Thursday, October 27, 2011

Nithiya, Cambodia and I

Nithiya and I have known each other for about three years and we live in the same neighbourhood, The Dales, in Ipoh. This year we went on a holiday to Cambodia.

l-r Mrs Ignatius, me, Sharon Pinto and Nithiya at Janice's wedding reception at the Red Crescent Hall, Ipoh

Nithiya and I are friends and our maids are friends too.

l-r Silvi Nithiya's maid and Omneza my maid at Janice's wedding reception

Chandra has been based overseas for the past 5 years, and in Phnom Penh since June 2010. He helped book our internal flights and hotel rooms.

The holiday began when Nithiya drove us to KL. There was such a feeling of lightness as I left Ipoh behind me and took a cab from KL Sentral to Eastin Hotel. Roy and Vivian came over once the traffic jam in KL had eased and a short while later Chandra joined us. He had come from Jakarta.

By five thirty we checked in and  went to our designated gate, a gate that had no toilets!

Chandra had booked his special red seat.

Elephant head tree at Phnom Penh Airport

We were met by Saron and it was a pleasant drive to the city and the apartment.

l-r Nithiya and Saron, Chandra's driver

Chandra's two-room apartment is really quite a nice one, made more comfortable by the maid who comes in on alternate days.

 Once we had deposited our bags and freshened up, we drove out to K West in front of the river, for a western breakfast.

The Sisowth Quay waterfront .
The river front facing K West

Mohan, wife and son joined us. I gave Mrs Mohan the Deepavali sweets that we had brought.

Mohan handed over our flight tickets to Siem Reap and for a moment I had doubts as to whether I had done the right thing by booking the flight to Siem Reap without consulting Nithiya first.

Nithiya and I decided to take a leisurely walk from K West along some interesting shops. I bought a sitting Buddha for Roy for about USD26. That Buddha signifies peace. I later saw a similar one in the market place for USD15!

We  visited a temple, then walked to the museum and finally decided to book a tuk-tuk for four hours for USD 10.
Tuk tuk, Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

We enjoyed the tuk tuk ride. We visited another temple, fed the elephant some bananas and were able to keep our Buddha with the tuk tuk boy.

Nithiya and the elephant that we had fed earlier with bananas

Then we proceeded to Central market.

The entrance to Central Market - a flower among flowers

It was fun buying scarves and bags for our friends and family back home.

Scarves for sale

I got a table cloth for Roy and a blouse for Viv. Nithiya bought a number of things as well.

Next on the agenda was a visit to the Russian market and from there we went to You and Me for a massage. But heading for home, we had delicious, hot garlic bread and a cold drink in one of the numerous road-side cafes in front of the river.

At the apartment we could not operate the lift since we did not have the security tag to activate the lift. We had to use the stairs to get the office lady to work the lift for us. We banged on the door, rang the bell and banged on the door repeatedly. Finally Chandra emerged and told us that he had left the door open for us!

Dinner was at the Aussie Pub. Paramjeet Singh Gill, famous for being the father of Asha Gill (Discovery Travel and Living) joined us for dinner. We had roast pork and chicken. Param regaled us with tales in which he was the hero most times. After dinner we took a slow walk back to the apartment.

It was a pleasant evening.

Day 2 of our holiday in Cambodia

23rd October 2011
We reached the airport early and got a seat in the cafeteria.

The Angkor Air flight was not a long flight and it was quite uneventful.

In Siem Reap

 A guy at the airport desk arranged a taxi for us. The driver was Ra. He charged USD60 for a day. He took us to the hotel and after a bit of haggling, we got our room for USD60, 5 dollars cheaper than what they had promised Mohan. We also got breakfast for 5 dollars each.

After breakfast, our trip to the ruins of Angkor began.

Ra, took us to Angkor Thom. I will let Nithiya's pictures speak for me.

The tree of life

Then we went to Angkor Wat.

Maha Vishnu - Angkor Wat was a Hindu Temple first

Calm amidst the destruction

The Lone Monk
As you sit there in your yellow robes
My camera with its lens probes
The inner recesses of your mind
But nothing does it find
Save the robes, the slippers and your face.
As I sit here and try to put into words the grace
That I see in this picture of you
I realise that like the dew
One minute you are here
The next minute you are a mere
Image taken by a photographer 
To be put on a piece of paper!

The Marching Monks
The place is in ruins
These are the only human beings
That bring the ruins to life
And make us forget the strife
That tore their country apart.

The young monks come in robes of yellow or orange
They do not strike us as normal or strange
They are young and innocent little boys.
Do their hearts feel the pain and the joys
That tore their country apart?

We are visitors to their country
We come, we see and write of their beauty
We visit the ruins and take pictures
Of people, buildings and sculptures
Do we really care what tore their country apart?

The Cambodian Shirley Temple
This young girl stood under a tree
And sang a song just for Nithiya and me.
A basket of leaves she placed at her feet
For the money from all she would meet
Alas I reget to say
That I did not pay
To hear her song -
I committed a wrong
By singing her a song!

Leaving Angkor Wat

The temple with the banyan trees was scary. When he stopped at another temple, I stayed in the car and Nithiya took a walk.

After all that walking and climbing up and down and viewing ruin after ruin, I decided to pamper my poor almost ruined feet. Nithiya originally decided to rest but soon succumbed to the lure of gentle hands. What luxury.

Ra took us to a salon, run by a Chinese lady. That was our first encounter with a person who was less than polite and friendly.

Nithiya was taken to the back for her hair wash and it was not a good job at all. When it was time for drying, they did not dry Nithiya's hair,  they had only one hair dryer!!!

We then proceeded to the restaurant to book our dinner cum Apsara dance show and decided against going back to Angkor to view the sun set.

It was a buffet dinner with a very wide spread of delicious food which we enjoyed. The music according to Nithiya was very gamelan. The dance to me was a cross between something Thai and Malay.We did not stay till the end of the show, which I found to be a bit slow.

Day 3

We got up slowly, showered, changed and went down for breakfast. The selection was not so good. After breakfast we caught up with our new driver. I forget his name.

We wanted to visit the Tonle Sap. He took us to some point and there were lots of locals and boats. We did not venture. We asked him to find another route. He drove us to another point and it was obvious that due to the floods, we could not embark in the normal way. We bought our boat tickets and found that we had to take a small boat out to get to the big boat.

A girl got a chair for me and I got on top of the chair and from there into the boat. There was a boatman and a boy. The boy had a most enchanting face.

 Nithiya with the Jackie Kennedy pose when fleeing from the paparazzi!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Johanes - My Timorese Security Guard

My husband was transferred to Tawau, Sabah in November 1998. I had very little time to get a transfer to Tawau for myself and my ten year old son. I had to get a release from my school first, then the District Office, after which the State has to release me and finally Kuala Lumpur approves me leaving Kedah and going to Sabah. I was working in Kedah at that time, which was really a blessing for me, because the officers in the Education Department in Kedah were very helpful and obliging. By the end of November, two days before school reopened in December we landed in Tawau. Someone met us at the airport and took us to Sri Kunak Estate, which would be our official home for the next five years. Sri Kunak Estate was an oil palm plantation owned by the company my husband worked for.

That transfer was a promotion for my husabnd who was a planter. He went to Sabah as a Planting Advisor. I was a secondary school English teacher. My new school was SMK Tawau, 56 miles away from Sri Kunak. That meant I had to drive 112 miles everyday. All our lives changed somewhat. We were no longer staying in an estate managed by my husband. That was the first big change. Roy my son, went to school by school bus, since he was in the afternoon session, another first for us.

My Principal was a wonderful lady, Pn Zaharah bt Mohd Kassim. Within a year, I applied for and was given one of the government houses next to my school. Our immediate neighbour was Huessein Perumal, his wife Noraini Chong and their four children. Next to Hussein's house lived Zainal and his wife from Kelantan. In front of Hussein's house lived Jimmy Cheng, his wife and two children. In front of our house, lived four bachelors and their neighbours were two single ladies, all teachers, except for Mrs Cheng, a housewife.

We had great fun doing up this tiny house. Roy was especially pleased, because we had neighbours, no fences or gates and after the loneliness of life in the manager's bungalow of a plantation, it was a change to have people with children, living so close to you.

Herma a young Indonesian girl from Sulawesi, who incidentally was one of the thousands of illegal immigrants in Tawau, became my maid for the five years that we were stationed in Tawau. After living in the teachers' quarters for about a year, our house was burgled in the wee hours of the morning. That burglary shocked us, the neighbourhood, and destroyed our feeling of security. It was a violation of our lives. Word went around that I was looking for a security guard.  A number of people applied to become our personal security guard. I finally employed a Filipino man, Haji, a retired soldier. I must say that he did a good job of guarding my house, giving us back our feeling of security and sound sleep every night.

The enterprising Haji helped himself to all the mangoes, the jackfruit and anything else growing in the garden. I did not grudge him that. He then set about making himself comfortable while at work. First he went to the school and found a couple of old desks and chairs, which he said he needed for sitting and writing the daily report.  Then he found some sheets of zinc from somewhere and put up a roof. Then he found planks of wood and had three walls, the fourth wall was the wall of my porch. He got an extension wire and plugged it into the socket in my house and got electricity. A hose and he had water from the garden tap. He was happy with his home away from his home, especially after he came with a roll of carpet for the floor.

Three years later, my feeling of great security was shaken when Haji told me that he had got a very good offer in West Malaysia and he would be leaving. He assured me that he would get me a good replacement. He brought the man the following morning. The new man was short, dark skinned, had curly hair, a strange odour, spoke softly, looked about 55 years of age and did not have the commanding personality of my Filipino Haji. Haji assured me that the new guard Johanes, was trustworthy.

Johanes started work and never skipped a day. He did not write reports, did his work diligently and soon my family and the neighbourhood enjoyed good undisturbed sleep once again. Months passed and Johanes began to put little paper bags around the mangoes and then he began to harvest them. We got hundreds of mangoes. He took his share and so did the neighbours. I then found out that the neighbours had thought all along I had been keeping all the mangoes for myself. Then one day Johanes brought a huge jackfruit from the garden. I had always been told that the jackfruit was rotten and had to be thrown far away!

One day my maid Ima told me that she would have to take leave urgently and be away in Indonesia for a month. She could not wait for my school holidays. She could not find a replacement for me. I was in a dilema. Roy was in the afternoon school, I was in the morning. My husband was in Sri Kunak and came back only in the evening.

I approached Johanes.
"Do you have any daugters? I asked him casually.
"Yes, I have a daughter," he replied.
"Can she work in my house for a month?"
Johanes looked away, he looked around and then his gaze met mine and moved to my feet. "She cannot. She is young," he replied softly.
I did not push the matter and left it.

A few days passed and we could not get anyone. I approached Johanes again.
"Johanes, can your daughter come to my house? She does not have to do any work. I will be kind to her. She just has to be here."
Again he looked at me, and his gaze scanned the entire area around before returning to my feet. "Sorry Ma'am. Forgive me. She is young." 
"Is she schooling?"
"No. She is staying at home." I felt frustrated but let the matter drop.

My husband told me to tell him that after I returned from school, the girl could go home. I tried for one last time.

"Johanes, can your daughter be here for just two hours? She does not have to do any work. She can just sit in the house and watch television."
He was hesitant and then said, "Sorry Ma'am. She is young."
I became quite irritated. It must have shown on my face for he looked very uncomfortable and began to move around.

"Johanes! How old is your daughter?"
"Six months old," he said.
"Six months!"
"Yes. She is very young."