perhentian islands

Sunday, April 20, 2014

I have finally completed my basic military training, and as much as I am glad to have it out of the way, it was only the beginning of my national service and the road is still long. A national serviceman has two weeks of leave in one year of national service, and we are given one week of mandatory leave upon completion of basic military training. So I naturally decided to put my week of leave into good use by doing what I love most - traveling.

After considering a few options (including returning to the tropical islands of Thailand and visiting Ubud and the Gili Islands of Indonesia), I eventually decided to head up to Malaysia where I'd visit an old friend and my beloved relatives in Kuala Lumpur before traveling to Perhentian Islands, a place I have always wanted to visit but never had.

And I didn't regret my decision. Perhentian Islands was splendid. I stayed on the smaller island where the waters were pristine and untainted and the coral life was abundant and exceptional. Perhentian was a quiet, serene island isolated off the east coast of Malaysia, and unlike the islands of Thailand I visited, it was secluded and peaceful. It was an island that mainly consisted of locals apart from a handful of young backpackers looking to get away from the bustling cities we have gotten used to.

My stay there was ephemeral; a few short days that has passed by too fleetingly and has now become nothing but a part of my memory. But I felt right at home when I was there once. I felt at ease and comfortable because I finally felt like myself once again. I was making friends with kind and loving people from different parts of the world. I was doing the only thing that made me feel alive; I was traveling once again. I was Alaska.

My days on the island were spent lying on the beach for hours under the burning sun, swimming with the fishes and sea animals underwater and talking about life with strangers that I could instantly connect to by the beach with the reassuring bonfire under the warm moon and dazzling stars that made my head whirl with a dreamy blurriness. I rode the waves of the sea and felt the wind pelt against my face. I have been under the sea and above the clouds. I was where I needed to be; I've always felt that I belonged to the sea. And I felt free. I was free.

And as the day when I had to leave the islands inevitably arrived, I took the speedboat back to mainland of Malaysia as I watched the lovely Perhentian islands slowly and unwillingly fade out of my sight. I turned to my head to the left and to the right and all I saw was the calm and endless sea that bordered the blue sky, and rainbows that emerged every time the water from the bumpy speedboat struck violently against the sea.

Like all things good and evil, my vacation has come to an end and national service will resume tomorrow. But nothing lasts forever, that I will always remember.


Saturday, March 8, 2014

Over a month ago, I enlisted into national service and officially embarked on life as a soldier. It has been only a month, which is unnerving to think about because it feels as though I've been doing this for longer than I can remember.

I am only allowed to be home on the weekends and I haven't been taking photographs with my camera in awhile, but here are some photos I snapped with my iPhone 4S.

As I have predicted last year when I'd first found out about my enlistment date, this year has already been the most challenging and daunting one in my life. Although I've accepted the fact that I would have barely have any say in these two years of my life, I found it extremely difficult to adapt to military life.

I've had many tough days, and on some days I am close to giving up. But I look up into the sky and I know that I am strong and I will be able to withstand whatever that comes. I feel that this is another test in my life and that I have been prepared my entire life to face this. I feel like all the obstacles I have faced before were to prepare me for this, which I am certain to overcome with resilience, like I have with the other obstacles.

A month has passed invariably and I have entered a new phase of life as a national servicemen. I have just moved from the basic military training camp on Tekong Island to another camp not too far off the town I live in. Although my days in bootcamp are far from being over, I miss being on that beautiful island where every sunrise and sunset is beautiful, every day is a clear blue sky, and every night the stars in the sky that shine brightly look like home. However, I hope that being closer to home in my new camp will bring me a different sense of comfort and strength.

Being perpetually surrounded with men in the last month has taught me about human behavior and I have learned more about people than I already did. I have experienced and observed a lot in the past month and as much as I wish to talk about them, I am not at liberty to do so publicly. However, I have been writing daily as usual, and I hope that one day I will be able to let my voice be heard to the world.

I have also received terrific news from one of the universities I applied to – much to my delight – and I await news from the other colleges I applied to before I decide on which school I wish to study at. It will be at least twenty-three months before I can begin college, but I am looking forward to that day very much.

I am thankful for my life, no matter how difficult things can get. I am thankful.

buzzcut season

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Today has finally arrived. The fourth of February, year twenty-fourteen. The day I enlist into national service. The day that has been waiting for me.

Today is buzz cut season. Today, my head would be involuntarily shaved into a buzz cut. The grim initiation ceremony that symbolizes the start of the loss of my identity, maybe even dignity. I will no longer be considered an individual in the eyes of the army starting today. I would be seen just as a novice, a recruit, a soldier.

As you read this, I am probably en route towards the Tekong Island where the Basic Military Training (BMT) for national service enlistees is held, or I might even be there by now. I don't know what I would be doing today, tomorrow, next week or the week after. But I know that I didn't choose to be here.

After spending too much time of my life dreading this day, obsessing with finding ways to escape this day, crying about this day, I thought I ought to have impassioned feelings about today now that it has finally arrived or at least have some kind of feeling about today, but I realize I don't feel anything.

It's not that I couldn't be bothered about the fact that I am inherently losing a huge part (if not all) of my freedom to the government starting today; it's just now that this day has arrived, I think it renders pointless to be feeling any type of way now that today is here. Today has arrived. I should be feeling happy, just because I am present. And if I find it difficult to be feeling happy, then I shall at least endeavor to not possess any negative feelings.

Starting today, and for the next two years, I would have almost no choice in most of the things that I do. I would have to accept orders from people I don't know today, comply with commands (however arbitrary they will be) and I would have to conform. These are concepts that are foreign to me and I am uncomfortable with.

But this is a fact that I cannot change and now that I've established this, I will have to learn to deal with it; just like anything in life, really. Life only starts at the end of one's comfort zone and nobody would always get to do whatever they want. I believe that everything happens for a reason and although I do not know why I am in this unfortunate predicament of having to deal with something I don't want to for such a long time, I believe I will one day. And I hope my faith will carry me throughout the next two nebulous years with strength, resilience, patience and wisdom.

southeast asia trip: inle lake

Saturday, February 1, 2014

(This is the eleventh and final instalment of a series of travel posts from my personal diary I am sharing from my travels around Southeast Asia this year. If you wish to start from the beginning or check if you've missed out on any, you can view them as a set here.)

After we bid an unwilling goodbye to Mieke and Jazie, Nick and I headed towards our final destination in Myanmar - the famous Inle Lake located within Nyaungshwe in Shan State. I've seen photos from my travel books of Inle Lake and this place was probably the place I looked forward to the most, and I am glad to say I wasn't disappointed.

We got into Eastern Myanmar by flying into Heho, traveled by road to Nyaungshwe which took about an hour and rested there for the night where it was freezing cold. Nyaungshwe was a busy, sprawling city; unlike any other city we've been to in the country, so I was eager to see if Inle Lake would live up to its idyllic, pristine condition.

Nick and I spent our first day cycling around Nyaungshwe on our bikes, dancing with radiating sunflowers in the towering corn fields and stripping naked in the field. The next day, we befriended three guys who were from Belgium, France and Spain and we spent the day together on a long-tail boat. We started from the river in Ngaungshwe city center and we sailed into the misty clouds that rested hazily above the water. It was freezing in the morning, just like the nights, but as the sun imperceptibly crept up and noon approached, the wintry frost left without a trail. I thought it was fascinating how the sky turned from misty gray to immaculate sky blue in a matter of minutes.

Inle Lake was incontestably one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to in my life, so largely untouched by mankind and absolutely natural. It hurts me to imagine that Myanmar would never always remain like this, but also serves me to be thankful to have had the opportunity to visit the country in its most primitive form.

We flew back into Yangon and took an uneventful day trip to Kinpun where the famous Golden Rock resided before flying back into Bangkok the following day. I then took an amnesic journey to Koh Phangan where I spent New Years Eve, before heading to Krabi on New Years where I spent my remaining few travel days in solitude on the islands nursing my hangovers, recovering from my second food poisoning, reflecting on my travel experiences, and anticipating the nebulous future that inevitably awaited.