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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Excerpt #40: Finding A Home, Again!

Excerpt # 39:  Finding A Home, Again!

            To our pleasant surprise, unlike in KL, we had no difficulty finding a house to rent. We found a clean, comfortable double-story duplex on the main bus route to the hospital. At the other end of the line was the palace. Although unfurnished, the duplex was not stripped bare as with the houses we saw in KL. It was modern, but like most Malaysian houses, the landscaping was nonexistent. While the compound was fenced and the lawn well kept, outside by the road it was a different world, messy with strewn garbage and overgrown weeds. My mortal fear was that a cobra would crawl into the house from there.

            A Chinese lawyer owned the duplex, not as his personal residence but as a rental. When he met us and on discovering that I was a surgeon and Karen was from Canada, the house was ours at whatever rent we wanted. That house was peanuts to him as far as a revenue generator, his focus was a major commercial center he was developing and having trouble with the local bureaucrats. All he wanted was for someone to take care of the house and not destroy it. He sounded honest enough; either that or he was a great salesman!

            He took his morning off to drive us around the city in the comfort of his air-conditioned Jaguar. JB was indeed a beautiful city when seen from the comfort of a luxury car. That was a much-needed antidote to my earlier impression. The sight that struck me then was the pungent Sengget River. I remember remarking to Karen that I could walk on that water!

            My landlord was taken aback that we were looking for a rental. He thought that being a surgeon and a Malay at that, I would get one of those spacious bungalows on the hillside. I could not answer him. I was just glad that we found that duplex for RM350 as compared to the RM500 in KL. Even factoring that it was not furnished, it was still a good deal. Though “unfurnished,” it was not the Malaysian variety, meaning, the lights and sockets had not been ripped off. What sold the unit for Karen was its Western-style kitchen and bathrooms.

            Later at his rather simple office I was surprised from the diplomas on the walls that he had graduated from Penang’s Chung Ling High School but had his law degree from Australia. I thought those Chinese schools did not teach any English. They did, he said, but not enough. He had a tough time in Australia, and oh, how he envied his fellow Malaysians like me who had gone to English schools!

            My lawyer landlord was right. The government was to provide us with a house, furnished, but there was none available. Nothing new to me there.

            The other half of the duplex was occupied by a newly-married couple. She still had her henna stains on her palms and feet. The husband was with Bank Pertanian, and Gita was a stay-at-home wife. Our kids liked her right away. It helped that the couple spoke English.

            Now settled, more or less though we did not have any furniture yet, we spent the rest of my days before reporting to work exploring the nearby towns and villages. I purposely decided not to go even close to the hospital until I reported for duty. I knew that once I was in contact with the hospital there was no way I could ignore it.

            We visited the western side of the southern-most tip of the peninsula facing the Strait of Malacca to the delightful fishing village of Kukup. There was no beach, only muddy waters and marshes. Across that narrow stretch of water, streams of cargo ships would pass by. Barely ten miles away but a totally different universe was Indonesia. The cuisines at the many seafood restaurants at Kukup were exquisite. Even the less-than-sanitary ambience and the thought of the appalling poverty across the Strait of Malacca did not dampen our appetite, testimony to the skills of the chefs. All very cheap too!

            On the other (eastern) side of the tip of the peninsula and slightly to the north facing the blue, clean South China Sea was the new resort town of Desaru. We could not believe our eyes as we drove up to the town. We were driving along the country road under the deep jungle green canopy on each side when suddenly through the spaces in between the trees we could get teasing glimpses of  the dark blue of the ocean ahead. Then, as if somebody had lifted a thick green curtain, we faced an endless stretch of white sandy beach with the azure sea that blended with the equally deep-blue sky in the far horizon.

            We parked our car at the first safe spot that we found, right on the beach, and rushed out. It was heaven! The sand was soft and powdery, gently letting our feet sink to just below the ankle. The water was bath-tub warm, and the waves gentle. The beach was a universe beyond Waikiki; the sand was gorgeous with no pebbles to irritate your feet. There were also no other souls around!

            We must have walked far for I had to go back and get the car and then park it further ahead and we were still by the beach! We exhausted ourselves and retreated to the car for shade as well as to replenish ourselves, and then drove further on. Still the long expanse of white sand and deserted beach.

            Soon we came upon some construction and the sign, “Desaru.” They were building a golf course. There was no town as such, only some buildings which we were told would be the resort as well as golf center. There was a makeshift restaurant serving only bottled drinks. We were told that during weekends the place would be packed but that day there were only the workers. We were also told that when completed the resort would exceed Waikiki!

            By this time we were ready to get into our swimming suits and into the water. An internal antenna, or was it God, told me that the sea was not safe for I could see the telltale signs of riptide. I could also feel a slight undertow as I entered the water. Later as we were frolicking in the water close to the beach, an elderly villager came up to warn us that there had been a couple of drownings where we swam. We thanked him for the advice and from then on stayed only on the beach.

            That beach outing at Desaru was a heavenly detour. Then back to JB. We were now ready for our new abode and me, my new job.

Next  Excerpt # 40: Still in the Market For our Dream House

Excerpted from the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned.  A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, 2018.


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