Monday, June 27, 2005

The Kids Are Back in Town

My two children are back in Malaysia and are fast asleep from anexhausting long trip from Columbia, Illinois to their present pillows and bedsheets in Sungei Pinang, Penang. We arrived here by the Transnasional Express bus from Kuala Lumpur where my cousin Zakaria had dropped us off at the Jalan Duta Bus Terminal. They had put up at his house yesterday upon arrival and I have been staying at there since my arrival in Kuala Lumpur from Kuala Terengganu a few days earlier. Zakaria is to me as close as it gets to becoming a wholesome person. A very hard worker with a no nonsense attitude towards everything that he does in life. A very devoted and strict Muslim yet flexible when he wants to be a successful career man who was high ranking police officer and later an attorney, giving up being a lawyer he joined the National Bank and giving that up is now head of security for a major company in the oilpalm plantation business. I love this man and have very high regards for his achievements in life. His weakness is in his love for good food for which money or time or distance is of no consequence.

Two days ago we went to Putra Jaya, the new mega city where all government offices are presently located not too far from Kuala Lumpur to look into what has become of my application for my children's citizenship status. We dropped in at the Dept of Registry where e the files I had submitted were being processed and discovered that not much was being done about them. Upon enquiring we learned that there was an inconsistency with regard to my children's date od birth and the registeration date for my Muslim marriage certificate. According to the dates and figures my children are cosidered bastards as they were conceived out of legitimate Muslim procedures. However if they were to be viewed from the original marriage certificates which took place in California they are okey, they are legit. So on account of this their applications have been sitting in someone's drawer till we decided to start digging arround for them. For the past six years I have received various excuses as to why my children does not qualify to become Malaysian citizens and now I have this.

The final decission will still have to be made eve if all the paperworks were acceptable by the Home Ministry where a Minister will have to sign the okay and this will take God knows how long according to the man we talked to. The gentleman offerd an advice that we see someone we might know at the higher levels and get them to push for the application to be accepted. So off we go round the mulberry bush to look for the key man in the Home Ministry who could make things happen and this includes writing a letter justifying why the application should pass or be acceptable and providing more documents in the process. Such Is, Such Is.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

What Is Gobochan?

My friend Raof learned of the medicinal purposes of the Gobo root, a fleshy root stem found only in Japan when he met with an elderly Japanese who was doing a long term study for the cure of Diabetes utilizing vegetables extracts in the form of a soup. Eversince he started producing the drink which comprices of five different kinds of vegetable he found that there were quite a number of successful cures for such deseses as diabetes, overweight and general aches and pains related to the flow of blood and the healthy cells in the immune system. The ingredients are made up of your everyday vegetables such as carrots, radish, a specie of mushroom, Gobo root and so forth, but the essence of the potentcy of the soup is in its preparation, its measurements and time of preperation, one has to prepare it with a Zen mind.
This drink is found to heighten the health and growth of cells in the body, existing cells are rejuvenated and dead and unhealthy cells are being consumed by the healthy new cells. I have been drinking this soup eversince for the past few weeks and found that it helps me to move my bowels every morning and I urinate alot more regularly. I sweat very easily too and I feel alot mot lighter and not as sluggish especially in the mornings. My sister who is way overweight has made it her drink of choice now that she has lost a few kilos and moving about with less pain. She is now visiting her grandchildren in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah and is busy spreading the Gobochan health drink among her friends and relatives there.It is our intention to patent this drink and hopefully with further research to bottled it for better commercial production. We are looking for a better name for this drink, one that will be more Zen-like and has a catchy sound to it. So if anyone has suggestions please let us hear it.

I have booked my bus ticket to KL for tonight and will arrive there in the morning sometime and I hope there will be some good Samaritan to fetch me at the bus stand or even find a place to stay. I will have a day or two before my children arrive from the US and so I hope to be able to go to Putra Jaya and dig around for some answers as to what is happening to my application for PR status for my kids which has been pending for the last six years. My kids are of the age where they will need to carry an identification card with them whereever they go and at the moment they have none. There is no excuses being given as to why they do not qualify for permanent residency and it has been a burden on me for the past five or six years everytime I am being confronted with this issue. Being a Malaysian father I feel at least I deserve a better response from the government agencies that handled my childrens' case. Not to recieve even a letter of acknowledment after filing with an attatched copy of a letter from the Deputy Chief Minister of Penang, is like an insult to the office and stature of the Minister.

No doubt I am a non-entity as far as those working at the Registery Department or the Home Office, I am just another file number that is not of critical importance, who am I? I have worked alongside foreign workers who got their IC crads done in three months or some even less. These foreign workers from Indonesis, Bangladesh, Miyamar and so on somehow has better luck than me a local. All those who I have seekd advice from kept telling me that money talks and bullshit walks, that i need to use bribery one way or another otherwise my file will keep sinking to the bottom. But i was also told that i need to go to the source myself and sit down and protest in fron of the Prime Minister's office and demand for some direct answers. And so this is what I will have to do in the next few days in KL. If I end up in the detention in Bukit Aman so be it, Allah is merciful and to Him I will seek refuge for whatever will befall on me. I have sat and taken enough unjutifiable crap from the government's bureaucratic mismanagement and lack of caring and hoity-toidy attitude of the office workers. It is time to evoke article 666 and call on the Devil to do the job where the angels failed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

From Awi's Yellow House

I am now in Kuala Terengganu right now in my friend's office using his computer to update my life's stroy for the world to see. I got here yesterday morning and spent the day with Raof harvesting some horseradish and later doing some cleaning up behind his house while he cleaned the radish leaves. I came to get some paper work done for my children at their former school, I was told I needed to get the transfer letters ASAP. I also needed to get my wife's employer to provide me with a letter that could satisfy the needs of the American Workman's Compensation program. It would be a great help to us if she does qualifies for it as she has worked for most of her life teaching and has done justice to the American Cause overseas through her simple charms and dedication towards her students. If she does not qualify for some form of conpensation she will have to come back here and continue her finding a cure for her ailments.

I am now staying at Awi's Yellow House on the Trengganu River next to the Sultan Mahmood Bridge, on Pulau Duyong Kecil. Awi's yellow House is a must for anyone travelling the road very least travelled and at the cheapest cost for the most extraordinary experience of meeting a few of the world's most seasoned travellers from all over the world. A place where East meets West at a coffee table overlooking the flowing river where iguanas and kampung kids swim amidst diapers and all sorts of garbage having a hell of a time. This is Awi's Yellow, where every morning you are awakened by the cry over the loudspeakers of six or seven Bilals calling the faith ful to their needs.Where every fridady evening thers is a Pasar Malam or night market selling from used LeVis to Keropok Lekor a kind of fish sausage common to the east coast. But if peace and quiet and privacy is what you are looking for and safe not to forget safety, Awi's is the place for you if you don't mind shitting through the hole in the floor and watching your waste dropping all the way into the river, than this place is as unique as it gets.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

The Words from Columbia Illinois

Got words today that my children will be returning to Malaysia on the 24th. and that's less than a week from now. I also learned that I have to go back to Terengganu and secure their letters of transfer of schools from their former shcool to give them to the schools here in Penang.So what if you have to got to Terengganu or Timbuuktoo!! I am getting tired of putting all my thoughts down like and addict who cannot stop from smoking. Who is out there reading these daily moaning and groaning of a wiped out! flat on his butt of an Artist World traveller cum Mystic man wanna be, what a bloody waste of time and precious space in the all ready crowded Super Highway, Cyber Space, whatever.

Have you been following my ramblings? Who are you, what do you think? What would you have done if you were in my shit right now?! Hello! Is there any body out there!

So I will book a ticket for tomorrow night's bus to Kuala Terengganu I am used to it, travelling that is, I just dont feel right sitting in one place for too long, its the Gypsy blood in me and dont ask me from whose side it comes. I am used to staring out of bus windows at streaks of green passing by as we drive up into the Central range of the Malay Peninsular. I am used to having wild dreams and fantasies raging through my mind as we drove through the night towards the next destination, never forget to wear a thick sweater for it can be chilly in the bus.

What have I learned from my ten days spin from Medan to Bukit Tinggi to Padang and back? Like my friend David C mentioned, it could turn out into a bum trip. What is it that I come back with, what in me changed, what did the trip do for me? Not a thing? I am no more a better or richer man nor can I say that my sense of pride in the Art of Travelling has now been compromised. I am sure its no one's fault that I failed to learn to appreciate all the little gestures that most of the Indonesians has offered all along the way, the smiles and treating me with honor and dignity worthy of a visiting dignitary. Its just not the same anymore or maybe I just had a great time but did not want to admit it! If I am allowed to with my children I would gladly move to one of the smaller towns in Indonesia or perhaps like Payakumbuh, where all the beauties and wonders of nature and man exist side by side. A place filled with Mysticism and belief in the 'Alam Gahib' or spiritual world. Carl G.Jung once said something like, Mankind has lost his sense of Awe and Wonder of Nature. Man has fallen asleep in this Land of Maya, he is dreaming of himself dreaming in this Land of MMAYA.

Well it looks now like I got to get use seen and being seen in the neighborhood of my childhood days, River Road at SungeiPinang. Most of the faces I have seen so far do not look the least familliar and most are young and looks like the run the hood. Oh well might as well get used to it I hope that my two children will not have too much difficulty adapting to the change. I am not too worried about my daughter I believe she can handle herself but my son might find it harder, its is good for character building, change is. So long as the change does not cause too much strain on your budget and on relationships or on the physical and mental health or their sense of belonging.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The journey continues

Throughout the day we drove soughtwest headed for Bukit Tinggi passing through small towns like Padang Sidimpuan where we had a late lunch and made the acquaintance of a lovely lady who was the daughter of the owner of the restaurant. We kept on our journey through the villages of Kota Nopan,Muara Sipongi Batas Sumut which took us into Western Sumatra and arrived at Bukit Tinggi later in the night. We put up at a relatively cheap hotel called the Lossman Hotel where all three of us shared a room. One of the most striking scene about the town or Kota Bukit Tinggi is the prescence of buggies or horse driven carriages which is one of the main form of transportation around the city. The city itself sits on top of the one of the highest points,930 meters above sea level and surrounded by 3 volcanoes, the Tandikat,Singgalang and Merapi.

The whole trip in getting here had filled me with awe and wonder at the beauty of nature and the interdependance between man and the environment. It always amazed me to find a man walking in the darkness of the night along this mountain road headed home or on some lonely errand such as looking for missing goats armed with a short spear in his hand and a Parang or machette hanging from his waiste. Could I have courage to take on such norturnal challenge and not loose my nerves in the darkness armed only with a flashlight in hand to point me the way ahead. This is life, the distant group of men and women bent over tending to their rice field in the distant mountain side, the children happily taking their bath in the fast flowing streams and rivers while the women washed their cloaths, this is life, the call to prayer from the many mosques and men women and children all dressed for the occaision walking towards the houses of worship cheerfully, this is Life.

One of the areas that we had passed through was the Desa Pernyambungan where the Presantren Purba Baru or religious school for Muslim youths were located along the road. These religious schools or retreats were very rustic and it is known that their studies were strict and very regimented according to Islamic teachings. For those who wishes to deepen their undertanding of the religion this is where they come some from far away places such as Malaysia and Brunei. The schools were not for the propagation of any radicalism but purely to foster a strong religious background based on the teaching of islam. Students boarded in small huts barely able to house two people. According to my friend Pa'Selamat, alot of children had to leave due to the strict practice and a few even ended up loosing their minds. These places reminded me of the Zen centers and other religious retreats such as the Yoga centers and Tibetan schools that had sprouted all over the United States in the recent years.

The next day I was able to transfer all the pictures I took from the digital camera to a disc and thus emptying the memory chip in my camera. I was very relieved and excited at the fact that my pitures came out pretty good as I had my doubts about the correct way of using the digital camera. Now how I wish I know how to load the pictures onto my Blog pages instead of just writing. As a picture speaks a thousand words not being able to have the pictures included in the pages defeats the purpose of my blog journal.Recording events and sights utilizing a digital camera is such a convenience that it allows for me to take over 200 shots before I need to off load the camera and its much more easily executed for a non professional photographer like me.

6 -6- 05

The journey to Padang was not as memorable as most of the sceneries we passed through were quite simmilar to thos we had passed before, mountains and ricefields. Padnag is the capital city of Western Sumatra but fir it did not much attraction other than the fact that it is just another big city and my time is too limited to hang around big cities. However one fascinating aspect of the mode of transportation is the tri-motorcycles which is constructed from old vintage motorcycles such as BSAs and Nortons. Elsewhere today these would have fetched good prices among antique collectors. Havign arrived in the evening at Padang we stayed at more fancy hotel called the Hayam Wuruk Hotel. I spent sometime at an internet cafe cathcing up with the latest in my email. The news from Colobia Illinois is not good and my mother in law is having a most difficult time with my family.

As I was in the process of getting my pictures transfered at a photoshop a aprade of pre-schoolers all dressed in their traditional cloaths and accompanied by their own marching bands passed by in front of the shop. It was like a blessing for me and with my spare chip I started shooting away capturing as many faces and costumed clad kids as I could. What could be a better clebration than to see children marching in colorful costumes to welcome your visit. The fanfare reminde me of my own children during their Kindergarten years in Sendai, Japan. Ina many ways the Japanese and the Sumatrans are simmilar in lifestyle and even their landscapes. Off course the Japanese are more refined and disciplined but the Sumatrans have alot bigger land mass and people to deal with and there are saveral different sects exisitng together with different cultural and religious beliefs here. these includes the Malayus or malays and the Minangkabaus, the Bataks and the Karoks. About 90 per cent of the Bataks are Catholics and thus more churches are found in their part of the country than mosques. According to my friend Pa'Selamat there is very little conflict that occurs between the Muslims and the Christians here as they have learned to coexist in harmony over generations ago.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Heading for Bukit Tinggi

We deaparted Bkt.Lawang for Medan and later in the afternoon decided to leave medan for Bkt. Tinggi along the way stoppin at Selamat's house where I took a bath and performed my Magrib prayers. Soon after we were on the road and i slept most of the way in the back seat as it was took dark to see much travelling at night. We arrived in the morning at a roadside coffee shop where we had some breakfast and continuedon our journey along a narrow road punctuated by pot holes every fifty yards or so which made the journey slow and very bumpy. The road ran through an oilpalm plantation belonging I was informed to investors from foreign countries including Australia and the US. The road has suffered from the abuses by the heavy vehicles used to transport the oilpalm products out of the area.

After sometime the road got better as we left the oilpalm area and headed into a more flat area where ricefields replace the landscape from oilpalm. i ften stopped to take a shot of the breathtaking scenes of miles and miles of ricefields that stretches all the way to the foothills in the horizon. As we continued on we were confronted with on coming traffic of wild motorcycle riding schoolkids and minibuses zooming at break neck speed passing by us with barely inches to spare. It was a miracle of life that not an aciident occured throughout the journey despite the suicidal rally like traffic. It seems it was the last days of school for the some secondary school kids and so it was like a victory celebration to be finally liberated from the business of schooling. Most of the kids had colorful grafitti splattered all over their white school uniforms and some more enthusiastic ones even had torn their school shirt to shreds. The minibusses were loaded to the roof with these yelling and screaming teenagers speeding past by us as though headed for a doomsday jamboree.

Later still in the afternoon we came by the local town area where a market scene greeted us along the roadsides. It reminded me very much of most parts of rural Malaysia and the activities looked very fammiliar with people buying and selling everything under the sun. We stopped and had lunch at one of the restaurants further down the road and the main dish was gold fish. I was begining to feeli like i could shit gold after eating so much of this fresh water fish as salt water fish is almost unavailable in these central regions of Sumatra. The food here is not something that one would brag about as one would the enchanting beauty of the panaromic scenic views that one encounters amost all along the steep and winding road as it passes through one village after another and one valley to the next. The distant mountains and the flowing rivers,the lush green foliage and the rustic huts, mosques and other roadside attractions carries one's imagination back in space and time.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Jatayu Air to Medan

My flight to Medan in Sumatra was delayed for two hours in Penang and so I had to spend time loitering around till the take off. While sitting in a massage chair bedisde a Chinese gentle man i got to learn a little about life in Medan and what to expect from a Chinese business man's point of view. I might have given him the impression that I was on my way to have a wild time in medan as he told me all the good spots and how the girls are young and beautiful, readily available and not too expensive. I felt a little offended by this revelations but I thanked him for his friendliness and the good conversation we had about both the countires of Indonesia as compared to Malaysia. Here in Malaysia life is like eating a piece of cake where everyone has their hands on it. He was implying of the corruptions found here especially in the government. Medan is alive he said eventhough not as attractive as Penang in its infrastructure, the city of Medan is is bustling with all kinds of business activities.

This I found to be true when I set my foot on the Indonensian soil for the first time in my life, this is where my mother was born and her mother before that. My accounter with the gate keepers was not too traumatic as the Immgration and customs officers were quite normal in getting me to pass through the entrance into the city and the country. My first Indon encounter was with a potter who insist on getting my luggage for me and not taking no for an answer. My worry was that i had no small change on me and had no idead what to tip him and there was no need for his services as I only had one luggage but this is what happens when you travel.An army officer was suddenly by my side in his most polite and smiling manner enquiring my destination and if this was my first. I slipped away by telling him that I have a friend waiting outside and did not see any problem so far.

The porter's tip problem was solved when my friend and host was there standing at the entrance with a placard bearing my name on it. One look at him all my worries about travelling in the country dissolved. His name is Ribut and in English it means 'Storm' he has the look and size to fit his name. He handed a change to the porter snapping at the guy in Indonesian which made the porter recoiled in fear and healthy respect. As we walked away from the airport I felt the nostalgia of being on the road again perhaps for the last time in my life and only this time I am on the road with a heavy heart thinking of my wife and children. I decided to drop my psychological and emotinal baggage at the airport and look forward to an adventure of a lifetime ahead of me.

Our mode of transportation out of the city to Ribut's home was a Vespa and I sat pillion riding through the city hanging on to my nerves as the traffic around me whizzed by close enought to take off my skin. Ribut despite his size and the huge luggage stuck between his legs managed to weave his way through with no problem and finally after some rough bumpy rides avoiding potholes and speed bumps we arrived at his house snugged at the end of a narrow lane away from the main road. The house has yet to be completed as the brick walls are still waiting for the final plaster and the bathroom needed a proper door.

Upon arrival I was introduced to his mother who in the beginning looked at me with a disdain look that made me feel a little uncomfortable but later we got to know each other and she became more hospitable and filled my time at the house with all the informations and advice for one like me about life.I also got to meet Ribut's three children the eldest a teenager just finishing secondary education and waiting for her exam's results while the younger two were a boy and a girl. They were warm and friendly although they did not know what to make of me staying with them. However by the after noon we were well acquainted and were swapping jokes left and right.

Ribut and I took a ride back into town to exchange some currencies from Malaysian Ringgit to Indonesian Rupiahs and to meet a friend of his who could help us with my plans to travel the country.The friend's name was Selamet which in English simply means 'Peace'which mad me laugh inside as I felt the dichotomy of the two individuals who will be my guides for my travels in Sumatra. Selamat drives tourist around as a career and from his past experiences as a truck driver and also an express bus driver he was about the most perfect man for anyone who wishes to take the roads less traveled through the Barissan Mountain ranges of Northwestern Sumatra. He speaks just about every dielect of the region's indegenous people and knows each region and its population's cultural as well as religious nature. He is also a good communicater as just about everyone we met and talked to opened up to him and through him I got to understand alot of the historical and cultural backgrounds of the places and people we met up with.

1 - 6 - 05

After understanding my intentions and agreeing upon the cost of the trip we set out of medan the next day and headed for a place about an hour's drive from the city called Bukit Lawang. As we arrived at the scenic site of fast flowing river and mountians in the back ground I noticed that most of the buildings close to the river were mostly wrecked and later learned of the tragedy that ook place late last year during the fasting month of Ramadan. The tragedy occured around about eleven at night just after the 'Tarawikh' prayer at the mosques just as everyone had returned to their homes there was a tremendous loud roar from the river and a wall of water came crashing down the river causing devastation along the river banks that claimed 190 human lives. The flash flood which took place in total darkness as the electric supply was wiped out was a horror to the witnesses I later talked to. One man who I thought was a drug addict by his appearence and manners had lost all his brothers and sisters including his parents who used to live in one of the makeshift hut built on the river bank. Where was he I asked and he told me that he was working at the water tank further up the hillside behind the shallet buildings and all he could remember was hearing a loud roar and thought that thend of the world was unfolding below him.

From the water marks left by the flash flood left on the shallet buildings it looked like the whole area along the river was buried under water loaded with uprooted trees and rocks that wased up right to the parking lot area about 500 yards away from the river bank.A small 'surau' or mosque was spared eventhough it sits right on the river bank on the opposite side from the shallets. Yes Allah's little home was spared while the rest of the shallets and restuarants built on and along the river dissappeared in one clean sweep. Also wiped out were four villages along and further down the river killing most of its inhabitants in the darkness of the night not knowing what hit them.

As I took a hike the nex day along the river I saw what might have been the cause of the flash flood as part of a hill was exposed caused by a landslide. Perhaps this landslide had caused a temporary damming of the river and later with the water rising the dam broke loose releasing a great amount of water rushing through the whole area. It was very fortunate that an orangutan reservation located up the river was spared from the devastation. This area is frequented by wild orangutans which comes out of the forest every so often to feed or be cared for when in times of delivery of the young.During my walk with Ribut and a guide these friendly creatures often came out to greet us and then dissappear again into the forest. They are not aggressive but caution is prudent in their presence.