A trip to remember
… Contd. from Part 1
There is more planned for this memorable trip. Later, we board speedboats at the nearby Mangkuk Village Jetty in small groups of five or six and cruise along the Setiu River, feasting our eyes on the tranquil mangroves and freshwater swamps that flank it. They’re thick with nipa and coconut groves.
We stop at the estuary where the water is shallow and then the organising team distributes plastic buckets for collecting the clams.
Mussel picking in Terengganu, Malaysia, and more
My companions quickly leap overboard and gleefully comb through the water, feeling the sandy riverbed with their feet and hands for freshwater mussels. They hit it big in minutes. Noticing I’m still in the boat, they urge me to join in the fun. “The water is nice and warm”, “It’s not that deep”, “Come on, you can do it”, they holler. I point out that unlike them I’m not wearing shorts. But then I tell myself, what the heck, I haven’t come out here to sit on my backside and watch the scenery. So, I kick off my sandals, roll up my pants, and clamber over the side of the boat to follow them into the water.
Soon I too am bending down in knee-deep water to grope for clams like the rest. But unlike them I don’t stray too far from our boat. Some of my friends catch a few small crabs just for fun, but quickly release the hapless creatures back into the water. Others are competing with each other to pick the most mussels, a few are splashing around in waist-high water. This thoroughly enjoyable activity ultimately produces a combined haul of four buckets of assorted bivalves.
Over the next three days, we visit the scenic, 209,199-hectare Kenyir Lake – the largest man-made lake in South East Asia, the Kenyir Elephant Conservation Village, Chinatown in Kuala Terengganu where we admire the graceful kebaya-sarong outfits of the women and join the Peranakan community (people of Chinese descent who observe Malay traditions, we’re informed by Osman) in celebrating the colourful Peranakan Festival, visit the State Museum, and explore the Islamic Civilization Park. We marvel at the replicas of famous Islamic monuments including the Taj Mahal in this theme park, and also the glittering Crystal Mosque which is a part of the park complex. Finally, before flying back home, we enjoy a second, more successful round of squid jigging in Terengganu.
Lovely land, loving people
As the plane takes off into the night sky, I gaze down from my window seat at the fast receding shimmering lights of Kuala Lumpur. Soon kaleidoscopic images of a memorable week in Terengganu in the company of many new-found journalist friends whirl through my mind.
Then my thoughts drift to my amicable interactions with Malaysian people: The elderly gentleman from the Tzu Chi Foundation stall at the Peranakan Festival who had promptly ordered green tea for me when I mentioned an uneasy feeling in my stomach and the young journalist from Gaya Travel – the official media coordinator, who stayed by my side till I felt better; Laura Lee – a senior Malaysian journalist of Chinese ancestry who was genuinely concerned about my spell of migraine the next day; Laimay Fong who happily showed me around her paper decorations and Chinese artifacts shop in Chinatown, Kuala Terengganu, and took the time to explain the significance of different items to help me make the right choice; Francis Loh who took a personal interest in ensuring everyone had a great time no matter if they were playing beach sports or sampling Malaysian food; and Osman, our super-sincere tour guide, who was a constant source of useful information and fascinating facts.
Even as I’m winging my way home, I’m already dreaming of coming back. God willing, I hope I will. And why not? After all, as Hemmingway had written in The Old Man and the Sea – “It’s silly not to hope”.