It has taken me three long days to finally write about this memorable event in my life – of David R’s unexpected visit to Malaysia. I was puzzled as to why I was finding it so hard to write it when there is such an abundance of material here.
Last evening I realised what it was – I had not allowed things to just flow out. Instead, I had “planned” – of approaching it as if I’m writing a piece for a newspaper. It’s actually out of respect, from the high regards that I have for him; of wanting “to write a post that befits the person that he is”. And that’s a very tough call, for David is way up there in the “Super Category” when it comes to “People I Know”.
Far from being of help, the abundance of things in my mind concerning “David R” was actually a hindrance! Besides putting pressure on myself, I also didn’t know where to start and what to focus on. So, right now, I’m going to do what I’ve been doing with most of the posts here – just write, without caring about how it will all come out.
I had also felt melancholic the past few days, from last Sunday – of feeling “the happy moments are now over” – after knowing that David was no longer in Kelantan. And I’ve been thinking back a lot; revisiting those moments involving his visit here, again and again.
It’s really remarkable: During some idle moments in the past, I had imagined him coming to Malaysia… plus wondered what it might be like should he come to Kelantan. In fact, I had even thought about possible hotels where he might be comfortable without having to overpay (The reason why I would not have offered to have him stay in this house is because I don’t want him to suffer).
And last Thursday, I saw that it was becoming a reality! (See David R is in Malaysia!!) By the way, the words in the email that I had blanked out to protect David’s privacy are these: “23 and 24 January at the Renaissance Hotel in Kota Bharu”.
CAPTION: THE BEST SHORT STORIES OF FYDOR DOSTOEVSKY (www.modernlibrary.com) This is one of the books that David had sent to me in a heavy parcel that also included magazines – all new – when I was at Pusat Serenti Gambang in 2006. He would continue to send magazines, including The Economist and computer-related ones like PC World, Macworld and PC Magazine. I had written to inform him that he was being too extravagant, and mentioned (no less than twice) that he should not send them anymore. However, I continued to receive these costly magazines right until my final week in Pusat. I brought back all of the books and magazines, and letters, that he had sent to me when I was there.
From 3.15PM onwards, I was in high anticipation mode, nervous, puzzled… Yes, the last one because he had not mentioned anything about coming here (I now know). That email was stamped 2.09PM but I was only aware of it an hour later – I was extremely busy with a piece of work that needed to be sent in at around 6PM (Thursdays are often very busy days for me the past couple of months).
Still, that didn’t stop me from writing an immediate post to this blog – I simply had to share this piece of good news. Of course as usual, the first person to know about it was… Well, it’s quite predictable, isn’t it?:-) Nowadays I’m lucky to have people whom I can share things with – the good and the bad. But it wasn’t like this previously – those times when I was all alone, with nobody to share anything good or bad, and feeling this world to be such a lonely and empty place…
But anyway; I had planned to be at the airport when he arrived. I assumed that it would be by flight to Pengkalan Chepa, although I had thought about the possibility of him coming by bus during the day – certainly not because of costs but because one would see a lot more things from there than in an airplane. There’s also the possibility of the Wau Express train – David had certainly read about my visit to KL, and he would know about this service (He had considered it, as I found out later).
That day passed without any more news from him. When there was still none at midday on Friday, I became puzzled. And a bit worried too. So was Sherry, and we simply could not figure out why David had not contacted me. That morning I had sent another email to him – I had thought about the possibility of my Celcom handphone service failing me at the critical moment when David might contact, so I came up with a plan. Besides the landline number of the house in front of mine, I had also stated Sherry’s number. And Nazmi’s. And Mohd Zawi’s too, plus mentioned that Zawi is actually in my district and knows where my house is.
I was getting nervous – Could it be a hoax?…of someone pretending to be David? Sherry was at her usual practical, proactive and helpful self. Instead of my lamenting and wondering, she offered to look up the number of the hotel and to ask whether David had checked in. I felt quite embarrassed that I had not thought about doing this myself…
Sherry called back – there was nobody by that name at the hotel. However, there was someone with a similar-sounding name who had booked a room for that day and the following. There was nothing else for me to do but to wait. In the meantime, I had set my Mozilla Thunderbird email program to check for new messages every 5 minutes.
A call came in at 5.57PM, and I was actually pleased to see the number wasn’t from anyone I knew – YES, it was David! He had just checked in after arriving from Sepang. We talked for a few minutes and I told him that I would be going to see him.
I knew it was going to require some luck. For one thing, public transportation is extremely difficult on Fridays, and even more so towards dusk. And there’s that matter of my coming back – I might not be able to if there’s no taxi. But I didn’t care – this was to see someone who had done so much for me in the past; plus had taken the trouble to also come to Kelantan specifically to meet with me. So, regardless of the problems, I was determined to give my best effort in meeting him that very night and not wait for the following day.
It was getting darker by the minute as dusk approached. I just need to get to the town – there would usually be a taxi that’s willing to go to Kota Bharu. I had a backup plan – worse comes to worse, I was planning to call a 27-year-old who was my junior at Gambang and ask him to come and send me to town. But a taxi did show up and stopped.
The driver, a very friendly guy (practically all the taxi drivers here are), was going back to Tumpat from Tanah Merah. He wasn’t quite willing to go to KB. However, he changed his mind as we approached the town and turned towards the state capital. There was no need for me to wait around for a car at the taxi-station, and I was relieved by that. It was only then that I confirmed with David that I would indeed be there in about 30 minutes.
Renaissance Kota Bharu Hotel – It is in that complex called Kota Seri Mutiara on the road leading to Pasir Puteh which also houses the Billion shopping centre. People familiar with Kelantan and Kota Bharu might be surprised by this – I’ve never been inside this complex! Yes, despite it having opened for how-many-already years. And I had also not been to KB MALL all these years until just a few months ago, when I wanted to add a 1GB RAM module to this laptop.
This is one of the things that came about due to addiction. No, it wasn’t really “because of money” but more due to “a broken spirit, pessimism, lack of will to live, lack of desire to experience new things”…
But anyway; I reached Renaissance at 8.15PM. The driver had difficulty in stating the price; wanting me to “give whatever I thought was right”. I didn’t want to do that, because he might not have been happy but would still have accepted it smilingly. Seeing that I was adamant in wanting him to decide what “was right”, he finally said: “RM25… Or is that too high?” That was the same as I had paid for the trip from KB to this house at 11PM 18 Dec 2006 – the day I was discharged.
In the meantime, I took advantage of the well-stocked information rack that had travel brochures of some states; taking those of Selangor, Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur. There wasn’t one on Pahang, unfortunately, and that was the state I was most keen on. But at least I now finally know where exactly places like Setiawangsa and Wangsa Maju are in relation to Sentral, my main reference point nowadays.
I had felt that I would immediately recognise David – whose pictures I had seen in a couple of newspaper cuttings and in the jacket of a book. I was right. But then, it was most likely because he was the only Caucasian walking towards the reception area, and that he had smiled when he saw me. In late 2007, I had sent a passport-sized picture with a conventional letter (Occasionally, we would do this instead of by email).
This is David, in person!…someone who had never abandoned me even when the chips were down. At various times over the years, I would wonder what it was that I had done in the past to have deserved such a friend. The things that he had done for me…
By the way, his extravagant gifts didn’t stop when I was discharged from Pusat. On 7 Nov 2007, I was surprised when a parcel arrived. Inside were seven books: The Oxford Dictionary of World History; British Sea Power – How Britain Became Sovereign of the Seas; Agincourt – Henry V and the Battle That Made England; The Hundred Years War; Fighting Ships; and The Circumnavigators – The Pioneer Voyagers Who Set Off Around the Globe.
As with the ones he had sent when I was in Gambang, these books were received with a lot of joy and appreciation. It was almost one year after I was discharged, and I was doing absolutely nothing (didn’t have this laptop yet). In fact, I was on the verge of “doing something stupid” from the boredom. But those books were a life-saver – I spent days engrossed in reading them. They also started a burning desire in myself to write…
There at the lobby of Renaissance Kota Bharu, he blended in well with the elegant surroundings in a gray suit. There’s something about David – “cultured, intellectual, pleasant”… Just five minutes with him are more than enough for anyone to have this impression.
There was something he was quite surprised with – of how thin I had become. It was noticeable I suppose – the photo I had sent to him was taken two days after I was discharged from a place where the government was charged to take care of us. Two years after that – and especially when I haven’t eaten regularly since the end of Ramadhan…
David asked whether I have had dinner (No). And I was thinking to myself and smiling inside – actually, I haven’t even had lunch yet on that day, at 8.30PM… I was thinking about finding a restaurant near the hotel. However, David insisted on going to one inside the hotel itself; and despite my misgivings about the prices at a place like that. Well, buffet dinner it was then, at the second floor.
I definitely felt out of place there, unlike David. There was a very good selection of food available – Western and Malaysian (thinking about it right now makes me feel so hungry. will have to go to town after this). I don’t remember everything I had put on my plate, but pasta was one of them – something I’ve not had since at least 12 years.
It was in that cosy atmosphere of soft lights, elegance and comfort, with that bounty of various foods, that I remembered the dreadful Quarantine section of the Pengkalan Chepa Prison – a place that was not too far away (maybe 15 minutes drive). And I marvelled at how Life goes. While at the Quarantine in 2005, I had remembered a luxurious resort I had been to at the end of 1996 – Tasik Kenyir in Terengganu – and wondering how it was that I could have ended in a horrible place like that. And now here I was again at a place that is at least of the same level when it comes to “surroundings”.
[BTW if anyone is wondering how bad the Quarantine was, let me put it this way: If you were to give me the choice of staying and sleeping at your porch where you park the car, I’d take that – happily and gratefully.]
David explained why he had not told me about his plans to come to Malaysia. The main factor was in him feeling jittery about the latest round of tensions between North and South Korea. So, to be on the safe side – and since he had also wanted “to see to a few matters” – he decided on Malaysia. By the way, the federal and Kelantan governments should honour me in some way, because it was also due to me that David had decided to come here – and helping to contribute to the economy with his spendings:-)
As to why he had not told me the exact time when he would leave for Kelantan, David said it was because he “wasn’t sure until the last minute”. Well, I had spoken with Sherry after that, and she agreed with me: David had felt it might be too much trouble for me to have gone to receive him at the airport. It’s too late now but I’ll have to say this: NO, it wouldn’t have.
There was a full day following that – Saturday. And I was pleased – and also nervous – that he mentioned about wanting to see where (and how) I live. He had read about Pasir Mas and Kelantan since early 1999, and it was something that he needed to see since he was already in Malaysia – his first visit here. I drew a rough map of where the house was, and wrote a few instructions in Malay (it was for the taxi driver’s benefit, for I presumed that not too many would understand the English version).
David paid the bill, and I quietly asked the girl how much it was. Despite expecting that it would certainly not be cheap, I was still shocked! Plus with that tip David had left on the table, of which I enquired. “Well, her service was very good…” It was something a factory worker here would earn in two days…
The two hotel workers at the entrance were very friendly and helpful. One of them offered to phone for a taxi, and would ensure that it would be for a trip direct to my house. That’s very convenient,for I had expected to be at the taxi-station first. It took about 15 minutes for the taxi to arrive so we had the chance to talk and take in the surroundings (there was a lion dance nearby).
I was amused that David – fearing the possibility of anti-US feelings among Malaysians – had said he was “French” to those who had asked, as a precaution. Well, he needn’t have worried – I mentioned his fears to the two hotel workers and they were quick to assure him… that it was “George Bush” that was loathed, not “an American who was a guest”.
It was a pleasant trip to home. It had been a long time since I was out at night, which made the experience even better. The fare this time was RM35, which was quite expected due to the place I was at. And David – he had insisted that I take a RM100 note despite my assuring him that it was not necessary.
A report was sent in to Sherry, and it was mentioned about David coming to my house the following morning. Her order was: “Go to bed by midnight at the latest”. Since she had ended it with “please”, I did.
(TO BE CONTINUED – Thursday at the earliest)