Merdeka?

In some ways, I would think that this is a great country to live in. Other than in Bangkok, Singapore or Bandar Seri Begawan, Kuala Lumpur is the only place I can walk around free in the middle of the night without getting mugged or anything like that. Of course there has been cases of robbery and murder here and there, but generally you can walk around feeling safe. A good indicator is the number of expats working here in Malaysia, both legally and illegally. Wifey and I have nicknamed the extremely high-density high-end apartment complex next door as Seri Umaya because it looks like Beirut especially at night – minus the occasional bombing by Israeli fighter-bombers or some dumb ass blowing himself up.

52 years of self-rule has brought all that about. If P Ramlee were to wake up from his grave now, he might say he’s in a parallel world where the city resembles a bit of the KL he used to know.

It hasn’t been easy. And I would say that race-relations now is at its lowest since the May 1969 tragedy. It was a lot better immediately after. People were more tolerant of each other in the aftermath of the tragedy, but not now. And as long as we all look at ourselves as Malays, Chinese, Hindus, Peninsular, Sabah, Sarawak, BN, PR, Muslims, Christians, Hindus…we will never be one. And for this failure, we only have ourselves to blame. Let’s stop pointing fingers to the politicians who run the government of the day, or the selfish bastards in the opposition who are bent on trying to reap whatever they can in case they don’t make it back onto the throne come the next general elections. If we fail to unite, it is because we fail to see who we are. We fail to identify with the country we live in.

Malaysia has always been a melting pot. For at least 1,000 years. Traders, missionaries from all over the world set foot here time and time again. If we do a DNA test on our blood sample right now, there is that slight chance that we’d have a hint of DNA similarities to the dried sperm scraped from some illegal contract workers’ kongsi, or to a student from Africa somewhere. Yet, we are a xenophobic lot, and we often look down on those whose colour of skin is darker than ours; or on the Bangladeshi PhD holder who perhaps earns more here as a waiter in a mamak restaurant than a researcher back home. We often forget that those who walk the planks on top of a high-rise under construction often without form of harness, some perish and some don’t, are the ones who keep the economy growing.

When this country was 16 years young, I still remember how tolerant people in this country were towards each other. I went to a missionary school where the Principal was dressed in a white robe, and the wall of our classrooms were adorned with the crucifix. It was a time, 4 years after 13th May, where Malays, Indians and Chinese would eat together, and play together.

Having done with my elementary education, I went on to the Malay College, an institution some non-malays now think is the epitome of malay-chauvinism. Let me see how true this is by trying to recall the name of the teachers who taught me there: Ustaz Rahman, Cikgu Abdullah Sani, Cikgu Mustafa Kamal Rabah, Cikgu Mustafa Kamal Ishak, Cikgu Wahab, Cikgu Rahim, Cikgu Zambri, Cikgu Shazali, Ustaz Yusof, Mr Phang Chee Keong, Cikgu Toh Ah Huat, Cikgu Tan Gim Hoe, Cikgu Ooi Guan Kok, Cikgu Loh Teik Sze, Mr Amirthalingam, Mr Nadarajah, Mr Purusothanam Panicker, Cikgu Raman Naidu, Mr Leong Chee Seng, and my Physics teacher as well as my English language teacher whose name I cannot recall at this very moment – both non-malays. So, I was taught by 12 non-malay teachers compared to 9 malay ones. Contrary to popular belief, the Malay College never taught any of us to think that we malays are superior to the other races in this country.

My first taste of racism was when I went to England after SPM, not just from the English students, but also from some of the lecturers. I was subjected to racist attacks both in and out of college. But unlike other malays, or other races from this country that I met there, I did not yield and did not stick to my own kind. Instead I had to think two or three steps ahead of the whites. I got into a fight with a group of white boys who threw snowballs that had rocks hidden inside them. What did I do? I went for the group leader and beat him up and disregarded all the rest while they were punching and kicking me from behind. Once they see their leader all bloodied, they scarper like stupid wild dogs. When a lecturer asked me cynically about my somewhat good command of the English language and where did I learn it from, I just said, “On the plane on the way here.”

I was wrong to be happy about leaving all that behind three years later to return to Malaysia because the Malaysia I returned to was different. I could see its people being suspicious of each other. This attitude caused race relations to simmer, and culminated in the Ops Lalang of 1987. Let me mention something about Ops Lalang. My father did not take orders from the then Prime Minister to execute the operations. In fact, he had had a meeting with all his directors and the top Special Branch people in Fraser’s Hills prior to that to plan the whole thing. And I remember him talking sternly to the Prime Minister over the hotline warning the latter that he would be arrested too if he did not keep the rest of the politicians leashed properly.

Look at where we are now. Multi-polarity is so huge here that we see ourselves according to racial, religious and political background. People are more extreme in their thinking and are keen to blame everyone else but themselves.

There is a saying: “An empire does not crumble because of outside forces; it crumbles from within.”

Stop blaming the politicians. They are idiots who are supposed to represent us. We’re supposed to be the ones with brains to think and assess the situation. If they continue to dwell in their own stupidity, and promote racial tension, are we supposed to just listen to then blindly and let things crumble? If you think either BN or PR is right, or wrong, or that you and your religion are superior over others, then you are as stupid as the politicians are.

Selamat Menyambut Ulangtahun Kemerdekaan ke-52.

Do you think there will be 52 more years of this?

SeaDemon's way of celebrating Merdeka

Kampung Ku

…kampungku indah nun jauh di sana…

I no longer have a kampung. And how I define a kampung as is a place where my grandparents lived, and either parent originated from, and filled with my childhood memories. Since we hardly went back to Teluk Intan (my father’s hometown) when my paternal grandmother was still alive: Kampung Jerangsang, Mukim Tanjung Besar, Daerah Benta, Negeri Pahang was the only kampung I have vivid memories of. And the month of Ramadhan is always closely associated with a kampung, underscored by the late Sudirman’s song “Balik Kampung.”

Back in the early 70’s, the house my late grandparents used to live in consisted of only 3 parts: the serambi (the verandah where guests were entertained), the Rumah Ibu (the main part of the house that had only two rooms, one was occupied by late grandparents, the other was by my youngest uncle before he went off to England to further his studies back in 1972), and the Dapur (the kitchen). At the edge of the dapur, the planks were made of 2-inch boards with gaps in between as it served as the toilet at night. Those were the times when tigers and communist terrorists alike, used to roam at night, not to mention some supernatural beings they say. The bathroom was a well on the left-hand side of the house, where, during those early days, we had to employ a pail attached to a rope to fetch water.

The house was separated from the paddy fields behind it by a small stream that looked somewhat wide when I was little. My elder cousins used to bathe in it, and I have seen people fish in it. But what I remember most about the stream is the coconut tree trunk that used to straddle it, that was used by my cousins for mass crap-dumping sessions after dinner, while the younger ones like I, and my cousin Harry, would have to stand guard with a torchlight to “light” up the dark night.

The house eventually “grew” in size; in the end it had 2 other rooms added, three bathrooms (one ended up as a store) with flush toilets. Electricity came to Jerangsang very slowly. In the early 80’s we had 12-hour electricity, that eventually became 24-hours in the late 80’s. Water supply came in around the early 1990’s, but that was more to supplement the fresh cold stream water we tapped from the hills nearby.

Hari Raya would see us: aunts and uncles, and cousins get together as one, catching up with those who did not live in KL as most did. And because of the celebration being in a kampung, it was more traditional in nature than it would be in larger towns and cities. Two days before hari raya, arrival at the kampung was never followed by a good rest. You would be assigned to a task: the men would have to help make rendang, lemang and dodol, while the womenfolk, led by my grandmother, would be in the kitchen, cooking other dishes that could be eaten with the lemang, or for the breaking of fast later in the evening. And every night after, we would have fireworks and firecrackers to play with, much to my father’s chagrin. On Hari Raya itself, we would have members of the police field force (now police general operations force) on duty in that area coming over to the house on my father’s invitation, to eat good food.

Later in the 80’s, one by one the older cousins would start their own family, and have their own life. Although they do make it a point to go back to Jerangsang, we would only meet each other there on alternate years, or not at all since their alternate years of being there is when others were away. That’s one of the ways how us cousins grew apart.

My last hari raya spent there with my grandparents was just a month before my grandfather passed away. Still reeling from my divorce and the Asian Financial Crisis, I went back to Jerangsang with whatever money I had left with me. I am glad I made that journey as it would be the last time I would see my grandfather as his usual jovial self. He even got a masseur for me that hari raya day because I had sprained my back so bad I could not lift my right arm or breathe without feeling pain. A month later, I saw him at the hospital, post-surgery, in a coma; and he passed away not long after. My grandmother followed him exactly six-months later, which, I believe, was more because she missed him terribly, than because of the sudden onset of terminal cancer.

It was decided by my mom’s family that my late uncle should stay there with his family to look after the house. We went back for hari raya again the following year. Yes, it wasn’t the same without the matriarchal and patriarchal figures around, but nevertheless we managed to keep the family together still.

Then my uncle passed away in an accident in 2002. Subsequently it was decided to rent the house out to aliens from a neighbouring state. With that, we cousins have lost the final link: a place that would have brought us all together as one, as it used to for decades.

Gone are the laughters of the members of the fourth generation, the stupid jokes the third generation would trade; we cousins now hardly know what’s happening to one another. Let’s not even talk about if any of our children know each other, save for one or two second cousins.

And as I sit typing this posting out, I can still remember the smell of the crisp cold fresh air, the mist-covered top of the hills behind the paddy fields, and the hot black coffee we would enjoy with our late grandfather, served with cream crackers…and ponder upon the thought of having to return to my wife’s kampung for the rest of my life…her kampung, where only love exists, but devoid of childhood memories.

I hope, if any of my cousins are reading this, please let us get together one day, with photos of our beloved kampung and let us scan these pictures and distribute them. I’m sorry but I have none.

For those who still have a kampung to return to, preserve your kampung and the link between families. You have no idea how it feels to have lost a kampung.

Butterflies

Wifey is on her flight and now I am waiting for her arrival at the airport. And everytime I am about to see her again, no matter the duration, I get butterflies in my stomach. And I have not felt as such for a long, long time. And it is always good to know that the one you love still has that effect on you.

For Wifey, thank you for making time to be with me a day before my course exams, and for wanting to be with me.

MY WIFE, MY LIFE

It has been a fortnight of sleeping in a cold bed
And every morning I wake up feeling dead
What I would give to be with you each day
But I could not have you by me no matter the way

I wish I could tell you the things I wanted to say
From the dark of the night until the sun shines it ray
But no matter how sunny it may be in the morn’
I always wake up like I’m in a mourn

I am a man forlorn
On me the day’s beauty does not adorn
Getting through a day alone is always laborious
Without you the simplest of things become arduous

Returning to me today is the meaning of life
Returning into my arms today is my lovely wife

John F SeaDemon
Senai Airport, JB – 20th August 2009

I’m sorry if it sounds crappy. At least it rhymes. 😛

Wifey and I - August 2009

Perihal ‘J’

You enter the room
You brighten the darkness my love
In moments with you
There is no end in me or begining in you

Move to the floor
The purpose combined, my love
Like motion of stars
Dynamic symmetry combines

Break my fall
I found what is missing inside you
Break my fall
Na na na na na na na na
Break my fall
I found what is missing inside you
Break my fall
Na na na na na na na na

Pukul 2 pagi. Aku tertidur kejap tadi tapi lagu Tiesto ni asyik main dalam kepala aku. Aku masih hyper akibat mendengar lagu Tiesto sepanjang jalan ke Pasir Gudang dari KL tadi.

Aku bukannya nak tulis pasal Tiesto punya lagu, tapi sebenarnya nak tulis pasal gelagat orang bawak kereta kat highway dan sebagainya. Sebagai contoh, aku tak faham kenapa separuh orang boleh bawak lagi perlahan dari anak aku kayuh basikal, tapi bila aku nak potong aje, dia laju. Laju yang tak masuk akal gaya memandu.

Last week, masa dalam perjalanan balik dari Perhentian, ada makcik sekor ni bawak kereta kat Paka. Dah la slow nak mampus, makan dua-dua lane pulak tu. Aku duduk aje kat belakang dia. Bila dia rapat ke kanan, aku pun cuba nak potong dari kiri. Dia pecut Gen-2 dia. Lepas tu, bila ada kereta 16 batu kat depan, dia slow mendadak. Bila aku nak potong, dia laju balik. Aku ingatkan dia sorang aje bawak macam tu kat Paka, rupanya ada 2-3 orang lagi mada-paka yang bawak kereta macam tu. Ni mesti kes laki koter kecik jadi nak balik rumah lepas kerja pun tension.

Anyway, petang tadi aku kat highway sebab nak ke Pasir gudang untuk kursus selama 2 minggu. Lepas dari Seremban punya R&R tu ada la satu Satria merah. Bukan GTi, tapi Satria lama. Dia kat lane laju bawak 70km/h. Kereta lain yang laju potong dia ikut sebelah kiri; ada yang kasi jari tengah kat makcik sekor ni. Ye, makcik bertudung berumur lingkungan 20-an, tapi rupa dah dekat 50-an. Aku pun slow la ikut belakang dia, kot-kot dia nak ke tepi. Dekat 5 minit aku macam tu. Kereta lain siap horn kat dia. Ada mamat sorang tu siap keluar kepala memaki sesuatu kepada makcik ni. Last-last, aku bagi high-beam kat dia. Lantas dia memecut. By aku punya standards, tak ada la laju mana. Lebih kurang speed aku bawak nak ke office hari-hari lalu depan IJN dan Jalan Tun Razak. Tapi, masih jugak enggan yield. Rupa-rupanya, plate ‘J’. Bini aku pun bawak kereta plate ‘J’ jugak, tapi tak la macam cipet sekor ni. Aku selalunya allergic dengan plate ‘J; kat tengah highway ni apabila telah melewati simpang Air Hitam menghala ke plaza tol Skudai. Tapi nampaknya kali ni kegatalan aku telah datang lebih awal. Dia punya pecut nak tinggalkan aku sampai nak barai enjin dia aku rasa, berdasarkan bunyi yang datang dari kereta dia di hadapan walaupun aku sedang mendengar lagu-lagu genre Trance yang didendangkan oleh DJ Tiesto. Tapi masih enggan dia memberi laluan. Sekali tu, sebelum kawasan rehat Senawang, ada accident. Traffic memang standstill kat tengah highway. Aku pun terus apply brakes sampai ABS kicked-in. Makcik ni, siap swerve dari right-most lane, terus ke hard shoulder/emergency lane sebelah kiri – narrowly missing one Mercedes in the center lane and sebijik lori on the slow lane. Punya la dia nak kalahkan aku jugak, nak speed kat emergency lane.

5 minit kemudian, aku nampak polis trafik tengah menyaman si cipet ni yang tengah muka berang marah-marah polis ni tadi agaknya sebab spoil dia punya mood driving.

3 bulan lepas, masa aku datang kursus di Pasir Gudang ni jugak, lepas dari simpang Air Hitam, kereta plate ‘J’ akan bersusun di lane sebelah kanan, memotong lori yang 20 kilometer di hadapan, dengan kelajuan di antara 70 hingga 90 kilometer sejam. Jangan tanya aku kenapa, tapi inilah hakikatnya. Aku tension betul dengan fenomena yang sangat cipet ni.

Tadi, benda yang sama berlaku…tetapi kali ni mula selepas simpang Yong Peng Utara lagi. Satu deret kereta plate ‘J’ yang tidak mengenali di antara satu sama lain, cuba memotong sebuah bas yang berada 982 kilometer di hadapan, dengan kelajuan 80 kilometer sejam. Aku punya la tension. Aku bagi lampu 3-4 kali pun buat bodoh aje.

Masa aku driving, ada 4 jenis lagu aku dengar, mengikut mood aku drive:

1) Lagu berirama balada seperti lagu-lagu Babyface dan sebagainya menandakan aku tengah boring dan nak drive relax aje,

2) Lagu irama chill menandakan aku dalam mood nak drive laju tetapi dalam keadaan relax. Biasanya, lagu-lagu oleh DJ Ravin secara solo, atau koleksi Buddha Bar, atau Hotel Costes menjadi halwa telinga,

3) Lagu irama trance oleh DJ-DJ ternama seperti Tiesto, Paul van Dyk, Judge Jules, ATB, Armin van Buuren menjadi teman setia. Selalunya cara pemanduan aku masa ni adalah laju dan constant,

4) Lagu Irama Besi Berat – kebiasaannya oleh AC/DC, apabila aku ingin memandu laju dan aggressive.

Anyway, back to the drive earlier this evening, memang aku tak faham kenapa kereta-kereta plate ‘J’ ni suka sangat bawak perlahan di lane memotong, lepas tu berderet sepanjang-panjang highway tu, dan nak kata ada bas, atau lori, atau kereta perlahan di lane kiri tu…memang tak ada. Bas dan lori pun lagi laju!

Paling aku tension, aku potong satu deret 600 lebih kereta plate ‘J’ dari sebelah kiri. Kemudian, di hadapan aku ada satu Myvi plate ‘J’ yang slow, lebih kurang 200 meter di hadapan kereta ciput yang paling hadapan. Lepas kereta paling hadapan tu, aku pun masuk la balik ke lane memotong. Tiba-tiba, cipet Myvi ni boleh swerve masuk depan aku dengan kelajuan 70km/h sebab nak potong lori 1 tan yang berada 400 kilometer di hadapan. Aku rasa masa tu kalau ada high-speed camera mesti dah boleh nampak brake disk aku merah menyala. Bukan takat badan aku keras sakit, keras kembang telur aku sebab badan aku punya pressure naik. Betul punya kimak. Takpe lah. Sebab aku baik dan tak dengar AC/DC, aku relax kat belakang dia dan travel la lagi 400 kilometer pada kelajuan ciput sehinggalah Myvi ni potong lori tadi. Lepas dah potong bukan dia reti nak masuk balik ke kiri! Ada bas lagi 250,000 batu kat depan! Angin betul aku! Aku siap boleh karang SMS hantar kat bini aku komplen pasal kimak ni…berkajang-kajang SMS aku! Bayangkanlah betapa slownya cipet Myvi ni.

Lepas tu kat belakang aku ada satu All-Fart guna lampu HID dah cucuk belakang aku. Lagi aku angin. Mangkuk kat depan tak hiraukan high-beam aku, cibai kat belakang pulak buta malam nak kena guna lampu HID baru nampak. Aku pun kick-down accelerator pedal tu, swerve ke kiri nak potong Myvi ni tadi. Boleh kimak ni masuk kiri pulak depan aku! Mencecet aku tap brake pedal aku, tak nak terus tekan takut momentum membuang kereta aku pada kelajuan ni. Aku rasa senarai carut aku dalam vocabulary aku, memang habis digunakan kat highway menghala ke Skudai hari ni. Dah lah aku trapped belakang babi ni, sebelah kanan aku ada beberapa buah lagi kereta plate ‘J’ yang tadinya aku potong sebab buat 90km/h, mula memotong aku sebab aku pada kelajuan 70km/h. Tak babi ke hangin aku?

Sebab tu la sampai sekarang aku hyper dan lagu Tiesto main dalam kepala aku. Jadi aku nak share dengan ngkorang lagu tu:

One Full Diving Circle

Doing my 3rd dive at Renggis Island off Tioman, July 1982
My 3rd dive at Renggis Island, off Tioman. July 1982

I was 16 when I first scuba-dived. It was the time when tanks were heavy made of steel, no BCD, no alternate air source (Octopus), no air pressure gauge. The tanks had J-Valve on them with a little yoke on the left for you to yank for some spare air in emergency. The only way for you to know you are out of air is when you suck in the regulator and all you get is nothing. So, you yank the yoke for emergency air and make your way to the surface. The only gauge available then was the depth gauge; all readings were in Imperial units. Decompression sickness was not something that would come to your mind as it was 1982 – it would be 3 full years before PADI’s recreational dive planner became a must. On the surface you would have to kick continuously until you could grab a hold of the boat else you would sink back to the bottom because of the heavy tank. And after I left the military service, I stopped diving altogether, and concentrated more on skydiving.

Somewhere along the Straits of Malacca

If it weren’t for that episode where I was interned in a coronary intensive care unit at the Damansara Specialist Hospital back in 2004, I would not have taken up scuba diving as a hobby. As a result of my heart condition then, I was advised by the cardiologist to take up something I might find relaxing and that would have a calming effect on me. I was stressed at work, and I was stressed at home. I had to have a vent somewhere before my heart would give up on me. A year later, I even got my eldest daughter, who was 13 then, to take up scuba diving. And it was at the Perhentian Island where she did her open water course and first dived at a site called Teluk Kerma (more popularly known as D’Lagoon after the only resort on the beach facing the lagoon). My final dive of that trip was at Tukun Laut (known by its more popular name – Tokong Laut), which to me is still the best dive site anywhere in Malaysia. After that trip, my cardiologist took me off Cordarone, the medication to help regulate my arrhythmia. I had found my stress-buster.

My daughter, Hana, during her open water course. Next to her is Fazira, then 10 years old
My daughter, Hana, during her open water course. Next to her is Fazira, then 10 years old

When I started dating my wife, Jasmeen, early last year, several people told me that she is not the outdoor-type and would never bask in the sun, let alone scuba dive. As a matter of fact, she never even jumped into the pool during our first trip together with friends to PD. Then one night, while being under the influence of some drinks made of wheat and grape extracts, our friend Gemgem, made us promise to go on a trip to Tioman, and I was to do all the necessary arrangements. Of course, when much sober, Gemgem denied saying he would pay for all flight and accommodation costs that were to be incurred. His luck improved when all accommodation on Tioman on the planned weekend, were fully-booked. So, we switched destination to Perhentian. Anyway, to cut a long story short, after my first dive of that trip, I couldn’t get into the room because she was missing. Apparently, she had gone snorkeling with the rest. Now, that was one giant leap for the pampered-kind. Subsequent trips turned her into a “snorkel-master” but still, never enough to coax her to take the plunge into the deep.

The group during the first Perhentian trip
The group during the first Perhentian trip – end May 2008

For our honeymoon, we returned to Perhentian with my sister, Nazra, and her husband, Kazu. I had promised my wife that I would go snorkeling with her on that trip. Then, one afternoon, as we were resting in the room, she said she would like to try scuba-diving. A very quick lesson on discovering scuba and correct usage of equipments followed and I took her underwater to 6 meters at the house reef, and I think she loved watching the juvenile batfishes sheltering in between the artificial reef structures. I think that made her wanting to pursue a course proper.

Wifey taking her first plunge doing Discover Scuba
Wifey taking her first plunge doing Discover Scuba during our honeymoon

Last weekend, both she and her long-time friend and ex-schoolmate Dalina, took the open water diver course. The latter’s husband, Renek, is already a dive buddy of mine, having dived together on several trips to Tioman, Mabul and Sipadan. They did their four open water dives at the Tiga Ruang, Batu Kapal/Shark Point, D’Lagoon, and Batu Nisan dive sites, with Renek and I accompanying them at all sites.

Wifey and Dalie during their first open water dive at Tiga Ruang
Wifey and Dalie during their first open water dive at Tiga Ruang

I finally got to buddy with my wife at Tukun Laut on her fifth dive, where she did her Adventure Deep Dive (to allow her to dive deeper than the open water limit of 18 meters without having to undergo the full Advanced Open Water course). After she had done her narcosis management exercise, I guided her around to show her things. We saw ‘Tripod’ – the three-flippered Hawksbill Turtle, a resident of Tukun Laut, Bamboo Sharks, lots of Snappers, and even the huge resident Titan Triggerfish. But I got to show her two things that she had wanted to see the most: the Boxfish, and the Tomato Anemone Fish. I remember looking at her face, smiling with delight when she saw that cute boxfish swimming around but going nowhere. It seemed surreal to me as it was my own wife I was guiding. I never thought I would live to see this day, that my own wife would be diving with me.

Wifey on the surface before her first deep dive at Tukun Laut
Wifey on the surface before her first deep dive at Tukun Laut

Back on the boat, I told her how much I love her and how truly proud I am of her, and how she has disproved the notion that she is a softie. She smiled with tears of joy welling at the corner of her eyes.