#24 - Discovering myself

So far the northernmost point of my travels is Abisko in Sweden and the westernmost point is Madrid in Spain. However, the easternmost point on my map is a tiny island off the coast of Malaysia called Tioman.

The story on how I got there is pretty straightforward. I was volunteering with Incitement during my exchange to Malaysia and they organized a company retreat to away from the buzz of KL. After an overnight bus ride we reached the coastal town of Mersing and caught a ferry to the island. Things got more exciting there as we climbed into open pickup trucks that took us across the island to our modest accommodation. I still remember the beach shack and the sandy beach that we had all to ourselves.

Beach shack

The first pivotal moment happened the next day when we set off on a hike to a waterfall. At the start of the trip we had to cross a shallow channel and I didn’t think much of it. The water was only slightly higher than my ankles and I waded in. But the channel suddenly deepened up to my hips and flooded my pockets and my phone. On the other bank, I was relieved to find that it was mostly working with the exception of the s-pen. The others told me to turn it off and keep it aside to dry off but I couldn’t do that. I wanted to capture everything, I wanted to remember this. So I kept it close to me and while clamoring over the rocks along the stream to get to the waterfall, I fell in entirely. Now it wouldn’t even turn on.

This should have been a big deal to me. At the time I was a tech guy who identified himself with the devices he owned. I was a tech fanboy who fought wars against which brand or tech was better. Moreover, my Note 4 was only a month old then and I just drowned it. I had many reasons to be upset and it surprised me that I wasn’t. Instead I was mostly calm and quietly assessed the damage. My phone is probably dead and I probably lost all the photos from this trip. But I backed everything up a few days ago so it’s not a complete loss. Accepting my fate and with nothing to lose, I followed the advice that sounded like an old wives’ tale to me. I buried my phone in a boxful of raw rice that I got from the kitchen and then left it there for the rest of the trip. I had little remorse and hardly thought about it afterwards which was completely unlike me. I started to realize that life wasn’t all about tech and the next few days showed me the freedom of being tech-free.

Back on the hike, after wading through a dense forest with fallen trees and a massive boulder field, we finally got to the waterfall. I was expecting a tall stream of water like the ones I was used to seeing back home but this was only a few meters tall. Some of the guys started jumping into the deep pool below. I wanted to jump too but there was a teeny problem. I didn’t know how to swim. After a swimming coach had forcefully pushed me into the pool when I was kid, I got terrified and made my parents remove me from swimming classes. I still kept doing water activities though and here I took it to the next level. I asked the guys whether they could catch me and when they said they could, I climbed to the top and leapt off. I somehow felt that I could trust them despite them fooling around most of the time. This was unlike me as well since I was a person who tended to be distant and had trouble being close to people. One of the guys who knew how to swim was still too afraid to make the jump and I still remember the remark someone made to him. “Bash did it and he doesn’t even know how to swim!”

We spent most of the next day with various team building exercises. After lunch, Geraldine and I discovered that we could rent bicycles and so we set off. We had no idea where the road lead and soon we found ourselves riding into another beach. Finding it impossible to cycle on the sand, we ditched the bikes and walked on to a nearby pier. The views were stunning with the beach and the waves in the foreground and the green mountains in the background.

We ended that day with a campfire on the beach. Sitting around the fire, we spoke and played truth or dare until 3AM. By then the tide had fallen and the beach had grown several times in size. It was almost like a tsunami was approaching. Walking away from the fire into the darkness of the starry sky on the land that used to be the sea was a surreal feeling. Looking back on everything that happened the last few days, it was like I was living another life.

The most important thing I took away from Tioman was a new belief. The idea that I should try something first before passing judgement or being closed to it. It is thanks to this that my life is one that is filled with memories of random moments that never fail to bring a smile to my face. This is also why some things that happened in Tioman will always stay in Tioman.

Story from 8 Aug 2015, Published 27 Jan 2019

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