Thursday, August 31, 2006

Project Happy Malaysia: My Terengganu Story

With the depressing state of affairs concerning our country published in the mainstream newspapers day in day out (not that I would prefer honey-glazed stories painting a beautiful but fake picture instead), one would think Malaysia really is the most horrible place on earth to live in. So, when I read this blog entry by Suanie, I knew I had to be part of it. So here's my contribution for Vincent's Project Happy Malaysia. WARNING: Very long great-grandmother-in-law story ahead! :P

When I first arrived in Terengganu, the land of sandy white beaches, clear blue seas, astonishing islands, keropok lekor and jus gelas besar (some say marine turtles too but you would be hard-pressed to find one these days), to pursue my first degree (of my choice), we freshmen were told to embrace life in the laid-back fishing village instead of cursing every single living thing around us for getting our behinds sent to this god-forsaken place. The truth is, there were just a handful of us who could be seen with a smile on our faces. Since I was offered to pursue a degree of my choice, I suppose there's nothing that could possibly upset me at the time.

According to the orientation facilitators, life in Terengganu is one life you could not get anywhere else in Malaysia. As an example, they told an alleged true story about how one student dropped his wallet, had walked about 100m down the road only for an old man to call out to him from behind, walked quickly up to him and returned his wallet (cash, condom and all). Obviously thankful for what the old man had done, he offered the old man a cash reward only for the old man to decline. The old man remarked that it is only right that he returned the wallet to its rightful owner and no reward was necessary. Inside the wallet were a few hundred ringgit but not one note was out of place. The old man never even bothered to look at the contents of the wallet.

That story stuck with me because it stood out like a sore thumb. Coming from a bustling city like Penang where something like this could only happen in dreams, I was totally skeptical of what the seniors were trying to feed our tiny little brains. What they were trying to tell us was the poeple in Terengganu were truly honest and friendly folks but to us the story was pure bullshit. How is it possible that someone would return a loaded wallet to its owner? Are there still honest people these days?

As I walked through the streets of Kuala Terengganu, I experienced first hand how friendly and hospitable Terengganu folks can be. I was on one side of a busy main road waiting to cross to the other side when the moving cars actually stopped in traffic so I could cross the road! This happened right in the middle of town on a busy main street! It wasn't as if traffic was not moving that they had to stop. It wasn't as if I was at a zebra crossing or some traffic lights. They just saw me trying to cross the road and actually stopped their cars so I could cross. The best thing is, it happened nearly everytime I wanted to cross the road! Now then, try beating that for friendliness and hospitality! Even here in USM (or anywhere else for that matter), road users don't seem to understand that they are suppose to stop at zebra crossings for pedestrians to cross. Of course, all of that changed when I was in my final year of study as an influx of vehicles with 'W' number plates flooded the streets of Terengganu. Driving ethics were flushed down the toilet bowl and crossing the roads became even more dangerous than performing yoga on a full stomach.

I started to believe that life in Terengganu is indeed unique and wonderful. The sleepy fishing town is so stress-free you would want to stay there forever. But that is not exactly my story for Project Happy Malaysia although it probably would do considering the haphazard driving we see everyday on Malaysian roads. Instead, it is more related to the alleged true story I mentioned in the earlier part of this story.

It was the eve of my very final paper. After tomorrow, I would be a free man. Instead of preparing for that exam, I had to run around doing something else. As I was riding pillion on my friend's bike on the way home after lunch, I suddenly realised that my wallet had slipped out of my pocket somewhere along the road. I immediately informed my friend and we quickly backstracked. It was at most just five minutes before I realised I had lost my wallet and it was just a short distance of searching to do but we couldn't find any trace of my wallet.

Consigned to the thought of having lost my wallet for good, we went to the main police station in Kuala Terengganu to lodge a police report. Upon arrival, they directed me to lodge the police report at a secluded police station which was about an hour's journey away because that police station was responsible for the district where I lost my wallet. Arggh! I hate bureaucracy.

Since we were already in town, I went to the National Registration Department to apply for a new IC. I was told that the IC would be ready in about three months time and I had to personally collect it from that very branch itself! Since I was going to be in Terengganu for another week at most, I decided to live without an IC for a week and apply for a replacement back in Penang instead. Boy, did I feel like an illegal immigrant at the time! Again, bureaucracy!

After spending a solid few hours trying to settle my lost wallet woes, I really felt guilty that my friend was tagging along just to accompany me because he knows how distraught I was. He could really use the few hours to prepare for the final paper. As for me, I couldn't care less if I flunked the paper. I just wasn't in the mood anymore to do anything else.

After a long and ardous journey, we finally reached the very secluded in-the-middle-of-nowhere police station. After mentioning to the police officer at the counter that I was there to make a police report regarding my lost wallet, he politely asked me to wait for my turn. I told him that I could easily write the report myself and would really appreciate it since we could get it all over with sooner rather than later and go home to prepare for our final paper. He smiled at me, reminded me that patience was a virtue and told me not to worry at all. Anyway, he said it was going to be more complicated than just writing a police report. Gahh! Bureaucracy, bureaucracy, bureaucracy!!! I was so close to exploding there and then.

Having taken his own sweet time to settle the person before me, he finally called me over and instructed me to write my name on a piece of paper. I did what he asked although I couldn't see the relevance of that to me making a police report. He glanced through my name and flipped the paper over. He asked, "Ini name you? (Is this your name?)", referring to a name scribbled on the other side of the paper. It resembled my name although there were a few typos so I replied, "Agak sama-lah. (About the same)." What he said after that changed my day 180 degrees. "Jangan risau dik. Dompet you sudah dijumpa. Semua pun ada. Duit pun ada. Kan I kata tadi tak payah risau? (Don't worry. Your wallet has been found. Everything is there even your money. Didn't I tell you not to worry early on?)"

I was totally relieved to hear that although I didn't believe the part about my money still being there. All I wanted was my personal documents to be there so I wouldn't need to replace them. I didn't mind losing the money, really. He assured me that my money was all there down to the very ringgit and handed me a note.

He gave me instructions on who, where, when and how to collect my wallet. I proceeded as instructed and got back my wallet with every single item still intact, money down to the very ringgit! It was truly unbelievable and the story I first heard during orientation flashed back into memory. The person who found my wallet was an ustaz (religious teacher) teaching in a primary school nearby who saw my wallet drop and immediately picked it up which he promptly handed over to the ajutan (some ranking army training officer if my memory serves me right) of the army training camp nearby.

The ustaz admitted however that if it were to be someone else who found the wallet, I would probably not be so lucky. Many of my friends pointed out how lucky I was to have an ustaz find my wallet. To me, it doesn't matter at all if you are a religious guru or not. As long as you are honest and have a good heart, you would have returned the wallet to its rightful owner. You can be the most pious person and still be evil if you wanted to.

Anyway, I bought a fruit basket and delivered it to him at the school to thank him personally. That was immediately after I've aced my final paper, achieved a GPA of 4.0 for the last semester and went on to be the top student in my course *ahem*. To this day, I still keep that piece of note to remind me of this incident. Now I have this blog entry to do so too. I may not like many things in Malaysia (as can be seen by many of my blog entries) but it is incidents like this one that reminds me Malaysia is not all bad. Bureaucracy may suck but if it weren't for bureaucracy that sent me to that secluded police station, I wouldn't have known that my wallet was already found and would have gone to all the trouble to replace all my personal documents and paid for the replacements too.

True, Malaysia needs to improve on a lot of things but if you think hard enough, there are many aspects of the country that you love so much. As the saying goes, there's no place like home. There is hope for Malaysia after all and it is us Malaysians that can and will decide how we want to shape our nation. As our nation celebrates its 49th year of independence, let's look at the brighter side of things about Malaysia, at least for just one day. Our country deserves that much. No need for any Jalur Gemilang. As they say, it's the thought that counts.

Happy Merdeka.


  1. truely inspiring story. :>
    Happy Merdeka!

  2. makes u want to jump on the next plane to terengganu, no?

    it's cool that u still have the note after so long... :)
    anyways, this story will only last for a week. more...tell us more...

  3. i write so long and it will only last one week?!? it should be good enough for a whole month! :P

    many factors that has been impeding the fluency of my blogging lately. don't see it being resolved anytime soon. :(

    unless a kind soul could throw a working laptop my way... ;)