"The cure for anything is salt water - sweat, tears, or the sea."Isak Dinesen
It's been a pretty stacked week so far what with the starting of the new semester in the Malaccan campus of my medical college and all the pre-launch excitement, fatigue (and oddly enough; nausea) that accompany it. Being one of the few purebred Malaccans in my class, I've been playing tour guide for the entire week. I have attempted to blog yesterday and the day before (but as you can see, I did not deliver). I was simply too tired to write.
In fact, I'm too tired to write now as well. Our stuff from Manipal, India, arrived this afternoon and we worked till evening unloading the lot. I think I overstretched or tore or even mangled part of my arm from all the heavy lifting I did - my biceps hurts like a bitch now. Typing doesn't stress it much but I think I'm pretty much done with carrying anything heavier than a watermelon for the rest of the week. And boy, am I going to be sore in the morning.
Still, I have to update my blog before I am completely swamped in my head with all the posts I have mentally drafted all week. So here you are - a week late - my writeup on my island vacation on Tioman.
I took a bus to Mersing, Tioman's portal town, on Sunday where I was suppose to meet up with the rest of the peeps I was vacationing with. Jun Han lives there so he shall be the de facto host for the trip (in fact, he arranged the entire itinerary and made all the necessary bookings - what a joy). His house is apparently half a kilometre from the bus station and seeing that he was still in church when I arrived, I had to locate it myself.
Not too daunting, considering that I have quite a bit of talent in finding my way around. It also helps, of course, that I have absolutely no qualms about asking for directions when I need any. What didn't help was that the local people have absolutely no heads for street names and rather than admitting outright that they didn't know where Jun Han's house (a shophouse right above his father's clinic) was, they sent me running in all the wrong directions. On the words of one woman, I actually hiked right out of town and had in fact, covered half the distance to the seaside before I even realised that I needed to turn right back and punch that woman in her teeth.
I decided to just give up and park my ass in a KFC restaurant I came across till Jun Han finishes his weekly conversation with God and come get me. Mercifully, he rang me a few minutes later and told me that the KFC I was in was almost right opposite his place.
Jun Han's Mom and Dad put out a kingly spread for the lot of us freeloaders from the West Coast that night.
I heard that it is considered rude to finish all the food your host prepared for you in a Chinese household. I must say that I did not know that taboo before prior to that in spite being Chinese myself but hey, we learn new things everyday. The question is, what do you do when there's only one lobster left on the table? Is it rude to finish it all or is it ruder still to let it go to waste? A dilemma, this.
In the morning after, we walked to the jetty to catch a ferry to Tioman. In spite of it being a week day during the off peak season (i.e. imminent monsoon), there was a surprising number of people bound for the island. White people made up the chief fraction of vacationers.
Tioman was listed as one of the best islands in the world by TIME magazine in the 1970's and is an old tourist darling of Malaysia. Located just off the coast of Pahang on the South China Sea, the island is a veritable heaven for snorkeling and scuba-diving - both something I have always wanted to try.
We landed on the Salang Beach Resort which is located at the northernmost part on the island's coastline which faces the mainland (and hence, experiences gentler currents). I was completely blown away by the sheer vulgar number of small, grey fishes which bobs serenely under the shade of the jetty. There must have been like a million of them all chillin' beneath the tide. When I looked harder, I could even see black sea cucumbers lounging motionlessly on the sea floor - which must have been, at the very least, ten metres down. The water visibility was startlingly perfect, especially to someone who has only ever seen the waters of the Peninsula West Coast (the water of the Straits of Malacca is as clear as mud and smells almost as bad).
I half expected the waters in Tioman to taste like springwater.
We spent the first day simply fooling around in the water and took turns taking peeks at the corals and fishes using Lai Yin's and Nickson's goggles. The reefs just off Salang aren't spectacular but the diversity of colourful reef fishes was simply mind-boggling. It's just too bad that my camera wasn't exactly water-friendly so I can't show you any.
I discovered in Tioman that I have a great innate propensity to stay afloat and in spite of having no prior swimming lessons, I did pretty well (no one mentions anything about fat being able to float very well unless they want to die). I even pitched in in helping Jun Han learn how to float and swim for our snorkelling trip in the day after.
Yeah, we only had snorkeling on the itinerary because our 3 days stay there couldn't afford us the time for scuba lessons. I guess I'd just have to put that off for another day.
The heavier stuff started the day after where we set off on a hired boat to some popular snorkeling spots. And since we are people with our priorities set right, we headed to the biggest settlement on the island, Kampung Tekek, to do a bit of duty free shopping first.
I got myself a litre of Absolut Mandrin and it's standing on the bookshelf on my desk, staring seductively down at me right this moment. Every workspace needs a bottle of vodka on it, I always say - y'know, in case of emergencies.
After that, we cruised over to the Berjaya beach, which our guide guy said is one of the best beaches on the island,
Michael, our guide, told us to practice snorkeling here before he took us out on the open sea.
Snorkeling has a learning curve of about 5 minutes and in no time, I could hold my face down in the water indefinitely and was exploring the coral reefs on my own. The reefs of the Berjaya beach were definitely livelier than those Salang Beach ones and the water is quite obviously clearer too. And it was practically covered with black sea urchins covered completely in 8-inch-long spines which looked like they would kill me if I so much as look at them the wrong way. What made them creepier is their mouthparts which are located beneath the spines which sport 5 fluorescent blue spots on every one of them. They make the sea urchins look as if they each possess a steely, cruel eye which stares hopefully and unflinchingly up at us man-things floating near the surface - psychically willing us to sink down to them where they'll promptly swarm and devour us in a bloody frenzy.
I used to be terribly interested in marine biology and on that list of careers I made after college of the jobs I most like to have, being a marine biologist was number one. I'm no expert but the amount of sea urchins I saw was definitely not normal. I attribute that to a lack of natural predators. If I remember correctly, sea turtles eat them.
Come to think of it, we didn't see a single sea turtle in all the places we snorkeled at.
Due to the rising threat of sea urchin infestation, the army have decided to nuke the place to heck. Kaboom.
Our highlight of the day was Renggis Island, a small coral reef surrounded rock about a 100 metres from the Berjaya Beach,
Renggis was pure magic. The variety of colors and types of corals which made up the reef was blinding. Snorkeling there was like hovering over an enchanted forest (albeit the sort people think up when they are tripping on acid) where countless psychedelic fey-hued fishes swim so thickly around you that at times, you would think that there were more fish than water. We practically had the reefs around Renggis Island exclusively to ourselves, since only two boats where there at the time - ours and someone else's who didn't come in a too large group. I ranged pretty far from the group, feeling a brand of wanderlust that made me just want to swim and swim all day long in the brilliant green and blue, soaking up the holiday.
It got me completely hooked. I have half a mind to get a snorkel mask of my own soon seeing that I would definitely want to do it again if I ever find myself on a tropical island again.
When we got back to Salang, everyone opted for a shower and a bit of snooze. I went alone with my rented snorkeling mask and spent the rest of the evening swimming over the nearby reefs, having as much fun as a two-year-old in a sandbox the size of a truck bed. I swear it's like the second coming of childhood for me. I forwent the lifejacket because I felt it to be too stifling and cumbersome - and it was really awkward to swim with one on. I learnt how to stay so still that fishes will swim right up to my mask and peered in at me curiously (I stopped doing that when some blue fishes so dark they were almost black kept mistaking me for a bloater floater and insisted on taking exploratory bites off my extremities). I realised that the crackling sound I heard when I hover over a coral reef was actually the noise of fishes nibbling on the coral.
I have said it before and I'll say it again. I am against shark-fishing and I didn't simply oppose it just because it's cruel (they cut off the the fins and dump the sharks back into the water to drown - 'cause they can't breathe when they can't swim). I am also against it because sharks are important predators of coral ecology. They keep the number of coral-eating fishes down so that they won't eat up entire coral reef systems which takes millions of years to grow - coral reefs which host immense biodiversity of species in our oceans. If you understand the consequences of shark fishing and yet you still eat shark fin, you get no respect from me. I hate people who eat shark fin, you hear me?
Besides, shark fin are tasteless and has an unpleasant inconsistency - much like rubber or plastic. of all the dumb things to eat, shark fin's one of the stupidest.
Josephine joined me in my solo discovery moment and together, we swam half a kilometre out to the end of the jetty where I saw the massive schools of fishes when I first landed on the island the day before. Swimming right into the middle of the school was amazing; they'd just swirl lazily around, carefully maintaining a constant two metre radius around you. It was an unearthly experience. Out there, the sea bed was so far down that I got giddy just looking down. If there wasn't water, a fall that far would no doubt break both my legs.
I only returned to the beach when the sun was so low that it was hard to see anything underwater. I got so tan that I am practically chocolate in colour now - but GAWD, it was worth it.
Redang is now next on my travel hit list.
Totally unrelated, this; on my way back to Malacca from Mersing, the bus made a stop in Kluang for a toilet break. When I was walking back to my bus, a lady nearby suddenly fell on the ground hard, seizing. Her neck and right feet were twitching uncontrollably and she was foaming in the mouth, and she soon attracted a sizable crowd. I helped to carry her off the road but that was all that I did. I noticed that someone had already called for an ambulance and while we waited, some people were trying to revive her. A Malay bloke whispered a rapid prayer into a bottle of water and wetted her neck and forehead with it. I expect most traditional or superstitious remedies for seizures were devised so people dealing with someone seizing wouldn't feel so damn impotent and useless. I only stuck around to make sure no one try making her drink the water or put things into her mouth to prevent her from biting off her tongue and swallowing it. You should never put anything into a seizing person's mouth or make that person ingest anything - not even medicine till he or she is fully conscious.
Aside from waiting for the paramedics, there's simply isn't much anyone can do in the incidence of a seizure - maybe make sure the patient doesn't choke on her spittle and check if she's breathing properly or something.
As soon as a passerby nurse came into the scene, I buggered off. I'm just a medical student, yo.
Addicted to snorkeling,
k0k s3n w4i