lessons learnt the hard way

On the whole, Siany and I consider ourselves to be rather adept travellers, making friends easily wherever we happen to find ourselves and often ending up with wild and wonderful memories as a result (diving with manta rays off a volcanic island over 500miles from any land mass is one such experience that comes to mind!). The same would prove true later in Kyrgyzstan, Morocco, Israel, Kenya…to this day, there’s not a single place I’ve come away from without a new found friend, most of which is due to the fact that people are good and kind and welcoming – eager to show of their country and ways, and just as eager to learn about ours!

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And Malaysia was no exception. We had a splendid time basking in the tropical paradise of Tioman with our newly acquired kimodo-wrestling, beach-bar-owning friends Joey and the gang (above photo), which led us eventually into the ocean in an attempt to find the islands’ resident sharks to swim with. Which meant it was rather incredulously, and with more than a little trepidation that we did finally have to face our brush with being in hot water. Though perhaps pleasantly cool, salty water might be a more apt description….

Time and time again we went over what had happened, wandering what we should have done differently. Given, either together or apart, we had hitch-hiked on four different continents, we knew that we had either been extremely lucky, or, as I much prefer to think, people, on the whole, are actually kind and trustworthy and good.  We’ve only been proved wrong this once. So this is a cautionary tale, we haven’t stopped hitchhiking, nor trusting, but we are both a little more wary now.

Siany and I were on our way to the floating mosque, the Tengku Tengah Zaharah, in Terranganu; we had managed the bus schedule and were wandering along trying to find it (you’d have thought it wouldn’t have been hard to miss really!), when we were passed by a guy on a moped. This wasn’t unusual, lots and lots of people rode around on mopeds, so we didn’t think much of it. Nor did we when he drove back passed the second time. But by the third our instincts were on edge. We decided to turn off the road, to go down a side street. And, in a move that had us glancing nervously at each other, our moped friend followed. With a stroke of serendipity, at the end of the little road we chose there was a gate.  Given we were feeling quite vulnerable at this point, we decided to go through the gate onto the beach, with the hope that he wouldn’t bother coming after us.  For a little while, we thought we might be okay.

But then, still clad (rather melodramatically) in motorbike gear, including a downright intimidating helmet, the man decided to saunter after us. At first, his advances seemed innocent, he offered to be our “friend, friend”, but it didn’t take long for him to lunge for Siany, first for her physically, then when he realised that we weren’t having any of that (and I, inexplicably, and with one finger raised in the air to point at him as if he were a naughty school child, had shouted with a real, deep anger “NO! YOU DO NOT TOUCH HER!”, which I later realised might have been channelling Hermione Granger during her attempts to stop Hagrid’s half-brother giant from eating them.. we were English to the end!), finally going for a bags. A bit of a tousle ensued, with all of us variously grabbing and pulling and landing punches on the other (although, I did seem to get the lion’s share of the hits, mainly because Siany, at this point, was dancing around us “oi”-ing our still helmeted mugger, a point in this story that still has us both in stitches today just remembering), until finally I managed to get a real good grip on it. The failing mugger stepped back a little and reached into his back, at which point I was certain, absolutely certain, that he was about to pull out a knife and then things would really take a turn for the worse.  Something look over, instinct  fear, I’m not sure what, and, for reasons still baffling to me, I turned and decided to run, hell-for-leather, into the ocean, yelling at Siany to follow.

If you can imagine, though, when I turned around (up to my shoulders in water), I looked back up the beach to see, side-by-side, with very similar expressions of surprise and puzzlement on their faces, Siany and our mugger, just staring at me.  It was a bit of a impasse really, they were too baffled by me, and I was too incensed by what had just happen and, actually, just somewhat surprised to find myself in the water, to move at all. So that’s how we stayed then for a while really, until our mugger back off, turned away, and went back through the gate and out of our lives.  We just wanted to get out of there, without even sparing the time to pick up Siany’s dearly beloved flipflops.

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Later that day we did make it to the mosque, and it was beautiful, and as we sat and looked across the water with the high white columns and intricate architecture reflected back into the lake and the clouds in the skies above, our frayed nerves finally settled.

And there, on the beach, we learnt a lesson, the ones that our parents had tried time and time again to drill into us, the hard way!

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