this article are true and has moral value:frens..

Posted by mieZa taiB on Saturday, February 14, 2009

Of trains & new friends


People flit in and out of our lives, but true friendship transcends distance and time.

When readers write in, I make it a point to reply every letter. There was something about James Chua’s letter, though, that urged me to spend an extra minute crafting my reply.

After I hit Send, I wondered if I was too effusive in my response. After all, he might not even reply. Dad’s advice quickly dismissed such thoughts: when you do nice things, never expect the favour to be returned, as it would dilute the joy.

To my delight, James did reply. One thing led to another, and before you could say, “Internet stalker!”, we made plans to meet. We agreed on a public place — McDonald’s at KL Sentral — to mitigate even the remote possibility that “one of us might be an axe-wielding serial killer.”

I needn’t have worried. In a conversation aided occasionally by pen and paper and handphone, when he couldn’t lip-read my words, we talked about everything under the sky, from relationships to our passion for words to our favourite fast food.

We met as strangers, and in less time than it takes to bake a cake, had become fast friends.

Over the course of months, we only met one more time, but the friendship between us blossomed steadily. Despite the difference in our ages, there was a sharpness of wit and rare sweetness that I found endearing.

When he learnt how much I loved small towns, he graciously invited me to follow him back to his hometown in Gua Musang, Kelantan. Alas, when I finally snagged an assignment to the east coast that would entail a stopover at his hometown, he was at the opposite end of the country.

On the day of the trip, I received a call from an unknown number.

“This is Mr Chua, James’ father. I heard you’re going to Gua Musang. I’m sorry I won’t be able to come, but I have asked a friend to take you around.”

“Are you sure we (my friends Kelvin, Vivian and I) won’t be imposing?” I stammered, aghast at the thought of inconveniencing a total stranger.

“We’re arriving awfully early. Express Wau is supposed to arrive at Gua Musang at 6.25am.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” he answered cheerfully. “We’re used to waiting for people at the train station.”

When we staggered off the train, groggy and bleary-eyed, the morning was still cloaked in semi-darkness. I squinted my eyes at the trim man advancing towards us. In his tawny-coloured clothes, light tan and dark hair, he seemed to materialise out of nowhere into the dim light of a breaking dawn.

His face breaking into a broad smile, he extended one outstretched hand and said with a still-perceptible French lilt, “Hello, I’m Louis!”

In his attire, Louis Michel Puig looked like he had just stepped out of a safari movie setting. Think the French version of Robert Redford, albeit a little more vintage and continental in his demeanour. The clothes hung loose on his trim frame and yet there was a perceptible ramrod straightness to his carriage that gave him a distinctly regal and purposeful bearing.

Louis Michel Puig

Louis walked at an easy pace and seemed perfectly at home, coaxing smiles out of the KTM officer with his game attempts at ordering breakfast in Bahasa Malaysia.

With several hours on our hands, he offered to drive us to Mr Chua’s home, which the railway track ran past. As he skilfully manoeuvred the big van over the dirt road, Louis told us a little more about himself.

At different stages in his life, he had been a nuclear scientist, anthropologist and photographer.

Now, he still commuted between Singapore, Gua Musang and France, but he most loved to live among the Orang Asli four hours deep in the jungle.

It had been love at first sight when he got off the KTM Wau Express roughly 18 years ago and lay eyes on the towering limestone cliff that loomed over the station, a sentiment evident in the whimsical anecdotes he regaled us city slickers with.

“The animals . . . I have never had a problem with them. I even fish in the river and the tiger just walks past me. If you do not disturb the animals, they will not harm you.” Louis said.

“Animals are not aggressive. You know that tiger attack in Jeli?” his tone trembled with indignation. “The tiger attacked because somebody killed the mother’s baby! You understand?”

We nodded solemnly. He sounded less French now than an indigenous Tarzan who grew up in the wilds.

We reached a wide river that ran smack in the middle of Mr Chua’s plantation. He drove to the middle of the wooden bridge, paused so that we could digest the spectacular riverine view, before obliging our request and parking his car at the other side of the bank.

Sun-dappled, yellow ochre and serene, this wild river was almost unearthly. I trod rapturously as far to the edge as I dared, crouched down and gazed into the roaring river.

“When you look at the river, you forget everything, no?” Louis remarked.

For some reason, this simple observation, conveyed in half-broken English, felt like he was looking into the deepest part of my soul.

James Chua.

We made our way back to town in silence. Our train to Wakaf Baru, in the north, was arriving in 45 minutes, and Louis insisted on treating us to Maxim’s — the 20,000 population town’s best offering. We declined his generous offer and insisted on nasi campur.

“Don’t worry, we love Malay food,” we assured him hurriedly. He obliged and ordered sup perut for himself.

Louis’ eyes narrowed disapprovingly when he caught me sneaking two red notes out of my bag.

Non,” he shook his head vehemently. “When I come to KL, you can do that. When you are here, I will take care of you.”

Just before we boarded the train, he gave all of us a hug.

“I miss you already,” he surprised us by saying.

What a sentimental gesture. Still, I was tearing a little when I waved goodbye.

In Wakaf Baru, after completing our business, we had some time to kill before our train arrived. Our friendly taxi driver made a pit stop at a Bundle shop in Wakaf Baru.

For the uninitiated, “Bundle” is local jargon for a shop that peddles cast-offs of branded goods — one of those quirky things that is ubiquitous in Kelantan we were told by the amiable locals.

“A Prada shirt for 20 bucks? Who would have thought?” Vivian chuckled as she held up a very loud cartoon-print Paul Smith shirt.

As improbable as finding a Frenchman in Gua Musang, I thought.

Speak of the devil and you shall hear from him, they say. Think of an angel and you will be surprised in kind.

As if the angels heard my thoughts, my phone picked that instant to ring. It was Louis calling to wish us a safe journey.

“I will hang up the kerosene light in my room when you leave. Ten minutes after the Gua Musang station, if you look to your right and see a light in a house, that will be me, saying good bye to you.”

That was probably his subtle way of telling us he wouldn’t be seeing us again and wished us the best.

No wonder they say the French are the most romantic people in the world.

On the ride down south, I was unable to sleep a wink. Like a precocious child, it was running wild somewhere in the untamed jungle.

The station master made an announcement. We were about to pull into the Gua Musang station.

Ten minutes after this, I reminded myself to look out for the light.

My ringing phone broke my train of thought.

“Alex! Where are you?” It was a voice I never thought I would hear so soon again.

“Where are you?” I asked in return.

Even before the words left my mouth, I was already running for the door. Lo and behold, when I poked my head out the door, there was Louis on the platform, waving madly at me, an impish grin making him look decades younger than his 63 years.

In one bound, I leaped off the train, broke into a mad dash, and clasped his slender frame in a hug.

“You wanted to surprise us, didn’t you?” I choked out between breathless gulps of air.

Pumping his arm, we walked animatedly towards the rest of my friends who had already gathered on the platform.

“You shouldn’t have,” I repeated again, but I’d never sounded so deliriously happy.

And then it was really goodbye.

Au revoir,” I said, eyes feverishly bright.

Non, not au revoir, but à bientot,” Louis corrected gently. “Do you know what that means?”

“Yes,” I whispered. “I did a little French back in uni. It means, see you again. Not goodbye.”

He nodded gravely. I stood stiffly as the wheels of the train grated noisily. I could have sworn he didn’t budge an inch until our train had fully left the station.

When Louis was no longer in my line of sight, I trudged slowly back to our bunk.

Both Kelvin and Vivian looked dazed.

“Do you know what he gave us?” Kelvin burst out.

What I saw in the outstretched bag made me gasp in shock. In the plastic bag was a thoughtfully assembled cluster of food: three apples, three bottles of mineral bottle, three Ferrero Rocher chocolates, a packet of fish crackers and a basket of mandarin oranges.

“Louis was worried that we would be hungry,” Kelvin’s voice was thick with emotion.

I sank heavily into the bunk.

How astoundingly similar life and trains are, I marvelled.

Life: it makes unexpected twists and turns, akin to the tracks our train is running on. Its route can be unpredictable, occasionally bumpy and hurt when you least expect it.

Yet, precisely when you don’t see it coming, life delivers a bundle of goodness right in your hands.

As the train eased us gently into the dark, comforting folds of the night, I could almost hear Louis saying softly: “C’est la vie, ma cherie.”

  • James Chua is a recent winner in the Mercedes-Benz Malaysia Red Ribbon Media Awards for Excellence in Journalism in HIV/AIDS reporting in Malaysia for Challenges magazine. Louis Michel Puig is a passionate anthropologist who has been working with the Orang Asli tribe in the rainforests of Malaysia for more than 10 years. Alexandra Wong (bunnysprints.blogspot.com) believes there is a universe even in a grain of sand.

p/s: i dun know y i took this article n post it in my blog..but 4 sure it was 4 fun sharg this kind of experience..

n more important is..i vuv al my fwen..ehehe..


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