Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Kelantan River Expedition

Before Departure: From Left, Back Row OPs Ong, Sham (Datuk Dr) & Aziz (Tan Sri) Kneeling, Hank

K. Lipis Rail Station: From Left, OPs Mansor(Datuk,Dr) Mr M.K.Gopala, Hank & Ratna (Datuk,Dr)

Mid-Stream, the Other Raft: Looks could be Deceiving But it Arrived Safely.

Stopover Mid-way: From Left, Back Row OPs Ismail, Sham (Datuk,Dr) Muhamad (Maj-Gen, Datuk) Syed , Mansor(Datuk Dr) Rahman ( Skipper) Front Row, Hank , Aziz (Tan Sri)

Pantai Cahaya Bulan: Pitched Tent at the Beach (2 to a tent)From Left: Hank and Ratna (Datuk Dr)

Aboard Ferry To Pasir Pekan: From Left, Rashid, Nik Anis (Capt RN) Mohd Sham (Datuk Dr) Aziz (Tan Sri) and Hank

Pasir Pekan, On the Way To OP Ghani's House: From Left, Ismail, Hank and Aziz (Tan Sri)

Back at Pantai Cahaya Bulan: From Left Hank, Ratna (Datuk Dr) Ong and Nik Anis (Capt RN)

Note: This was earlier posted on Jan 24,2010 without photos. Now it is more complete. Hopefully it now gives a better picture ( pun intended )

The Star of Jan 22, 2010 carried a news item captioned ‘Heroes recount how they saved 9’ It told of the heroic exploits of two rescuers, Saiful Azhar and fisherman Yeoh Lai Pin relating to the Dragon Boat tragedy on Jan 17 in Penang.

In the said incident, 5 students and their teacher were drowned during training for a boat race. It was a sad outcome to what was intended to be just a sporting event. We feel for the concerned families in their hour of bereavement.

I am reminded of an incident many years ago, not quite similar, but also revolved around a water activity - a white water rafting downstream. I had mentioned about wanting to narrate about this episode in a previous posting.

This happened during the Kelantan River Expedition. We were (Putras of RMC) on our Hari Raya Break (crazy) from Feb 23 till Mar 03, 1963. There were altogether about 20 of us, averaging around 18 years of age and a teacher-in-charge (‘ call me Gopala M.K.’)

On the way after leaving Gemas in the wee hours of the morning (Gemas was a hub of train change-over to the East Coast leaving @ ?0200hrs) excitement was in the air. Even though we were in the berth section of the 2nd class coach most were wide awake. Some were engrossed in empty talk listening to OP Aziz expounding his theories of a social-democrat in readiness of him going into politics (to the sceptical comments of Mr Gopala, who must be thinking ‘why politics?’ when we should be bothered with maths, geography, history etc).

It was much to the awe of those young minds around (who must be thinking OP Aziz was way ahead of his time) and to the consternation of the ticket checkers (who kept coming to our section), insisting the booked berth coaches were out-of-bounds to the 3 s.y.ts (from ?MWTC/ Tun Fatimah ) who were without seats (being pre-Hari Raya rush but invited in for a yarn by you-know-who!)

We were slated to go downstream from Manek Urai, in the upper reaches of the Kelantan river to Kota Bharu a distance of about 80km. It would take about 1 hr by road presently. We covered it in 3 days then, an enjoyable 3 days with all the excitement and drama thrown in.

When we arrived at Manek Urai there were 2 rafts all ready, waiting for us, made up of bamboos all nicely lashed up together. OP Wan Ghani had arranged for everything. (That we were told. When we later arrived in Pasir Pekan at the end of the journey, he had the whole group for lunch at his house. Great guy!).

We only had to further improvise the rafts by having our ‘ponchos’ set up tent-like, to provide cover.Otherwise they were perfect.

(Unlike on the Perak River Expedition later in the year, we had to spend 2 days to build our own rafts out of light wood and bamboo. The bamboos were already felled arranged through Kemunting Camp in Taiping.These were stacked ready in Sauk (of the weapons snatching notoriety, remember?) We loaded them up into the 3-tonners (lorry) and off to Chenderoh Dam to start lashing them and later off downstream when ready – but that’s another story!)

In Manek Urai we broke up into the 2 groups of 10 each to a raft. In my group were OPs Rahman, Mansor ( later Datuk, Dr. who at one time helmed the ITM), Aziz ( later Tan Sri, Deputy Mentri Besar, Pahang and a 2 term Senator) Mohd Sham (later Datuk , Dr.) Muhamad (later Maj-Gen, Datuk) Syed Mustffa and Ismail ( both joined the Army) yours truly Hank, plus two others I don’t quite remember now.

OP Rahman made himself out to be the skipper and was fortunately accepted readily by everyone. He christened the raft the 'Kon Tiki’ complete with the name written and stuck on a pole atop the ‘poncho’. OP Rahman is a very talented artist (you still draw and sketch? ) who speaks impeccable Queen's English that you never would realise speaking to a guy from Kelantan when he sounds every bit a polished English gentleman!

Kon-Tiki was the raft used by Norwegian explorer and writer Thor Heyerdahl in his 1947 expedition across the Pacific Ocean from South America to the Polynesian islands. It was named after the Inca sun god, Viracocha, for whom 'Kon-Tiki' was said to be an old name. Kon-Tiki is also the name of the popular book that Heyerdahl wrote about his adventures. (see Wikipedia)

It was truly a new experience for me, in fact for all of us. The raft had 2 rudders of long bamboo of about 4m one at each end. Both must be manned by one person each all the time. Both must react immediately at their ends to maneuver away from obstacles, such as floating logs or rocks along the way.

We cooked on the raft. The army-supplied fuel, made up of 2”x 2” pieces of hard candle-like material were used extensively ( 2 of those can cook a mess-tin of rice to be shared by 2 persons) We continued travelling at night keeping away from the banks lest overhanging branches hit us again. It did the first night. The raft shook, the makeshift clothes line was swept away. A PD Green uniform, some T-shirts and undies were lost. It was a frightful moment. It gave us a jolt as what to expect when rafting in the night. Visibility was poor. We could not relate to the river banks so we were not able to see that we were moving even. We only felt that we were moving. We were more careful after that. We kept to the centre and away from the banks. We were lucky it was no more serious than that.

On the next day it happened. It was mid-day. Some were cooking for lunch, while 2 were manning the rudder. We were in the centre of the free flowing waters. The other raft was about 25m downstream, more to our right. Not that far but near enough. It was hot and sunny so it must have been tempting for OP Mohd Sham.

At first he just dipped in and out by the side of the raft. Then, all of a sudden he jumped into the water and swam towards the other raft. I think he did reach it. After exchanging some pleasantries with those on the other raft he jumped back towards us. I only realized it when he was cheered on. It was not going to be easy as he was now going against the current and water flow.

'This is going to be a disaster', I thought to myself. The others didn’t notice that I pulled a life-jacket from the pile next to me and held it in my hands. I made myself ready. I took off my wallet and handed it to someone just in case if I needed to jump in.

Sure enough. One minute OP Mohd Sham was smiling happily swimming towards us but the next minute he shouted out loud, ‘help!, help!’ and waving frantically. He was about 15m away. He was exhausted. He was not going to make it. The strong currents kept pulling him back!

I got up threw the life-jacket to him. It didn’t reach him. I jumped, swam towards the life-jacket and pulled it as quickly as I could to him. It was in the nick of time! OP Mohd Sham quickly grabbed the life-jacket. If I had been a split second late, it could have been a different story.

I would have been swept downstream by the strong current clutching the life jacket. OP Mohd Sham would have been swept downstream also but without a jacket.It was close! We both held on to the life-jacket and inched our way back slowly towards our raft.

Under normal circumstances, when we approach a drowning person in the water it would be fatal to try and catch hold of him. The person would grab even a floating straw so they say. In a panic state he would grab you even before you reach him and would bring down both together.He would not be in the mood to be nice to you!

The technique is to approach him with both hands bent at 90 degrees at the elbows (with the clenched fists pointing skywards) That was fundamental in the Bronze medallion life-saving training. It could be a life and death thing. The moment the person grabs your wrists, you bring both wrists down into the water with a quick pull. His hold would be broken and he would automatically let go as his head would be bobbing in the water. You then twist him around and catch him under both armpits. It would be easy as he would be disoriented and facing the other way. That’s no way he could grab you. You then softly calm him and pull/swim backwards to safety.

In the case with OP Mohd. Sham I did away with this as I had pushed the life-jacket for him to grab. He didn’t need to grab me. I just had to calm him down after that.

We got onto the raft. The others got to OP Mohd Sham. He was ok. I got my wallet back, went to one corner to change into a dry T-shirt and only then that I realized. I forgot about my pocket diary. It was in my T-shirt pocket when I jumped in. It was still there but all wet. I had jotted some notes about the trip but they were not readily readable anymore. It was ok, that was ok, that was not the problem.

What saddened me most was that I had 2 passport-sized photos plus another slightly bigger one also in the diary and all were damaged. That was what I was sad about, but I didn’t tell anyone of them. One was of mine but the other two were of someone so dear to me then (not a photo of my loving wife, I met my wife years later) The damaged photos were for a long time with me. I dared not tell that someone they were damaged. Anyway they are not with me now. I was very sad then but I have long forgotten about them. We did not keep contact. She is definitely a grandmother by now. I just wonder!

For the next few minutes upon getting up on the raft, I reflected quietly. What if there had been some submerged rocks or floating logs or a crocodile. It frightened me suddenly. What if I had not pulled the life-jacket and held it in my hands minutes before that. What if I had hesitated and not jumped even with the life-jacket in my hands. I dread to think about it.

I only had the personal satisfaction of doing justice to my life saving knowledge, acquired 3 years earlier (which gave me the confidence) I may not have jumped in otherwise.

I was at the Victoria Institution (VI) before RMC. VI is the only school (I stand corrected) with a swimming-pool. Our swimming teacher then was Lim Heng Chek, an Olympian, rare in those days.

I joined a life savings group when I arrived at the RMC in Port Dickson (there was none since then after we moved to Sungei Besi) The beach then was just across the road from us, so training was convenient.

The life-saving test was done in mid-1960 at the Specialist Teacher's Training College pool at Cheras Road, K.L. I remember that. There were just a handful of us, less than 10. One was for an instructor's certificate while the rest were for the Bronze medallion. All got through, yes! . The lone guy got his Instructor's Certificate. The rest became qualified life savers , each awarded the Bronze Medallion from the Royal Life Saving Society of England

The Kon-Tiki made it on the morning of Feb 26. We berthed at Pasir Pekan across the river from Kota Bharu. We later pitched tent at Pantai Cinta Berahi (now Pantai Cahaya Bulan) for a few days.

We then proceeded to Kuala Trengganu and put up at an old building provided for us. Apparently it was part of the palace complex and reputed to be haunted. Anyway nothing untoward happened in the night.We had a football friendly with Sultan Sulaiman School  (not sure of the name, I stand corrected)

We made visits to the cottage industry there comprising batik and silverware factories (for which I have faint recollection) before making our way back to our College. A group proceeded to Penang from there we were told later.

OP Mohd Sham went on for medical studies in Sydney, Australia. Datuk Dr.Mohd Sham later became a very successful pediatrician while in the govt. He was also very involved in SCAN for many years after that.


abdulhalimshah said...

Dear Hank,
The story about the daring rescue desrved special mention and you should have written for the "Bugler" so that everyone would remember it. OP Mohd. Sham should be still around and hopefully he reads your account.
I wondered whether the damaged photo was that of KS from Juasseh who probably was your pen-pal from TKC. Zam would love to know.

kaykuala said...

Dear Hal,
You remembered! Yes, I've had a soft spot for KS but there's more than just KS in my life then. A couple more but I'm not telling.

She's definitely a grandmother by now. We can now only reflect and indulge in the nostalgic game of 'what if' with all its wonderful memories!

Al-Manar said...

I was raised in a town by the sea and today I live by the sea. I love to see the changes of this great creation of Allah - its calmness, its anger, the fascinating reflection of the rising sun and the full moon, and all. But I am ever so scared of the sea. I saw a drowning youth and heard his screams,when no one could do anything but watched helplessly.

norzah said...

Akhi Hank, you've 3 or 4 entries I've not commented on after getting the computer generated notice that only members can comment. But this entry which recalls the Kon Tiki adventure tops it all. I'm sure you could write a book about the rafting down Pahang River adventure with the overhanging branch accident and OP Datuk Dr. Mohd Sham
ordeal as highlights. ( I'm still not sure what OP stands for). You of course were the scared hero (but a hero all the same), who could have earned a medal if a proper write up was made on the incident and sent to the appropriate authority.
Yes, saving a drowning person is a dangerous business. I had a funny experience on this. A group of my officers and me were bathing in a stream in the National Park. There was a place where the water was deep and fast enough to throw a challenge to anyone trying to swim across. Many took the challenge. An oficer who had just learned to swim took the challenge. Knowing his handicap an officer and me waited some yards downstream where the water was only knee-deep as we encouraged him to try. He did, lost his courage midstream and started struggling like a drowned man as he floated downstream towards me. He kept lashing and kicking to remain afloat although when he reached me he could have easily stood up.
Even when I grabbed and held him up he was still kicking and lashing out with both hands, nearly knocking me down. It was only when I succeeded in hauling him up when he realized that the water was shallow. He stood up, grinned and said, "Eh, not deep ah,boss?" He quickly ran to the deep part of the river again, jumped in and swam across with great confidence. We gave him a resounding applause.
Finally, KS is from Juasseh ah? Ayo, maybe I know her, hehehe.

kaykuala said...

Pak Cik,
I never had the opportunity or experience of the sea nor kampong life when young. I was raised in urban KL but took every chance of going back to K.Pilah during the school holidays. I yearned for the wild,the mud,the jungle and rivers.
Knowing to swim make us confident of water. I was just lucky VI has a pool which not many other schools have.

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
1.Apologies on ur not getting thru. A little mix-up on my part.

2.Please,just blogging is good enough.

3.OP stands for Old Putra (adopted by the Association as one sure way of addressing an old boy Tan Sri or Datuk without offending)

4.Seriously if a report is sent to the Royal Life Saving Society (since I'm a Bronze Medallion holder and especially witnessed by about 20 pairs of eyes and attested to by some ) I'm sure they might have something or some kind of award to cater for such a happening. Never thought about it. Any Statute of Limitations here?
Anyway,it was just a minor thing not to be blown up with a big hoo- hah

5.Yes, how true it is. Never ever approach a drowning man unprepared.

6.Not many KS from Juasseh more so from TKC & then MU. You'll be probably right even with a wild guess. Her letters were always awaited for, very inspiring. She writes beautiful English. Some words I use now were frequently found in her writings. I'll probably not ramble on if OP Hal & Akhi Norzah had not brought this out into the open. It suddenly rekindled fond memories. Mayb I'm a bit sentimental. Is it a fault? Thanks both for having triggered it off in all its innocence. It made my day!

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
Talking about Taman Negara, was there way back in '75. Beautiful place. Taken snaps but in coloured slides. Never been w/out a camera since school days.
Have also b/w pics. Explained to the kids ( read: children before now cucus) There are invariably repetitions when these were dug out from the albums.
Thought of having them chronicled by way of blog postings so they can come back to read anytime.
Would history be a bore especially with b/w pics?
May well go thru the arsenal & work out some planning.
Dementia might outpace us in no time, otherwise.
Both of you tickled me with KS now I'm being unnecessarily sentimental suddenly.

norzah said...

Hey, nothing bad about reliving a good memory. It also keeps dementia away or at bay. Yes chronicling what you captured with a camera years ago would make those moments permanent, giving them a legend of their own. So, Akhi Hank, bang away, Any old or torn photographs that are hidden away there?
Don't have to tell but away but some hints can spike the day, hehehe.

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
Right on, buddy! Rummaging thru the arsenal right now. It'll be factual not rightly juicy but just.The first few may be at end of the week though.

Am taking a breather. Taking them (read: grandma and cucus)to Cameron Highlands for the school vacation starting tomorrow till Friday.

Will be back with some good views of strawberries, flowers and all. Any suggestions what not to miss in C. H'lands?

norzah said...

Have a nice recharge there with present company and past memories, hehehe. Cant suggest anything since I haven't been to the Cameron Hg for quite a while but bird's are aplenty there, both the feathered and the plummeted type. Click away, Bro. Old album must be renewed sometimes to keep the legacy going.

Laurie Kolp said...

A hero you are... that's why you didn't hesitate at all or think about what might lurk in those waters. I really enjoyed this story, Hank.

Maybe the photos getting ruined was a sign that it wasn't meant to be...

flaubert said...

Hank, a wonderful story indeed. You are a hero. Thanks for sharing this.