An Engineer in Kota Belud

The year was 1980. I was a  trainee naval engineer on board a naval Landing Ship Tank KD SRI Banggi. We were on a mission. The mission was to go to Kota Belud to transport a contingent of horses from the Bajau heartland of Kota Belud. The horses and men were to be ferried to Port Klang for the Coronation procession of the then Agong Sultan Ahmad Shah.

That was my first ever visit to Sabah.

It has been almost a year since I came back from England. I had a degree in engineering from a university which I did not even  bother whether it was prestigious or not. My sole intent was to get a degree. I was totally engrossed and absorbed into the life of a student in London.

Although my long hair has been cut short when joining the navy, I was still the first world engineer I was trained to be. There were lots of readjustment to the tropical life. I had difficulty adjusting to the squatting  toilet. My English was still heavily accented. I took  the Kuala Lumpur that awaited me for granted as if it has allways been like that. Not quite the first world but things were fairly comfortable. While the vessel was on its way I immersed myself in watching the Led ZEps The song Remains the Same when the other officers found the film boring.

Arriving in Kota Belud was a shock to me. The drive to the town in the military bus I saw dilipidated huts. I saw poverty allaround. The road was winding and unasphalted.

I could remember the massive mosque at the town centre. The rest of the town was basic. The Tamu was in session. You knew that this was worse then third world. . There were barefooted school kids. The women traders were unkempt. A lady invited me to join her and her daughter to have grilled fish. I politely declined.

This was a piece of Africa. I realized that this was something that I was familiar with.  Those women selling their jungle produce were not unlike my aunties. Those fishermen look like my Tok Siman, my fishermen neighbor in Batu Pahat. These were the images that have been stored in my memory banks. These were the images of my kampung in the sixties.

It has occured to me once. Seated on my favorite bench in the embankment garden observing the world unfolding, I realized the tremendous change that I have gone through in the past 15 years or so. The only consolotion was that the change  for me has been gradual, but remembering emak and Abah and my aunties and relations it was as if uprooting me from the fringe of the tropical forest to the hustle and bustle of London the world capital.

In my first year in University I was struggling to visualize an engine component in My engineering drawing Class.  While my course mates have had the benefits of being exposed to the Harriers and the Concorde, I had my abah’s single piston old honda to contend with.

For children in the new century, it would be difficult to comprehend this ancient creature of the past. I can claim to be very current, thanks to my continual pursuit for knowledge, they would not be able to visualize the long journey that people of my generation has gone through.

I can claim to be a Merdeka child. Officially my date of birth is November 1957. I said official because I could not be sure the actual date of my birth. Delaying registrations were common for whatever reasons.

You took things for granted. Then you realized that when I first attended school, the country has just been 6 years after independence. You realized that your abah and emak were illiterate then. There were still no electricity, no piped water and the laterite roads were muddy during the rainy seasons.

I was determined to put into posterity those images of me, my family, my kampung, my people, my environment, my culture. The objective was to remember things we have lost and to appreciate things we have gained.

This is a collection of snapshots of those.

I do not claim to represent my generation. I have been lucky. I have been plucked from an obscure kampong school to attend the best school in the land and to graduate from one of the finest university in the world. I had the opportunity to travel the world. For every one as fortunate as me there are hundreds of thousands that are still in a different world.

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