Friday, 31 December 2004

Scenes from a Devastation

Well, I guess we all know by this point exactly how devastating this tsunami thing has been. It's weird, isn't it, how suddenly, abruptly and unexpectedly (which I'm pretty sure mean the same thing) the world was thrown into a state of disaster and despair. In Penang, one minute it was a regular bright sunny day: people picnicking, swimming, fishing, having a good time with the sun and surf - the next, people were dragged out to sea, boats were being overturned, and things were destroyed by tidal waves "as high as coconut trees", as has been ubiquitously mentioned in newspaper reports.

A couple of days after Boxing Day, my family and I drove to one of the fishing villages in Balik Pulau on Penang, which was probably the worst hit section of the island, where the majority of the casualties were reported. Two days after, things had settled down slightly; but the chaos was still all too apparent. We couldn't help but feel sorry for the villagers, most of whom are fishermen, whose homes and personal items had been wrecked by water and mud, whose means of livelihood had been (and has been) seriously jeapordised, and whose lives have been shaken by this tragedy. I managed to take a few photos of the wreckage after, and the devastation is very clear; although we have to keep in mind that this is minimal compared to the other nations that were struck. In that sense, I guess, we are very lucky.

The path leading through the tsunami-struck village in Balik Pulau.

Boats amidst the wreckage.

Another view of the damage.

A couple of boats straddling each other after being chucked about by the waves.

A food stall right outside the village. Oh, the irony...

Meanwhile, a friend of the family, J, told us this rather scary tale of how the floodwaters swept into her home and nearly drove her off her feet. When the first wave rushed in, she screamed to her brother to run, get out of here!, and he hopped onto a motorcycle and started to ride away. Only the waves caught up to him and he was pushed off the bike, forced to retreat to safety on foot. Fortunately he was all right. In the meantime, J was stuck in her house as the waters were rushing in, threatening to pull her down with it, and in her desperation she held on to an altar devoted to the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy. Later she told us she was praying with all her might that the "Goddess" wouldn't "fall over" (i.e., the altar wouldn't be swept away with the current) - because had it done so, poor J would definitely have been washed away with it. Terrifying.

Anyway, that's about all I have to say for now. Let's keep our thoughts and prayers on the victims of the tragedy.
Until next time... ~N

Monday, 27 December 2004

An Event Of Tsunamic Proportions...

So it was another dull day in the quiet, old-fashioned village of Balik Pulau on the northwestern island of Penang, Malaysia, when all of a sudden a huge throng of frantic, agitated and drenched villagers made their way towards the main town of this small, underdeveloped, rural district, gabbering excitedly in their Chinese and Malay dialects on the totally unexpected and unprecendent occurrence that had made them flee their shamblic seafront houses in fear: a tidal wave.

It had come upon them with such force that several homes were reportedly washed away, and many people were swept off their feet by the deluge, including a much-repeated sad story of an old grandma whose baby granddaughter was taken away by the floodwaters. Other villagers claimed that the wall of seawater had risen high up above their heads, "almost the height of a coconut tree," they said, and had slammed upon the shore, devastating the humble fishing village of Pulau Betong. Those lucky enough to grab their loved ones and flee managed to gather at the Balik Pulau market where my grandparents sold their famous laksa, telling their shocked tale to the astonished audience, all of whom lived within mere kilometres of the destruction, and all of whom had never before heard of such an event.

Photo of the tidal wave, taken by witness Paul Russell at Batu Ferringhi in Penang, 1:15pm.

The scene after the tidal wave struck Gurney Drive.

So it came to pass that Mom, who was at the laksa stall, called my dad and me at our grandparents' home. On CNN they had already reported on the earthquake off the coast of Sumatera, but nobody had yet known about the tidal waves, or tsunamis, as they are now very well known. Then my good friend Terry called to say that the entire coastal tourist strip on the northeastern end of Penang was inundated with mud, coating the roads and buildings and completely covering cars and other vehicles. "It's so shocking!" he exclaimed of the scene at Gurney Drive, a popular tourist spot. "Nick, it's The Day After Tomorrow!" And then my cousin Andrew told me he'd been at Gurney Drive, somewhere within safe viewing distance of the beach, when he heard a rush of sound and frantic cries before seeing a huge wave gather in the distance while the frightened people by the coastline ran for their lives. Just like a movie, freakily enough. In the meantime, my father was told that several holidaymakers along the northernmost beach of Penang, on the northern tourist strip known as Batu Ferringhi, had been sipping their coffees al fresco when the wave came along and washed them away to destinations not known.

Now for a short anecdote which my mother is proud of regaling. My uncle J is a man who loves swimming, and every morning he usually heads to the Pulau Betong beach for a picnic and swim. Yesterday, Sunday, he'd planned to head to the beach as usual in the morning. Then my mom remembered it was a Sunday and the family hadn't yet been to church, so she called uncle J and suggested they go to church together. Uncle J hadn't planned on going to church, and he later confessed he wasn't intending to even when he remembered; but then, at the last minute after my mom called him, he conceded and decided to tag along with my parents to church, hence forgoing the morning - and the afternoon - swim.

Well, by this point the whole world knows of the devastation that has taken place in South and Southeast Asia, and while Penang has been mentioned on the major networks, understandably the focus has been on places like Thailand and Sri Lanka and India. Still, for a quiet, virtually unknown village such as Balik Pulau - to have over fifty people missing, to have the Balik Pulau hospital flooded (no pun) with injured people, to have policemen barricading the drenched and muddied roads and ambulances rushing left right and centre with their sirens blaring all through the afternoon and night - well, it was certainly a shock to the usually tranquil systems of all the people.

May our prayers be for those affected by this disaster, on what might just be the most unfortunately memorable Boxing Day ever.

Photos from The Star website, who is the copyright holder.

Recaps on Nothing Much!

Hey boys and girls.

Yes, it's been a while since I last wrote anything of interest, but again I have to say it's only because my computer at home has been down, and it's hard to sit in an internet cafe to type when you have to stop and think, which involves the passing of time, for which each minute has to be paid. Did that make sense? If it did, great. If not, it's because I'm currently sitting in an internet cafe and am trying not to think too much, so as to safe money on each passing minute. All around me, kids are playing Counter Strike and other forms of mindless entertainment (mindless in the sense that we don't have to think, kinda the same way many movies and TV shows are "mindless" but enjoyable; but then again I've never played Counter Strike, so for all I know there's heaps of thinking to be done, but I digress)...

So what's been going on? It's been two weeks since I left Perth. To be honest, I've done nothing much - just been catching up with mates here, going for movies (I saw The Incredibles and The Forgotten, the former was really good and the latter ought to be forgotten); I started watching The Phantom of the Opera, but about 20 mins in, I began to get disgruntled by the shitty quality of sound in the cinema, and eventually stormed out and demanded my money back; it's a goshdurn
musical, for crying out loud; you can't have the bloody speakers crackling and distorting each time the orchestra reaches a crescendo!

What else have I been up to? Well, I've made it my mission to read as many books as I can during my break here. So far I've gone through five books in two weeks, which is not too bad, I guess. These include the ubiquitously-mentioned, highly-entertaining but rather far-fetched Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Four Blind Mice by James Patterson, Starter for Ten by David Nicholls, and the curious but oh-so-slightly tedious The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon, which is definitely worth checking out for its unique narrative and

Apart from that, I've basically been doing "phuck-all", as they say in Perth and other parts of the globe. :P Playing with the dog, frequenting internet cafes, having night-time suppers so late that you could call them early-morning breakfasts, catching up with the child's handful of relatives that I can tolerate, and driving aimlessly around the busy, polluted streets of Kuala Lumpur and Penang. Fun fun fun.

Anyway, sorry I didn't get the chance to write this earlier, but hope you guys have had a safe and MERRY CHRISTMAS. Here's wishing you a very HAPPY NEW YEAR ahead. :) Take care!

PS: My frequently-mentioned book Eerie Tales to Chill Your Bones will be available in all good Malaysian bookstores (meaning none of them, HAHAHAHAHA ok I'm just joking) in JANUARY 2005 after a rather protracted battle between the publishers and their printers who are apparently produced a shoddy first batch of books. I've already been given advanced copies and am quite pleased with them. :) Please keep an eye out, and thanks for your patience and support. ;)

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

Welcome Home!

Hello boys and girls! Guess what? I'm now back in good ol' warm and humid Malaysia, having just come back to the land of coconut milk and overgreasy food a couple of nites ago. The first thing I have to say is, it's GOOD TO BE HOME! As much as I love Perth (and kinda miss it, truth be told), having been away for nearly a year, it's nice to be back with the family and ol' friends (most of whom, unfortunately, are busy at work and hence we haven't managed to catch up as yet; but it's only been two days, there's heaps of time for meeting up!)

The home computer is dead, so I'm now sitting in an Internet cafe. This is just a short entry to let people know I'm home; i promise to write more when my home comp is back and running!

Alright, that's all for now! Later! I promise!

Tuesday, 7 December 2004

The Day the Church Burned...

Have I ever told the story of the time there was a fire in the church I go to here in Perth? It was quite funny. The priest was halfway through his sermon on "the Spirit's flame" when suddenly there was a commotion, and people were pointing behind him. A large curtain that hung from the high ceiling to the floor had suddenly burst into flame, and the congregation was in a mild state of agitation! Just when we thought we were witnessing a miracle, it turned out that the curtain had been too close to a bunch of candles that had set it alight. Heh. A brave soul leapt out of the pews and started dousing the curtain with holy water, but that didn't work. Somebody suggested wine, but that was duly ignored. :P And so that same brave soul had to yank the entire curtain down from the ceiling and twenty-odd people had to stomp on the flames to put 'em out. They succeeded. Recovering adroitly from the excitement, the priest turned to the crowd, grinned cheesily, and - without missing a beat - told them that they'd planned all of this as part of his sermon on the fires of Hell. :P

Anyway, to commemmorate this bizarre event, I drew this silly little cartoon, which features the musicians jamming their stuff to popular church song ironically called Church On Fire. :) The church now displays this cartoon for one and all to see at the front of the building, so that nobody can forget the day the church burned. :)

(Click on the picture for a bigger view!)

Blacked Out!

Do power cuts make you mad? I know they make me mad. There i was, online, having a decent conversation with a mate (hiiii, G!), when halfway through a particularly enthralling statement about dogs or cats or something or other, there's a loud explosion from somewhere in the distance, followed by the flickering of lights before a high-pitched downward drone as the generators fail and the house is plunged into a state of desolate darkness and despair. Now, if there's one thing you guys should know, it's that i'm scared of the dark. I am. I dunno why, but I just am. I have to sleep with at least the bathroom light on, showing through the cracks in the doorjamb. If not, the room's too dark, and my whacky psycho imagination reaches cracking point. Anyway. So there I was, in front of the computer, fingers poised to type, when suddenly the world is a mass of blackness and me starting to freak out just a little bit, a teensy-weeensy little bit.

But I needn't have worried. From my housemate Jo's room came a loud announcement, in full military authoritarian mode: "Alright, nobody panic! Everything is under control!" And she burst in with a torchlight powerful enough to sizzle your retinas, three armsful of tea candles, and a lighter glued to her hip in the ubiquitous lighter holster. Later, after lighting enough candles around the house to make the inside of a church look dark by comparison, Jo and I went awalking around the neighbourhood with said retina-sizzling torch in hand, just to see if we could find the source of the blackout. Um. We didn't. But it was a good walk anyway. At 12:30am, the world sure is quiet, and the headlights of cars sure are brighter than they normally are.

Anyway, the blackout lasted for about an hour. What does one do at 1am during a blackout when one is nocturnal by nature, and sleep is still around three hours away? :P Jo and I sat in the living room and stared at the ceiling while the candles flickered and cast bizarre dancing shadows up and across the walls and floor. Somewhere outside, crickets chirped, and a doggy barked somewhere down the road on this night of gloom.

Then the power came back on, and we decided it was time for bed.


Thursday, 2 December 2004

Refurbishings & Rat Races!

Hello all! Wow, it's been almost a week since I last wrote. Funny how times flies. What have I been up to? Nothing much, really. As usual. Although our fourth housemate packed up and left the house, leaving just me, Judi and Jo (or Judo, as I tend to think of them) -- so the first thing we did was perform this massive clean-up of the place and then rearranged the furniture. It might not sound like a big deal, I guess, but when you're living someplace, it would be nice to call that place your home rather than just a shelter, if you know what I mean. Did that make sense? Meaning, Judo and I finally decided to give this house that we've each lived in for at least a year a personalised touch. So we moved the furniture, hung paintings, bought accessories such as lamps and little knick-knacks to spice the place up a bit (including a neon green lava lamp, cool!) ... and now the place is, really and truly, comfortable. A home.

On Sunday, at exactly 12 midnight, Judo and I set up our little Christmas tree, complete with decor (of course), lights and cotton wool for snow. Then last night, we had our mates Justin and Beattie over for a lovely roast lamb dinner in our "newly-refurbished" place. A good solid few hours of conversation with red wine and red meat: what more could one ask for? (is lamb red meat? is it not? i don't know. anyway. you know what i mean.) ... Afterwards, we gathered in our cozy living room and watched perhaps the funniest movie ever (in recent times, at least): Rat Race, with John Cleese, Whoopi Goldberg, Brekin Meyer, Rowan Atkinson, Seth Green and Cuba Gooding Jr, to name just six celebs. Fun, fun, fun! If you haven't seen it, check it out, it's a riot.

So that pretty much brings us up to speed on what's been going on. Am still in Perth until December 12th, that's the flight home. In the meantime, Judi and Beattie are both having birthday celebrations; I am in the midst of working on some personal recordings; Jo is making home-cooked Malaysian-style chicken curry, and all is well in the world.