Merciful Monsoon
Copyright © by Hideo Asano


PART ONE

East Coast, Malaysia

(with plenty of tourists)

1

At Sea

October 10

 The water changed from muddy brown to light green as we pushed away from Mersing. The white cumulus clouds were travelling slowly beneath the cirrus with the light northeast wind. We were heading against the tide for Pulau Tioman. The nasty-looking deep-sea anglerfish shaped island, as the largest island off the southeast coast of Malaysian Peninsular, known, to many people, as one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
     Then the light green water became dark green as our boat was cutting the sea steadily in the open sea as she was creating tremendous amount of soapy, foamy, white water behind her as you hear the loud sound of the engine from beneath us. There were mountains of white water above the huge and wide light green waves as she was cutting the sea deeply as we sped her up. The tiny water balls were blowing out from a hole of the rear side of the boat onto the smoothly curved green surface of the Malaysian water.
     Now, leaving Mersing far behind us, I was thinking of a small group of treasure hunters who discovered the 10,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain nearly five hundred fifty years old and pulled them out of a sunken junk. The local newspaper I have read strongly suggested that the probable location of where it had been found was somewhere in South China Sea. I have also heard about the same story from Rama, an Indian Malay, whom I met in Mersing, that the probable location was somewhere in South China Sea. Rama told me that it was worth millions of dollars and the foreign divers sold them to the museum of Malacca.   
     I also wondered where the exact location of a sunken ancient junk was. It contained one hundred gold bars, four pounds per bar, that had been seen by Omar Ibrahmin. He was a tall, middle-aged local man. He had long lean dark brown face with sunken cheeks, a fine nose and gentle eyes. He was a veteran diver. I also met him in Mersing. He loved singing songs and playing guitar. One of the treasure hunters among a small group, called J.S., was from Sweden. He was a friend of Omar Ibrahmin. Omar was involved in the Malaysian government project to set up dynamite on a gray sunken British submarine DITCH that had been sunken during World War Two to blow up many years ago that he even didn’t know the real reason for the demolition. He told me that before he had blown it up he peeked in through several small circular windows and saw many skulls inside of it. On 2nd December 1941 Japanese air fighters sank the two supply ships, Prince of Wheles and Repulse. They stopped the fleet from reaching the British Naval Base in Singapore during World War Two. This attack took place two miles northwest of Pulau Tioman. Omar Ibrahmin had seen two skulls in a cockpit of a sunken air fighter badly broken lying on the ninety feet deep seabed south of Dayang Island and another fighter lying between the tiny Dayang Island and Tioman Island.
     I have learned that in the deep sea around Tioman Island were a lot of treasures. Because many ships had been sunken during World War Two and, therefore, many Chinese merchant junks had also been sunken during the monsoon many centuries on their way to Malacca. 
     Malacca was the first trading city in the South East Asia, except China, in the14th century. Then an armada of Portuguese captured it in 1511 for spices, gems, porcelain and silk, but not for the gold. The main reason of why Portuguese came to Malacca was the Arabs had cut off the overland route from India to Europe so the Portuguese had to open up another route to India in badly needing spices to preserve food for their winter season. For example, chilies, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric ground well and then smeared thoroughly on the surface of the meat or fish and let it dry in the sun and once it was dried it was preserved for, at least, the whole winter or for a whole year. So, eventually, they arrived at tiny Goa Island off the coast of West India. There they came to know that there was another trading center called Malacca. Then the Dutch came to Malacca in 1641 for the same reason.
     I have also learned that until the end of October the weather still holds good which is the big season that opened up from March to just before the start of the monsoon season in this region.
     Now you could see a large leatherback turtle swimming near the surface of the blue sea. It was moving forward slowly and rhythmically as you look at from the boat vibrating as she was pushing out white soapy water behind her as she was cutting the sea.



2

Pulau Tioman

Three hours later, you now could see, on your right, the dark gray Twin Peaks. One, Bukit Batu Sirau, was tall and the other, Bukit Simukut, was short.  Both were pointing to the clear blue sky out of the edge of the dark greenish blue mountain of the island as you now go along the west coastline of the island for north. The island looked uninhabited from a distance covered with a great number of whiteness of the thin lines standing against the dark green. They looked like matchsticks from a distance, which were, actually, very tall, old, hard, strong, straight like a ruler, huge, great and noble, Kabuo (Koompassia Exelsa). It had smooth light gray trunks with dark green leaves on the thin branches way up on the upper portion of the trees. The trees you use for the beams of the wooden bridges last at least one hundred years and you could neither drive nails through them when it’s dried up nor termites feed on them. The foot hill of the island was packed with many tall coconut trees leaned or sharply curved toward the sea by the trade wind with other tropical trees surrounded by smooth white sand and crystal clean water, turquoise, azure, in the sharp sun.
      
     After stopping at several kampongs along the West Coast of this island we headed up to the last stop, Kampong Salang.     
     Through the crystal clear water now you could see many schools of small fish darting and swimming as the boat pulled up slowly to be tied up at the end of the long narrow wooden jetty in Kampong Salang. We all carefully climbed up onto the jetty from the boat.

     Now you could see the strips of blue of the water through the spaces of the narrow wooden planks of hard Kabuo as you walked down along the badly waved jetty. Over the handle of the jetty now you could see a school of convict-surgeons swimming energetically. A green sea taxi was tied at the jetty casting its own shadow beneath way down deep on the clear faded green water. Through the turquoise sea, you could see a small group of black sea urchins, people who know them dislike them because they feed on the beautiful coral which brings tourists, on the rocky ocean floor six meters below clearly seen them as you walk down. The sunrays were dazzling through the crystal clear water on the sea floor of corrugated coarse white sand made by the gentle current. Now you could see a dark huge cloud of anchovies swimming along the shallow water. Each was as big as your middle finger with frightening large eyes, shiny silver sides and greenish gray back. The dark cloud of them was waving in the gentle small waves made by the fresh sea breeze. This was their home, their playground. They were tightly closed without, seemingly, touching each other like a flock of birds. What a civilized society they are in! I wondered why those tiny fish are clinging together all the time like sheep? Probably they have no choice. Probably they are too weak not to clinging. Against the white coarse sand you could not see small white fish well unless you see their dark shadows casting on the sea floor of the white sand, as they were moving leisurely and rapidly.
     Against the stiff bluish green mountain covered with coconut trees, on your right, far out you now could see many people were snorkeling in the large spot of navy-blue water.
     


3

The sun teased me. The sun was so strong. I checked in a chalet where you could look out at the sea from.
     The sands, so white it almost hurt your eyes and as soft as flour made by coral that had been ground. There were many fallen old coconuts lay and many dried tree trunks and many logs of coconut trunk that had been delivered by the high tidal waves you had seen them on the Mersing Beach Park. The water was so clear commencing greenish blue, dark green, and then greenish blue and then dark blue all the way to the horizon that had blue wall of the sky.
     Looking at the tall coconut trees that leaned closely to the beach caused by the monsoon always giving you a pleasant feeling because they give you a tropical mood and, therefore, it’ a preserver of life.  
     “Coconut trees are the most beautiful trees in the world. There is nothing you could really waste out of it. Every part of it is useful. You crush open a young coconut and drink it. You could make brooms out of the stem of each leaf and you could also make roofs with the leaves and the main stem is good for firewood. Coconut water is good and cools down your body. Shell could be used for handicraft. Dry old empty shells are good to build a fire with. Coconut kernels you can make curry, cookies, biscuits, candies, chocolate, coconut milk, coconut powder and oil for cooking with. The coconut trunks used for bridges or for lumbers so call coco-lumbers, to build houses with. So you can survive with coconut trees and fish on an island,” Rama had said.
     “And banana, papaya and mango,” I added.
     During the hot afternoon many diving boats were coming in to the end of the jetty for their boats to be tied with their foreign scuba divers; other diving boats were ready to get out with new foreign scuba divers from. Each had a local captain and a cabin boy. 
     From the middle and the end of the jetty several boys were fishing with baited hand-lines consisting of squeezed hard bread balls, small pieces of sliced yellow banana or narrow strips of squid. A fish was flopping energetically on the plank when a boy landed it.
     Whenever you drop your baited hook into the clear water there was a tremendous concentration. Some were fighting among each other for the easy food, like a flock of sea gulls. They were fighting to be a victim of bait.
     Fishing during the day you could clearly see through the clear transparent water your baited hook attracting all the young fish. It is not that nice to see or to do because it won’t give you any imagination but, rather, destroying the sensibility of your fingertips with your line or distract your mind from thinking about things while you are fishing. In fishing I want to see them in my mind, not in the water.

     At inter-tidal zone, during the lowest ebb, you now turned a large skeleton of a dead coral over to see many tiny sand crabs. Some were hurriedly hiding themselves into the sand; some were pretending dead. You could now also see many tiny empty shells marching slowly on the wet sand. The hermit crabs within were crawling when they instinctively feel that you were not there. The microscopic fish and shrimps, which were trapped when the high tide ebbed, were swimming in the pools. Now you picked up a few palaces of hermit crabs you picked up a few hermit crabs and heartlessly banged them one after another against the rock to see them to fly out from. But they acted they were dead. So you did again, harder this time. Three out of five abandoned their palaces. But you didn’t want to see them. The pinkish white flashes of their lower portion of bodies were too much to look at. What right do you have to kick them out of their palaces? You now allow them to fine another suitable empty palaces. They slipped themselves into the empty shells skillfully with their lower part first like one get into a sleeping bag. Then you took the two stubborn ones that didn’t come out to your home to see how much longer it might take to abandon their castles.

     What are you going to do being on an island? Layback? Not bad.  What all you could do is you read or swim or sleep. You take a nap on a hammock tied between two coconut trees or between a coconut and a sea almond or underneath a huge sea almond with an old paper on your face while your one-hand touches the sand. Unless you do snorkeling or scuba diving there is not much you could do in Pulau Tioman. Trekking? In a jungle? Go for it if you don’t mind too much sweating out and stung by many mosquitoes. Two years ago, in October, a Japanese college student who wore shorts and T-shirt started out of Kampong Salang at four p.m. for trekking alone in a jungle and got lost until four in the morning. He was found and brought back by a local Malay man to the accommodation Indah where he had stayed. The Japanese student was exhausted with many cuts, many bites, wounds, bruises, all over his body, and two toes sprained. The college boy wanted to be in the jungle until the sun comes up but he couldn’t stand the mosquitoes biting him constantly. Needing medical attention, Rama, who was working at Indah Restaurant in Kampong Salang, rented a speedboat and took him to a clinic in Tekek. 
     On an island you belong to the water like fish. What could you really do during the monsoon season in November, December and January then?  Not much. You can be yourself imprisoned for three months on this island. Yes, you can fly out from Tekek, a small airport that is not opened up everyday during the monsoon. You can’t get out of here from Kampong Salang. There are no boats operating during the monsoon because the sea is too rough. If the water isn’t that rough one, two or three boats are operating in a week. So it’s an excellent place to think about things, read, write or honeymooning. Not even during the high season could you get fresh papers unless you talk nicely to the captains of the boats to get a day or two days of old papers if you are lucky.  

A LONG NARROW WINDOW THAT HAD A VIEW OF SEA

In Kampong Salang there was a local man, named Abdul Kashid Harun, who was born and raised in Pulau Tioman. He was slim and had shiny dark skin. He wore worn out old clothes but clean. He didn’t remember his own exact date of birth, as if it wasn’t that important matter to him. But he knew that he was around fifty years old. He looked much older than his age. He owned a radio in his unpainted shabby food stall, shaded by a sea almond near the beach. He only served breakfast for his patrons, mainly local people, who sit out at three open tables with beach umbrellas on the sand. He was very contented with his life on this island as a cook.      A wall of his shabby stall had a long narrow window. It had a full width of the wall that covered with chicken coupe net. It had a magnificent view of the blue sea that could be seen from his long cooking table. He was very satisfied with his life.

 

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