My Brothers In Arms

May 21, 2010

Places, buildings, things – depending on where and what, they can give comfort, prestige and opportunities. But they aren’t critical, and by themselves might not be of much value.

The most important element anywhere and everywhere are the people, for even at places most others might regard as god-forsaken, the type of people there can actually make it feel like a resort. And the most important of the people is… yourself.

I’ve said this to a few people here whom I’ve become close with and trust: I can say with all honesty and sincerity, should I be given the choice of spending a few weeks at Disneyland and other tourist attractions, BUT with the Pusat Serenti Gambang experience never happening, I’d reject the former immediately. That’s how significant and profound the 13½ months there had been for me.

Was it like a holiday there?” No, it was much better than a holiday. Even if I had attended those RM5,000 three-day motivational courses held at resorts and conducted by experts, I doubt they would have left much on me beyond the superficial. What was it then about Gambang… And why was it that some people, who were with me at the same time and experienced the same things basically, ran away… Or thought the whole thing to be a big drag? I’ve often thought about this, and the best answer could be this — “Through the Grace of God”… plus the individual’s attitude and response to it all.

I had a few dormant assets that helped me to survive the dreadful Pengkalan Chepa prison without too much damage; and to thrive at Gambang. I made use of things that I had learned before I was arrested but couldn’t really put to practise. Gambang was the perfect time and space for these. The most important was The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey.

brothers-7habits

 

This is a book that I had first read in 1995; and reread quite a number of times after that. The first time, I didn’t want to accept what Covey espouses. I was heavily addicted at that time, and I was looking for “something far easier” than the steps or habits mentioned in the book. They were hard work! I was looking for “something magical”… like invoking some secret chants which would then “create things and situations”.

NOTE: Clicking the book’s image takes you to Covey’s website. The link at the title above is at Wikipedia.

Over the years, I finally admitted it: Like many/most people, I was looking for a free lunch: of wanting to receive good things, but not wanting to put in the appropriate effort… the same mentality as those who buy a RM2 Big Sweep ticket and hoping to get RM3 million. “Work hard, save money, invest and be patient…? That’s too tough!” 

Covey argues that “effectiveness is achieved by aligning oneself to principles of a character ethic that are universal and timeless. YES, the Habits are so hard to undertake and maintain… BUT there isn’t any other way!

Fortunately, at least I had succeeded in drumming this fact into my head when I first entered the Pengkalan Chepa prison – I must start with and do something about someone I have FULL control over… Myself. I didn’t have Covey’s book with me but the repeated readings had etched the main principles into my mind. Before I do anything else, I must undertake Habit 1 and ensure that I don’t ever neglect it regardless of how good or bad things were for it is the foundation to everything else: Habit 1 – Be Proactive

If you aren’t familiar with this book, you might be perplexed: “Is that it??” YES! But this isn’t the time for me to elaborate, but suffice to say that it worked for me and paid handsome dividends at Gambang.

By the way, if you are curious, that is the first of three habits to move one’s self from “dependent” to “independent”… being master of one’s self. The others are: Habit 2 – Begin with the End in Mind | Habit 3 – Put First Things First

The next three are to do with our relationship with others; moving from independent to “interdependent”: Habit 4 – Think Win/Win | Habit 5 – Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood | Habit 6 – Synergize | Habit 7 relates to maintaining and sustaining the six habits.

brothers-NA-Blue Another crucial block of knowledge came from my repeated readings of a book titled Narcotics Anonymous.

NOTE: An introduction to NA can be found here or by clicking the book’s image (in PDF) 

This was a gift I had received in 2000 from Mark E – a recovering addict in Brooklyn, New York. And he is someone like almost all of you here – people whom I’ve known through the Internet.

A few crucial techniques from this book had helped me to refrain from doing negative things. “Just for today”, for example – during those times when I really felt like joining in the fun and consume samsu (moonshine), I’d get a grip of myself with it … “Okay, I’m not saying I won’t take samsu ever, and I might take it tomorrow or during the next opportunity. BUT NOT TODAY, period.”

One of my closest friends, 290/05 `Omar’, who was with me at Pengkalan Chepa and also had spent Raya Aidilfitri in early November 2005 at the dank and miserable lockup in Pasir Mas, often took a dig at me about this. Now he’s someone “who did everything”, including drugs, alcohol, inhaling thinner, bullying, getting tattoos, rioting…

You keep saying that!…`maybe next time, but not today’. Keep up with this and you’ll probably be released without ever taking samsu!” Actually, that’s what eventually happened – I was one of the few who never took an iota of drugs, alcohol or thinner while at Gambang.

Omar would playfully try to `hasut’ me. He’d come to my hostel after Isyak with a big grin… and I’d smell what he had just consumed. “Hey, it’s pusat after all – you should experience everything, including taking samsu. I pity you; what a waste of opportunities! If not now, when?..you won’t get it at home. Take it now, here… it’s really nice, the feeling.”

My relationship with Omar was something that most probably wouldn’t happen had we not been in pusat. He was only 21 – young enough to be my son. And yet we were very good friends at Gambang. He’s one character the inmates would remember. When I first met him in prison, it was his third time there!

The first two were also drug-related. But unlike our problem then – the Drug Dependants Act – his previous terms were under the Dangerous Drugs Act and regarded as `crimes’. The first was the well-known “duabelas dua” section 12(2) for possession, while the second was section 15 – administering drugs to one’s self (Memasukan dadah dalam tubuh sendiri). This one, in my opinion, is a dumbass law: which addict wouldn’t administer drugs himself??

Anyway, it was with Omar that I had started having some influence on others, and which helped to elevate what some inmates and officers think of me. Unlike my previous self – the one arrested on 11 August 2005 – `Cendana287’ was taking shape.

One of the major things that changed was my growing desire and ability to listen to others – the kind where you do so respectfully and with a desire to understand and/or help alleviate a person’s pain. Even during the days when I wasn’t addicted, I was rather egoistic and self-centred… the `listening’ was with the mind always thinking on what to reply. There’s a vast difference between both types; and the listener can sense it.

At the lockup, I had told Omar what I felt inside. I told him that despite the disparity in our age, there were things in him that I admire; which I didn’t have and which I hope I’d be able to learn from him. One of that was his consistent mood; which was so unlike my rollercoaster. He was surprised to hear this… but he also knew I was sincere and not flattering him.

Omar came to Gambang three days after I did; with 291/05 Azman, 25. The latter had been bailed after his arrest and had escaped remand at Pengkalan Chepa. The magistrate’s order that he be sent to Gambang, and not the supervision which he had expected, came as a shock to him – from the comforts of home to the cell at the court and the police lockup. Then, it was the Detox cell at Gambang, followed by Orientasi `B’.

When they reached Gambang, there were two others from Kuala Terengganu who arrived just a bit earlier – 288/05 Nik, 25 but looked like a Form Five student; and 289/05 Sharif – someone of my age. They were in Cell 1 at Detox, and all except Nik planned to escape from Orientasi `B’.

During the afternoon of 28 Nov – just four days after coming out of Detox – Omar sat beside me. He was solemn, and I could sense it. He told me he was going to run away later that day “with a few others” whom he wouldn’t name. He was telling me that, he said, “because it wouldn’t be proper without saying goodbye to me – someone who had spent that Raya together.”

I didn’t know what I accurately said, but I remember asking God to help me. I told him that I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop him. And I would pray that he make it safely back to Bunut Susu, Pasir Mas; which is near Tumpat. He knew I was sincere. But I told him I just had to say a few things, which are now vague.

Among other things, I mentioned about the continuous worry he’d face – things are now computerised, and how would he feel when, maybe four years or whatever after the event, he was picked up for something unrelated… and a routine check pops up on the policeman’s computer? Wouldn’t he regret it, and also think: “Had I not escaped, the 13 months would pass and I’d have been free… But now, long after every one of my batch had gone home, I’ll be at Penor prison. And Gambang was such a soft and comfortable pusat!” He gave a good-natured grunt but didn’t counter me.

And I mentioned his mother: although she didn’t visit him at Pengkalan Chepa (it was she who reported to the police), she did come to see him at the Pasir Mas police station the morning he and Azman were to be transported. And gave him RM50, which he smuggled in to Detox (bought tobacco from a kitchen crew, and gave a packet to me). Nobody came to see me off – that, to me, meant that “your mother loves you. She’s also happy you are here; a place where she hopes you’d get better. What do you think she’ll feel when you suddenly turn up at home? Would she welcome you with open arms, or…?”

That night, after the Isyak prayers, the squad leader, Zaidi Dugong, sensed not everyone was at the hostel. He mentioned it to the prefect, 048/05 Zaidi, 42, a security manager from Penang (He became the Ketua Pengawas a month later, and went home in May 2006. Dugong, who was HIV, was released in March 06… and I missed both of them). He called for everyone to assemble for a rollcall. Four were missing – 260/05 Kanna, 26, from Batu Caves; 282/05 Wazai, 26, the Sabahan with Zul and Hanafi; Azman and Sharif. Omar had backed out at the last minute.

Later, he would tell everyone about it; including to his counsellor. He said he was “100% determined and sure to escape”, and it was courtesy that led him to take leave of me first. “Dengar hok chegu kecek, jadi putuh angin teruh!” … that after hearing what I said, he was deflated. He decided to stay, but he’s going to have a lot of fun – and I had better not stop him.

Actually, there was someone else whom I had talked out of earlier than Omar. He was 270/05, `Ayie’, someone of my age who was a retired army officer from Maran. Note the `officer’, not rank-and-file. Like me, he was having marital problems, and had attended a hearing at the Syariah Court earlier. He also told me about problems related to his pension payments, and a serious matter about his ATM card.

Ayie said he’s going to run away because he had to attend to these matters. I knew he was serious, and that he was familiar with the surrounding terrain from his army days. I was to learn later that the four who escaped (plus Omar) were depending on Ayie’s skills to handle the territory… and for Sharif’s adult son, a car repossessor in Kuantan, to pick them up at some spot later.

This was the first time when I felt “some outside power” was helping me. I must have said the right things, and displayed the right body language with Ayie. I didn’t argue about his ability to escape at all – all I asked was, “If there’s a way to take care of the problems here, would you still escape?” He was surprised by that question and took a bit of time to answer: “Well, if that is so, of course not. Why would I want to escape if that can be done?!”

I told him what he could do about the pension payment and ATM card problems. I asked him to just give it an honest effort first, and only to consider escaping if it didn’t work. He went about it… and succeeded!

Ayie later became the CO in charge of religious matters at Orientasi, while I became the CO of Administration – the number three after the prefect and squad leader. And in May 2006 when Zaidi was released, Ayie – the person who had wanted to run away – became the Ketua Pengawas of Pusat Serenti Gambang!

And Omar… I saw what a strong personality he was; one with a lot of potential should he stay away from drugs. He took up exercising with weights, and with the quality of food at Gambang as opposed to prison and lockup, developed his once skinny body into a muscled frame. He’d show off his biceps, and I was impressed… something I didn’t expect.

But he’d exasperate me with his indiscipline… until I decided that I was going to just let him live the life he wanted. But that didn’t prevent me from scolding him; which was quite often. A month after that, someone whispered to me that “Omar has gotten a tattoo on his bicep.” I was furious! He had managed to hide it from me for a few days. I went to him and asked him to take off his shirt.

He replied with a cheeky “Oh, so you’ve turned homosexual now! No, no, please… I don’t want to be involved in such things HAHA!” Well, that took away much of the anger and I could only shake my head as I saw the barbed wire on the bicep. And he later went on to add other things too, including dolphins on his chest.

But character-wise, he continued to develop; besides gaining a reputation as the new toughie. And towards the end of our tenure, he became the head of a much coveted and respected unit in all pusat serentis – the person in charge of the kitchen. Now this wasn’t something that a 21-year-old was ever appointed to… but Omar wasn’t your ordinary young adult but someone special.

There was a feeling inside me for many of the inmates – the `sayang’ or what someone had termed as “the timid love among men.” I cared for them… because of the kindness and consideration many had shown to me. Mat Tiger, for instance – on my first night in Detox, he had just managed to get a slit sarong. It was chilly in the early hours at Gambang. Mat Tiger, who felt that I “didn’t look too healthy”, gave it to me instead. This was by a person who was HIV-positive; having sympathy on someone whom he felt “was worse, health-wise.”

Time flew by at Gambang, and I became aware that all good things would come to an end. The  Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms line would come to my mind:

Some day you’ll return to your valleys and your farms
And you’ll no longer burn to be brothers in arms

Due to his HIV status (despite being healthy), Mat Tiger was given early discharge on humanitarian grounds. His release date was on Friday 14 July 2006, together with a few others. I was a prefect then, and was free to go anywhere I wanted to. I went to the front gate to see Mat Tiger off. Both of us didn’t talk much. He gave me his lighter, kept in a leather case with a string attached to hang around the neck. I still have it with me.

106/05 Inderjit Singh, 35, from Bangsar, KL, who as the Deputy Head Prefect (TKP) was the second-highest ranked inmate, was going home too. He wasn’t too big but even the toughies wouldn’t dare fight him one-to-one for he’s a karate exponent. And he was always decent and respectful with me from the first day I entered the Cendana hostel on 15 Feb 2006.

The previous month, the charismatic and boisterous prefect of Cendana from Setapak, KL, 056/05 `Az’, was discharged. He was also in charge of the store. Right after the officers agreed I would replace him (there’s a selection and background checking process – those with disciplinary records even at previous pusats were rejected), Az gave me brand-new blue pants, a canvas belt and Spalding socks; the last meant for officers. He had stolen them from the store. There were a few inmates wanting to buy these from him, in exchange for quite a number of packets of the 70 sen Chop Kuda tobacco. But he refused – he wanted me to have them, for free… “because I want the new Cendana prefect to look smart.” And he was no longer at Cendana.

Two weeks after this, 107/05 `Din Koboi’, 42, from Ampang, KL will leave too. His brother is the CEO of a national broadcasting company. Din Koboi can cook really well, and I had spent many happy and fruitful hours chatting with him about many, many things. And then 136/05 Ramli, previously from Kubang Kerian but living in KL… 137/05 Zainol aka `Frankie’ from Pendang, Kedah and 146/05 Suhaimi from Jengka – all of them were with the fish-pond project, were seniors, but elected me to be the head. Things were getting lonelier every two weeks. brothersinarms-soldiers2

As the AADK `lori ayam’ truck carrying the discharged was about to round the corner, Mat Tiger and Singh held up their hands as a salute and saying goodbye to me. The truck disappeared. I knew that I would never again meet with the people who had shown me kindness and consideration when I had nothing and was a nobody, and helped me so much over the past nine months. There was a toilet behind the registration office which was rarely used — I went inside and cried my eyes out.

Now the sun’s gone to hell, and the moon is riding high
Let me bid you farewell, every man has to die
But it’s written in the starlight, and in every line of your palm
We’re fools to make war on our brothers in arms

**NOTE: This will probably be my last post until I’ve settled some very important matters from next week. Yes, I need a rest too – this post especially is emotionally draining.

The previous post of “Cinderella” – it’s just one part of what had happened on a day I regard as “magical”. However, the start to Monday November 21, 2005 was actually a lot less pleasant than being floored by a dreamy song – you might get floored… literally.

Welcome to Pusat Serenti Gambang where the culture of “Abang-Abang” or “The Rights and Superiority of Seniors” is the rule and is zealously enforced. It is the day that each and every newcomer waits with dread, and he is filled with terror as his time to face it arrives.

This is the day when he steps out of the Detox building after a two-week stay in a cell and is taken to the Orientasi block about 150 metres away.

So what’s the problem with that?”, you might ask. Well, you won’t just be taking a `lenggang’ stroll to your hostel, for that 150 metres might be the toughest you’ll undertake in your whole life.

Before you get to watch television and Cinderella or whatever, you have to pay tribute – in whatever form demanded – to those more senior than you. And that’s everyone else you were to encounter or taken to on the stretch below (crudely marked in blue, from the start at bottom left. Then it’s to the kitchen and canteen, passing by the Cendana hostel in yellow, police post and Orientasi “B”. Click on image for a better view and place marks).

detox-orientasi-routeThe place you fear most is the kitchen, which will be the first stop. When I first arrived on Nov 7, I was put in Cell 2. There were four inmates, including three who would leave Detox the following morning. That left me and 286/05 `Mat Tiger’, who was there a week earlier.

There was a problem with the three – 281/05 Zul, 32, a former soldier from KL was a `samseng’ outside and had been in pusat and prison a few times, the experience of which should have helped him handle Gambang. But due to his temper, he committed a grave error where he had argued with a kitchen crew sending food and cursed him with the obscene `Puk*mak’. Now those in the kitchen were waiting to extract their revenge.

Unfortunately, the other two would unjustly have to pay for Zul’s insolence too for they would go together. One of them was 280/05 Hanafi, 26 from Triang – to be known as the best sepak takraw player at Gambang. He was also with me and 279/05 `Rosli Tukang Gunting’ at PKAADK Kuantan 10 months later.

From our cell, Mat Tiger and I could hear the shoutings and commotion as the three were put through various physically painful `exercises’ and humiliations, with various seniors shouting abuses at them. We were quiet, thinking about our future sufferings. And a week after Mat Tiger left the cell, it was now my turn…

Even if your heart was filled with terror or whatever, there was no escaping this gauntlet. I couldn’t do anything, except to just prepare myself for whatever the seniors decide on. It was raining that day, and I – like everyone coming out – was in blue shorts… and shirtless. A Pengawas (Prefect) was my escort… `Jaafar Pak Long’, a couple of years older than I was. And he, by virtue of being a pengawas, was also `a Rajah’ at Gambang – he had an umbrella to shield himself from the heavy rain.

First stop, the dreaded kitchen. Already, a mob of five had left their work and assembled to `orientate the newcomer’. This is the crunch for me – all alone and at the mercy of the kitchen mob. The first thing was to give greetings and thank the crew for bringing our food… LOUDLY: “Assalamualaikum, Abang-Abang dapur. Saya, 287/05 xx dari Pasir Mas, Kelantan, ucap terima kasih kepada Abang-Abang semua.

No matter how loud, the newbie would always receive mocking shouts “What was that?? Can’t hear you – SPEAK LOUDER!!” Another went “Tak dengaaaarrr!!”; Another “KUAT… KUAT LAGIII!!”

But I must have had a guardian angel – out of the corner of my eye, I could see – or felt – the prefect putting up his palms vertically and horizontally to form a `T’. It was “Payung” (umbrella)… “Give him a break”. Then a tough-looking inmate approached me – a crew had screamed a maniacal “SKALI LAGIIIII!”, but the toughie signalled for them to cut it out… which they did. It’s obvious this guy had a lot of clout. He was `Snek’, around 30, from Taiping; and he was one of the three `top toughies’ at Gambang.

He invited me to sit at a bench, and asked someone to get some food and drink. The latter returned with a cetong of tea with milk and buns. Spoke a bit with me, rolled tobacco with newspaper and gave it to me after a few puffs. I was surprised – and worried – there was the kitchen officer inside who could see what we were doing. Smoking is, after all, forbidden in all pusat. At the Pengkalan Chepa prison, you would be whacked with a thick rattan – or worse. But Snek said, “Tak apa, hisap lah… takde apa kat sini”. Okay, thanks!

I didn’t get it anywhere near as bad as the others – in fact, those who knew about this would express envy that I got away unscathed while they had suffered. What happened? For one thing, I didn’t look too well; and the Pengawas was worried “something bad might happen”.

Then there was Snek – this was one of those who were `samseng’; loutish, no qualms about beating up others. BUT he was also with principles; was respectful of those older. And to him, I was to be protected, not preyed upon…

The prefect took me down the slope where I passed the Cendana hostel. Of course I didn’t know what it was then; that this would be my hostel after 3 months. The rain was a lucky break for me actually – the residents must have been sleeping on that chilly morning. Were they looking for some cheap fun, a newcomer would be halted and made to pay some tribute first before moving on – clean the toilets, or clear the drains, or massage someone for free…

Then it was to Orientasi `B’; one of two hostels for the red-shirted Phase 1. There was fencing all around, and unlike the other `seniors hostels’, the gate was always locked. A police post stood as sentry in front. This was the last hurdle before I go from shirtless to red-shirt. Again, I was in luck. The prefect, walking behind, pointed at me and again put up the `T’ `Payung’ sign.

An orientation routine gone bad had resulted in the inmates at that hostel being more cautious. Then newcomer 278/05 Dollah was doing the exercising routines demanded when he fainted and fell into the ditch. He was a HIV-chronic case, which the inmates didn’t know. That shocked them, and they were now extremely lenient with anyone who didn’t look too well.

The inmate in charge of discipline, with the title of Squad Leader, was 250/05 Zaidi @ Dugong. Now this was another toughie with principle and charisma… a natural leader. Besides pusat and prison, he was also a detainee at Simpang Renggam under preventive laws. And the Checker at his block, which said something of the high regard other criminals had for him.

Anyway, I only had to give Salam, say who I was and ask for permission to go in. The first attempt was met with a token “Ask again”, which I did. And the reply then was “Boleh Masuk!”… followed by going up to shake hands with each and every one.

You had it damn easy,” Mat Tiger said. He told me that he had to crawl under the double-decker beds for two full rounds – and that was after some jumping jacks and push-ups of a few hundred. And I got my red shirt – I was from then a part of the group.. the Sixth Session of 2005; an equal with the others. A few hours later, I heard that Sehati Sejiwa song…

I felt a sense of camaraderie and of belonging. A guy from Tanah Merah, Kelantan gave me his extra pillow – just salvaged sponge with a cloth covering, but the comfort was appreciated. Mat Tiger and another inmate gave me slit sarongs – as a blanket and cover for the sleeping plank (only Phase 2 and above get a mattress).

It was the start to the floods with heavy rains, and despite the thinness of the `blanket’, I was filled with gratitude for having these at least… and for the kind-hearted new friends that I’ve made.

That night, I sat on the upper bed looking at the rain outside, and alternatively at what was on TV. It was “pusat serenti”, court-ordered, with many more months to go. But somehow, I was at peace… it felt cosy, I felt “among friends” and I was contented. And I resolved to be someone of value to “My Group” in any way I could… and I resolved to try and be someone better than that person who was arrested on Aug 11 while trying to obtain morphine…

Monday November 21, 2005 – A newbie with all of three hours of presence and experience at the Orientasi “B” hostel in Pusat Serenti Gambang, was taking in the atmosphere and discreetly weighing up his fellow hostel mates.

This was to be his home for the next three months or so, and he was wondering how he’d get along with the group of 36 other red-shirted inmates; all of whom were almost bald. It was a motley crew of Malays, Chinese, Indians and East Malaysians. And then something happened at 2:05 PM.

To everyone else, there wasn’t anything exceptional about it. But it was an earth-shattering moment for the newbie, 287/05 – me. The 20-inch television set was on, and I heard a song that blew me off my feet. It was from the drama series titled Cinderella on air from Monday to Thursday, and the song was Sehati Sejiwa by Haslinda. I was feeling something profound inside and was tingling with excitement. Surprisingly, no one else seemed to care too much about the song…

SEHATI SEJIWA (HASLINDA)
Kita memang dijodohkan bersama
Sehati serta sejiwa
Walau esok atau akhir nanti
Kita telah ditakdirkan bersama-sama

Wahai kekasih bersabarlah menempuhi dugaan
Kita sedaya telah berusaha untuk berdua
Tapi selagi ada jurang terpisah
Impian kan musnah kita masih ada cara untuk
Leraikannya

Kita jatuh cinta bukan kerna paras rupa
Atau harta benda yang diidami manusia

Seharusnya kita bersyukur kepada tuhan
Kita mengecapi bahagia selagi hayat ada

Hanya engkau kekasihku hanya aku kekasihmu
Dengan satu rasa dalam dua jiwa
Kita ditakdir bersama…

By the way, I don’t dare to translate it into English. No matter how good, I’d say at best the translation might convey only 90% of the original. Without the subtleties coming through as in Malay, the magic won’t be there anymore.

In the following weeks, it was something that I’d wait for. I’m no fan of this kind of drama – in fact, I didn’t even see a single episode of Cinderella! I was only interested in the song – the lyrics – for I felt “there was something about it, in it”. There was “a message in a bottle”… for me. But who was it from??

Some people might laugh at this. Go ahead, please. And I would really love it should someone be scornful, scoffing and dismissing it with derision. I really mean it… because I’m going to have the last laugh:-)

I was still married at that time. But in all essence, it had broken down from at least six years before that. The message that I felt was one of hope and optimism – perhaps there’s still something or something else for me, despite the failed marriage where all that remained was distrust, resentment, bitterness and anger…

Kita memang dijodohkan bersama … Sehati serta sejiwa … Walau esok atau akhir nanti … Kita telah ditakdirkan bersama-sama

Perhaps one could dismiss this as just “a pipe dream”. Perhaps… except that I had not taken any substance for more than three months. And at that moment in time, there was “something different” when it comes to spirituality. I hope this doesn’t come across as riak and takkabur – I’m just trying to find an explanation for some things.

The person then was `Cendana287’, who was on a plateau that’s a few levels higher than the `Mat Cendana’ now… and definitely from another world compared to the `Ahmad Sxxxxxx’ of pre-Aug 11, 2005. He “could feel things, people and situations”. But many of these weren’t crystal-clear – thoughts, feelings, people would just flash by and they couldn’t be frozen to have a clearer look at. It was the same with the above — “there was someone at the other end… and she most probably didn’t know that she had cast adrift the message in the bottle”.

Two people who didn’t even know about each other’s existence, much less how the other looked like. But looks – despite something quite important – isn’t all-important and all-deciding. This dreamy, floating-on-a-cloud line is something I’ve heard hundreds of times, not to mention the repeats echoing in my head:

cinderella1 Kita jatuh cinta bukan kerna paras rupa
Atau harta benda yang diidami manusia

Would anyone want to challenge the authenticity and truthfulness of this?… that for some people, it holds true? No, I honestly wouldn’t be offended should some reader be pessimistic or cynical about this. Like, “Then why do non-Miss World or Julia Roberts-types find it hard for others to fall in love with them?” OR, “Oh, so living in a one-room hut with a leaking roof and Maggi Mee be okay?”

My honest answer is, “I don’t know”. At the same time, I know for sure that the lines above are true. And best of all, I can show it for all to see… and wonder at the Powers of God, The All-Mighty, The Creator of Whatever that He Wants. Be patient, folks; and pray that we will all see this…

Football, the England team, an English manager and a club in Holland – what do they have to do with this blog’s theme?

Quite a few things, actually; with the main focus being how someone widely derided and seemingly with no future, picked himself up, rolled his sleeves and produced astonishing and inspirational results within two years of being down in the dumps.

 mcclaren-papers CAPTION: The image people had of Steve McClaren when England failed to qualify for Euro 2008. It would have remained for decades to come had McClaren chosen to be a bitter man; and especially after his successor Fabio Capello took England to their easiest World Cup qualification ever.

Steve McClaren, 49, is now a real life hero for me. And I think back with some shame as to how I, too, had joined in the chorus and rained harsh criticism after England’s failure to qualify for Euro 2008. And I – as with many Fleet Street writers and football followers – had also smugly concluded that his new team, FC Twente in Holland would be fighting against relegation with McClaren leading them. How little did we know who and what McClaren is…

Some of his critics were simply rabid, who seemed to have real pleasure in kicking a man when he’s down. When he was appointed as analyst and commentator for BBC Radio, some derided the decision and questioned McClaren’s credentials as an “expert analyst”. They seemed to have forgotten that he was Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant at Manchester United for quite a number of years.

He was there when Man Utd won the treble of English Premier League title, FA Cup and European Champions League in 1999. He was also the manager of Middlesbrough for five years, and won the League Cup in 2004. Now that’s good enough for Middlesbrough weren’t much of anything.

mcclaren-twente-logo The president of FC Twente must have seen something special about McClaren. And the late Sir Bobby Robson too had faith in him despite the disastrous tenure as England manager for 15 months. And what McClaren had achieved at FC Twente is nothing short of inspirational.

 

This was a team that last won the Dutch league – the Eredivisie – title in 1926. All these years, when this league is mentioned, the teams that football followers would fancy were giants Ajax, PSV Eindhoven, Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar. But never FC Twente.

In his first season, McClaren surprised almost everyone when FC Twente finished the league in second place in 2009. They also made it to the Cup final, only to lose on penalties. This alone had instantly repaired McClaren’s reputation and credibility as a manager. Unlike the other clubs mentioned, Twente worked on a small budget and had no big stars.

But McClaren topped that this year. To the doubters who had dismissed 2009 as a possible flash in the pan, the 2010 season ended with FC Twente emerging as league champion. For most of the season, Ajax Amsterdam – with their overwhelming resources – had pressured Twente… hoping the little club, with only a one-point lead, would crumble. But Twente held on, and confirmed the title with a 2-0 away win against NAC Breda.

mcclaren-champions CAPTION: Steve McClaren and the FC Twente players on 3 May 2010 after the last match against NAC Breda.

So, to the vicious Fleet Street writers who had hounded and picked on McClaren: What have you won lately?…Any journalistic awards to show for your `skills’?

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