As mentioned in the post about jetlag we are here to recharge our batteries after the long flight. Another reason is our intention to attend a retreat at Dhamma Malaya which is situated west of Kuantan, reachable by RapidKuantan bus 100. We arrive at Kuantan after a 3.5hrs bus trip from KL station TBS (Terminal Bersepadu Selatan). After we have clarified how to get there we cross the road close to the Central Market which is next to the Hentian Bandar (Town Bus Stop). Well, let’s say we try to cross 😉 It’s a four lane road with a never-ending flow of cars and buses. Over time, we get better at this, even to the point of regarding it as some kind of sport to find the right timing, i.e. the kairos of starting the sprint.
As I had to leave the gas cartridge for my portable gas cooker, i try to find a new one in Kuantan. Alas, no chance. Some things go smoothly. Others are not. Wanting always plays a part. It is the precursor to suffering. That, at least, becomes painstakingly clear. After half a dozen shops and malls I give up on actively looking for a gas cartridge. Would have been a help to cook some water or beans in the jungle, but whatever… does it realy matter? Nope. Once I let go it becomes so obvious how most of the things I think I need are simply things I do not own. Once I own something, the job is done, so to speak. I get, and then I for-get. Isn’t it… an almost too human habit? We all get attached not to things but to the cravings. What follows therefrom is a state of restlessness ever pushing us further into a miserable state of mind dissatisfied with what is actually happening.
So what IS happening?
Today I get up early, at around 6 a.m. and stretch my limbs for about half an hour. I go to the nearby big market (Bazar Besar) to buy some papaya and bananas for breakfast. Joy and I have brekkie in the room and then take the RapidKuantan bus 200 to Teluk Cempedak, the easternmost part of the city.
Before we reach the beach at Teluk Cempedak we catch sight of McD, KFC, StB, 7/11. We pass all of them and go along the beach and the plastic bridge to arrive at an area called Tongkang Beach. The colourful signs which are fastened to numerous trees carry a clear message: “Private area” and “No Pay No Stay!”, while others are announcing the prices of having a picnic there, using the toilet, littering etc.
Who puts up these signs?, I think. Curiously, yet somewhat cautiously we venture forth into the dragon’s lair. The first guy we see is a bearded man washing his wild red mane. He looks up and asks: ‘Oh, you must be the couch surfers, right?!’ Without thinking, I respond that yes, we are couch surfers, too. We introduce ourselves and find out that this place is a café. It’s called Sempai Café. The owner comes out and welcomes us to his abode. His name is Thom, and he lives here with MayMay and his two-month old daughter Lya. They are happy to have us here after the retreat. Easy!
We go through the jungle to the other side of Teluk Cempedak and arrive at a beach. No signs here. All empty. Only three boys playing over there. The rest of the beach is one long stretch of white sand. The ocean waves are inviting us to take a dip. After about five or ten minutes, we are visited by a helicopter. He circles above us and then leaves again. Five minutes later he comes back and we have one strange encounter with it. The pilot draws near and hovers just 5 metres above the beach, confronting us, as if inquiring: ‘ Identify yourselves. What are you doing here? How did you get here?’ An awkward situation. The helicopter seems to prepare a landing on that empty beach because of us? Have we done something forbidden? Overlooked a sign?: “No access! Military training ground!” Maybe it was just the coast guard that haveseen me wave to Joy from the sea and thought I need help? Whatever it is, we have no intention of finding out. Instead, we pick up our stuff and vanish back into the jungle, partly enjoying the adrenaline rush while the deafening rotorblades of the helicopter makes verbal communication an almost impossible undertaking.
We return to Sempai café and tell Thom that we are going to visit again in a fortnight, i.e. after the Goenka retreat. So after two weeks we revisit that place and stay as couch surfers in a tent. And in the course of our stay, it becomes increasingly clear for us how Thom tries to establish a business here while for the Malay people it must feel weird to be asked to pay a Frenchman in order to be allowed to stay at a Malay beach and enjoy a family picnic. Imagine you go to the Danube island in Vienna and some Chinese businessman has recently opened a bar and you come there just like every weekend, and now you’re asked to pay for sitting down and having a picnic with your family. In life and in death, I find it is of utmost importance always to see both sides of the equation.