Memories of water — Part 3
|Yusseri is an engineer by training, a consultant by accident and a company man by necessity. He wishes that people would stop calling him to sell life insurance. It's death insurance he's looking for. He writes rubbish at http://www.mentera.org/ and pretends to be an intellectual at http://www.othermalaysia.org/|
MAY 12 — When you get to 18, you can drive a car, be put into jail, and get a full-time job. Or remain studying. You are on the cusp of adulthood, but you think that you’re already there.
In Malaysia, technically you’re not yet an adult, because while you can be hauled up in court, you are still not eligible to vote. In other words, you can be incarcerated by a government not of your own choosing.
During my A-level days, I had a car. My dad gave me a Volvo 144 with a dodgy radiator to drive around in, and it was swell. Saleem, who in a quirk of fate, ended up in the same college as I did also had a car, a Mini 1000 with a dodgy windscreen wiper. Our cars weren’t much to look at, or to drive, but they took us places.
A quirk of fate had sent Saleem and I into different sponsorship schemes for our further studies, which opened a schism with regards to the fellows we hung out with. In short, he had his own set of recalcitrants, and I had mine. It didn’t stop us from having some water fun, though.
Port Dickson is pretty much a rather lousy place. It has overused beaches and a jaded tourist industry, even 20 years ago. The good thing about PD, though, is that it’s the nearest coastline to Kuala Lumpur that isn’t mud. And in college, we heard that there was a little alcove somewhere in PD that was relatively untouched. People called it the Blue Lagoon. When you’re a hormonally-charged 18-year-old, Blue Lagoon means only one thing — Brooke Shields’ “girls.”
With that thought firmly in mind, a couple of friends and I set out to search for this Blue Lagoon. For reasons which I cannot adequately explain, we always set out on this quest after midnight. We’d leave Cheras and head towards PD using the then-nascent KL-Seremban highway, full of hopes of encountering a half-naked woman with thick eyebrows having a late-night dip.
The first attempt to find the place failed, not so much because we couldn’t find it, but because we ran out of fuel. Back then, 24-hour pump stations were few and far between, and we got to Seremban and realised that we simply didn’t have enough juice in the tank to get any further.
Seeing as it was that it was sometime about three in the morning, we drove around Seremban until we found a fuel station, parked the car and slept until it opened — at 6am. Then we turned round and headed back to college, because we had class.
The second attempt to find this place was successful, because we were better prepared. It also helped that there were road signs along Teluk Kemang, pointing to where this Blue Lagoon was. Not as untouched as we thought it would be, clearly. In fact, it was so untouched that by the time we got there at 4am, there was still a stall open at a food court by the beach where we had some Maggi goreng.
It was low-tide at 4am, so we didn’t get to see much water, but we did have a bit of a walk along the beach, and got our feet wet. Then we got back into the car and headed back to college. Because we had class.
We wouldn’t visit the Blue Lagoon again until the end of our A-level exams. Before we left the college, a group of us got into four cars, drove like mad dogs in the middle of the night and got to the Blue Lagoon in the early hours of the morning. And we had a barbecue party.
It was fun, it was tiring, and it was just us guys. Those of us with girlfriends told our girls that we couldn’t take them with us because it wouldn’t be fair for the guys who didn’t have girlfriends. Yes, we were that stupid.
There is a condominium complex now where we had our barbecue that night, I have been told. Definitely no longer untouched.
Sometime during those two years, a few friends and I caught the fishing bug. We found a fishing pond a few kilometres away from the college, saw a few guys fishing and decided that it was a worthwhile activity when compared to doing anything resembling studying.
Pond fishing can only be described as long periods of boredom, interspersed with brief periods of relative optimism and excitement often punctured by feelings of dejection when you discover that the fish you caught is no bigger than your pinkie.
It wasn’t long before we got bored of the pond near the college and we started spreading out a bit, looking for other ponds, and building our expectations of getting The Big One. Or at least fish that we can actually show our friends and girlfriends.
Back then, there were a few places that advertised themselves as “fish farms” which allowed in fishing enthusiasts. What happens is that you pay the owner of the pond some money for the privilege of catching fish (usually tilapias) which have been bred and put into the ponds. We actually went to one of those once, and we observed a fishing technique that essentially put us off commercial fishing ponds for good.
These ponds were artificially populated by fish, as it were. And because people go to there specifically to catch the fish, the owners don’t usually bother to feed the fish much. As such, a bunch of guys had developed a technique to catch as many of these fish with the least amount of effort.
What they do is throw clumps of bread or flour into the pond, at which point the hungry tilapias would crowd around the clumps. Then these guys would throw their fishing line, the end of which would have a three-pronged hook attached and snatch their rods. Because the fish are clustered together, the chances of snagging one of them was very high, and resulted in the guys hooking the fish through the sides, heads, tails and anywhere in between. It made us look pretty silly with our single hooks, cricket or worm baits, floats and weights. Having said that, our way was a much more fun way.
The fishing bug got me into trouble with my then-girlfriend, though. I was spending a lot of time with my mates every afternoon after class, throwing my rod into water all over the Klang Valley. So much so that at one point, the girlfriend complained that I preferred to go fishing with my friends, instead of being with her. At least, that was what I understood the complaint to be.
So, one fine day, I invited her to come along with me. Just the two of us, so that I could introduce her to the joys of angling, without having to cramp my style in front of my mates. When you’re 19 or so, you’re a bit of an idiot that way.
When we got to the pond, I parked my car, jumped out, got my rod, gear and bait out, and waited for her to join me. She refused to exit the car. This resulted in a few minutes of bafflement on my part, before enlightenment arrived. I had deduced that the nature of the complaint was not that I did not take her fishing, but that because I went fishing so much, I had somehow neglected to spend time with her.
At which point, once understanding was attained, I aborted the fish-bothering, jumped back into the car and went to a shopping mall with my girl.
It was then that I learnt one of the most important lessons in my life, which was: always make sure that your girlfriend really wants to go fishing with you, because if she doesn’t, then you’ve just wasted RM5 on crickets for bait when you could’ve used that money instead to play “winner-stay” Street Fighter II with your mates in Sungei Wang Plaza (3rd. Floor).
I never really went fishing again after my A-levels. I suppose after you’ve caught enough tilapias, belidas, sepats and kaluis, you realise that Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat and even Tetris can be more interesting. Oh, and girls too.
There are two other memories of water to note during A-levels. The first was a camping trip to Balok, Kuantan that Saleem and I went on after our first year. We were joined by two other friends, one of whom until quite recently was a columnist for The Malaysian Insider.
In those days, Balok was not really developed, and there was an area set aside by the beach for campers. I found out about it by chance when following my dad to a motocross event. So over the end-of-academic-year break, I managed to persuade my friends to try it out.
We rented a tent, and stayed at the site for four days and three nights, though initially we planned to stay for five days and four nights. We were the only ones there, apart from the caretakers of the place and a midget horse. After the second night, one of the guys (the ex-columnist) decided that he’d had enough and headed off back to his parents’ place in Kota Baru. His said he had to be home for Hari Raya Haji, which was two days away. That was his excuse, anyway. We suspected that the real reason was that he was sick of trying to sleep on wavy sand and being bitten by mosquitoes all night, because we definitely were.
We only lasted one more night, and the next morning decided that we, too, would rather be back at our parents’ place for Hari Raya.
As an aside, my then-girlfriend’s parents’ house was in Kuantan, and on that last day I stopped by the house just to say goodbye. I think it was then that I first met her mum, a woman I was never to meet again until nearly 18 years later. But that is definitely a story for another time, one which I’m not sure I’ll ever tell.
The second memory was when seven of us guys, in a fit of restlessness and boredom after our mock A-level exams, decided to jump into the car and had a day out at Chamang Waterfalls near Bentong.
Chamang was and, from what I can gather, still is one of the most accessible waterfalls in the peninsula. Just a few kilometres out from Bentong, it is only about an hour’s drive away from KL. So it was that we had a lovely day out, a bunch of guys with two bottles of Coke, a bucket of KFC and a need to get away from everything just for a little while.
Apart from climbing up and down the rocky falls and successfully not killing ourselves, the highlight of the day was burying one of the guys neck deep in the sand, building two mounds where his chest was so that they looked like boobs and taking photos of another guy pretending to suckle them.
Needless to say, this would have been frowned upon by our girlfriends had they known about it. Which was why we wilfully neglected to inform our girls about our trip and left them behind in college. Oh yes, we really were that stupid, back then.
After A-levels, I was jetted off to England to start my university life. Water played a different part for those years, some of which was not attached to the happiest of memories. I didn’t quite enjoy university life as much as my school or college days. In fact, I didn’t enjoy it so much, I stayed in university for almost a decade.
But … I think that’s enough of that.
Coda: These days, Saleem and I still hang out fairly regularly, after three decades of friendship. Times have changed, though, so for the most part we just sit down and talk. About life, death, politics, religion, family, and friends. And while we talk, we would drink a little water.
* The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.