The image on the home page is of a beach near Telaga Papan, in Terengganu. Its a place I love to spend hours reminiscing, reflecting about my life and those around me. Sometimes I catch glimpses of fishermen bring in their catch of the day. But wait for the sunset. Its fantastic mix of colors.
Check out my latest article “A Kind Of Paradise” under Category – Terengganu. Actually this article was written for a submission to a writing competition. It is about a beautiful kampong called Kampong Mangkok with Pantai Penarik. Pantai Penarik is a popular beach with locals.
It was a real hot, dry afternoon with no sign of relief from the rain clouds. I could feel beads of sweat trickling down my neck and elsewhere even as we sat underneath the shade of some coconut trees with the wind softly blowing from the sea (Fig 1). Even cold, sweet pineapple juice in tall glasses could not douse our hot discussion about drug use and remand prison time with two pill kuda users.
Pil Kuda is locally referred to as methamphetamine. In Kelantan, its retail price is RM10 but in Terengganu, it is RM15 – RM20. The pills are smuggled from Thailand into Kelantan and are what some people term as a poor man’s drug. Ketamine is called pill kuda because its use was for calming horses. Then we have syabu or pure methamphetamine, heroin, ganja (whose real medicinal value is as a pain killer), cocaine (like cocaine tooth drops to relief tooth ache) and ecstasy party pills (methylenedioxymethamphetamine). I did not realize how bad the drug problem in Terengganu was until that morning in Permaisuri.
Seated in the front row of the lower court that morning, I had an opportunity to listen to many remand cases while waiting for the specific case of interest to be mentioned. It seemed that out of 24 remand cases mentioned that morning, 23 were drug related and all involved Malays. This is an alarming trend. One remand case I heard was a well-dressed 65 year old man with dark glasses called Cikgu (teacher in Malay). He looked more like a headmaster of some remote school than a drug user or a drug peddler. The 65 year old drug user made an appeal for the magistrate to reduce the charge of RM6000. He made all attempts using poetic language in his appeal to impress the magistrate. The magistrate, a sweet young lady with hijab and beautiful painted lips, granted him a reduction of RM2,500. But he was far from satisfied. As he was being led out by a policeman, I heard him swore under his breath, with a look of disgust on his face. The “headmaster-look” completely disappeared and in its place, the face of an unrepentant drug peddler.
A young drug user on remand failed to attend the lower court hearing that morning , forcing his old man to present himself at the court since he was the one who posted bail. In Malaysia, you can pay bail to go home instead of going to jail while waiting for hearing. The lady magistrate did not hide her disgust and threatened to take away the old man’s bail money if the son failed to attend the next hearing. Then there was a young man about 20 years old who presented himself. He was dressed in short-sleeved tee shirt revealing old scars on his arms indicative of intravenous drug use. Almost all prisoners made gestures of defiance as they were being lead away. Many were young men maybe in early twenties and a few seasoned-looking hard-core drug users or drug pushers. One was a fresh-looking man in his early forties whose charges were duly dropped. And later when we met him outside, he related to us how he tried to help my friend’s worker during a raid by ADDK. But having watched too much American cop movies, his story made us a little skeptical. Could he be an informant?
Mezoh, a Patani who was working on my friend’s house, is a recreational drug user, resorting to pil kuda once or twice a week when he felt a physical burnout after his daily work on site. He is only 45 years old and very lean-build. Although from Patani, he spoke little Thai. On the day he was arrested in an ADDK (Agensi Anti-Dadah Kebangsaan or National Anti-Drugs Agency) raid on a house in Permaisuri, 2 months before, he was with some friends, smoking. The raid happened suddenly and quickly. ADDK officers appeared out of nowhere as if an informant had a hand in it. Mezoh suddenly found himself in jail waiting to be charged (Fig 2). If the court decides to put you on remand, it means you will go to prison until your hearing at a magistrate’s court. Mezoh was kept in jail for two months due to investigation by the police who had to be extra-careful with cases involving foreigners.
Mezoh related how much he suffered mentally and physically while on the two-months remand in Merang. 65 prisoners were confined to a space of about 30 feet by 30 feet. Space was so tight that if he left his spot to ease himself, he would find his space “gone” by the time he got back, duly occupied by another prisoner. The same space was also used for sleeping and there were no beds. Food was scarce. Prisoners were allowed five spoons of rice twice a day. Tea drinks were without any sugar and sometimes prisoners fight over tea. He looked like he did not lose much weight but then none of the prisoners did any physical work. They were not even allowed to attend weekly Friday prayers. Mezoh thought such conditions were unheard of in a Thai prison, on remand or not.
Lae, a 60 year old seasoned drug user, was constantly in and out of jail for drug use making him almost resilient. How he “got over” the drug habit was actually a result of an attachment to a tablir group during his parole years. It seemed to have straightened him out a bit, although it is anybody’s guess when he would cave in next. He had been taking drugs on and off since he was 20. Now he seemed to show some promising signs of discipline and resolve. He now keeps a dairy to jot down his duas and daily expenses from the little money his children gave him. This was seen as positive step towards recovery.
Figure 3: A peaceful, beautiful place in Mangkuk, Terengganu.
It made me wonder why these youngsters and even a few elderly men like Mezoh and Lae (residents of Mangkuk, Fig 3), resort to drug use? According to a 2018 AADK survey of drug addicts, (https://www.adk.gov.my) by state, showed Kelantan to have the highest number of drug addicts at 4,153 followed by Kedah at 2,693. Out of 25,267 drug cases surveyed, 82% are Malays, 6.3% are Indians, and 96% of this number are males. Among the drug users, the top most prone to drug abuse are the unemployed (3,650), the general workers (5621) and the part time workers (8,086). Socio-economic factors such as poverty and lack of employment opportunity are cited as some of the causes for high drug use among fishermen, according to Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation (MCPF)(August 2017,nst.com.my).
Malaysia may have the strictest drug laws in the world, but the rising trend in drug abuse may require a rethink of its drug control strategies.
Some say dreams are made of sun, sea , sand and coconuts, while some think a coconut is a definition of a taste of paradise. But where ever you are, the coconut has the ability to transport you to some beautiful tropical coastline in your mind. It is as if you were lying on some fine white sandy beach, sipping coconut water in beautiful Terengganu.
But do you know how much work goes into your coconut drink? And I don’t mean the sweat behind preparing some exotic coconut water cocktails in the bar or in the kitchen of a restaurant. I mean the hard work behind getting the coconuts off the trees, some reaching to more than 60 or 70 feet high. In coconut farms in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Malaysia, India, coconut farmers use monkeys to pick coconuts. Thailand took coconut plucking to the next level by having a Buddhist-inspired school in Surat Thani to train monkeys. The school it seemed is funded to teach monkeys how to pick coconuts without use of force or violence. The practice of using pig-tailed macaques to pick coconuts started since around 400 years ago (https://www.npr.org Eliza Barkley,2011). Malaysia too has a school in Padang Halban, Kelantan, run by a 63 year old grandfather, Wan Ibrahim Wan Mat (news.com.au, April 2018) to train macaques to pick coconuts.
But while travelling around Terengganu one morning, I came across a young man (not a macaque monkey) picking coconuts off a tree on a beach in Mangkuk (Fig 1). Mangkuk is a peaceful paradise, situated in between the Setiu River and the blue South China Sea. It is a mix of old and new – traditional Malay houses, with unvarnished timber aged by sea breeze laden with salts and resort-like concrete beach houses. It is populated by hundreds of swaying coconut trees, casuarinas, grazing cows and goats. Occasionally a kampong boy cycles past. The fine white sandy beach stretches from as far as the eyes could see, sometimes tainted by discarded plastic bottles. The breeze blows softly from the sea on most days. The monsoon months however (between November to February), bring endless rain, strong winds and raging seas (Fig 2). During the monsoons, the raging seas would mean fishermen would have to look for alternative source of income.
Figure 2: The angry sea during the monsoons, raging on the beaches in Kampong Telaga Papan, Chalok
I met a Malay gentleman, his hand holding on to a line dangling from the top of one coconut tree. As I looked up, I saw a boy perched on top of the tree. The boy would select specific bunches, tie them with the string, and the man on the ground would hoist the bunches safely down to the ground. This the boy would do for several times until he was satisfied there were no more nice pickings. He would work his way down while clasping the trunk with ease without the use of any gadget or safety harness. Then they would pick another two or three coconut trees to select more bunches of coconuts. It seemed that even though the coconut trees grow in land belonging to some land owner in the kampong, coconut plucking from these trees are a gesture of charity by the land owner.
I remember some 50 years ago, seeing one Indian man climbing a coconut tree in my own kampong. He would use a ring made from plant fibre, attached around his ankles before he started the climb. This ring would really hasten his climbing speed. But this Malay boy Amin did not use any gadget on his feet nor a safety harness on his body. Amin, probably 15 or 16 years old, was slim, with an athletic build and long limbs, browned by the tropical sun. He was fearless. He had been plucking coconuts since he was 14 years old, learning the art from his grandfather.
Figure 3: Amin picked coconuts off the trees in Mangkuk, Penarik, Terengganu
Figure 4: Amin happily climbing down the coconut tree with no harness of any kind.
It seemed a monkey can pick about 1,600 coconuts a day in Thailand, and about 800 coconuts a day in Malaysia. A boy like Amin probably could pluck about 80 coconuts a day. But the difference is in the delivery and the target market. Monkeys throw down coconuts from the top of the tree, which could break the fruits. But climbers like Amin would deliver beautiful green coconuts safely in one piece, perhaps more for tourists like me to savour the coconut water.
But would you pluck coconuts for the money? Maybe, if it is the only means of earning a few ringgit a day. But plucking coconuts may not be for the faint-hearted though…