For the past few years, there were many experiences that humbled me – and I was given that opportunity again in my recent trip to Sabah & Sarawak during Songkran break.
I was part of the Mission College group to perform and to promote the college at churches in different districts in Sabah and Sarawak. One distinct difference compared the previous trips I’ve joined is that instead of a group of 22 – we were 8.
LR: Jun, Raenelle, Ivonne, Stuti (called “Kini), me, Marlise. Front is Matthew and Gabby (known as “Jojie”, pronounced as juji).
Even before boarding the plane, we’ve already had misadventures:
1. The van didn’t come on time to pick us up. Because the driver thought we we’re leaving THE NEXT DAY.
2. Marlise didn’t get half of my SMS…which had the change of time (4 hours earlier). She finished her grading at 10 pm and we were supposed to leave at 11:30 pm.
3. I didn’t get the money bank into my account earlier. So in my mind, I was thinking “How on earth am I going to feed this people? How am I going to pay the van rent? How am I going to give ‘appreciation’ to churches who accommodate us?” etc etc etc. I was really worried.
But then these “mis-ses” were resolved later on:
1. After persistent knocking on my neighbor (which I made the van bookings with), she called the driver and the driver came about 20 minutes later.
2. Marlise was already packed. But I felt bad that she was “robbed” 4 hours less time to spend with her hubby.
3. Before entering the immigration, I tried the ATM again. And the money was banked in. PHEW, huge sigh of relief!
When we got to Kuching, I had to go to the main town to change money. So the group went ahead to the resort, which we understood as our place of stay in Serian area for 3 nights. We were then told that our accommodation was changed to a “house in Ayer Manis”.
“Is there a nearby place where we can walk to buy breakfast?”
“Uhm no. I think you better buy breakfast when you’re in town.”
After getting excellent money exchange rate and breakfast worth RM78.40 (canned sardines, baked beans, bread, more bread, Maggi mee curry, etc), it was my turn to go to Ayer Manis. After about maybe an hour drive, we enter into a small pathway that fit one vehicle. Grassy hills and 1 or 2 houses far from each other were spotted. Then we came to a slope and when we reached there, I got out and looked at the house.
And I must confess, I was a little shocked.
I stood in front of the house, looking into the living room. My group has already laid out mattresses on the floor. Only the fan in that room was working. Some of them were standing, some sitting down. Some smiled, some tired and some…well it wasn’t hard to guess what they were feeling. After much investigation and getting stories from various sources, apparently there were some slight ‘miscommunication’ (a word that I now refrained from using unless there is absolute necessity) that happened along the lines – people thought we were extreeeeeeeemely low in budget and thus in one sense, the locals were trying their best to help us minimize our budget. In fact, they were worried about us. When I looked into that perspective, then by all means, they were doing everything beyond right.
But of course in reality, we were not extremely low in budget. I was handling the finance and trust me, we were alright.
Anyhow, as a group leader, I had to pull myself together (even though I was emotionally unrest). We were going to have our first performance that night and I felt that it was my responsibility to calm them down and bring the group together.
We’ve traveled so long – since Thursday midnight and reached Ayer Manis about Friday evening and the exhaustion that everyone were experiencing and the current circumstances were not going to be helpful.
A million things run into my head and a member mentioned that this picture illustrated my default position throughout the trip – always busy doing something, thinking, worrying, stressing.
For some reason, even though we’ve made a program schedule (ie our song list) ahead of time, we still had to modify it on the spot. In addition to the initial vespers and divine service we were taking, we were told to take over Sabbath School as well. Our songs were prepared for just one program – and to have different programs happening in one church, we just can’t sing the songs thrice at the same church. Instead of going to my members, I decided to take it all in me — maybe I can give a devotion? How are we going to kill time in Sabbath School? Maybe sing song praise and worship songs? Are the members going to be up for it? What if I ask them to do testimonials? That’s like forcing, no? Argh, what am I going to do?!
So not only was I the trip coordinator and finance ‘controller’, I had to also plan on the program itself (ie arrangement of songs, song selection) and that really imposed a lot of stress on me.
It didn’t help with some of the complaints I had to face later in Ayer Manis and I was almost losing it. But I held it in (seriously, there is no one to blame – if you were placed in an uncomfortable situation, you would want to vent too and I understood this). After everyone slept, I stayed up and did some finance.
In the process of fitting into the Rusa, our mode of transport within Serian area.
My heart was heavy on Sabbath morning. It was heavy when we were traveling to the church. It got even heavier when we arrived at the church. No program, nothing. What were we going to do? I thought so much the night before, but I must have slept off in the process of thinking because of exhaustion. That very morning, Jojie, Kini and I walked to the pastor’s house to get breakfast and I had no time to think because I was busy talking to the pastor and to them as well. I was juggling between two sides of me – bubbly, active and friendly me and the worried, stressed me. I had to because I felt there was a need for me to be a good example as well, and I want to be a good example. When unexpected circumstances come to us, we must act and I act fast. You can say I was more interested in solving problems instead of just going around in circles.
The few minutes we had before our time to take over Sabbath School, I really felt my heart was going to give in. I asked the church pastor if we could use the mother’s room, and I gestured the members to come with me. There were two young teenagers (our target group) in the room but I did not want to send them out. Time was running out. I gestured the group again in a circle.
“I know things have not been running smoothly as how we want it to be. But whatever we’ve experienced for these past few hours has proved to us that this trip is going to be filled with expected and unexpected things, which required us to be spontaneous and creative on the spot…”
I mumbled on and suddenly, I broke into tears. And I cried.
I told them that as much as I try my best to assume a lot of responsibilities that I can so that they don’t have to do extra work; the truth is, I needed them as well to help me pull off things that I’m also not comfortable. But I have to and I am willing to do because I see there is a need to.
“I can do a testimonial”
“Yeah me too”
“Hey we can sing some of the songs that we used to sing in chapel”
“Okay I’m going to write the songs. So what’s the first song?”
Five minutes. It was five minutes for us to figure out the basic structure of our SS program. Then we were on.
Jun sharing his testimonial about coming to MC while Uncle Julius waits for translation.
*I’ve learned that it’s important for me, especially me, to not take all the stress. I have a tendency to do this because I do not want to impose last-minute stress on other people (can be seen as a selfless act, but really it was just detrimental to my well being). Instead, I should share it with my members. I might be surprised the ideas they bring, the help they can contribute to make the program even better. Breaking down in front of them allowed me to see their sincerity to help and their capabilities (I’ll explain this further down in the entry).
See the lady in red on your left? That’s Claire. Please remember her, because she’s an important figure in what I’m going to tell next.
When we were outside shaking hands with the members, a lady in red came up to me and said, “Ah you don’t remember me is it.” I looked at her. I did notice her from stage and felt she was familiar.
I knew Claire through Aunty Ritha. Claire used to visit MC a few times and I’ve hung out with her once. She’s such a loud (I say this with love!) and friendly person that you’d immediately feel like you’ve known her for ages. We stood one corner and spoke — I was just glad to let my Manglish run like water when speaking with her, oh such joy! She called up Terry, one of our alumni and let me speak with him. Then she called up Randy, another alumni and a good friend and it was nice to hear his voice after so long. Little did I know she and Randy were planning something that would really just brought me down to my knees.
Right before lunch potluck, Claire pulled me to a corner.
“Randy said if you all want, he can come up to the church you’re performing tonight and bring you guys down to his place. You can stay at his apartment – a bit cram-cram lah (we’ll have to squeeze in, in other words). Then tomorrow morning, he and I will bring you guys tour-tour a bit lah in Kuching then can have a van send you back to Ayer Manis in the afternoon just in time before your next performance. If all eight of you want, he can also ask his brother to come up too to pick you guys up.”
I blinked my eyes. What?
“You serious? All the way from Kuching? That’s like an hour drive!”
“Haiyah you think he so slow one meh?! Like biasa only one I tell you”
I quickly pitched the ideas to my members. All were very excited and said their yesses. We were going to Kuching that night!
And boy did we.
They say if you’ve never taken a picture with this particular Kuching statue, you’ve never been to Kuching.
In two cars, all 10 of us went down to Kuching. The members were excited to do a little sight-seeing. While driving, Randy and I were just teasing each other in Manglish – man it was so good to just see, hear and talk to him. For those of us who were in his car, he also gave a tour on the spot, pointing out names and buildings and roads and trees and cemeteries on our left and right.
I thought we were going straight to his place, but noooo :). He and his brother, Danny brought us out for supper at this open-air place surrounded by hawkers stalls. We had kuay teow with eggs, mutton satay and tom yum fish. Oh, and the group had their first taste of Teh C Special (3-layer tea) and they’ve loved it since. After supper, Danny and him brought us out a for a car ride in Kuching city (we stopped by lots of cat statues and took pictures).
Upon approaching Randy’s place, he said, “Okay my place is quite small, so hope you guys don’t mind being sardines for the night.”
We felt immediately at home at Randy’s. (That’s Randy on the far right, trying to fold the inflatable sleeping bag)
I was still awake at 2 am. I was really tired, but I couldn’t sleep. Rae couldn’t sleep either and we ended up talking until past 3 am. She confessed that she knew that along the way, we would’ve to sleep on floors, etc but she didn’t expected it to happen so fast (it didn’t help when we are disappointed by our expectations aka resort…another word I dislike). I told her that it was completely fine the way how some of us reacted the first night, because it was really a shock. We both agree that it was good that this spontaneous-Kuching plan happened because it calmed everyone down. And it taught us a thing or two to appreciate things. And it sure did.
Picture taken in Randy’s neighborhood. Whaddduppp!
(in advance, sorry for the miscorrelation of text and pictures)
The next morning, Randy had the day planned for us. We were going to have breakfast at his shop (YES he has a restaurant! AND the food is so good that you mussttttt visit Century Court if you ever go to Kuching!), then Claire and him will bring us to Kuching waterfront and Indian street.
Randy has a passion for food (he cooks too!) and it caught up with the rest of the group. Whenever we stopped by for food, they’d ask “So what’s good here?” Chewah, pandai2 dorang ni!
Sarawak curry laksa. I’ve never had one, and I TELL YA – I LOVE IT! The taste is so distinct, yumm.
We had Teh C Special (3 Layer tea). Basically, the layers are comprised of brown sugar, peppermint and condensed milk (if I’m not mistaken!). Oohhh so good!
My dish was Kolo mee and Teh Tarik. Kolo mee, as I understood, is a KUCHING dish. Randy totally recommended me to try kolo mee in Kuching instead of other parts of Sarawak. It was reaalllly good! 🙂 I tell you, my mood improved so much in Kuching. I mean, good food, good company? A sureway to make Deanna happy! 🙂 (Do you realized there were no smilies in the previous paragraphs until this paragraph?)
A group photo to commemorate our awesome breakfast in Kuching (whadduuppp!). If you must know, Danny is the one with spectacles, Claire with the red shirt, Randy right behind of Marlise and that Ah Ko behind me is uhm the person who cooked kuay teow. Hihihihi he pandai-pandai masuk the gambar tau! 🙂
Along the Kuching waterfront (see picture above), there were historical inscriptions of Sarawak on the ground. Argh, why can’t we have this in KK?!
By the way, I thought I should mention this – all the pictures you see in this blog – are not mine. They belong to my members. So they took pictures during the sightseeing – an Iban person playing a traditional instrument, the court house, Indian street, local delicacies, etc. But I’m lazy to put it up here, sorry. I was more of a food person (and making sure everyone headed towards the same direction, nobody’s missing, etc).
We also ABC or shaved ice dessert. I’m not really a fan of ABC though, but still! At least I’ve tried Kuching’s ABC (they use brown beans in their dessert, it’s a local distinct!). During our food galore, Claire shared with me places that she would eat for certain food. For example for the ABC that we had, she whispered, “You know, I would go to the uncle ovvvvvvvver there for ABC. The brown beans there are so soft and it has a different texture than the one we’re eating.” Man Claire, CLAIRE reminds me a little of my mom – whenever I go back home, if there was a certain kind of food I wanted to eat, she would say “Oh we have to go this and this place to have that food, don’t eat here. Not delicious one.” When you’re in Malaysia, TASTE the food. Don’t shop (shop in Bangkok!). TASTE the food!
The time came for us to leave for Ayer Manis. Instead of renting a van, Randy and Claire drove all of us…FROM KUCHING…to Ayer Manis. On top of that, they also helped us bring our luggage to the church we were performing that night, because we planned to go straight to the bus station after our program for our 12-hour bus trip to Miri (yes, our trip is full of adventures!).
When Randy and Claire were preparing to leave, I was sad. I felt like saying “No don’t go! I don’t think I can handle the things on my own.” Marlise lovingly refer them as our Superman and Superwoman. I’d like to think so too. They saved us, literally. On a personal note, they saved me. I was out of my wits, I was tired, I was emotionally drained and Claire happened to be in the church that we were at because there was a meeting that she was requested to attend that afternoon. Wow.
In Kuching, not only Randy and Claire sacrificed their time, but they also paid for our food (except breakfast at Century Court…THAT I insist to pay). I was thinking of all the things that they did for us…I mean even some simple like oil for picking us up from Serian to Kuching, then sending us again from Kuching to Serian? The little local delicacies Randy picked up in Indian street and gave to everyone, because he wanted us to experience the Kuching taste? I shouldn’t forget this next one – Ivonne developed some kind of allergy after potluck, and it was Claire who brought us to her cousin’s clinic downtown. Oh boy. What I was most impressed was that Randy and Claire initiate this whole Kuching excursion thing…without me suggesting anything. I didn’t expect the phone call on that Sabbath afternoon to be more than just a ‘hello’. This was such an sincere act and I am just so humbled…so humbled and so blessed by them.
*This experience reminded me to be as hospitable as much as I can be; whether is it to my friends or to people that I’ve just met.
As I’ve said to them and to everyone else in the group, “We have made new friends. And we’re renewed friendships.”
After Randy and Claire left, I was met with a surprise – Ferrian!
Ferrian is the eldest son of Brian Scott, who is one of our alumni. When Brian was studying at MC, Ferrian was still a small boy…I don’t know, 3? 4 years old? And he’s such a darling – he could sing Thai songs like “Pra Ong Song Som Kuan” and also contemporary Christian praise and worship songs…then. He was also the life of the Malaysian potlucks then too.
“So Ferrian, how old is your brother?”
“Hah? What do you mean ‘which one’?”
“I have two brothers. One (I forgot) and the other (I forgot, I was stunned).”
Kini talking to prospective students after our program.
It was also starting at this church where our group felt like we were more certain of our program. Of course, we were caught by surprised by the absence of the piano and except for 2 songs, we really needed the piano. So we sung praise and worship songs again, similar to what we did during Sabbath School and I showed the video of the College. Then came mingling time with interested students. Great!
Oh but at one point during the program, I had to speak Malay. That was horrible for me because I speak horrible Malay! You really lose what you don’t use.
Us in the bus. This was the next morning. Throughout the night, we were sleeping.
The church members sent us to the bus station. One of them helped me purchased the tickets a day before, which helped me a lot because I was able to go to Kuching without worrying about buying the tickets. At 10 pm, the bus came and we boarded. And we were on our way to Miri, a 12-hour bus ride.
This is just PART I (Oh boy, I haven’t finished writing about Sarawak yet! Yet alone Sabah haha. More adventures to share!