7

Peru: Lima Ruled by Conscience

Now that I’m settled with the time difference after 11 days of struggling since I came back, my brain has been buzzing about the things it wants to write about. It’s pretty vast considering I didn’t have anything to record it with or the strength to at the time but here I am. Also has a bit to do with reading Fienuts’ latest feature for Travel Spotlight: Gina Hashim a few minutes ago that pushed me to say something..so yeah, here I am typing away.

We’ll go with the flow, what these fingers would like to talk about. They rule this place, I’m just the medium.

So after climbing a mountain of work the past one week and waiting for clients to respond, I decided to finally go through the memory cards to see what photos I’ve actually taken during my three weeks trip to South America (and a bit of Dubai). Yeah, took me three weeks to get to this point and let’s not even start with unpacking my stuff. THAT bag still sits nicely at the corner of my room, staring at me profusely, “C’mon! Sort me out already!” I hear it scream at me.

Right, excuse the kooky side of me.

Where was I?

I was flipping through photos from Peru and a wave of sentimental emotions came crashing like I knew it would. I didn’t think after so many weeks I’d feel the same or maybe even more so now. It’s a strange feeling, wanting to capture as many photos for keepsake yet there I was in Peru (it all started in Lima) where I stumbled upon a dilemma that carried me through the rest of the journey.

I had imagined the kind of compositions I wanted when I landed at Aeropuerto Internacional Jorge Chávez, so many of them, I psyched myself to a point that when I head to Miraflores, I had the most conflicted feeling I’ve ever experienced during all my traveling days.

See, after going through Chemat’s Street Photography masterclass last year during Obscura Photography Festival in Penang, I constantly ask myself about what I photograph and if it has any story or significance to it. My trigger happy days has since died off and for the better too I guess.

Lima Panoramic View

Anyway, while I was looking at Lima from the window glass, this one particular question haunted me for the rest of the week.

“Do I have a need when taking photos of them? A reason that will benefit them or a story on their behalf?”

Each time when I answered no, I will put down my camera and just watch as time passes by. Ironically, I feel at peace with that decision. And you must think I’m out of my mind for letting such moments go so easily without a fight.

You’re right.

If I was you, I’d be like “Are you crazy?! All that beautiful epic moments you missed just because your conscience says otherwise? Geez, what a waste”. Well, I could say such thing I’m sure but when you’re there, seeing how they live, and the hard work they put in, how is your photo doing just to their lives? I feel like if I don’t have a story to tell about them from them, I don’t deserve stealing their moment. I felt like a trespasser. Weird right? I know but unless I got to know them personally, talking to them eye to eye and have some kind of connection, I feel that the least respect I can give them is allow them to continue living the way they’ve been doing it. Without me interfering.

That’s just me. For you, this might not even apply at all. And I can live with this new revelation about photography. I might walk away with (waaaaay) less photos of where I went but in the end, this is what that place is suppose to be. I’ll capture it with words, as best as I can.

These days I’ve dabbed into (something like) videos too. Maybe down the road I’ll pick up this trait again. It’s just that I don’t exactly have that much patience for rendering but we’ll never know until we try it (again).

The one thing I remember taking from my trip to Lima, Cusco and Puno is that it doesn’t matter what your background is. When you make the most of what you have and take on the opportunities you’re given, you can be where you want to be.

Rolf and Gonzalo inspired me to keep pushing to do what is best. The best thing you know in that moment for yourself and for the rest who can benefit from it. Their innate ability to constantly learn anything and everything under the sun makes me feel that there are still good in this world. I feel so humbled standing and sitting next to them, sometimes I feel a little shy too because while I was taking a nap in the train from Ollantaytambo to Machu Picchu, Gonzalo took out his notebook and studied German over and over again.

Tourism is a big thing here in Peru. It’s the source of income for 65% of the nation and what’s even better to know is that their degree in Tourism includes archeology, history and geology. Of course it makes sense but it makes studying to get that paper so much more worth it. Tourism & Hospitality degree here is just the basic stuff. Not hardcore as the ones offered back in South America and the thing is, we should take a page from them. If we don’t know our history, culture and beliefs at the tip of our fingertips, how can we muster such knowledgable people in the tourism sector?

They take pride in what they do, so much blood, sweat and tears invested for their beloved country and it’s so good to feel their passion oozing out from them without speaking.

It’s these kind of people who empowers me to do what I do. They are the ones who fuels me to push through all the obstacles I could face in the future. Just thinking about how hard they work makes me want to work just as hard or harder. Not because I’m competitive but because that’s what required of us to do good things. We don’t sit and give excuses. If we want something good to happen, we make it happen. The rest, we’ll just have to let Him write the story.

For as long as you’ve done your best, the best you can possibly do, no one can take that away from you.

I was lucky to have a friend like Z who was in Peru a few years back for work and had filled me in about his adventure then. Didn’t think I’d ever go there but when I did, he texted me of the places I should check out. One of it was Cerro San Cristóbal. I asked Rolf, who is a German born, bred and lived in Peru, if this place was far from downtown Lima (where we were heading) and he had this priceless look on his face. The kind who didn’t expect the cows to sing sort of look.

Rolf in Streets of Lima

I wasn’t sure what this place is to begin with when I asked Rolf besides seeing a photo Z had taken. Didn’t even do any other read up about this particular trip of mine to South America. And I was warned not to go up on my own and if I do take the cab, make sure to request for the driver to wait at the peak. So as we were maneuvering around downtown Lima, passing by one of the oldest universities in the New World – National University of San Marcos, he pointed to me the cross on a mountain in the horizon.

“That’s San Cristobal. But we’ll have to wait till noon so that the fog clears up a little before we go up there.”

I found out from him that there are only 10 days in a year when Lima will be blessed with clear blue sky due to Lima’s topography which is a desert and surrounded by the Andes mountains (spectacular terrain I might add). So, the fog/haze is really due to the dust and after awhile you’ll get used to this condition, not like the kind I’m used to (still hate it) in Malaysia where haze is mainly made up of smoke.

San Cristobal Panoramic

The drive up is quite a challenge, through slums and narrow roads in between and by the cliff. I wonder if maybe walking up might be a better idea and while you’re going up, try and spot all 12 crosses along the way. It’s also the area you’re best not to explore after dawn, “Not even if you give me a million bucks!” said Rolf.

It’s definitely a stark contrast from the rest of the cities I’ve been too. We’ve been accustomed to think that when you hear the word city, it’s developed, urban and busy but in South America, the cities meant differently. Lima’s down town city is very…unkept. However, this is also due to the history when the military chased the rich families out of the area and turned it into some kind of “public toilet” for many decades after.

Also, if you ever asked someone to take photo of you, be prepared to have some spare coins for tips later. It’s kinda a norm. I mean more often than not that is.

So what’s good to be at the top of Cerro San Cristobal? It being Rolf’s wild card in case the other places he had in mind weren’t good enough, I’d say it’s the view, a 360 degrees of Lima and the Andes at your feet. You can spot the biggest graveyard, a bull fighting stadium, San Francisco Monastery and more! Something similar to Christ the Redeemer at Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro but minus the crowd. Peru is what you see is what you get kinda place. My kinda thing. Everywhere you go, you’re walking on ancient history. There’s always Inca this or Spanish that. Just something else. The people are wonderful. So gracious and sweet even if they don’t speak much English but you can get by with speaking broken Spanish. Until then, I didn’t think my rusty Italian would help me much but it did because it’s very similar in meanings.

I don’t know how or where this affectionate feeling for Peru developed, I just know it all started in Lima and grew on me for the rest of the time and I still have one more story about Lima before I get to Machu Picchu!

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5

Relocating My Malaysian Identity: A European Dig

London Graffiti

I should have known better.

Yeah that’s what has been chiming in my head the past few days when this certain realisation hit me. A year later after it happened no less too for that matter. Ah, God works in mysterious ways indeed.

While I was moving around Europe, I stumbled upon an interesting pattern. One I love repeating the story to others but never actually connecting the dots. It all started when I was in Shephard’s Bush, London. We were walking back from Jamie’s Italian for an early dinner (you’re best at reserving a table in advance) and I came across a Ukrainian who pointed out about my cheeks which had red streaks due to the dry weather and issues with blood vessels. While on normal terms, I wouldn’t be so open to trying new things, for some reason I just felt like I should. I knew Dead Sea and Himalayan Salt are very good for sensitive skin but never got around to use any.

His name was Mario. I remember because of my favourite childhood video game. Upon knowing I’m a Malaysian, he instantly spoke to me in Bahasa Malaysia. Delightfully at that. In my head, I was amused, speechless and dumbfounded because..well I’m thousands of miles away from Malaysia and here I am having conversation with a stranger who has never been to Malaysia in Malay.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he has good PR skills. Which is partially true too.

But then again, given how London is, someone’s bound to pick up Malay as a language because this city is filled with them anyway. It kinda sorta made sense to me .. I guess. Still, of all languages in the world, I had to get to know people who speak it. The main reason why Mario learned to speak Malay is because many of his clients are from Malaysia. It made the connection easier for him and in many ways, I admire his courage to learn something new and willing to improve himself.

Again, of all languages. I can understand if it were French, Italian, Mandarin or Spanish but I’ve not met anyone who isn’t living in Malaysia willingly learn Bahasa Malaysia as their third, fourth .. language.

London Millennium Footbridge

A while later, as we were making our way across The Millennium Bridge to the Big Ben, someone asked me if I could take a picture of him with the background. Once I did it and we exchanged a few words, one more person spoke to me in Malay when “from Malaysia” came out of my mouth. This time, he was from Lithuania (I think). It was a short conversation, a brisk one but it got me thinking, what are the odds that I get to meet these people? ME of all people.

Let’s back track a little here in case you have no clue why I’m making a big deal out of this. For decades, I’m known to be that kid who has no affinity with Malaysia. Heck, the first place I felt like I belonged somewhere was Jakarta on my first visit (and then subsequently Haarlem and Roma). I’m also that kid who had planned to migrate to Italy and make a life there. The idea was to make my way to RUFA.

It also has a lot to do with how easy I feel to just be me and engage with strangers along the streets in Europe.

Of course, that didn’t happen but that feeling of being an outcast still throb in my heart but slower as of late.

Anyway, I didn’t think much of bumping into foreigners who has never been to Malaysia speaking Malay although the joy they show when speaking the language made me feel like we in Malaysia might miss something, that spark that makes it special. Or maybe it’s just me. I could somewhat relate to that feeling when I get to speak (rusty) Italian with people but I never viewed (what is supposedly) my Mother Tongue as part of that euphoric experience. We tend to take things we have for granted right? So that was me with my birthplace. I suppose, no matter where I go, I can’t escape from my root. No matter how badly I wanted.

Which reminded me of one time when I was in Jakarta, at my favourite music shop in Plaza Salina. While going through the cds I plan to bring back (ended up with a dozen), two Indonesian kids were at the counter asking for Siti Nurhaliza’s albums. At that moment, I was like “Of all times and places!”. To those who doesn’t know, Siti Nurhazila is one of Malaysian’s biggest artists, especially in the late 90’s and 00’s.

So you see, God has a wicked sense of humour when it comes to things I try very hard to remove myself from.

Coloured Shadow

Then, while we were waiting for Guilia, my childhood pen pal who I was very lucky to meet for the first time a day before she moved to London, we dropped by Hard Rock Cafe Roma to kill time. There were some demonstration happening down the street so we thought, might as well take cover till it settles down for a bit.

As I was about to pay for my t-shirt at the counter, I greeted him the typical way any Italians would.

“Ciao! Di dove sei?” he asked while giving me this unsure look. Got me wondering if I had pronounced something wrongly (chances are I might given how long I’ve not put it to practice).

“Io sono di Malaysia..” I was a little bit hesitant to say since I wasn’t sure if he would know where it is. Oh how wrong I was.

“Oh! Malaysia! Kamu apa khabar?” All bouncy and happy in perfect Malay intonation mind you. Trying to wreck my brain deciphering his accent, as I would think it’s sorta normal if it has some Indonesian influence but nada. Zilch.

For the longest seconds ever, I didn’t manage to answer him. At all. Suddenly my brain just shut down and turn into mush. Of course, the fact that he looks like an Italian version of James McAvoy didn’t help make me feel any better.

I was awestruck by the fact that he’s cute (hello James MacAvoy long lost twin!) AND speaks perfect Malay which made me look more like a fool. Blergh. Way to go Dian!

“Hello?” Reality finally hit me, blankly staring at him while he titled his head, giving me this adorable look like he didn’t believe I’m a Malaysian. Yeah, what a dweeb I am right?

“…..err khabar baik..”

He was so not buying it. He said it himself. “Are you sure you’re from Malaysia? How come it took you a while to answer?” smarty-pants wearing the lopsided smirk didn’t make this surreal conversation any easier for me.

I couldn’t tell him that I was lost for words because of him. So I said what came to mind,

“Been away from Malaysia for a quite a bit”.

Yeah right, it was only four weeks since I left. We both broke out in laughter soon after and continued talking about our different cultures, what got him to learn my language and his with me. It was like looking at your reflection, just a different version of you.

That I found him very cute when he was counting numbers in Malay made my day even more endearing. Ah Italians, they just know how to charm you without even trying. Totally forgot to take a photo of him was something I regret a little bit. Just a little.

So what was Francesco’s reason? Bahasa Malaysia/Malay is the easiest to learn because it’s similar to speaking in Italian, you spell the way you pronounce it. I never really thought of it that way until then. Never really got myself to see it from another perspective about my country, the language that I never think too highly of. That’s also probably something many of us don’t get to see too, not because we don’t want to but perhaps too jaded by the current affairs and the on goings of Malaysia to see the beauty that lies behind being a Malaysian.

Rome Train

I find it strange, so strange that the past few entries has been about me finding my identity in Malaysia. Finding my place and voice in the country I’ve lived all my life. And maybe that’s a good thing, that things are happening the way it is because I always believed that in order to appreciate something you have, you have to learn to see it for what it is and what you can do to make it better.

So about me wanting to remove myself as far away from Malaysia is slowly diminishing (for now) because I feel like I have a task to do here, a purpose He’s given me, even if I can only make one person’s life a difference in Malaysia, that would be enough for me.

I’m still going to travel wherever I want to but I use that to see how I can contribute back to this place that needs a lot of like-minded people to hang on. Hang on to any good faith you can find deep inside and do our best to be the change we yearn to see.

Got this off The Single Woman

And in this case, being crazy might just be the antidote to our conundrum.

6

#TSBreakAway Featurette: The History Dream

This year has been a big revelation for me. Where Australia’s trip last winter made me realised that I’ve come full circle with myself, two weeks ago, my trip to Kuala Kubu Bharu cemented my reason for being here. In Malaysia.

While for many, it’s either about not having a choice or tied down to family and such.. for me it’s none of that. I could at anytime leave this country and had planned that way since I was a kid. I desperately wanted to get out since young because I’ve never felt like I belonged here yet here I am. Where my friends thought I’d be the first to leave and never return, it hasn’t been the case.

Till today, I remember the one thing my mum said when I was in Leeds, chilling at Nix’s house a year ago.

“So decided to move there?” she asked or something to that effect.

In that moment, part of me wanted to say yes but I didn’t and I knew if I did, she’d support my decision. That was the plan, has always been the plan.

And like the saying my English teacher once told me, man proposes, God disposes. This couldn’t be farther from the truth.

That is until this trip.

It was a spur of a moment, one day sometime three weeks ago I suggested to Anis to head up to KKB to meet the uncle she had wrote about in her blog for #TSBreakAway and see what he thought about it. Then I mentioned it to Nigel who wanted to tag along. The week later, she told me they will be going on Friday. I was with Ashraf who was the resident mentor and videographer for this project we’re involved and casually asked if he wanted to go up too, see if there’s anything we could add into the #TSBreakAway footages.

KKB Group Profile

So at 6AM all of us (three #TSBreakAway Zombies and one Xplorer) were up and made our way to KL Sentral train station. This would be my first time going to KKB by train and apparently it was a first for the guys too. From here, we had to switch train in Rawang after an hour and then head to KKB in 30 minutes.

The train ride was very scenic and by the time we were in Rawang, the train we took was empty. So hey, we were like kids taking over the carriage like our own, talking about the 80’s and 90’s like it was yesterday while snapping photos and recording the view in between.

If I had to take a trip to anywhere, this fun bunch would rank at the top of my list.

Serendah

KKB Train

We had no plans when we got to KKB, just another random day exploring an old historical town and meet this charming uncle Anis interviewed. We didn’t expect that our trip would be something mind blowing, to a point that it was literally breaking us away from the norm. So as we were tracking down the route Anis took for #TSBreakAway solo assignment back to the tailor shop, she told us she was intrigued by this old barber shop (roughly about 40 years old) on the same street from where the uncle was working but didn’t check it out then because it was busy with people.

So I had this “brilliant” idea to get the guys to give us a reason to drop by and help Anis get her story. What I didn’t expect was for them to go along with the plan. I kinda sorta challenged Ashraf to cut his hair and get a shave since it looked like he needed a fresh look. Nigel too but only Ashraf agreed to do it. I did however got Nigel to do the old school shaving tho!

KKB Barber Shop Ashraf

KKB Barber Shop Nigel

KKB Barber Shop Nigel 2

Once the guys were done with their “spa” session, we continued on our next journey like kids going from one candy shop to another. I like how in this town, no one looked at you like you don’t belong here. They just continue doing their thing (at a slower but peaceful pace) and treat us like we’re part of them. Despite the uncle didn’t remember Anis initially, he entertained us with his stories of yore. Made ourselves comfortable in his 50 over years old shop, watching as he cut the wool for his customer and even managed to teach Nigel a bit of Pinyin. Who knew they both shared the same surname? Of course, he wasn’t spared from being lectured too for not able to read Mandarin. Haha! It’s like watching father scolding his son for a mishap. Ah KKB.. you sure know how to charm us.

In case you’re looking for this particular uncle to do your pants or suits, just ask anyone in KKB for “The Shirtless Uncle” and they all know who you are referring to 🙂

KKB Tailor

You know how when you got the ball rolling with one story, you went and dig deeper? Yeah, this was exactly the case. We moved from one shop to another just looking for something, anything. Then Nigel read about this other uncle who has an old watch shop which coincidentally was just around the corner from where we were. I mean, c’mon, while you’re here you might as well do what’s in your bucket list. But when we arrived, we didn’t expect that it would set the course of our adventure after this.

KKB Watchmaker

You know how when you go to a shop in a city, they’d be breathing your neck or for some reason, it makes you feel like you either have to buy something or get out of the shop quick? This was neither the case. We hung out at his place, admiring the many beautiful black and white photos of him and his shop which was taken by other photographers in the past. We talked about his background and what he love to do. Then, I heard a dog barking at the back and his wife was so sweet to show me her pet. Feisty looking little poodle. Cute tho. But feisty, bouncing away while barking at me and I was told this little one bites. So yeah, I just leaned my back on the wall adjacent to the dog. Later, she told me about two other cats who are friendly with the dog and brought them out for me to play with. Yeah, we pretty much made ourselves very comfortable.

A spirit I have not known existed in KL or Selangor. That ease I love and strive for is in this old town after all.

Anyway, after all that shop talk we’ve made, the owner of the watch shop decided to bring us to check out his daughter’s cafe, a few doors away from his. Too bad we already had our lunch (one where I was scampering around looking for a clean toilet and an aunty from a kopitiam across the street was accommodating and got me to use hers without any expectation. She even wave and greeted me when I passed by her shop again later that day). Seriously, no one here forces anyone or expects anybody to get anything from them.

When we were at the cafe looking around at the 80’s local music posters and antique memorabilia scattered all over, his daughter went up to Anis and took out her phone to show a photo she took of a namecard she thought would be useful to us.

“I think all of you should check out the small photography gallery. You’ll like it! But I don’t know if it’s open today but you can call this guy.”

KKB Cafe

This must be the gallery Anis mentioned earlier in the day which I’ve never heard of despite visiting KKB a few times in the past. There’s only one place that sounds like this which also housed many other art related items but given how everything are, it’s no surprise that the gallery is not open. Well it is, you just have to call a few days in advance. I guess we’ll have to make another trip back and get inside the gallery. Seriously, it’s almost unheard of to know that art takes place in towns like these here. If there are, no one’s spreading the word. Which is sad.

This whole place calls out for a revival. THE perfect town to have art residency. Which got my head buzzing and throbbing, I wish I could manifest those emotions into papers. Slowly eventually I will. Some kind of community project all four of us made a pact to work on. I hope.

KKB Kedai Runcit

That burning sensation was only secured even more when we met Aunty Sim Ling Ling who threw us off with her generosity. Initially, we didn’t know what we stumbled upon since the owner of the shop went to KL for acupuncture. Then we roamed inside the shop looking at the things hung from the ceiling. You’ll find anything and everything here, it’s amazing. So she slowly emerged behind the counter making conversations with us and we being the cheeky kids, asked her all the old school items we could think of when we were kids. Excitedly, she said yes to all of it and even ran inside to grab it.

Where could you find “Buku Tiga Lima” that still costs 20 cents or pencil with rubber tip would still be 10 cents?

All of a sudden, we all had an idea to buy something from her as a souvenir to commemorate this surprising adventure of ours. Aunty Ling Ling was so jovial entertaining us with the things in the shop and also her tuxedo cat named Baby.

From one thing led to another, I don’t know what got me agreeing when she said “Let’s have coffee?” and walked really fast to the kopitiam next to her shop. In my head, I thought she said, maybe when we come again, we’ll have coffee with her. I didn’t expect to have coffee there and then.

We all ordered our drinks and the moment she found out that I’ve been looking for this particular Kaya Puff KKB is notorious for, she immediately got up and went to the shop.

Ashraf, Anis and I looked at Nigel, who was on the phone at that time.

“Psst..Nigel, we have a situation. Need to intervene..Psst…”

KKB Kaya Puff

By the time Nigel got off the phone, she came back with a box of Kaya Puff all ready for your mouth to salivate. *slap head*

And that she’s got this smile you just cannot not smile back at her. Cannot not accept her gifts. Cannot not accept her friendship. Just can’t.

Of course, I’m saying that in a good way. She even told us about the aunty who makes the kaya for the pastry shop..who happens to be doing it right that moment in that very kopitiam we were in.

KKB Kaya

BEHOLD! She was so efficient, she pre-ordered a tub of homemade kaya and delivered to our table each. Like what is this? Am I really in Malaysia?! By this time, we were all shaking our heads, didn’t know how to repay her kindness with and that she refused our money when we wanted to pay for it made us feel even more unsure. Appreciative of her kindness but also didn’t want her to think we’re taking advantage.

“No, no. I’m not petty over these things. I just want to share.” She told us.

At this moment, only then I know the real meaning of Malaysian Hospitality (MH). If we wanted to dig any story from KKB, this is the deepest KKB allows us. The heart, the bulb, the inspiration. You cannot go any deeper than this. No way.

So, as usual, you know we had to check out how this kaya was made and it takes 7 hours to make a big pot by one old lady and sells it around the town. When I asked if she wanted to sell it out of KKB, she said no. Dang it! Looks like I’ll have to come back here and replenish my stock.

KKB Kaya 2

Looking back, it’s true, KKB is mainly populated by the elderly folks who prefer the quiet and slow paced life. Which reminded me a lot of my late grandma who till she was bedridden, insisted she needs to work, to get the mind working. And that’s exactly what each of them are doing here..that and also because none of their kids wanted to take over their business because the bigger cities offer so much more. Hard working people makes me want to work harder.

Part of me was sad by this fact but another part of me can kinda sorta relate to their kids because it’s been years since my dad been pestering to take over his business but I refused because really, what he’s doing and what I need to do is on totally opposite spectrum. But I still feel sad for them because when they are no more around, what will become of KKB? This town can’t possibly die out of natural death! Over my dead body.

So enter that buzzing brain of mine which Ashraf, Nigel and Anis added more fuel. We just need a plan to execute this thing. I’m sure combining our nutty brains together, we’ll be able to do something but yeah, as of right now, I’m letting the pot simmer for a bit. I still have other paperworks to complete. Gah!

Oh yeah, so how did we end our session with Aunty Ling Ling?

Sneakily, she already paid for our drinks beforehand. Oh Aunty Ling Ling, you really blew us away with your sweet charm. Sigh.

KKB Group Photo

To end this unforgettable trip we did, I found this draft poem I wrote while I was in the train in Sydney a few months back. One I think describes KKB profoundly to me.

A return trip is in order!

Ticket to the Unknown

It ain’t so bad,
This train to no where,
Worst case would be to arrive
To a place you’ll write your story
For the rest to read and navigate.

There’s a moment in our lives,
When the ticket you bought
May not be the place you thought;
You’ll arrive in peace and harmony
But then, peace is anywhere no?

Such is the life this dwarf leads
For those hunters may not see
The beauty therein lies
in front of thee.
Oh what a waste when it flee.

So where will you go,
What will you see?
Just take a trip
Wherever it may be
and just hold on tight for this journey.

Sidenote: Nigel took some superb black and white photos from this outing. I think this is by far he best work, you gotta check it out here!

5

Grown ups can have fun too! Uluhati Edition.

Sometimes, in the midst of living; you tend to lose yourself along the way and having said that, it’s the only thing I could say about myself. I’m not sure what it was but I did. I had lost pieces of myself while fighting, caring and growing up. I miss writing, be it poems or stories and I really miss creating art the most.

These are my tickets to escape, my secret garden to hide out.

When I stopped doing it, I felt as if I’m a ticking bomb. The past couple of weeks had been me suffocating only because I didn’t know I was repressing so many emotions inside.

Today, I found the urge to write. No, actually I started writing a month ago..continuing a story I’ve abandoned. Slowly, eventually.. I’ll get there. Just like everything else.

It’s been a challenging year so far. What is only about 2.5 months since we started 2012 to others, it felt like I’ve been in it for 11 months. I’ve discovered so many things about myself. Forcing me to grow up a little bit more, if not be more responsible. And I won’t lie, it has been quite a challenge. Mentally and physically.

So one day, last month, the day I’ve been waiting for had arrived. There’s this gem in Hulu Langat, Selangor I went for a recce with a colleague prior to #TSDayOut called Uluhati. This little haven made me feel like I was revisiting a place in my mind that has not been attended for many years. It’s like a ranch. A beautiful one.

So yes, finally got to share this place with others (thanks to Farhah who’s been telling me about it months before) and I was really excited about it. We stayed over at the longhouse in Uluhati with the rest of the crew, Syidi came along too. In that brief moment, it felt as if we were on our way to “balik kampung”. Despite the fact that Syidi and I only just got to personally know each other last year, it felt like we were all going back for Raya.

While Uluhati is only 40 minutes away from the city, I think it was my perfect getaway from everything. Honestly, it did felt like I was on a paid holiday. The bbq served by En. Shaipuddin and his wife were just beyond words. There were grilled lamb (which En. Hafeez happily gorged down a few), tilapia, mushroom soup, garlic bread, chicken, fries…oh it was endless.

We weren’t ready for a feast but there it was, a celebration under the stars with laughter.

I couldn’t have painted a better picture of that night. There were no mosquitoes too. So that’s a definite plus. After a couple more plates of dinner (that turned into supper)..we played Chinese Poker and Bluff at the veranda as the wind whisper in our ears until 2AM. Retiring our bodies and minds on the comfy beds.

The next morning, we woke up to a cool breeze. So cool, I had the fleece blanket wrapped around me like a burrito. Just like waking up in the kampung, listening to feet stomping, alarm ringing and roosters crowing. The only thing that came to mind was “not to bathe in the cold natural water from the hills”. I’m a chicken cat like that.

Once again, ever lovely Riznida Eliza (En. Shai’s wife) made us Nasi Lemak and some toast bread. Oh it was good to be back with Mother Nature, even if it was just for a while. While waiting for the other #TSDayOut participants to arrive from Bangsar at the river; we got to see the sun rise overlooking the Titiwangsa Mountains.

Rasyidi beautifully captured the morning sun at Uluhati

Breathtaking.

Did I mentioned that there are goats, deers, chickens, turkeys, dogs and cats roaming freely around this 2.8acre land? There are horses and ponies too! More about that later.. for now, we have to be at Langat River for bamboo rafting.

It’s an adventure day, a great outing to get everyone out from the comfort zone and explore together. Each raft had one raft guide from the local Temuan tribe. Technically, we’re in good hands because these people can survive in any parts of the world.

Little did I know I was up for a bit more adventure than anyone thought. And was very much unprepared for it too.

There were 20 rafts, 2 passengers plus one guide on each raft..going on a cruise along the river which took about 2 hours. If there was anything you should try in Selangor, and not wanting it to be too hardcore.. it would be this activity.

Half way through the journey, looking at the houses, little kids watching us city people doing what they do on daily basis..I realised our guide was slightly inexperience. But that’s not going to stop me from having fun tho.

That’s Salina, enjoying the breathtaking view

The first incident happened when our raft (Salina and I were paired up together) were stuck in between huge rocks in the middle of a very rapid current. While the young guide was trying to repositioned the raft, it was easier if we got off the raft and helped as well. From one thing to another, he had some difficulty and the raft floated even further away. Torn to save us or the raft, we all thought it was best if he took care of the raft first. However, if we made any kind of small move, we are sure to fall head first and that’s not good idea when I was holding my dslr.

Seeing as Salina was frozen in her spot, I had to do the one thing I never thought would come in handy in my life. I fell backwards and body surfed along the river knowing that I’ll grab the raft when I arrived at the end. My only reason for doing it was to actually my camera first and I knew I can’t stand any longer with the kind of rapid pushing us from behind. Salina took a leap of faith and did what I did.

What luck, Syidi & Aida were there to see how the incident unfold.

Thankfully, we both were at Kuala Kubu Bharu last November for white water rafting and The Paddlerz suggested that we should do body surfing as part of the activity. This is when you allow yourself to float in the river face up.

Who knew such trivial activity had the potential to save lives?

Truth enough we arrived where our raft was at, except that my thigh had hit a massive rock underneath which resulted in muscle cramp due to the shallow river. Which made it worst because I couldn’t support myself.

It may have looked like I was a klutz (and I am one) but this was just one of those where an accident just happened and all you can think about is saving your life (and the camera). I was pulled out from the river like a helpless body, walked a little bit on the river bank to sit on the raft. One of the guides told us that the river should be much more calm from here onwards.

Where the first incident took place before I body surfed.

“Good. If it was anything like that again, I don’t think I could save myself again because of the cramp.”

The camera was fine, miraculously! And we continued on our journey admiring the view. I had mentioned to Salina that our guide was actually lucky to have us because of the experience we had prior. Had it happened to other people, we’re not sure what it would have been.

I spoke too soon.

Our raft got caught in between two massive rocks and stronger current. This time, I knew I will have difficulty to move away from the situation. True enough, the guide had to literally pull me out of the water and pushed me up the raft. It’s during this struggle that my camera took a dip in the river before I managed to lift it again.

I got on to the other raft, the one where Tok Batin Andak, the head of the tribe was on while Salina went solo with the young guide.

From then on, I resolute to enjoy my scenery with my eyes and not behind the lens.

Sounds a bit dramatic doesn’t it? Oh well, things happened. All we can do is do our best to avoid getting hurt. And I don’t regret going on this adventure even if it had put my camera into comatose.

It’s what I needed. A moment to wake up to feel like I’m still alive.

The best part of the journey is still yet to come. When we arrived at the end point of the river, there was only the Mazda pick-up truck and all 6 of us sat at the back, going all cowboy right up to Uluhati. It felt almost like going on a roller coaster, what with the corners and steep hill we had to go through.

It was truly a fun time.

Minutes later, I saw everyone’s enjoying the cozy long house and greenery. It was also the first time the rest were introduced to this place. And while waiting for our next activity which was the blow pipe demonstration, we were welcomed with the yummiest home cooked food. It was so good, I didn’t even think of taking photos. (All photos after this are from the iPhone)

The long house with the picnic benches. Love.

What I like about the food is that, it reminded me so much of Negeri Sembilan’s food (where my dad came from) and I just love the fresh bite of the pucuk paku. If it was Pucuk Paku masak lemak cili api, I’d prolly grabbed the entire bowl 😉

About an hour after lunch, we were all listening to Tok Batin Andak explaining the entire process about blow pipe. We certainly enjoyed his brand of humour. The kind of accidents that had happened while were quite scary, he made it priceless.

Tok Batin Andak and his many funny tales

While I don’t remember my experience with blow pipes when I was in Kuching decades ago, it was a good thing I get to experience it here. Tho, Syidi did mentioned that this particular ones are heavier compared to the ones in Sabah and Sarawak.

Yours truly’s target..was anywhere but the target point. Some are elephant hunter and one could be a rabbit hunter. It all depends how good you are at blow pipe.

My favourite part has to be when the participants were submitting their photos for the photography competition. That’s when you’ll get to see all sorts of shots from different eyes. Things you might’ve missed or taken for granted, this is when it’ll open your eyes (and mind). We even get to select the winners under a tree with En. Din. It can’t get anymore authentic than that.

I’ll come back again.

When everything was over, Aida and I hitched a ride with Syidi to Bangsar. Considering how hungry we were at that time, we joined Cal and Farhah for.. neither dinner nor lunch at G3 Kitchen Bistro.

The rest of the day was left dead.