On state of mind…

hi sayang,

I’m writing this morning from a beautiful poolside, under a shady tree with a nice breeze playing in my hair… it’s been good for me recently on the expedition, especially because yesterday we passed the halfway point. Before this, it’s been very depressing for me to be on the expedition, simply because I was terribly homesick, tired and overworked.

Somehow it sort of changed overnight – once we arrive in the bigger towns, there’s wi-fi internet access and hot water and good rooms, and I got a decent room mate. June is from Ford Malaysia, and she’s certainly more interesting than the other two pasu bungas. And then there’s the unmistakable feeling that we’re finally on our way home!

No doubt, there is still a long way to go before we get home, exactly 25 days to be precise. But its just one more ferry to Sumatera, and just two bloody islands to go to before we get back to good ole Malaysia. Food’s much better too, not just the usual “nasi padang” every night for dinner…

What ever it is, I’m still missing you like mad. I wish I’m home, and I’m very much tempted to walk into the Air Asia sales office and buy me a one way ticket. But if I did that, then the people who detract me would say, “See? I told you she can’t take it”.

For the sake of posterity (and shopping), I will survive another 25 days. Of course, this euphoric feeling could just be the product of being pampered in Shangri-La Surabaya. I tell you what, I’ll pen my thoughts again in a few days time, by when we’ll be in Rumah Tumpangan Ah Keong again, and I’ll just be as homesick as before…

Wishing you were here with me to enjoy some 5-star romance – Jasmine.

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On being stupid…

Today, as we left Bali, one of the female handlers quite literally threw a fit. Before you say, anything baby, she claims to be in the center of a so-called “love dispute”. The story goes like this, Girl meets Boy, Boy meets Girl, sparks fly, and the rest they say, is history…

The thing is, the stupid girl is one of our handlers. She might not do much, and she’s not a pretty sight to look at, but she still is one of the ‘management’ people… The boy is one of our ‘management’ fellas… who’s married, with a baby, and to make things worse, quite jobless.

He was told , over and over again, by many many many people, on keeping professional distance. He was also told, in no uncertain terms, that she was off-limits. Simply because that the expedition is under scrutiny, and many people are simply looking for the chance to show that the team is useless.

She also was told, over and over again, that he’s off-limits. Simply because he’s married, and everyone knows the idiotic wife. In fact, the wife sends him messages, which are read out every morning! So how can she not know he’s ‘taken’?

He was sent back from Bali, she decides to “belah” from a small coastal village on the other side of Bali. So how now? Will they continue the sordid affair? Don’t think he can pay for her ticket to come to Malaysia…

Food for thought… married men are more juicy because one can’t have em? No worries about me, sayang… all I want is you… no useless, spineless married man for me…

Thinking of you baby, and how stupid we must have looked when we started going out – Jasmine…

ps – Sorry, no pictures… slept in the car today 😛

On shopping…

It’s a break day in Bali today! (I’ll let your mind rant for a bit on all the things I could be doing, one fine day in Bali… )

The thing is, there’s just simply too many things to do on Bali, especially in one day. It’s just not possible! So I took the easy way out and chose to shop.

Even shopping poses a problem. So much shopping, so little time! There’s art markets and handpainted T-shirts, statues and paintings and carvings, slippers and shoes and sandals, surf shops, trinkets and what nots… How could I possibly choose?

And then there’s the problem of storage. How could I possibly bring back all the things I’ve bought? The car is already full of shite… camping equipment, food stores, clothes, spare parts, mineral water, fridge, diving equipment… the list never ends! Tell you what, sayang… I’ll just keep my shopping a surprise… let’s just say there’s something for every occasion…. 😉

By the way, baby… I went to Pura Uluwatu… for some culture…

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Hugs and kisses from beautiful Bali, and wishing I have you here with me (to help carry my shopping, of course) – Jasmine.

On early mornings…

Today finally in Senggigi. We’re in a good hotel, the kinds with towels and a tv with HBO showing. The kind with a swimming pool and hot showers and room service. You see, before this we haven’t been staying in much more than overglorified ‘rumah tumpangan Ah Fook’.

So it was perfectly normal for me to be excited about soaking in the tub, and sleeping in. It is after all, a rest day. Thoughts in my head include, I’ll sleep in, wake up and soak in the outdoor bathtub, and then maybe splurge on some room service… go shopping, get a foot spa…

Wrong!! After about a month of insanely early mornings, my internal clocks just refuse to let me sleep beyond 7 am. I’m up, sprightly and bright, at 7. With not much else to do, I get dressed and go to the clubhouse…

I guess I’ll go to breakfast then. I’m the only one here, as I write my blog for today. Maybe later, just maybe, I’ll go shopping. I’m thinking of the space I lack in the car. I’ll go swimming for a bit I guess… and soak in that tub of mine 😛

I always thought I had cow sense, but not so much it gets in the way of enjoying my life. Coming on this trip has given me something I don’t really need, more cow sense. I definitely don’t need an internal clock waking me up at 7 am on weekends! What am I to do on those lazy Sundays?? I’ve always counted on my ability to sleep in till 2 pm on days like such…

By the way, it is a Sunday…

Thinking of you sayang, and our late Sunday brunches – Jasmine.
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On finding professional distance…

Hello my love,

I’m writing today from a small Dutch colonial town of Sumbawa Besar, the Mecca for black magic practitioners in Indonesia. Haven’t been well the past two days, down with a nasty fever and flu, so been tired to write… must be the black magic ehh?

So far, I’ve been lucky, no spells or curses on me yet. Or perhaps I’m not high on the wanted list… Some of the stuff they’re selling here include buluh perindu for singing and casting a love spell, batu kebal so that you become kebal lah, parang penjaga to take care of your house, keris teman to bring some sort of genie with you, and all sorts of other hoollaballoo lah! Dunnolah, for me, don’t think it works unless you put faith into it, right?

One of the nastier things they’re selling is a sort of minyak made from this tree, that if a person or any other animals passes under, the pokok will grab you and suck your blood out, or something equally sticky like that… I can’t quite recall the name of the tree, but the minyak has been banned, even in Sumbawa. Purportedly, this oil makes your blood rush to where ever you put it – so one of the more stupid uses is to put it on your err… more interesting bits, and you quite literally die ‘standing’! Usually the locals put it on their parangs, so their enemies die of blood loss in fights… that kind of thing…

You’re probably asking what has this got to do with the day’s topic right? Its distance, I would say. There must be a line drawn, between being completely gullible and utterly disbelieving, I say personally. It would not be good, especially if those responsible for ohh… tv production, lets say… to report on this oil from Sumbawa, right? Some people might take this sort of reporting to be the absolute truth…

The other worry is that, when does a person begin to put professional distance first, before succumbing to morbid curiosity? As I write, most of the expedition members, with the exception of myself, Stingray, Zamros and Dr. Avtar are ogling a ‘magic’ show being put on by the so-called mystics. Poobah, I say… they’re doing the usual ‘ubat’ man show – minyak panas, angkat berat and all that… how can we be so gullible to believe it?

Tomorrow we leave this madness for Senggigi, on the island of Lombok. There, I’m hoping there’s no more of this loolapalooza… I’m getting a bit bored of buggers offering me some love potion. To those who do offer me despite my withering look, I tell them, at least as I ugly as I am, I don’t need ‘love potion’… and if they’re trying to do me a favor and make me fall for them, I laugh really really loudly and say, “Dah lama saya tak gelak camtu,” and wipe tears from my eyes. Usually they get the idea… just usually…

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Thinking of you, without the help of ‘love potion number nine’ – Jasmine

On Komodo dragons…

Today we went to Komodo Islands, to visit the smelly dragons of the same fame. To get on this god-damned island is no small feat, we’ve had to divert the ferry for about 60 nautical miles, adding a good three hours onto the ferry crossing.

Apparently, this is the only way everyone could have a chance at looking at the dragons. And so, the powers that be decided that we all should pay half a million (rupiah) per person, so that this diversion can be arranged, so that we can see the stinky fellas.

Now I don’t know about you, but after traveling 5000 kilometers to get here, I reckon spending RM200 to see the smellies seems like a good idea, after all they exist no where else in the world, the most interesting World Heritage Site in Indonesia blab la bla… it is then understandable that some want to see the dragons more than others. A small bunch even refused to pay, choosing instead to remain on the ferry and sleep the extra three hours away.

It is without a doubt that Komodo is beautiful. Stark and unforgiving, its hotter than hell, and drier than a dessicated old shoe. Its dusty, just like the rest of Indonesia, and its full of people trying to hawk things like wooden dragons and carvings, pearls and trinkets to no end. But as we walk into the park headquarters, the touts disappear, and we see signs of real conservation. There are no littering signs (a new one for me, the rest of Indonesia think nothing of chucking garbage on their national treasures), and people are actually NOT smoking.

We are then brought to a sort of ‘feeding’ area, some of the more senior dragons have been getting scraps for so long, they no longer know how to ‘hunt’. The park rangers use these fellas as old standbys… they’re always hanging around. When we gathered round, the dragons start getting restless and begin walking around. Just three moments ago they could barely pick up their limbs.

Now, before we left for the island, we were told that women in menses are not allowed on the island, simply because it agitates the smellies. They can smell bad blood from 5 km away, and a woman bleeding just wouldn’t do, would it?

One of the dumb handlers, and one of the PETRONAS bimbos were in menses. And the best part is, they came along for the ride. Yes, you want to see the dragons, but do you need to put the whole group in danger?

You see, the dragons did smell the bad blood. And they did get excited. In fact, they chased all of us. Quite literally. It’s a bad experience when an 8-foot monitor lizard, smells and all, runs full tilt towards you. All you’ve got for protection are the park rangers, wielding small sticks. Oik?? Small sticks??

Exactly my point.
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Missing you boatloads, and the people that have more cow sense – Jasmine.

On being terrified, and utterly alone…

Today we went diving, at apparently one of the best dive sites in the world, a place called Batu Bolong, just off the shore of Komodo Island. Without a doubt, the waters around Komodo are amazing – the water is crystal clear, the sands pristine white, and the visibility unbelievable. The fish and coral are simply breathtaking, a riot of colors underwater, a diorama that doesn’t stop moving for an instant…

On the way to the dive site, a dolphin rode the bow waves off the ship, quite literally escorting us to Komodo.

But then here comes the nasty bits about Komodo – the killer currents! Its like rivers of water, flowing in torrents around small islets, rocks in the sea, and the multitude of islands… they flow with violence, bringing up corals and unsuspecting fish, and other debris… into this madness, we were asked to dive!

In fact, it was right at the junction of two major currents, slightly sheltered by the Batu Bolong. Jumping in, I had Mior and Apai as my buddies. The shock of jumping into ice cold water in the middle of the afternoon is simply numbing. I lose sensation in my limbs, and instantly my mask fogs up. The currents begin to drag me away, and with the divemaster telling me to descend, I make the fall into hell…

I quickly drop to ten meters, and grab onto a rock. The rest of the group have started going lower into the depths. I can feel my breaths, it becomes shallower and shallower with each gasps. By this time, the currents have dragged me to about twenty meters.

I feel myself struggling for air, and the dive computer starts screaming at me to breathe right. I feel an overwhelming fear enveloping me, and panic starts to edge into my consciousness. My hands tear at the regulator supplying precious air to me. I want to take deep breathes of sweet air at the surface. Cold clammy hands of panic grip my chest, and I struggle to breathe. I see a vision of myself at the surface, taking deep gulps of air. The worse thing of all, I very very nearly tear to the surface…

From a depth of nearly 24 meters, there was no way I would have survived the mad dash up to the surface. I feel utterly terrified. I look around madly for a pair of pink fins and the calm eyes of Boo. My brains scream at me, don’t do this, you have to calm down, calm down and breathe… and yet my body disobeys – short gasps of air from the regulator, my vision begins to swim, and all this while the dive computer is telling me to breathe! Breathe!!

I cannot rationalize why on earth something like this would happen to me. Even as I write this, I break out in cold clammy sweat and my heartrate is soaring.

I have never in my life lost control like this. I have never felt the raw, uncontrolled fear fuelled by panic take over the rational side of my brains. I told myself, over and over like a mantra, you won’t make it… let your brains take over… your heart cannot do the thinking… brains can’t panic, emotions can… over and over I say this, and at the same time, I try to force the automated training to take over… slowly my left hand leaves the regulator, to adjust the trim on the BC. I level off at about 27 meters, after being swept off by the mad currents.

My right hand lets go of the rocks, which I imagine to be gripping with white knuckles… checking air pressure, depth, decompression time, heading and all the rest… I force myself to think, to plan a way to go up and not panic… in all this time, my breathing is short and ragged, and I’m uncoordinated…

I’m still looking for Boo at this point, in some primitive part of my brains, I’m looking for my buddy… I suddenly realize that the panic attack was brought about by the feeling that I’m alone, and I’ve never dived well without Boo. This particularly difficult dive, I’m practically all alone… I have no one to look to for reassurance that all is well… perhaps its worse because I’m homesick…

One of the divemasters then noticed that I was having difficulties, and came out to see me… he actually had to grab me and look me in the eye, and give me the OK signal. At that point, about 12 minutes into the dive, and the big fish were beginning to come out. I felt like a small kid, hanging onto the divemaster’s hand all the way throughout the dive.

In all honesty, I don’t think I would have made it without the divemaster’s help. The seascape was amazing, but I could not completely shake off the cold, clammy feeling I had earlier. As we came up for air at the 50th minute of the dive, I feel like I cannot continue the next dive. My head is splitting because I’ve been breathing in contaminated air as I hyperventilate.

We come up onto the boat for lunch, and stop at a place where manta rays regularly congregate. The sun is shining bright, and viz is good – I can see right down to the sand 40 meters away. Suddenly the divemaster spots a school about 50 meters away… I gamely suit up, grab my mask and fins and dive in to snorkel with them. The experience is exhilarating, to be swimming with a school of rays about 4 meters wide… they make loops and whirls around me, and they playfully swim with me, close enough for me to brush their elegant ‘wings’ with my bare fingers. I laugh and giggle madly in the water, and all fears evaporate into the perfectly blue sunny skies.

The second dive of the day was much better, with schools of giant fish swimming over the reefs, and I have time to spot some interesting macro critters. The reef came alive in glorious Technicolor, and everytime cold clammy fingers threaten to start another panic attack, I bring into my mind the memory of swimming with the manta rays, and how Boo would be so disappointed if I didn’t complete the second dive with the dolphins…

Missing you Boo, and your calming eyes… you have no idea how you are a rock on which my sanity rests – Jasmine.
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ps – my sayang, today my homily is dedicated to one other person who might get mentioned again on this blog… I’m missing you too, and just as badly… tomorrow we will go and see the great komodos in their lair, and wish me luck – I’m planning to drop ‘smelly man’ as an offering 😛