Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Port Dickson Revisited - The Submarine Island

At the Roadside End of G Coy 1960, From Left: OPs Hank,Weng Yin,Zawawi ( later Datuk)
In the background can be seen part of the H Coy Barracks.

On The Beach 1960 ( The beach is now fronting the Regency ) From Left: OPs Hashim Amin (later Lt Gen Datuk) and Hank. ( Hank has his Bronze Medallion insignia stitched onto the left side of his swimming trunk.) We were then standing on the wreck of a boat left to rot on the beach. In the background can be seen 'The Enclosure' a seaside swimming enclosure together with a seaside house.

The Resorts and Condos lining the Road., snapshot taken from the beach

Undisturbed Beach: Taken at the UPM Marine Research Station: Somewhat akin to the natural beauty and tranquillity of the 1960 beaches ( this snapshot was taken in 2010)

Images: All from Hank's collections

The Current Scene

I was in PD last week-end Jul 09 -11, 2010 and I took the opportunity to recce some of the familiar grounds around the vicinity of our alma mater, the FMC.

There is a detachment of the Armed Forces occupying the place where we were before. The area occupied by the 2 barracks nearest the road where G and H Coy were before is now the entrance to the detachment. There are none of the old wooden barracks. Instead new structures dotted all of the areas previously occupied by us.

Further in, what appeared to be the classroom blocks could be seen in the distance. It is difficult to determine if they are still being used. The old Dining Hall building appeared to be still standing, though the same cannot be said of the Cadet Wing next to it . The Parade Square in front of the classroom blocks is still intact. This we discovered when we were there for a function a few years back.

The Guard House next to the Square that held ‘fond’ memories of those who were ‘gated’ is no more there now. Gone also was the ‘brass bell on the tripod’ that John, the bell-ringer used to faithfully ring ( without fail ) to signal the end of each class period.

What fascinated me most is the development of areas on both sides of the road right up to the sea shore. What was just waste-land of tall grass, shrubs and odd Casuarina trees before are now tall buildings ( of condos and resorts) and shop-houses that lined the stretch from where we were right up to the old Sungala Camp.

Let us trace the new structures. On the inland side ( on a southerly direction) is the Armed Forces Detachment , a government Hospital, The PD Golf and Country Club, and a Nurses Training College before coming to the roundabout on the PD-Seremban Highway. All of these were wasteland and marshes before.

Across the road ( again on a southerly direction) we have now the The Facility Unit JKR, the Regency, Selesa Beach Resort, Residence Desa Lagoon Resort, Admiral Marine Bay Condo and the PD Perdana Condo Resort in that order. All these resorts and condos occupied the very beach that we used to laze around on Sundays in it’s then natural settings.

The Submarine Island

The Unit JKR was where Capt Preedy had his boat-shed for his catamaran. Capt Preedy was one of the seconded officers/lecturer from England. He apparently saw action in the war and walked with a slight limp as a result ( It seemed he was decorated with a Military Cross).

One Sunday, I was fortunate enough to have volunteered together with 1 other to help out at the shed. After some cleaning and clearing chores, Capt Preedy decided to take the catamaran out to sea. Surprises of surprises, the 2 of us were invited on board.  Was not certain whether Ahmad Chik was also there with us then. It was such a thrill as it was as fast as any boat but more open. We were taken for a spin not far from shore for quite sometime ( I don’t quite remember how long now) I have been on a boat, sampan, and raft, ( later kayak at the OBS) but nothing beats a catamaran. It was such a thrill for us then.

Capt Preedy later went into retirement in Trengganu to continue with his sea-faring days there.

At the boat-shed were two rowing boats. We used to see them lying there not often used. On one Sunday morning, OP Wan Dollah and I got the idea of ‘borrowing’ one of them from the security guy.

The 3 of us carried the boat to the water and after a quick lesson on ‘rowing’ we put out to sea. There were some awkward moments initially but we managed. We rowed southerly towards the direction of Telok Kemang, keeping close to shore.

Just where the present Residence is was an outcrop of rocks that jutted out to sea. Since it was low tide, we had to go a bit further out especially in trying to avoid the rocks. That was when we got close to the ‘Submarine Island’. The ‘Submarine Island’ comprised one big island ( that looked like a sub) surrounded by a few smaller outcrop of rocks around it. Most would be submerged during high tide except some parts of the ‘Submarine Island’.

We decided to ‘explore’ the island. We slowly approached it. We weaved around the rocks. We somehow managed to guide the boat in and got down. It was mid-morning and quite hot. We were sweating and OP Wan Dollah on seeing a log ( about 20ft long and 2ft in diameter ) just went over and sat on it. I was just standing looking across to the sea. After about 10 mins we suddenly saw a movement, a slithering 2ft green ‘thing’ that went under the log.

OP Wan Dollah jumped up and the log moved. Apparently it was a crooked log. It moved when we pushed it a bit when its centre of gravity shifted. We looked at each other. Without saying a word we decided to both together push with our legs. One mighty push and the log rolled over.

‘What do you know!’ There was a whole colony of them under the log. They slowly started to move. Each was about 2ft to 3ft long, green in colour with yellow and black rings around its body from head to tail. Its tail was like that of a cat-fish, flat, dorsal upright ( I saw on Nat Geog one day that it was one of the more poisonous sea snakes around)

A few slithered into the water, one or two came at us ( I shudder when I think about it now) OP Wan Dollah took a stone as big as a young coconut and heaved and smashed it to the one that came at us. I followed suit. It was such fun we thought. We continued throwing stones, most as big as double our fists, others a bit bigger. We were lucky there were a lot of stones. The stones we threw would smash them against the hard rocky surface and blood splattered and raw snake flesh were smashed to smithereens. We must have smashed about 5 or six of them. We didn’t think then about cruelty to animals nor the danger we were in. We were just two boys on an outing.

When there were more movements in the nest , because of the heat ( they were now exposed to the sun - we could not make out the number probably 20 more) we decided to leave. We jumped into the boat and rowed away.

With parched lips we decided we needed a drink. We never thought about food or drinks when we decided to borrow the boat. In fact we did not think the security guy would give us the boat in the first place.

We rounded the rocks and came to a bay. We rowed slowly in. It was about noon. We could see coconut trees . We decided to get some young coconuts. We beached the boat and OP Wan Dollah who always seemed stronger than me decided to climb one that was not that tall. He brought down about 3 green but not so young coconuts. They were too hard to smash. We decided to go further in, in search of other coconut trees. We found some trees but they were too tall to climb. We were tired and hungry. We rested for about 30 mins.

We then went back to take the 3 coconuts back to the boat. When we arrived, there were no coconuts under the tree. To this day I still did not know who took them.

We then proceeded to the boat. Suddenly there was no boat. The tide came in and the boat had drifted away. We made that silly mistake of not tying up the boat.

We were lucky it was a bay. The water was relatively calmer. The boat could be seen in the distance about 40 yds away. OP Wan Dollah then kept telling me, ‘you are a swimmer and a life saver, you have to get the boat’ 

(digression:  About a dozen of us Budak boys had taken the life-savings test/exam conducted at the Specialist Teacher's Training College pool in KL sometime in early 1960.One was OP Ir Qua Hock Chye. Being a swimmer with broad shoulders he heaved down hard on my shoulder blades when he did the 'push and pull' the Holger-Nelson way.  I remembered it well. On its successful completion we were later awarded the Bronze Medallion from the Royal Life Savings Society of England, as a certified life-saver. One of the group was awarded an Instructor's certificate) I do not remember of any more of such test/exam as there is no sea-side convenience to train in Sungai Besi)

I kept thinking of the sea snakes we had just killed barely 2 hrs earlier and I was thirsty and hungry. Now, I was to swim 40 yds to get back the boat! With each little seconds ticking away, I knew we did not have much choice.

Given the same situation now, I wouldn’t do it, definitely! But in 1960, as a 15 yr-old you didn’t think about these things.

I slowly swam to the boat, towed it in slowly to the beach. I was exhausted. We found a shady spot and rested for a while. We only got up and climbed into the boat when we thought it would be dangerous to linger on. Someone with a parang (a long knife)  might just appear for trying earlier to ‘take’ their coconuts! (to us these were wild coconuts, even then we felt unsafe)

We then decided to explore further and rowed along the coast southwards. After sometime we realized it was faster and much easier if we were to just walk. We beached the boat (and this time we had the good sense of tying it up to a log) Wan Dollah put on his rubber shoes and we merrily walked along. It was a mistake! To walk on loose sand on a hot afternoon was a mistake. It was too hot on the bare feet. The wet part of the shore was cooler but full of debris, sharp broken shells and pebbles. Wan Dollah took one of his shoes off  his foot and asked me to put it on. We walked some distance but looked rather clownish each with only one shoe on. It was no go! It was too hot on the one bare foot and we were hungry.

It was early afternoon and it was high tide. The sea was beginning to be a bit choppy. We decided to row back and not a moment too soon.

We reached the boat-shed when the sky was beginning to darken. It was then 1500hrs. We were dead tired. Luckily the security guy helped us carry the boat in. He thought we would be just rowing around the boat-shed area. He was worried that we took longer than he had expected.

I would not have taken similar risks now. No water, no food nor life-jacket . It was just madness. As youngsters we never thought about such things, dangers and all. We acted on impulse.

OP Wan Dollah was a colourful character. A brilliant guy, an avid reader ( he digested James Michener’s ‘Hawaii’ - a 3 inch thick book within days). Naturally his English was fantastic. He was also a very talented cricket and hockey player representing the College at both games when he was a new boy in Form III. .

He officially left the College sometime in April 1961. He did not make it to Sungai Besi when we made  the move.  He left word, saying he wanted to join the French Foreign Legion - to look for real excitements. He was always on the lookout for adventure

I've had no news of OP Wan Dollah until in the late 90’s when I met his brother. I was then organizing a friendly golf with KTM and his brother was the coordinator for the KTM team,. He confided to me that OP Wan Dollah completed his Form Five here, read medicine in India, married to someone there and had a thriving medical practice in Chennai.

It was just a pity the email culture was not rampant then, that we could have connected otherwise. I’ve not seen him since!.

Postscript: Jan 02, 2016
Hank recently connected with OP Andrew Hooi through FaceBook. Interestingly enough,OP Andrew browsed through 'birdhouse' and stumbled upon this posting. He made his comments on FaceBook. OP Andrew came back with a surprise for both of us. Hank took the liberty of uploading OP Andrew's FaceBook comments below (with permission)

Andrew Hooi says: 
"port dickson revisited - the submarine island ". lo and behold you brought back memories of my first year in fmc port dickson as a form 3 new boy. and guess what : the same wan dollah (i only recall the name at your mention) took me on a similar sampan trip to submarine island one weekend morning; and he did the same thing on the island exposing the sea snakes, but this time under some large rocks, not a log. we did chuck some smaller rocks at the snakes but i don't think we did much damage this time. i was most impressed with wan dollah, being a new boy: he seemed full of confidence to me and somehow he took a liking to me and sort of took me under his wing even though he only knew me for a short time. later i often wondered what happened to him as he seemed to have left the picture in my memory as we moved to sungai besi. this is the first time i have read your blog about submarine island and i am grateful for the triggering again of this warm and wonderful memory of an episode of my young life with the unforgettable wan dollah. and thanks hank also to the filling in of dollah's subsequent story, albeit not in great detail. if wan chances to come upon this message i wish him the best in life. thanks again hank...happy new year.
Like · Reply · 1 · December 30, 2015 at 10:18pm

Note: Both of us experienced a similar episode with Wan Dollah (at different times) but were not aware of it until recently. It was fun when we looked back on these things now!


abdulhalimshah said...

Dear Hank,
Obviously the PD trip evoked the past fond memories of yonder when the young enthusiasm overrides all the dangers of the sea. A storm could have suddenly appeared and you all could have been pulled further away from the shore.
I had the experience of trying to handle the canoe against the currents at Telok Hantu and we were almost smashed against the rocks, but somehow we paddled hard and managed to beached the canoes on the sands. Well that was more than four decades ago and I thank my lucky stars for being able to control the canoe to safety.

kaykuala said...

Dear Hal,
You are right. Young people normally learn through painful experiences. Only then they would know what to anticipate the next time a similar situation occurs.

Sometimes we didn't even realise how lucky we were. Things could have been worse.

Al-Manar said...

Salaam Hank,
I was born a nd raised in a town by the sea, and I am now living there still. But I fear the sea. Could it be that the South China Sea is unlike the Straits of Malacca, or I am just being a timid?

kaykuala said...

Dear Pak Cik,
If you had asked me now I would tell you that I'm just as fearful of the sea. I wouldn't dare to row now the way we did ( even with a lifejacket)

It was different before when we were youngsters who needed to get hurt before we learn.

One thing I'd agree that the East Coast beaches had a reputation of strong undercurrents and of dipping abruptly, bane to many ( unlike that in PD where it is gradual for quite a distance)

Lisa said...

I trailed down the memory lane with you as PD holds memories for me too. And the boat was at Admiral Marina for about more than one year. One thing about facing the dangers while at sea is it is like giving birth, you'll forget the pain and the fear when you are safely ashore. But it takes strong arms and endurance to paddle a boat and overcome the waves and the current. And our straits of melaka is not a lake, it is a narrow channel filled with turbulence.

Thank you for an interesting glimpse of your past Hank.