini-bus (2 ½ hours, 100 bht one-way)
From Malaysia: By train from Butterworth or Kota Bahru

Sleeping
Damn fine question. There should be places to stay but not one hotel accepted me that day.

Food
Plenty of food in the market. There are separate markets for Muslims and Thais.  
 


Jertih  

Getting there
From Kuala Terengganu: Public bus to Jertih.  

Notes
Haven’t a clue what to eat, where to stay and what to do.

Categories: Uncategorized

Journey – Malaysia to Thai border

April 18, 2007 Leave a comment
I hate taking the easy way around. It is a hop and a skip by luxury sleeper bus from the southern-most tip, Johor Bahru, to one of the three Thai borders up north. The Malaysian buses and trains are depressingly regular and efficient.

 Don’t get me wrong. I like excellent transportation networks. They facilitate trade, better standards of living and excise a little prejudice in a horribly biased world. But it is bad travelling. Travelling should be eventful; travelling should be insightful. But most of all, travelling must show you a life that isn’t yours.

That is why I will take the long way up.  

I’ll start out from Jertih and cut horizontally across northern Malaysia into Pasir Puteh; Machang; Tanah Merah; Jeli; Gerik; last stop in Malaysia: Keroh. Then I’ll head upwards through the mountains of southern Thailand and into Betong.

Instead of hiking, as I’ve done along the east coast, I decide to travel on public buses. I’ll eat just one square meal. It comes, partly, from wanting to see how much I can handle but mostly, my funds are quickly disappearing. I need to make every Malaysian Ringgit count. The rules are set. I leave Jertih in the morning and expect to enter Thailand later on same evening.  

It doesn’t quite happen that way.

***  

I’m on the bus to Machang now.

It plunges along one of the many tar veins in Malaysia. Rubber trees and wild undergrowth wall us in while unruly branches scritch-scratch at the bus’s metal skin. The bus stops here and there for passengers to get on and off. I’m surprised that there’s civilization here; brick houses with satellite dishes and beat-up cars. I spy a section of the Jungle Railway – a slow mail train that chugs through the jungles – hidden behind some shrubbery.

The bus finally pulls into Machang and plugs a gap in the phalanx of buses. The driver pulls several levers and pushes some buttons. The bus shudders orgasmically and goes dead. I get off and make on unsteady legs for the ticketing office.  

Malay women in tudungs (traditional Islamic headgear) mill around politely in Machang’s bus terminal. There’s a big board tacked outside the office that displays bus schedules. The next bus leaves in five minutes.

I arrive at its entrance dry-mouthed and red-faced. My backpack is skewed to one side. I climb hand over foot into another metal monster.  

“Pergi Mana?” says the Malay driver kindly.

“Pergi Tanah Merah.” I drop the appropriate levy into his hand. He returns me a wisp of paper with badly printed numbers.  

I take a seat somewhere in the middle and pull the window open. I like the roaring wind; it sounds like women screaming loud abuse. Too long in the wind and my face feels covered by spider webs. It’s a rare, wonderful sensation.

It takes me more than an hour to get to Tanah Merah. I look at the passengers around me in between states of fugue. They’re never the same from one moment to the next.  

They start off as a gaggle of ditzy young girls. All dressed in modern clothes and sporting long shiny, black hair. They laugh at my attempts to get directions from them. It turns out that none of them speak any English. My Malay is too primitive to ask directions with. They laugh beautifully and it annoys me. Don’t they have school? I turn away from them and look out of the same-same landscape of rubber tree plantations.

The next time I look back, halfway to Tanah Merah, they’ve morphed into an old woman clutching overly full plastic bags. There are boxes and boxes of unknown stuff in those bags. There are bright green vegetables crammed together with cylinders of brown Dodol (Durian sweet cakes). She is sleeping soundly. Her mouth droops open and I see strong yellow teeth. It complements her lacy white tudung. I turn away from her and re-enter my fugue.  

There is loud talking behind me. It sounds much too young to belong to the old woman, and the schoolgirls have alit from the bus. I’m curious to whom the talking belongs to. I look back once more.

The old woman has turned into a gang of surly teenagers. They look like month-old zombies: stringy muscle show up clearly against their uniforms of tight Che Guevera t-shirts and pipe jeans; hunger is evident in their smiles, the ends of which point downwards and something nasty glints in their eyes. I look away quickly.  

The passengers behind me are never the same when I look back. But the wind never changes. It howls horribly into my face like warrior women roaring for blood.

***  

Gerik. 10 am.

That’s what the notice board at the bus terminal says. No more buses for the day. I have to stay the night in Jeli; an absurdly dead town. It’s Friday – Sabbath for Moslems in this state. No wonder none of the shops will open for business.  

Jeli’s bus terminal is tiny – three rows of ten plastic chairs occupy half the terminal. There are never enough people to fill up a quarter of the seats. The bus terminal has a fleet of six buses that leave and return like clockwork.

Where will I stay? I don’t see any hotels nearby. Besides, I do not have enough money for a hotel room. I curse and swear under my breath. I plonk my backpack on one of the seats. My stomach sinks and I don’t know what to do now.  

“Kau balik Tanah Merah,” says one of the bus drivers.  

“Tak mau. Aku pergi Gerik.” I will not retrace my route. He shrugs and disappears into the ticketing office. I had stayed overnight in Jerantut bus terminal while waiting for the bus to Taman Negara National Park earlier in my trip. I could do the same here.

I sidle up to the ticketing office. There is a door inside that leads to a room which should be the drivers’ resting place. There are two people in the ticketing office. One of them has kind, crinkly eyes. The other has a curly black beard.

“Hello. Can I sleep in bus office tonight?” I say as clearly as I can through the window.  

“No. I’m sorry but my boss cannot allow people to sleep in the office. You can put your bag here because I will lock the room tonight and you can get it tomorrow morning. You can sleep on the chairs outside.” says the man with kind, crinkly eyes.

“Oh. Is it safe here?”  

“Yes. I think so.” He looks at me as if I had asked if the sun would rise tomorrow. “It’s not a big city.”

Afternoon. I try to hitch-hike my way out to Gerik. No one stops for me; a bald guy in a ratty singlet displaying outstretched up-turned thumb and a wooden board with “GERIK” in bold, black lettering. All the drivers stare at me with huge disbelieving eyes as they zoom past.  

My best hope comes in the form of a middle-aged couple who are waking up from a short nap in their car. The car looks lived-in. There is a small mountain of junk in their back seat.

“Excuse me, abang. Pergi Gerik?”

The portly man looks at me and nods his head. He’s smiling for some strange reason.  

“Can I…”

“No.” cuts in the woman, “We are not going to Gerik.”  

I stand there awkwardly. The man whimpers obedience. He never looks me in the eye afterwards. Mumbling apologies, I step away and pray fervently that she becomes a nubile virgin for the endless pleasure of those who died for the Jihad. Bitch.

Evening. Fine sand skitters across the concrete floor as prayers blare from a nearby mosque. The few people disappear. Far-away lights illuminating someplace else tease out long shadows from nearby buildings. The man with kind, crinkly eyes locks the door to the ticketing office. He winds a length of chain around the handles and fastens them together with a sturdy padlock. I sullenly watch him.

“I am sorry that I cannot bring you to my house to sleep but my father, my brothers, their families, my wife and my child live in my house. There is no space. Good night. I will see you tomorrow.” and he roars off in his red, flat Proton.  

Then I’m alone.

I unroll my sleeping bag onto a bench and wait. It’s too early for sleep. I eat my dinner – a packet of rice bought for me by the man with kind, crinkly eyes. The call for Allah’s faithful to prayer echoes in the deadness. I leave my bench to throw away the packet and wash my hands.  

I find, on returning, that a frumpled old woman has hijacked my bench.

“Get up!”  

“Grrr… Urmph…” she babbles something else that I don’t understand. Her fleshy arms hang loosely over the bench.

“Bench. Aku! Go away! You take those seats!” I draw myself up. I outweigh her at least by half. She mutters darkly under her breath but gets up from the bench. I see a little fear in her wide eyes and feel pleased at myself. I have won my bench back. I snuggle into my sleeping bag; my eyes squeeze tight. Hopefully nothing comes crawling out from the deeply black spots.  

I snap awake!

Ominous chanting. It grows louder. It’s broken by snorts and gurgles. The chanting restarts. It grows louder. It’s broken by snorts and gurgles. The chanting runs on eternal-repeat mode – chant, snort, gurgle, chant, snort, gurgle.  

I cannot move. I don’t dare to look up. Please, please, don’t let there be something else here. Something just touched my leg! Chanting, chanting. Calling Malayan demons to worship: blood-loving pregnant women; waddling blue-veined foetuses; flying heads dangling intestines; lechers lathered with black oil.

Slowly, I crane my neck upwards. My spine creaks too loudly. I open my eyes. There is nothing around me. Maybe the monstrous faithful are invisible. Chanting, chanting. I must find out who’s that chanting. I crane my neck further upwards and see a baggy silhouette at the edges of the terminal.  

Harsh tobacco stinks up the terminal. A red dot flares. Chanting, chanting. It’s coming from the frumpled old lady whom I forced off the bench. She’s at the other end of the terminal and points accusingly at some dark corner. Oh god. She’s pointing at the clump of banana trees just hidden around the corner. Is she calling to beautiful blood-spirits living in those trees?

She swears loudly, snorts then goes quiet. She takes the time to light a cigarette. Its harsh incense fills the terminal. Oh god. I’m alone with this mad woman. What will she do to me?

Chanting, chanting again. Maybe if I ignore her, she’ll ignore me. I slouch far into my sleeping bag. Again, my eyes are shut tight. It’s silent once more. I drift off to sleep.

She screams! I’m jolted awake. Then it’s quiet. I sleep again, chanting my own curse on her, “Shut up. Shut up. Shut up.” She scolds that dark corner. She mutters darkly under her voice and waves her arms around. She rants and rants meaningless messages. She walks up and down beside me while doing all those things.  

I do not sleep for the rest of the night.

“Was last night ok?” inquires the man with kind, crinkly eyes.  

***

I shiver while seating on a hard rock. My fellow passengers hug their jackets closer as they eat breakfast at the rest station: Nasi Lemak (coconut rice) and sweet coffee. I am dizzy. My last meal was in Jeli and it is now early afternoon. But I cannot afford any more food. There might not be enough money for the bus to Thailand.

I want to go now; get out of the cold.  

But we’ll be here for a while. The bus-driver is dragging plastic bag after plastic bag of burger buns out from the bus’s storage bins. He deposits each bag in front of a smiling man who, in turn, calls his boy to carry them into a room.

This is a rest-stop on the highest point of the East-West highway. It took us the whole morning to get here: 150 kilometres from Jeli by my reckoning. The engine made far too much noise as the bus crawled up the mountains. I was worried that it’ll sputter, smoke then die on us. But it didn’t.  

It has to go faster from here on. After all, we can only go downhill.

Time to go. I get back into the bus and take my place. As the bus chugs downhill, I sway between a bony man and a petulant young punk. My backpack is squashed against someone’s leg and mine. It’s cold in here as well. Iron-tasting air chugs out from the air vents. It eddies down to my feet.

The way to Gerik is bounded on one side by tree-tops which almost touch the asphalt road. I cannot see where they begin. It’s just shadow underneath. Flicker. Flicker. The leaves blur into a moving picture mottled sunlight and shadows. We cross over an azure reservoir with brown sticks impaled into the water. There are chalets sprawling on the hillside. Why will someone come out here to stay the weekend?  

It takes us another one and a half hours to get into Gerik. The bus station is a massive construction of concrete, tile and people. It looks prosperous as compared to the dinky towns that I’ve passed by earlier. Eventually, I board another bus, this time dimmer and much stuffier. It is helmed by a surly young driver who doesn’t much care for questions.

I alight at Keroh, a mere 6 kilometres from the Malaysian-Thai border. There is a bus to the border but I’ll have to wait for it to arrive. I trudge into a bus office. A pretty girl in clinging yet flowing clothes sits in there. She’s unsure what to make of me.

“Excuse me! Have bus to Thailand?”  

She rattles off a string of words. I have no idea what’s she saying but I understand the shake of her head. No bus for today. Not again!

“Terimah Kasih.”  

I trudge back out of the office and sit on the steps. I’m almost at the end. So close that I could hotfoot it.

The past 25 hours had me at the mercy of mismatched bus schedules, wild bus rides; showed me a crazy woman; starved me until a man with kind, crinkly eyes gave me charity; taught me that people fear strangers; exposed me for the bully that I am; uncovered towns bypassed by everyone except for satellite TV and and now… well, now what?

I hail an old taxi helmed by an old man with fake teeth. It turns out I have just enough for the ride to the border.

Categories: Uncategorized
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