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Sunday, April 16, 2006

Hanya Semalam

I saw the movie 'Only Yesterday' errr...yesterday. Okayy, it wasn't exactly a movie, it was an anime directed by Isao Takahata, the same man that brought you Grave of the Fireflies. Never heard of Grave of the Fireflies? Mann..you should check it out. One of the most depressing movie if not the most depressing ever. And it's an animated movie too. I almost cried watching it. Tak caya tanya Kuman. Disney, you say? Huh. That's for sissies.
Anyway, I never heard of Only Yesterday when I bought it at the friendly neighborhood DVD peddler. I only bought it because it was from Studio Ghibli, the makers of Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke. I really appreciate Japanese animation. They're so detailed and can be so brutally honest, they'd put Pixar to shame.
I was surprised to learn that the movie was made in 1991. I thought it was a new film, from the way the Apek hung it on the wall of his shop. It's a delightful piece about a girl who reminiscence about her past as she spent her holiday in the Japanese countryside. She's the typical 27-year old Tokyo career woman: Independent and at ease with her single status. And yet, her innocent past comes back to her as she remembered the days of growing up in Tokyo and how wonderful it was as a kid and the lessons she learned along the way.
I'm a sucker for self-discovery movies. Because in life, I love to think about the good 'ol days. It was simpler back then and I love how the movie depicts the growing up dilemma of having your first crush and even (for girls) the first menstrual period. I couldn't really imagine Disney depicting a girl's first period and the way it was told, seemed so funny and innocent. Just like it was back then, when you didn't have to be politically correct to talk about a woman's cycle.
Even though the story was told through a woman's eyes, I think anyone can relate to the joy and sorrow of growing up and how the past help shape us the way we are today. Only Yesterday is a great feature and makes you realize, it's not so complex out here in this world. It was simpler then, why shouldn't it be simple now? I really loved the ending, because unlike other fairy tales, happily ever after doesn't just mean walking away with the girl by your side. Sometimes, it takes a kid to realize that.

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Oh tak mungkin, tak mungkin aku kembali ke OBS

This entry is more than a month past overdue. It's just another effort in my ongoing series of backdated postings. I felt that it was such a memorable experience, it'd be a crime for me not to write about it. Not that you would care anyway, but just hang in there as Yours Truly went through hell and (almost) back.

The First Rule of OBS is...

During the last week of February, (see? I told you it was that long ago) I had the pleasure (or grief, depending on which way you look at it) to go to Outward Bound School (OBS...gosh, what is it with me and all this brackets?!). FYI, there's two OBSes in Malaysia, one being in Lumut and the other in Sabah. Of course, since this is the Peninsular we went to the nearest one in Lumut.
In all honesty, when I first heard that they sent Gomen officers to OBS as part of training, I was really looking forward to it. Not that I'm an outdoor guy. Believe me, I'm wayyyy better off with my pirated DVDs and cup of teh O at home. It's just that sometimes, I feel the urge to get away from my 'comfort zone' just to remind myself that life is not just about Oscar-nominated movies and actresses with big breasts. Little did I know what was in store for me for the coming week.
OBS have this simple yet nerve-wrecking concept of Back to Basics, meaning well, you go back to basics lah. Basic means no money, no ID, no handphones, no cigarettes and what I hated the most, no booze (I'm not being serious here, okay??). Which meant that on the first day, we were stripped of our money, MyKad and our Nokias. Goodbye civilization, Hello Jurassic Park.
It's a good thing I'm not a smoker coz the guys really looked stressed without their Marlboros. And they had us sleep in these dormitories which were mosquito infested and smelled of 'God-knows-what'. Even though it wasn't exactly homey, the concept of going back to basics really was a good lesson in appreciating what you have and how fragile we are without our basic materialistic needs. This was all about you and Mother Nature. No dumb ringtones. Not even the Ringgit.

A nice view of the Torture Camp

On the first day, we were exposed to the normal daily life of an Outbounder. One thing I noticed about OBS is that it's self-sustaining. You have to do everything yourself, from washing up after eating, cleaning the toilet and even taking care of those mosquito-infested dorms. The only thing they do for you there is cook the food, which wasn't that bad really, or maybe it's just me who's starving all the time. We learned about OBS, the School Song and had an ice-breaking session (as if there was any more ice to break). The ice-breaking games were as usual, very fun and some of us boys literally stripped down to our boxers playing those games. Not that we minded, anyway. First day was fun really. It didn't give us a glimpse of what was coming ahead.

We were separated into small groups of 14-15 people, called a watch. The names of the watch are determined by OBS and have been in use since the dawn of eternity (I think). The names they used are the names of mountains in Malaysia, e.g. Jerai, Kinabalu. My watch was Beremban, but don't ask me where the hell Gunung Beremban is. From these small watches, we were grouped into 2 big groups which consisted of 3 watches. I was in Group One, which meant that we went on the whaler first. The other group went kayaking first, so that meant not everyone did the same activity at the same time.
Before you ask, "Whaler tu apekebenda??" let me just briefly explain. A whaler is a small boat, called 'whaler' because they were once used to capture whales. How they did that on a small boat, beats me. The whaler had sails and also 8 oars to be used for rowing. These oars were heavy as hell and really gave you a great workout for the muscles.
We were instructed to navigate our way to Pulau Rumbia, a small island off Pulau Pangkor. The journey wasn't that far, really. On paper! But this is the sea we're talking about here, people. And ohhh...the waves were really not friendly too. My watch was the first to depart from OBS camp at around 8 in the morning. So there we were, the 15 of us including our macho instructor on our way to sail. Ahhh yes...the open sea, the cool breeze, what can be so bad about this? Well, the first 30 minutes wasn't that bad. And then, your muscles start to cramp from the rowing, the morning sun starts to burn up and the whaler doesn't seem to move an inch! That's when the real fun begins.
The guide to surviving OBS would consist of 3 rules: Patience, patience and patience. And ohh, don't forget your sunblock lotion too. I wouldn't have made it without my trusty Coppertone. This is because the journey on the whaler takes about 5-6 hours. If you're really lucky, it could be 4. One group even took 8 hours! So 5-6 hours in the open sea with the sun blazing on your face can really cause damage. Trust me that the ozone layer is really depleting. Some of my friends had the burns to prove it.
And when your face is burning and your muscles are aching, that's when patience play a role. Believe me, at that certain time on the whaler I felt like I could have beat up anybody who talked too much or got on my nerves. You could sense the eerie silence of tension on the boat. But I was lucky to have the people in my watch. Even though we were hungry, tired and aching, we just rowed on and kept the lid on our temper. We weren't lucky that day. The wind assisted us for just about an hour and we did the rowing for the rest of the journey. My watch was the first to arrive in Pulau Rumbia at about 2 pm. And never, ever in my life have I felt so tired and deprived of energy. If I had an energy level indicator of my body, it would have been negative 100. It was that tiring! And why shouldn't it be? Rowing those heavy oars for more than 4 hours, relying on plain water for our energy (we were not allowed to bring any other drinks or supplements. Back to basics, remember?) and the heat which really took its toll. It really sapped me out of every single drop of energy left in my body. The journey felt like an eternity and I was so tired, I felt like beating the guts out of the instructor when he told us to bring our stuffs from the whaler upon our arrival at the island. And I still remember the taste of the buah lai which was soooo juicy and refreshing which was given to us when we arrived. I remembered some of them saying, "Buah paling sedap dalam dunia." I couldn't agree more.

The boats of hell aka the whaler

Pulau Rumbia was such a dissapointment after rowing nak separuh mati there. It hardly was worth the effort. The island was filled with wild boars which weren't that aggressive because they rarely got into contact with humans. I did a lot of stuff I don't normally do here in our civilisation, which included shitting in the sea. At 6.30 in the morning! It's funny when I think about it. There was the two of us and we were talking and cracking jokes while we did the business just so we didn't chicken out in the pitch darkness. If anyone took a picture of me that morning, it would have been the most embarassing thing ever done. Not to mention the ugly face while releasing it :P
Getting back to OBS camp after a nights' stay on the island was just as torturing. I had a little taste of history on the way back because as were rowing along, I had a little trouble with my straw hat. The wind kept blowing it away, so I asked to change my hat. As I stood up to take my hat, I heard a shout, "Woi, oar ko terlepas!" And when I looked around, I saw my big, 10 ton oar drifting away on the side. I felt like jumping into the water but was held back when I realized I can't swim! And we just looked on as my oar drifted further and further away from the whaler. It wasn't as funny as it is now, because I really felt bad about losing the oar. Let's just say that I didn't complain as I rowed for the rest of the journey. No worries too, as I had to replace the oar with a little help from my fellow watch members. And since this was the way back and they had a schedule to keep, we were towed by the mother boat upon reaching the bay near near OBS camp.
After coming back from the whaler trip, we went kayaking the day after. Kayaking was more fun but just as tiring as going on the whaler. Oh no I'm lying. It's not as tiring as the whaler. Nothing is! We kayaked our way around Pangkor Island which didn't take that long, if we didn't stop to rest a lot. Kayaking was nice and we were paired into two for each kayak. The scenery was breathtaking and you get the chance to see a lot of Pulau Pangkor that not a lot of people get to see. We camped for the night on this beautiful beach (I forgot the name) and it really was a far cry from the horror that was Pulau Rumbia the day before. The next morning we arrived at OBS camp early as the journey was short and with that, ended our OBS adventure.
The mosquito farm

I remembered all of us singing the OBS Spirit song and hugging and shaking each others' hands as we arrived at camp. It really was a feeling of accomplishment. I felt really proud to have done the things we did at OBS. Never in my life have I gone through such an experience. I think OBS is great in building team spirit as it shows who your true friends are. In times of hardship and extreme fatigue, you see each other's true colors: Who can be relied on. Who are just plain lazy mother****ers.
I had a great time at OBS. I learned that the standard OBS course is the 25 day course, the true OBS experience. I hardly survived a week there, I can hardly imagine staying there for 25 days! While we were there, there were some SIA trainee pilots and Petronas people having their course there. Let me just say that the SIA trainees look as fit as hell, and even they look like falling dead after coming back from the whaler. I enjoyed knowing some Minah Salleh instructors, who spoke Malay fluently, but with this funny accent. A bit Kelantanese, maybe? Anyway, these instructors were the real deal, because one of them, this lady from England sailed solo across the English Channel on a small, single boat called the laser. My hats to her. Another thing I learned at OBS is suprisingly, the poco-poco dance. It's not hard really and I think I'm addicted to it! That too, was certainly one of the highlights.
I would recommend people to enjoy the OBS experience at least once in their lifetime. It's a whole different concept together, and its Back To Basics principle really tests you in extreme conditions. It's such a privilege to have gone through it and let me end this by singing the OBS Spirit song. Altogether now:

I got the OB spirit
Up in my head

Deep in my heart

Down in my knees
Yeah Yeah!

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

April Showers Bring May Flowers


It's April already? What happened to March? And February? Time seems to be zipping by oh so fast. I must be really enjoying the six month escapade.


Much to write about really. I owe this blog 2 full entries. One on my OBS trip. The other my week of being a konstabel sapu. Did I tell you it's been more than a month since both of these took place? Now you know. But I still want to write about them. One my lecturers told me this week, "Bring out the author in you. Write down about things everyday so you won' forget. You never know when you are somebody one day and all these tiny little details will come in handy."
Yeah right. As if I'm gonna be somebody, lady. That's why I'm taking more than a month.

Went to watch 'Gubra' the other day. A little dissapointed, really. I didn't enjoy it as much as 'Sepet' but being Yasmin Ahmad, the story was open, honest and original. Though the two stories ran parallel to each other, I fail to see its relevance to the story. Yes, the universal theme of love was played here but the stories could have played in different movies each without relying on one another.
Maybe I'm dissapointed because of my expectation of the movie. Never in my life have I looked forward to see a local movie which was still filming. This year there is two: Gubra and Lelaki Komunis Terakhir. Let's hope the latter won't dissapoint me as well.

I went to Istana Budaya after a 4 year-hiatus on Sunday to see Suzana @60. I guess this was a week of dissapointments as this musical also failed to impress me. Not that I looked forward to seeing it. Just another Gomen social event to attend. But at least they could have tried better after shelling out 54 bucks! Suzana @60 is strictly for 60 and above because throughout the 'musical' (more like a 60's reunion concert) you're left wondering, "Lagu apekejadah si Fazura nyanyi ni??"

Those aside, I've got a lot of things to look forward to in May. Kuman's wedding and a weekend getaway with old schoolmates certainly tops the list. Let's just hope the next time I update, it won't be in May.
Honestly, I think it will.

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o

I Got Soul But I'm Not A Soldier

Just came back from a week's getaway in a boot camp in Johor.

To be precise, it was PULADA or Pusat Latihan Tempur Tentera Darat. From the name, I guess you could get a rough picture of what I went through:
Bawah sikit je dari Neraka.

Honestly, it wasn't that bad. Like, really. A few push-ups here and there, dragging around 10 ton army boots, jumping in and out of mudholes, getting deaf by the sound of M-16s. You know. The usual askar-askar stuff.

I used to imagine playing army soldiers when I was a kid. Like, which full-grown macho kid didn't back then? Nak jadi apa bila dah besar? It's either polis, askar or Superman. (I was the only one who wanted to be Supes)
20 years on, I got a taste of the askar and polis (to be explained in another posting)
And let me tell you I had a hell of an experience. Singing to the tune of The Killers' "All These Things That I've Done" on our 4 hour bus ride there, we were expecting the worse from the stories we heard about PULADA.
The first day we arrived there on Sunday the week before, it was push-shove from the word Go! We were exposed to basic army maneuvers, which was crawling and doing side rolls. I didn't have much trouble with the crawling, though some girls developed blisters the size of Sarawak on their elbows. It was nasty I tell ya. But the side rolling part was the gem. Imagine side rolling on the ground for about 50 meters. And coming back the same way. Imagine myself, who gets motion sickness just by reading in a moving vehicle. And what do you get? Imagine me throwing my guts out. Not once. Not twice. Three times, man! The colour? If you have to know, it was yellow. I think the ayam percik they served during lunchtime had something to do with it :)
But the best part about the whole thing was that it taught me to get a grip of myself. It was all in the mind really. Even though my body couldn't take it, throwing up all over the place, I was laughing and eating 10 minutes later. It was strange really. One minute I was feeling like s*** and next minute it was "What's for dinner?"
During the whole week we were exposed to a whole lot of army stuffs. We were each given 2 full uniforms with the boots, backpack and the works. Each of us were also given an M-16 to take care for the week and to be used for shooting practice on Wednesday. To be given your own M-16 to take care of or like the Captain said, "Jaga macam kekasih sendiri" was really something. It was main tembak-tembak revisited except this was the real thing and the only thing we didn't have was live ammunition.
We went camping in the woods, took a trek up a mountain (it was more like a hill) and learned a few basic survival tips in the jungle, which included knowing which tree can be consumed and which could not. And the best part was seeing them roast some monkeys, which I almost ate if they didn't tell me it was haram.
Shooting practice was certainly a highlight for the guys. Even though we were exposed to shooting a live handgun during Police training, shooting a live M-16 was whole different ball game. For one, the targets were farther. 100 meters to be precised. And let me tell you the targets were not the size of Sarawak. No sirree bob.
And the sound? Deafening. And we even had ear muffs on! My shooting wasn't one to be proud of, really. 2 hits out of 20 bullets. Some girls even managed 16. There was this small girl in my platoon (we were separated into 3 platoons) who looked as innocent as an angel can be. The typical budak melayu-UIA-grad look. She shot 15 out of 20 if I wasn't mistaken. I called her Kathy the Killer. Her husband should be pissing in his pants. Heh.
Another highlight of our PULADA escapade was the Battle Inoculation or 'Inokulasi Tempur'. I personally enjoyed this one because this was about teamwork, bravery and effort. Working in a platoon, we were put into competition with each other. Which got my competitive drive running. Battle inoculation is a simulation of a battlefield. What us poor civilians-cum-prebet-sapu had to do was crawl ourselves for about 70 meters through designated tracks which included some barb wires and a pond which doubled as an explosive agent. Remember I said that it simulated a battlefield? That's why they had heavy artillery machine guns blasting away above our heads. With live bullets too. And the pond I told you about? They put dynamites in there and had it blasted like Old Faithful on full swing. Even though they used live bullets, I think they fired waaayyyy above our heads. They warned us not to get up so as not to be shot, but honestly I think they shot about 7 feet up just to be safe. Not that I'm telling you to stand if you're doing it. Just don't blame me if your chest gets blown away.
But it really felt like a battlefield. Everyone was urging each other on, some cried, others shouted. The bullets above our head were deafening and when they blasted the pond, the water came down from the sky like rain. Our faces were filled with mud, water and sand. Remember the opening scene in Saving Private Ryan? This was Omaha Beach without the ocean. It was truly an incredible experience.
On the last day, still in competition mode, we were made to run a race. It was called a log relay race, where working together in a platoon you had to race while carrying a log, a bullet case filled with sand, and 10 eggs. The rules were simple: The log and the bullet case can't touch the ground and the eggs, of course can't be broken lah. Simple except that you had to run a course while wading through water and crawl under obstacles too. It was a relay in the sense that you separated the platoon into 3 teams, in which the last team had to roll a big tyre instead of the log. I honestly ran a hell of a race, and was quietly dissapointed that my team finished second. Oh well, you win some and lose them, eh?
In all, my platoon finished second overall. (coz we came second in evey competion) I had to be thankful because it certainly wasn't easy. This army module really taught me a lot, especially on teamwork and discipline. OBS taught me teamwork too, but this was from a different angle altogether, more because we were competing with one another. There were a few dissapointments because some of us (including yours truly) didn't get the chance to abseil because of rain. I really looked forward to abseil myself from about 40 meters but alas, it wasn't to be as rain got the better of the situation.
Apart from that, I had no complaints altogether. I learned a lot about our Army, how they seem to be sidelined after the Communists surrendered. But we have a lot to be proud of these guys. Our Men in Green are one of the best in the world in jungle warfare and are experts in handling insurgencies. That's why even the US Army comes down to PULADA to train. This was evident from the numerous plaques that hang from their walls. Even our lodging was in the Australian camp, which they manage and maintain themselves because of their annual visit there.
Overall, I had a great time there. The skin may be darker, the hair may be shorter and the scars may be evident, but the experience was priceless. I had a wonderful time with the people there, my platoon buddies and my fellow Gomen members who really made it memorable. Whether it was the daily trips on the lori askar a.k.a lori tanah, the shouting every morning to assemble, marching to every destination or just the dumb jokes we made to gain our sanity despite the rough conditions, it was all worthwhile. And it certainly wasn't as bad as the stories we heard prior to the trip. Talk about talking bull.
Personally, I found the Japanese blood in me last week. I may not be big and strong, but what got me through the week was my semangat. I never felt stronger in the log relay because of my urge to win. After everything was done and settled, then the pains and aches start to creep in.
Was it worth it? You betcha.
Would I do it again? I'm not that crazy!

o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o