This photo is courtesy of Daniel Yiek, Sarikei-Time-Capsule. The boat is still the same in style after almost 40 years!! Some how the years just collapsed and I feel that I am in the boat, rocking forward and backward, side to side, all over again. And the smell of the diesel mixing with that of heavy cooking oil still fill the air around me. How fragile is a small boat on the sea, and yet the few lives inside the boat can come home to shore day after day.
I was a starry eyed young teacher waiting for an adventure to happen. And I was willing to go especially when I did not have to pay for the transport. Food and accomodation would be free. How wonderful to be an invited guest! I accepted the chance immediately and could not wait for the journey to begin. I looked "forward" and did not care what others might have said. "Don't go, it is too dangerous." " Are you sure it is the right thing to do?"
The trip to Belawai was slow, so slow and boring that I can hardly remember the whole journey to the fishing village.
But there were three things that I remember of the trip.
First, it was my first ever opportunity to be at sea in a Chinese and Foochow fishing boat. It was a long long wait for the fish to be netted. My student friend was keen in chatting with her uncles and she was not at all seasick. I was a little sick but I managed to help with the cooking of the rice. I found cooking in a motorised fisherman's boat so uniquely refreshing. We even could cook some fish soup!! I remember the fish soup tasted of the sea but I kept very quiet and was the perfect guest.
Two of the relatives were so brave. They just dropped into the green and clear water and had a swim while waiting for the fish to bite and for the school of fish to swim into the net. That day, they did not catch very much. I was delighted to see all the silvery catch on the boat. My greatest fear was to see a sea snake in the net. But the monster did not appear at all. The wait was long enough for me to long for land. By evening the boat headed for land and I was relieved. Death was not so near!!
That evening, in the shadows and light of the brilliant setting sun, I heard a gun firing. And then with a loud scream a monkey dropped from a tall tree. In what seemed just a few minutes later, I was served with the first monkey meat dish in my life. I saw the human looking hand and I could not eat at all. I went to bed hungry.
Those were the everlasting memories I have of Belawai. Cooking in a rocking boat, eating sea tasting soup, watching strong men swimming in the green waters and finally seeing monkey meat being cooked in a large pot.
I never had that experience again the rest of my life.
However I can still recognise that particular smell of the sea which would beckon a man to go fishing. The call of adventure will always be there and I can understand the delight a person can have when thinking of a briliant moon over a calm South China Sea.
And I hope my student will remember those few days we spent together. She was a brilliant, happy, and sincere little lady. I heard that she did well in life and was very much in the mainstream. Whereas I have always remained in what people call, the back waters, the alternative stream, and perhaps I continue to be in the sea of life, rocking in a little boat and doing the best I can. That experience has indeed helped me , in retrospect, to see more, to feel more and to do more.