(function() { (function(){function b(g){this.t={};this.tick=function(h,m,f){var n=void 0!=f?f:(new Date).getTime();this.t[h]=[n,m];if(void 0==f)try{window.console.timeStamp("CSI/"+h)}catch(q){}};this.getStartTickTime=function(){return this.t.start[0]};this.tick("start",null,g)}var a;if(window.performance)var e=(a=window.performance.timing)&&a.responseStart;var p=0=c&&(window.jstiming.srt=e-c)}if(a){var d=window.jstiming.load; 0=c&&(d.tick("_wtsrt",void 0,c),d.tick("wtsrt_","_wtsrt",e),d.tick("tbsd_","wtsrt_"))}try{a=null,window.chrome&&window.chrome.csi&&(a=Math.floor(window.chrome.csi().pageT),d&&0=b&&window.jstiming.load.tick("aft")};var k=!1;function l(){k||(k=!0,window.jstiming.load.tick("firstScrollTime"))}window.addEventListener?window.addEventListener("scroll",l,!1):window.attachEvent("onscroll",l); })();

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.

Sunday, September 11, 2022

Cast From the Herd Excerpt #45: Caught In An Ambush


Cast From The Herd:  Memories of Matriarchal Malaysia

M. Bakri Musa

Excerpt #45:  Caught In An Ambush

My second-term holiday saw me again visiting my parents in Triang. This time we took the shorter route through Seremban. For about twenty minutes outside the town the road was like any other, with no dramatic curves. Then the scene changed abruptly; no more kampung houses, only thick jungle on both sides with the road becoming increasingly steep and winding, the infamous Bukit Tangga. Infamous because it was in the blackest of areas and its steep inclines as well as hairpin turns. Bukit Tangga means “terraced hill.” That also describes the road well. 

Soon our bus stopped unexpectedly behind some parked cars, the road ahead having been closed. I could not see any landslide or obvious physical obstacle. Everyone on the bus was quiet, and with the engine turned off, the silence was eerie. Despite the heat of the day, nobody stepped out to cool off under the shade of the roadside trees. Like Bukit Putus, the area was a forest reserve, with no human dwellings or signs of activities. The only primates, except for those in the bus and parked cars, were the monkeys among the branches. 

Then, piercing sirens! Three dark-green military ambulances accompanied by two green Saracen APCs sped by us towards the scene ahead. I peeled my eyes on the distance to decipher the unfolding drama. I heard the distant tap-tapping sound of gunshots, rekindling memories of my Lenggeng experience, except that the sound this time was muffled by the distance and thick jungle. 

The other passengers in the bus remained indifferent. A middle-aged Chinese madam continued fanning herself with her folded paper and staring straight ahead. With the sound of gunshots she fanned herself faster. A professional-looking Indian in his stiff white shirt and long pants continued reading his Straits Times, interrupted only by his adjusting his glasses and shuffling the pages. A Malay lady who sat next to my sister opened her food tingkat, and when it made a clanking sound she self-consciously wrapped her headscarf around the tray to muffle the noise. She offered a piece of fried chicken to my sister. She, in the manner of a polite village girl, declined the offer a few times before finally accepting. Soon the smell of that delicacy reached me and I cursed myself for sitting far away from her. 

With the next and louder volley of gunshots my older brother Sharif whispered to me, “It’s an ambush!” 

I wish I could say that I was scared; instead I was excited and eager to see the action. Soon two of the three ambulances we saw earlier rushed by us, their sirens wailing. 

After a long wait, the cars ahead started to crawl forward and soon our bus too. As our bus negotiated the steep slopes and sharp bends at slow speed, it made for a comfortable ride. My body was not bounced from side to side. To my left was a deep canyon with the tips of the tall trees just at eye level. They may have huge and formidable trunks but at their tips their shoots were fragile as they swayed in the breeze absorbing the energy-giving sun rays. Here and there glistening streams cut through the slopes like silver ribbons on a tapestry. With the deep gulley and sharp turns, images of cars flipping over flashed through my mind. 

Soon the road leveled off but the bus continued its crawl. I saw army trucks parked to the side and armed soldiers standing with their guns at the ready. There was a fresh clearing by the roadside with the leaves of the fallen bushes not yet wilted. There were soldiers standing around what appeared to be three people sleeping with their faces to the ground. I knew right away that this was not a sight I wanted to or should see. My stomach began to churn. I covered my face to avoid the scene but at the same time I could not help but peek through. I could see that the three bodies were not moving, their arms tied on their backs with palms pointing skyward as if the bodies had been dragged. Their clothes were dirty, tattered, and bloodied. 

Sharif whispered, “They got three tikus!” 

Tikus, rats, the term used by the security forces for communist terrorists, or CTs. Indeed, sprawling on the ground the dead terrorists looked like big, trapped tikus

I felt queasy. By now the bus was gaining speed and the fresh cool hilltop air refreshed me. I also smelled traces of gun smoke. It invigorated me. Soon we saw familiar kampung homes, with tethered water buffaloes contentedly chewing their cud under the shade of the trees. 

When we reached Kuala Klawang my father greeted us. Unlike our earlier visit, this time there was no smile, only a furrowed look. He said nothing and herded us into a waiting taxi. He must have heard of the earlier ambush and figured that we were trapped in it. He was right; thank God we were safe. 

That was the closest to any military action I witnessed during the Emergency, apart from those nightly gunshots in Lenggeng related earlier. 

Later in college I was dating a young Canadian. She saw a scar on my right calf, probably from some scraps I sustained while climbing a coconut tree. Such a story however, would lack any suspense or drama. So I embellished that ambush episode by having me caught in the crossfire; the scar a bullet wound. I was expecting an admirable gaze for my bravery; instead she went cold and pale. She told me to stop my retelling. 

She had read about Malaysia and knew about the atrocities of the Japanese Occupation and communist insurgency. The television news then were also filled with gory battle scenes from South Vietnam. However, until I related my infamous leg scar, those episodes were mere distant abstract images. Now that there was a real-life example of a war scar, even though a made-up one, she was petrified by the reality of it. 

When I confessed, she was furious, but not by much as she would later become my wife. 

Next:  Excerpt # 46:  Balek Kampung (Back To The Old Village)


Post a Comment

<< Home