Monday, November 10, 2008

Bidong Story - 7


In the early 90’s, I was given the opportunity to join a trip to Pulau Bidong in Terengganu. I was a Canoeing Couch for ‘Persatuan Rekreasi Negeri Terengganu’ at that time. All the Canoe Coaches for ‘Persatuan Rekreasi Negeri Terengganu’ were invited to join the trip that was organized by the Terengganu Tourist Centre, to visit this island that was once occupied by the Vietnamese refugees.

Pulau Bidong sound scary for me as I had heard a lot of sad stories happened there. This island was being used as a Vietnamese Refugee Camp. It has recorded a lot of death cases that caused by diseases, mentally disorders, and suicide. All these incidents happened because of their savage experiences during Comunist Regimn such as their families being killed and witnessed by them etc. They also said that many of them died before they reached this island because of big waves and drowned.

Even though we were scared to hear those stories, but the curiosity to explore this island give us the spirit to join the trip. In addition, my friend always supported and motivated me not to let go this golden opportunity. This would be a life time opportunity because this island is banned for public.

We gathered at Marang Jetty in the early morning. After having our breakfast together, we got into the tourist boat owned by Negeri Terengganu Tourist Centre. The experiences while on the boat were very interesting. Some of the participants were having ‘sea sick’ and dizziness. But Alhamdulillah, I managed to face it with calm. I’ve already used to be out at sea.

The wind blew heavily during our journey. The big wave hit our boat several times, but the captain manage to control the boat with his expertise. Not long after that, we could see the island far in front of us. As we were getting nearer to the beach, we saw several old building on the island. One of the buildings that we saw was the Red Cross building which faced the sea. It was surrounded by the hostels that had been used for the refugees.
A troupe army consisting of officers and soldiers welcomed us as we reached the island. This army helped to guard the island after it being ‘cleaned’. It was a big success for me to reach this island and it gave me an interesting experiences. Even though it was a little bit scary but I was also excited to see the whole beautiful beaches. All these scenaries are ‘eye catching’. But the abundant buildings looked scary. Were they hunted?…

My friends were also having the same feelings as me. Mr. Wan Adnan, the chairman of Recreational Associate that we called ‘abah’ smiled at us. “There aren’t ghosts at that time,” he said.

Then we gathered at the beach to have a briefing from an army officer (a captain). He explained to us that the island is ‘cleaned’. All the Vietnamese refugees were send to the other countries that involved in ‘The Help For War Victims’. Many of them are scared to go back to their own country even though the Comunist Regimn are no longer controlled their country. But according to the captain, this island is now under army control as to avoid any attack from smugglers and pirates.

After the briefing, we went to visit the Red Cross building that was being used to help the sick and injured people. The building that face the sea are still in good condition. But it was quite quiet here and sound creepy. There were beds and cupboards left in this building together with old untidy desks.

Besides the Red Cross building, there was another abandoned building that was being used by the refugees. The building was big and long like ‘Rumah Panjang’ at Sarawak. There were only several windows. It made our voices and stamps of the feet echoed and sound more scary. Then we saw a big well inside the building. According to the captain, the well was used by the refugees for their purposed.

In the afternoon, we had our lunch prepared by the army. They were very friendly. They told their experience regarding with their works as guards. Each group would guard the island for several months. Then the other group would take turn to replaced. They said that life was so boring here…

After having our lunch, we were given the opportunity to swim in the sea. We went canoeing and snorkeling alternately as there were not enough equipment for us. During snorkeling, I saw beautiful corals although it was near the beach. I guessed they were more beautiful than the other places I went. It would be a waste as public cannot share the beauty.

After snorkeling, ‘Abang Usop’ and I went canoeing together. We canoed along the beach to see the scenaries of the island. The army officer told us not to go to the other side of the island it faced South China Sea. The waves were stronger and dangerous. We accepted his advise.

During canoeing along the beach, the wave sounded creepy and scary as though someone was whispering. We didn’t know why. Maybe it was just our feelings. Then we turned back to our campsite at the beach. We told to the captain about our scary feelings. He said, there were a lots of bad things happened here. The sudden death, the drowning refugees, the suicide etc. Because of these incidents made this place a little bit scary and weird even in daytime. Actually, we didn’t believe all these things but the feelings were just there.

To calm down our feelings, we decided to take walk along the beach. At one side of the beach, the refugees had built a monument to tell everyone, that they had lived there. Even though it was not beautiful but it was meaningful to them. We felt sad to see it.

Late that evening, we took our bath at the well inside the abundant building. There wasn’t proper water supply in this island. And again, we were being disturbed by the sounds of the water splashing during our bath. It produced scary and creepy sounds. We continued our bathing even though we were so scared. After finishing our bath, we went back to our camp immediately to perform our prayer.

At that night, we enjoyed seeing the scenery of the sea and the sky. Allah’s creations were so lovely. The stars were twinkling and we could see fisherman doing their catch. Abah said, they use nets to catch fish and ‘mencandat sotong’. This was squids seasons.

Then, I saw a boat getting nearer to the beach. Our friends had just came back from ‘mencandat sotong’. That’s why I didn’t see them earlier. Quietly they went out to the sea to catch squids. We prepared for barbeque and grilled the squids. The taste were marvelous. We enjoyed our dinner at the beach. Around midnight, we went back to our camp to rest.

I was awoke from my deep sleep. I could feel the wind blew hard on my body. Our tents were blown away by the wind. I had a glanced at my watch, it was 2.00 a.m. We could not pitch the tents because of the storm. We were not allow to go into the buildings as they were no electricity supply. The night was dark and before that the captain advised us not to take shelter there to avoid any danger. Finally we had to spend our night on the sandy beach. We sat closely to each others as the night was cold. But our eyes could not close anymore.

I woke up at 5.00 a.m. The cold wind swept my body and I was shivering. Abah was gathering sticks to make fire. I knew he didn’t sleep either. I offered him my hands. We sat around the camp fire and talked about the storm that night. For me, it was a meaningful experience that I’ve never had. It didn’t mean that I never went camping before, but the experience of the stormy night was a different one. Moreover it happened on the mysterious island, Pulau Bidong. I would never forget it. It always in my mind.

That morning, the captain came to see us. We told him what happened the night before. He told us that it was a common situation for them. Sometimes the strong wind blew together with heavy rain. It happened because the island was far from the main land. The wind blew from all directions.

The chairmain of Negeri Terengganu Tourist Centre told us that the state government had planned to develop the island for tourism purposes, but until now the authority still work out on it. One of the reasons that they visited the island was to measure the safety of the island when they open to public.

We had our breakfast as we continued our conversation. Without ‘roti canai’ , ‘nasi lemak’ , ‘nasi dagang’, we still enjoyed bread with jam and hot coffee. Having breakfast on the sandy beaches on the beautiful island made us really enjoyed the moment. Deep in my heart I believed that Pulau Bidong is more enchanting that Pulau Kapas, Pulau Redang, Pulau Perhentian or Gem Islands. Unluckily the old and abandoned building spoiled the scenery of the islands. If it had been developed earlier and never been a place for the Vietnamese refugees surely it will attract local tourist and foreigners.

Until now, Pulau Bidong is still under the army observation. The plans to develop the island by the state government and the Tourism Associate of Negeri Terengganu are still uncertained.

I will never forget my experienced exploring the island with my friends. I really enjoyed my two days and night stay on the island. This meaningful experience made me felt very luckily and proud to be a Malaysian. I will always appreciate every moment of my life.
Distributed by Pn Zaiton Abdullah, schoolteacher from Terengganu,Malaysia.

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