Wednesday 19 February 2014

Until Next Time

The night was a wild one.  The wind lashed the coastline sending plumes of sea spray out over the esplanade to soak everything within a hundred metres of the beach.  The row of palms swayed and buckled in a fight with nature's irresistible force.

This evening, the sun had disappeared a lot sooner than usual behind the heavy rain laden clouds that had been around for most of the day.  The red neon light of the hotel shone overtly into every nook and cranny of the deserted street.

Olivia stared at the room’s window focusing on the water droplets as they trickled down the glass forming little pearls of clear red tinged liquid on the glass and wondered why he hadn’t arrived yet.
It was always like this, waiting and hoping.  The knot in her stomach tightened, a constant reminder that this was wrong.

It had started three years previous.  At the age of 37, she needed a new direction after having worked in the small printing office of H. J. Young and Sons since she had left school.  The small village she was born in, had up until then, been her only world.  The last child of loving, but overly protective parents, she was painfully shy and felt awkward around others.

By the time she started work Olivia was attractive, though most would say, not a great beauty and because of her acute shyness, never socialised outside working hours.  No one paid much attention to her for she was hardly seen and never heard.  Life was slow, predictable and dull for many long boring years.  Olivia lived with her parents up until their deaths and after much mental anguish, decided it was time to leave her comfortable existence behind in the hope of creating a new life.

The change brought with it a new job and a new city.  The large industrial conglomerate she found herself working in was far removed from the small office she had come from; big, noisy and impersonal.  The first 6 months were very hard, she felt depressed and lonely, though she was determined not to go back.

Then, he entered her life.

Steven Muirhead was a man of some fifty years of age who was, in most people’s eyes, a respectable successful  businessman.  Fit and toned for a man of his age, he was part owner of the industrial complex Olivia worked in.  She had become aware of him a lot sooner than he of her.  That all changed one late evening when most in the office were working back to finalise the end of year accounts.

Being one of the last to leave the office, Olivia was getting ready to go when quite out of the blue a deep manly voice behind her asked if she needed a lift home.  Turning around, she was surprised to see who it was, she hesitated a second before saying yes.

That’s how it started.  He didn’t seduce her at first, but it wasn’t long before she succumbed to his well-crafted charm and wit.  The attraction for her was not his fatherly looks or strong irresistible personality, but that he paid a lot of  attention and treated her, for the first time, as an object of desire. The thoughts of him being married with a family were pushed firmly back into the recesses of her mind.  She lived for the moment and didn’t want to focus on anything that would detract from that.

It was approaching 8 pm and he hadn’t arrived.  She was starting to worry.  Was this the moment she had been dreading for so long?  When the knock on the door came it startled her nevertheless.  Olivia’s heart missed a beat as Steven entered the door; a sense of relief prevailed.  Throwing his arms around her made all the difference, the knot inside her stomach unravelled.  Gently kissing Olivia's left cheek, he drew her head into his chest.  At that moment, nothing else mattered.

The curtains remained open and the rain belted upon the windows diffusing the little light there was into the room, to fall upon their bodies embracing on the grey coloured settee.  Olivia’s dark long hair cascaded loosely over her shoulders.

He whispered into her ears the things she wanted so desperately to hear.  How much he loved her; how he would never leave her; when the time was right he would leave his wife for her; she was his one and only true love.

Many times the same words had left his mouth over the years, but every time she clung to them like they had never been spoken before.  How she felt so wanted within his arms; the arms so strong and reassuring, the arms that protected her from invisible insecurities. All was well within those arms.  The love making took her to another world that was far removed from her daily reality.  This was now the only life worth living.  The drug of love had complete hold.

Two became one, bonded by a universal force so strong it defied the laws of physics.  The spark of existence itself engulfed the intertwining souls transferring the energy of love back and forth until there was no longer anything left to give.

Then, just as quickly as it started the bond was broken, one became two.

Even the wild weather outside seemed to pause to acknowledge the event.  The sounds of their ecstasy joined the forces of the wind and rain to let the world know of their unspoken illicit love.

Quiet, nothing but the silence that greeted the end.  He leant over, kissed her on the forehead.

“I’m sorry, my love I must go before she gets home.”

“It’s ok, you know I understand.”  But she didn’t really.

He got up and quickly dressed, turned around and smiled, blowing a kiss as he left.

Olivia lay there looking up at the ceiling. The spell had been broken and she just wanted to cry.  Guilt replaced comfort, fear replaced security.  The cycle had begun again.

She wiped the tears rolling down her face and proceeded to dress.

Until next time.

Courtesy of Google Images

Saturday 15 February 2014

Three Months of Being a Blogger

Saturday morning and I'm sitting in my favourite coffee shop devoid of ideas.
It's been 3 months since I started blogging and time to reflect on the experience so far.
As I have previously explained, somewhere, writing has never been a big part of my life until recently. When I did write it was because I had to and not because I wanted to.

My, how things have changed.
I always thought my ability to express myself in English was limited. English was not a strong point of mine during my school years and I didn't believe I possessed the required vocabulary or grammatical structure to be able to write successfully.

Things changed somewhat when I came to South East Asia as a middle aged teacher of English.  Doing a TEFL course to teach English helped to galvanised my rambling thought processes into a more coherent style for writing. ( Some may say it didn't work) For 7 years I taught mainly listening and speaking skills to high schools and university students with the occasional foray into the written word.

It wasn't until I came to Malaysia to live that I had some idle time on my hands to use to express myself on paper. (Just thought how interesting it is I used the word paper as I write this on my ipad.)
The blog started the end of October last year after spending time at the coffee shop I'm currently sitting in, talking to the owner who is himself an avid blogger of some 2 years.
Having already written a few short stories for my classes I decided to first dip my toes into the water by posting those.
I read a lot about how to successfully establish a blog and tried at first to encourage my friends and family to view what I had written on my blog via Facebook and Google +.
Then came a series of social observation pieces with the occasional short story thrown in that up until today totals 30.

Observations thus far.  Blogging is addictive. I find myself elated when I finish and publish a story and a feeling of steady pressure building up when I haven't submitted for a week or two.
Each morning I open the blog to see who has  read it the day before. The statistics don't uncover a lot  apart from what story has been looked at and from where.
 Of course, it doesn't tell you if it has actually been read and appreciated. Most people do not comment and those who do, give scant feedback.  Still, looking at the numbers gives a certain level of satisfaction, especially if there is an unexpected flurry of activity.

Talking about activity, its not always positive. Stats companies sometimes visit the site for whatever reason and artificially inflate the hits. Days vary with little or no activity to say for example 100 visits from someone or some group in Israel. The United States is by far the greatest hit source followed closely by Malaysia. I have had hits from every continent apart the antarctic and even from such obscure places ( for me)  as Tunisia.

The first few stories I posted were too long and I soon discovered people won't read anything that takes time to read. Pieces less than a thousand words work better and generally receive the highest hits. At this stage, my most successful piece so far has been a satirical look at weddings in this part of the world.

A good title is all important when it comes to being found on the Internet. Being at the top of the search results requires a website that receives a lot of traffic and advertisers. Mine has neither, so to find what I have written by various search engines can be difficult.

The main purpose for me to blog is not for adulation but to encourage my creative writing class students to read.  In Malaysia like most other parts of the world teenagers don't read. The art is being lost to television and computer games. If the blog succeeds in this, I will be truly satisfied.
I would encourage anyone who has something to say to blog.  It's very therapeutic to write and not at all important who or how many read it. In a sense, it's like in the old days when people kept a diary to write down their thoughts and aspirations. It's certainly a good way to express yourself and if you're lucky make others think a little differently.

Monday 10 February 2014

Trek To Fraser's Hill By Planes,Trains, Automobiles and Buses

I always look forward to getting away, so when the opportunity came to disappear for a few days to West Malaysia I jumped at it.  My wife was asked to speak at a conference on the environment at Fraser's Hill, so I would tag along to do some much needed walking. 

Leaving Sandakan at 9.40 a.m.  for the 2 hour 45 minute' flight with the aircraft on time was a good start.  I tend to fly Air Asia these days as they are at times half the cost of MAS and apart from their lousy terminal in KL, fine to fly with. 

After an uneventful flight, we looked for a bus to take us to the KL Sentral station - the main meeting of all rail lines for West Malaysia.  So far so good; about an hour later, we're on the KTM Komuter platform bound for Kuala Kubu Bharu, a small town North of KL.  This place as the crow flies or by private car is only  a journey of some 60 kilometres but due to the state of the line, a 2-hour trip and not only that a two-train trip.  Four stations before our destination we had to change trains in Rawang.  Sounds simple but, with my ever suspicious mind I noticed the station markers above the door that flashed red when you have passed a station and green for the ones not reached, showed KKB on the same line.  

"Hmm..."  I thought out aloud.  "Does this mean this train does go all the way to KKB?"   

The last thing I wanted was to get off to discover we could have stayed on the train and saved a half an hour.  My wife had been told by one of the participants of the conference that you needed to change trains, but I wasn't convinced.  I pestered her to ask some intelligent looking commuter whether this was so.  Reluctantly, she did and to my relief, he said the train would continue on to our destination without the need to change.  I had a self-assured smirk on my face. We proceed until just before arrival at Rawang, the train auto voice announced those who wanted to continue to KKB needed to alight and transfer to Platform 2.  Wife 1 me 0.  Of course the train didn’t arrive on the said platform 2 but platform 3; despite that we managed to catch it.

About 4 p.m., we arrived at the KKB station which was nowhere near the town centre.  We had been told there would be taxis here to take us the final 30 odd kilometres up into the mountains, but all we found was a driver with his privately owned car who was willing to do so. 

The final leg up is extremely windy and not for those with a weak stomach.  Along the way, you will see the occasional Pigtailed Macaque scavenging at the side of the road from rubbish disposed by passing vehicles.

Now you might be wondering why this place is called Fraser's Hill.  No doubt you have worked out somebody called Fraser founded it and you will be right. 

Centre of Fraser's Hill

In the late 1800's Louis James Fraser a Scotsman came across the region looking for gold. He didn't find any but did discover rich tin deposits.  With the aid of Chinese miners, he established a series of mines on the top of the hill as well as an opium and gambling den to extract back the wages he payed the workers.  Obviously, he became too successful, for he went missing a number of years later and was never seen again.  

By the 1920's, the hill was established as a summer retreat for the wealthy colonials who revelled in its cool misty climate.

The last 8 kilometres is a one way twisting track that lifts itself from the bottom of the valley onto the top of the thick jungle-laden range.

The town itself is underwhelming, a central clock tower marking the centre with some original colonial buildings, a few ordinary looking hotels / resorts and a nine-hole golf course. 

The real highlight here is not the manmade structures, but the intact natural forest and wildlife.

After checking into the hotel and seeing about the program for the next day's conference, we settled in for a quiet night.  Well, almost quiet if it wasn’t for the room full of men next door who wanted to scream at each other for no apparent reason other than to be noisy and the family with 2 inconsolable children that didn’t seem to appreciate the ambiance of the place. 
After breakfast, my wife went off to her meeting whilst I decided to go bush walking.  Before  she left, I received a stern warning that the jungle was a dangerous place to get lost in, especially this place as it has a history of people getting lost.  Of course, I scoffed at the suggestion this could possibly became my fate as I was a bush walker of some 40 years experience and besides the paths would be well maintained and easy to use as they were open to the general public.

Little did I know... 

To placate my wife, I said I would text her my intended route which in hindsight was an excellent move. 

The first walk I decided on was Hemmant trail just behind the golf course and a short 500 metres long.  The path was relatively flat and wide at first that crossed a number of small streams.  There had been guide ropes in place at some stage but most of these were no longer attached to the post that held them.  Needless to say, the crossing would have been easier with them although not impossible for an able bodied 57 year old to transverse. Feeling confident I pressed on.  I passed an old Japanese communication centre from the last war and saw numerous small birds of various species darting through the dense undergrowth.  The occasional glimpse of the golf course let me know exactly where I was.  In a very short while, I was at the end of the trail so proceeded to find the entrance for my second sojourn.  Starting at the forest, 200 metres up the road from the end of the Hemmant trail was Bishops trail.  It was well signposted giving plenty of information about the area.  A little way in, I caught sight of some leaf monkeys feeding on ( I think) leaves at the top of ginormous tree.  There were other numerous rustling sounds coming from the surrounding jungle although I could not see anything because of the density.  The macaque called constantly to each other in the valley, so it gave me a sense of the primitive.  I was alone in fact during the duration of the walks, I saw no other person.  Man Vs Wild… well not quite but you get the picture. 

Spider hunter

The track after the first half kilometre deteriorated markedly and I found myself climbing over or going under fallen trees and bamboo and it had become a lot more slippery due to some light morning rain.

At this stage, if my wife was with me, I would have had to turn back.  Where I am a little too gung-ho at times, she is much more cautious.  The track was passible but the going was not that pleasant.  Anyway to cut a long story short, I ploughed on and in due course managed to reach the end intact.  

This is where I should have stopped but…

The end of Bishop’s Trail (can’t imagine too many Bishops walking it) was the start of Maxwells.  The small map I had with me was little more than a diagram with little detail.  It told me this walk was about 2 kilometres long and ended at the local Tamil school at the base of the hill I was on.  

“No problems,” I said to myself.  I was a little dirty by now, scummed my knee on a branch of a fallen tree, but most importantly kept the camera intact.

I pressed on like an explorer awaiting his fate.

The track was level and wide at first and except for the occasional fallen tree trunk and bamboo thicket, it was ok.

About the half way mark, things changed.  

Sunlight streaming through the treetop canopy

The track started to descend to the valley floor and narrowed appreciably.  It was very slow going and I found holding my SLR camera annoying as it prevented me from using one of my hands to steady.  The path did have guide ropes on the steeper sections, though almost of all them were not anchored to their original positions. 

At one stage a massive tree blocked the route; too big to climb over and with the gap underneath too small for me to fit, I had to dig a bigger hole under to scamper through.  I was now hot and thirsty having broken rule number one when walking in the wilderness - bring water. 

The track became quite steep with the edges collapsing if my foot got too close. 

You may well ask why I kept going.  A very good question indeed.  I have been known to be a little pigheaded at times and this was one such occasion.  Pride got in the way of common sense and I was determined to finish.

Onwards I pressed until the unthinkable occurred, the path seemed to vanish. I turned around but couldn’t make out any discernible markers.  I ventured another 10 metres hoping to reestablish the route when disaster occurred.

You know the moment when you're on your feet walking forward and without warning, find yourself face down on the earth.  I slid maybe only a few metres down a slope until a tree impeded my decent.  I remember hearing a cracking sound coming from my left ankle and feeling a sharp hot stabbing pain like being struck by a poker that had just come out of the fire.  

Stunned for a second or two, I attempted getting to my feet, but found it impossible.  Panic? Not quite, but a feeling of great unease came over me. 

My wife was having her big day and I was lost and injured in the jungle.  Ohhhh.  What a fool!

Fortunately I could hear cars passing that seemed not too far away and that spurred me on.  I sat for a few minutes and looked at my ankle.  It was swollen especially on the outer aspect, but appeared to be inline with the other one.  I found a vine nearby and used it to pull myself up but as soon as I attempted to walk, I fell down again.  The third attempt, I managed to stay on my feet and discovered I could weight bear a little and with the aid of a small branch I found myself scrambling down the slope looking for a way out.  It became quickly apparent that approach wasn’t going to work.The jungle was closing in the further I went. 

I climbed again with some difficulty and decided to move parallel with the slop in what I thought might be the direction of the descending path.  After traversing a small knoll, there it was.  My heart missed a beat and a sense of relief descended over me.  Five minutes later I hobbled onto the road and slowly dragged my left foot the 2.5 kilometres back to my hotel. 
Wife 2 Me 0.

Fungi growing on a dead log

The remainder of the day, I lay in bed after seeing the local first-aid man who filled me up with medication and bandaged my ankle. 

My wife’s meeting went very well, so I was very thankful I didn’t spoil it for her.  If I had been further up the track or had severely sprained or broken my ankle, then things might have turned out a lot worse.

The remainder of the trip was uneventful and we had a pleasant though short stay in Fraser’s Hill.

I will recommend the place to anyone, but with one proviso - stay well clear of Maxwell's trail.

PS. Just this morning, I read how Maxwell's trail is infestered with leeches, so not too many  people bother to walk it.  Ohhhh if only I had known.

Sunday 2 February 2014

The 3rd Day Of Chinese New Year Musings

Day 3 of Chinese New Year. As you are probable aware ( the two or three people who usually read this blog)  I walk a lot around the local district and in the past few days have experienced days of total desolation on the roads ( New Year's Day)  to traffic jams. It's a time for the Chinese or their descendants to visit their families. 
They say it's a period of time with the largest mass movement of people on the planet and I believe it. 
This year, the fire cracker brigade seems unusually quiet, the use of fire works is actually banned here  in Sabah, but that didn't stop them last year.  The mobile lion dance troupe seems to have had suffered a similar fate with little public interest shown. Maybe it's because most don't look like they have the required permits or belong to the right Chinese association, so the locals are reluctant to depart with the usual monetary appreciation. 
Talking about money the only group that seem to be doing well with the gift giving, Angpow, are the children. My wive's nephews, at least the older two, are walking around with slight smirks on their faces that says it's almost worth getting dragged over to visit relatives for. 

The local coffee shop is doing a roaring trade as I sit here writing this I can see a sea of new faces occupying all the available seating. I myself have been relegated to a bar stool overlooking the coffee making machine. I must say it has its advantages, the delectable smell of freshly ground coffee and the constant sight of the most scrumptious cheese cakes you can imagine in the cabinet next to me. I have a bird's eye view of all the comings and goings. Almost all are Chinese, relaxed and happy in either family groups or young friends from out of town on their yearly get together.
It's also a time for me that demonstrates the social divide that exists here. This event is almost exclusively Chinese and celebrated as such. Very soon the Malay will have their turn. Never the twain shall meet?

Home away from home