I remember we were very excited about the bungalow camp especially since it was to be a farewell of sorts after our MCE exams. Mr. Vasu about whom I had mentioned in my earlier post had arranged not only the bungalow but he had also arranged for the caretaker to cook the meals for us that evening. Imbaraj had estimated that it will cost about RM15.00 per head in expenses so we managed to come up with it and passed it to him to manage. It was only much later after the trip that he let us in into a secret……..that he and his brother didn’t have to pay a single cent! Jalil, Singh, Chan, his girlfriend Catherine, Nazir, Hari, Imbaraj and I made it for the trip. Later at night Sargu and Thillai joined us. Hari’s brother Karthik dropped by for a while. The other two members of the JACHFRINS fame namely Farid and Radzi didn’t join us and I really cannot recall why.
When we arrived at the bungalow, we found that it was a three roomed stand alone unit with a large compound fronting the sea at Batu Feringghi, Penang with the privilege of private access to the beach providing an expansive view of the Indian ocean. There were not many bungalows along the stretch then and the area was a paradise with its natural landscape of swaying palms fringing the virgin coastline, clear and untouched with the waters crystal clear and pristine adding a touch of romance to its beauty. Except for the occasional hoot of a distant boat or the rare rev from an unseen passing vehicle snaking through the winding roads through unspoilt forest-reserve, the atmosphere was otherwise exceptionally quiet, soothing, admirably silent…….peaceful…..rejuvenating even. This was my first experience out with friends on an overnight stay and I cherished every moment of my new found freedom. We were young then…..and carefree, not a care for the real world out there. We didn’t have to. During this occasion at least, our world revolved only around the 9 or 10 of us. That was all that mattered. We lived for the day……..one at a time…unhurried…..at our own pace…..as if everything else can wait.
We did engage in some basic cooking but my memory fails me as to who steered it after the caretaker, on the 1st night……it could have been either Jalil, Nazir or Hari……or was it Catherine? It surely couldn’t have been Imbaraj or Singh as the kitchen is the last place you can expect to find them in. I’m not too sure of who exactly did the cooking after the 1st day but faint images of freshly cooked salt-less sardines, roughly cut sandwiches, overcooked eggs and burnt sausages seem to linger past my memory archive. We spent the 1st night sitting in the hall and with only 1 girl in tow, that too as Chan’s girlfriend, I remember we were all trying to impress her. Those sharing the same couch with her told ghost stories in the hope that they might get to cuddle her if they could succeed in scaring her, foolishly disregarding the fact that Chan was always by her side. When none of it worked, we retired to our rooms sometime in the early hours past midnight. (It will be interesting to note that this lass went on to later join us on our 2nd bungalow trip 2 years later ….and this time not with Chan but as one of the other JACHFRIN member’s new love interest about which I shall not divulge much……….. except perhaps to say that his name starts with a vowel and it surely wasn’t me! Some secrets must be kept. After all that’s what friendship is all about.......No?).
After allowing Chan and Catherine the privacy of a room all to themselves, the rest of us went to our room to play strip poker among us….conspiring to play a prank on Hari. We manipulated from start to finish and made him lose every game that in no time saw him reduced to his tattered briefs whereupon we made him roll on the icy floor. He virtually squirmed and growled while he rolled in the by-now chilled room and we wouldn’t allow him to get up until he reached the end of the room……..it might have been 'sadistic' but Hari was always a sport……he didn’t complain and we ended up with a good laugh!
It was unfortunate that I could not stay the full 2 nights as when I woke up, I had to bid goodbye to my still half-asleep friends as I was to follow my sister and family on a holiday to JB. I took the bus back, reaching my house in Butterworth by about 10, only to be told that the trip had been postponed to the next day. Hearing this, I was at first disappointed...... but it slowly turned to joy when I realized that I could go back and spend one more day with my friends. I really wanted to. But I didn’t have enough money for the fare to reach Batu Feringghi. Then I remembered the ferry fare by bicycle costs only 50 cents! I hurriedly gathered the required change from various points in the house and started my trip to the bungalow. I roughly knew its location and the distance from the mainland but I was determined to join my friends. It took me about 2 hours of cycling to reach the bungalow through winding and narrow roads in the midday sun. But I finally made it! My friends who had not expected me back were naturally surprised and overjoyed to see me…….and so we continued with the merriment. We spent some time playing in the sand and sea in the evening, then watched the sun slowly fade away lazily into the horizon. It was a sight to behold.
Once again I had to leave early the next morning and I cycled all the way back to Butterworth and reached just in time to join my sister for the trip to JB, a story that will be told another day.
(This story is dedicated to my friend (and relative) Mr. Vasu who made the adventure possible with his kind gesture of obtaining the holiday bungalow for us….….and who unfortunately now lies bed-ridden as a result of a recent stroke).