Friday, July 11, 2008

Moments of My Life - Part 14

Not long after that Dr. Ahmad Suhaimi left for Japan to do his masters in beef science. It was good for him to take a break from the job and come back when everything had cooled down.

Before leaving, he even advised me to follow suit. I decided to stay put in Terengganu and waited it out to see what was going to happen to me next.

For a few months, I was the acting Terengganu State Veterinary Director. Then Dr Fauziah Embong reported duty as the new director, a record in itself. She was the first lady state director in the entire Ministry of Agriculture.

The first thing she did was to renovate the meeting room, giving it her feminine touch. As usual, I just had to adapt to her working style and I was pretty good at it. Of course I was always a bit uncomfortable working under a lady boss, more so when she was still a single lady.

Just imagine how difficult things could be when the three of us (she, my wife and I) were invited to a dinner at the palace. We just could not go there together! So finally it was agreed that we went in separate cars at slightly different time.

One day I received a letter from the training division. I was offered to go to the Philippines for a three-week course in buffalo production. Not wanting to miss the opportunity to visit Philippines, I accepted the offer.

I left Subang Airports on my way to Manila by the Malaysian Airlines System. The course was not that applicable to Malaysia. This was because in the Philippines, buffaloes were regarded as a part of the family of rural folks. Each family normally owned a pair or two, and they were raised in such a way (I was told that the buffaloes were even given rice in a plate) that they became so tame that they could ride on them without any fear of being thrown down.

A lady veterinarian, whom I met during a heat-synchronization programme in a village, performed an artificial insemination all by herself. You could never do that in Malaysia. Our buffaloes, which were mainly kept in a semi-wild state, were almost impossible to even go near them without provoking a stampede.

Food was a real problem for me at the International Youth hostel at Los Banos. Being a great pork-eating nation, pork was served everywhere. In the dining hall, breakfast was served buffet style.

Ham, scrambled eggs, and toasts were served side by side. Spoons and forks were shared between them. So, most of the time I would have plain bread and tea for breakfast and for lunch it would be white rice with two hard-boiled eggs.

For dinner I either walked or got into a jeepney (a common public transport there) to a small food stall owned by the Muslim student association.

Reaching the destination, I just had to howl “Para po!” and the jeepney would then screech to a halt. There were nothing appetizing there, but I was pleased nonetheless knowing well that all food served there was halal.
What irritated me most was that despite my incessant demand to the organizers to supply me with the food from that stall for my meals, they simply ignored them. It was clear that they were not a very good host. I remember when we were the host of such an international training programme, we would try our best to cater for all kinds of food requirements.

The fact that all Indonesian Muslim participants eating all the food served there, ignoring their halal status, confused them further. They must have thought that I was too fussy with my food. They did not really understand what was actually meant by halal food. That was what I thought of them.

Once when we were outside the campus visiting a buffalo project, we stopped at a food stall for lunch. After asking them I could not eat pork, they told me that the soup did not contain pork. So I ordered a bowl of the soup.

As I was bringing a soup-spoonful of the soup to my mouth I looked to my right and saw that they were having the same kind of soup. I immediately stopped what I was planning to do.

I ran to the kitchen and once again asked the chef. He said that my soup did not contain pork. He had just removed the pork from my bowl of soup!

Then I knew that we just could not things for granted as far as our food was concerned. In another incident in a different restaurant, I ordered baked fish and shrimps for my dinner.

Being suspicious, I ran to the grill at the back of the restaurant to see how the fish was baked. Good grief! The seafood was baked right smack underneath a roasting piglet!

The juices from the piglets were dripping freely onto my fish and shrimps. Also, I had lost all my appetite in such a restaurant as a roasted piglet, complete with its snout and four feet was usually served as the main dish.

From then on, I would rather go hungry whenever I was outside the campus area. However, on a few occasions I managed to beg the chef to cook me separately a delicious fish called lapu-lapu. It was really delicious.

A few days before the training ended, we were brought for a sight seeing in Baguio City, a hill resort city just like our very own Cameron Highlands. The road leading to the city was winding like anything. On the way, we stopped at a monument – the head of President Marcos.

Reaching Baguio City, we checked in at a reasonable hotel in the city. After refreshing myself, I went around the city on my own. I was only in T-shirt then. They would not be able to know that I was a foreigner as long as I did not open my mouth and speak.

As in Bangkok, here too I visited all the places that Baguio was famous for. I found that the standard of such places was way below those of in Bangkok. The places reminded me of saloons in many of the western films.

They were crowded, hot and full of cigarette smokes. I had a chance to talk to a grandmother who was accompanying her granddaughter, a barely thirteen years old girl, performing a strip-tease show in one such places.

I asked her why she did what she was doing. She then simply told me that she had to find the money for her granddaughter’s education.
Feeling nauseated at the unsightly scene of a middle-age potbellied couple doing that act, I left the place for more posh massage parlours.

Like always, I was there just to fill my curiosity. There I saw many Mestisangs (crossbred ladies) providing services ranging from honest whole-body massage right to whatever a client asked her to do.

There, I was told that Mestisang Castillo (Spanish crossbred) was the favourite among clients because of their beauty and more European complexion.

Coming back from such excursions, I usually told the stories, with a few exaggerations of course, to the other foreign participants, especially to a Nepalese. Despite of his age, he was so excited with my stories.

He repeatedly asked me to bring him to those places. I fulfilled his wish. I brought him and two other participants to a massage parlor. After explaining his interest, the lady owner called one beautiful Mestisang Castillo especially for him and even provided an exclusive room for both of them.

The lady brought him straight into the room and closed the door. We were all waiting outside, impatient to hear his stories.

Suddenly, the girl came out in a hurry. She was pale and almost speechless. Stuttering, she told us what had happened. The Nepalese fainted as soon as she undressed.

We had to sprinkle cold water onto his face to revive him. I panicked. I could not imagine how such a story could ruin my reputation if it ever came out in papers.

Still weakened from the greatest shock in his life, we took him back to the hotel. As soon as he was well again, he told us all what had actually happened and what made him to faint.

Frankly he told us that back home in Nepal, he was a devout Buddhist. He never drank any liquor in his entire life and he had never seen a lady totally naked under the lights.

“What about your wife?” I asked him.

“For us, it always happens in total darkness. We could not afford to do it under the lights as our children were always with us. We have only one room!”

With such simple explanation, I understood why he was like that, very high spirited in the beginning, but finished dismally as he had to be carried back to the hotel without achieving what he had planned to do in the first place.

The training also taught me a lot about the way of other nationalities. There was this one Burmese who was always thinking of bringing back something to Burma on his way home.

“I could get a lot of money by selling them in black-markets!” he told me. He even asked me whether I could help him in getting a few hundred pieces of corrugated zinc roofs from Malaysia.

He was also always in his suit came rain or shine. When asked, he told me that back home he was always in sarong, and he would never want to miss the chance of wearing the suit now.

He was also hooked to beers. According to him, beers were cheap in Philippines. From him I knew that being a closed nation, Burma had almost no imported goods at all in her market.

That was why black-markets flourished in Burma. He also told me that he had to fill documents about an inch thick and spend almost US$500.00 just to get the forms filled and his international passport issued.

After the course, I got on board our MAS plane and headed for home. On board, I unashamedly asked for another set of lunch after finishing my first. Startled, the stewardess asked me why.

I told her simply that those were the real halal food that I had had since three weeks ago. She just smiled at me.

It was true what Adibah Amin had said in her writing, the thought of Malaysian food would bring us back home! In Kuala Lumpur, I went straight to a satay restaurant in Bukit Bintang shopping complex and enjoyed sticks after sticks of delicious satay kambing!

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