Sunday, December 07, 2008

Life Is What Happens While You Are Busy Making Other Plans

It has not stopped raining in Kemaman since I arrived from KL last night – perfectly representative of my own personal mood since early yesterday morning.

To those who have been sending SMS and I have not had the chance to reply – thank you very much, I am safe and sound. I was very upbeat yesterday – it’s only when I began to see the coverage on TV and internet (and seeing the devastation) that I realized the magnitude of it all. And then it hit you of how close you were.

The night before, I was supposed to catch up with Yusri Mohamad (Yusoy, Class of 89), the ABIM President. He is one of the few from my generation to whom I pay an allegiance and homage; so from time to time we try our best to sit down and discuss issues. Not that it changes anything around us, but sharing different perspectives always help.

But I have been clocking 14 – 15 hrs a day (sometimes 7 day a week) at work for the last 2 – 3 weeks so it was too tiring and I skipped. Went back, everything was normal. Bukit Antarabangsa was as serene as it’s always been – quiet, the air was cool and each time the car climbed the hills from MRR all the way towards my place, the trees by the roadside always remind me of why I personally have always liked this place, especially after the long hours in office. It is very peaceful place and a complete contrast to the noise and congestion of KL, despite being only about 15 minutes away.

And I had a good sleep that night.

By 5 am, I woke up because it was unusually hot. I always sleep with the windows open and I never switch the air conditioner on because there was no need – it’s always cool in Bukit Antarabangsa. I found out that it was a black out – I went to check the fuse box and discovered it was not just my unit, it was the whole building. So I thought – yeah, must have been one of the few blackouts for the area (at that time I should have thought how unusual because it was very rare that the whole place’s electricity was cut off).

Was awake about 645 am – after Subuh, by 735 I sent an SMS to Chamat to make sure he didn’t forget that we were supposed to jog at KLCC. Each time when both of us are in KL for the weekend, Chamat and I try our best to jog at KLCC; so that we can have big breakfast at Lotus after that without feeling guilty (well, that guilty part only relates to me).

The following SMS captured many of the moments which I should try not to forget:

“Chamat I am awake and getting ready to go” – 7:35:03

“Sorry raf, I’m not. Will need 2 take a raincheck. Enjoy d run” – Chamat 9094, 7:41:15

“Alaaaaa aku nk breakfast, bkan nak lari. Ok then next time” – 7:50:50

“U will read d news abt a major landslide in bkt antarabangsa. My place
is only abt 300 m from d place. Road is blocked n electricity cut off. I m ok
just will b trapped here 4 a while. I don’t know how long they will take to
clear” – 8:47:23

“My God, Let me know if you need any help” – Baidzawi, 9:11:14

“I need a chopper to get out! Ha ha at least about 3 – 4 days will be trapped here ngn Alina! Budget kantoi la mcm ni. Dh la x de electricity” – 9:16:58

“Sorry to hear that. Will pray 4 u. Take care” – Idzam 9094, 9:19:52

“Ya allah fizi, alhamdulillah. That’s d price u hv 2 pay 4 staying at ‘antarabangsa’. Bila jadi” – Kak Rok, 9:20:26

“Thank God u r ok! U hv food stocked up I hope, at least 4 b’fast?” – Amy, 9:22:46

“I can go dieting ha ha just x know how to survive without electricity for days.
Hope they fix that first” – 9:24:26

“Is there any way for u to get out that place, even if on foot? I can pick u up, at least u don’t have 2 b in the dark, can eat and communicate with family” – Chamat 9094, 9:34:47

“Try 2call, got voicemail. Glad u ok. Let us know if u need anything” – Fendy Nawi, 9:35:02

“Don’t think so chamat. I’ll send u d photo after this it’s quite bad. If we can get out by foot I’ll certainly get jita to pick me up ha ha. I need electricity to at least do work. But we’ll see” – 9:36:42

“wey. Ada tnh runtuh kt bkt antarabangsa. Rmh kau ok tak?” – Pejal 9094,
9:39:22

“I suggest u pack essentials, walk out on foot to the nearest point where a car can go in. My house blom ada internet, so am working from my mom’s. But I can send u 2 jit’s if u want” – Chamat 9094, 9:39:47

“Kau dah klr building ke? Better packup mana yg patut“ – Fendy Nawi, 9:39:52

“I dun understand kenapa byk sngt landslide skrng nie. R u ok? Mmg terputus hubungan dunia luar ke” – Fendy 0408, 9:40:26

“Better conserve ur hp batt coz u don’t know whn u can charge it agn. & make sure u hv enuff drinking water coz agn u don’t know whn u can come down from there” – Jita 9094, 9:48:17

“Hahaha.. True :-) Hang in there! Tgh berebut w my daughter ni (news/Disney channel) – Amy, 9:48:24

“I have to see how exactly I want to walk on foot. Aku memg x want to be trapped here. Anyway concentrate on ur work I need to confirm reliably how long they will take to clear the rubbles n mud. 3 ppl died so far” – 9:49:20

“Ok. Let me know” – Chamat 9094,
9:50:07

“3 ppl died n 15 injured so far. One of the house tu bdk petronas went same orientation with me. Hope he’s ok his house definitely kena sapu” – 9:50:43

“Salam, abg ruff, ba’ang ni, did u hear the news? Ur house okey?” – Ba’ang 0307, 10:03:19

“Ouh, nseb bek.. gud 2 hear that :-D umah my fren dkat gle ngan tmpt yg rntuh tu.. thx god umah dia pun okay gak.. hmm, just askin’, rsau” – Ba’ang 0307, 10:09:20

“Hazriq 05 pun lives smwhere near here. Ada bdk koleq lg ke kt sini? Anyway hv to conserve phone battery. Later.” – 10:10:14

”Glad to know u’r safe. Time to find a new place he he” – Joe 9094, 10:20:02

“Don’t think of the battery situation, will stick to sms. As contingency if communication broke off, I’ll be at giant melawati around 330pm, take care..” – Dany 8690, 10:24:38

“We’ll pray for yr safety. Kena cari rumah lain la pulak!” – Haiza, 10:26:11

“Ye ke? Horror nya. Abg raf turun lar dulu, duduk kat mana2 hotel 4 the time being, sementara tunggu musim hujan stop. Bhy sungguh” – Izzat 0004, 10:27:36

“How’s the situation in bt antarabangsa?” – Nik Nazmi 9599, 10:28:22

“Shud b fine I’ll know whether I cn out by 1 pm” – 10:29:48

“Ok, be safe then” – Dany 8690, 10:30:44

“this is alina, If u need food, my hse byk lg. Come over. 33a, jln l.o. 2/2 laman
oakleaf” – Alina, 10:36:35

“Ha ha x worry. I m thinking of finding ways by foot. Rasanya we r here for a very long time only chopper can access this place. Thnx a lot for the offer :-) Tk cr x worry abt work, we’ll figure that one out” – 10:39:27

“Assm. Takziah. Cg baru tau. Harap akan selesai dgn cpt n selamat.” – Cikgu Umi, 10:44:18

“Wow, another landslide! So worryng.. Hu3, luckily u r alr8..” – Fido 0408, 10:46:35

“What happen to ur house in bukit a’bangsa?” – Emo 0004, 10:49:01

“K u tk care 2. I’ve infrmd Haniss bout d outstanding 4 my cos. Find way out by foot? Careful sket hrd d land still moving. Kang tak berbos gbati :-)” – Alina, 11:01:33

“Bkt Antarabangsa ada tanah runtuh. Kau ok?” – Khalid 9094, 11:01:45

“On 2nd thot, can i get ur auntie’s no? I need to find out which road she’s walking to go to Giant. Thanks u’re a star” – 11:16:28

“Abg raf, ur place affected x?” – Rahmat 0307, 11:43:53

“It’s 300 m frm my place so the whole bukit antarabangsa is trapped. No electricity n x get access. I am packing whatever I can and walk by foot kot. Then someone will pick up. Hey thanks” – 11:52:34

“Canoe call me I need ur help” – 12:00:26

“They’ve cleared sm path so I can walk out. I m waiting for Canoe to pick me up coz I hv to go to office to pick laptop n work. I’ll see you at Giant Melawati around 4 pm? Thanks a lot Dany” – 12:03:56

“Salam, abg raf cne? Efek kat tmpt abg raf x tanah runtuh tu?” – Bean 0004, 12:20:53

“Salam.. Abg raf mcm ner ngan keadaan dkt umah abg raf.. Sy tgk dlm brita ada tanah runtuh..” – Arip 0509, 12:27:09

“Lar kesian abg raf.. So still bley ulang alik or kene tinggal kt len dulu..” – Arip 0509, 12:29:51

“Ha ha no la that’s over reacting. Let things settle. I like this place! Aku nya sentimentality payah nk overcome ha ha” – 12:47:17

“Bro is ur place affected?” – Reza Hatta 8993, 12:58:11

“Abg rough kene pindah ke? Heard ramai kene pindah” – Rashad 0408, 12:59:47

“Memories lepak w jambu je tu ha ha kondo klcc pulak la, high end sikit” – Joe 9094, 1:00:45

“It’s ok chamat canoe will pick me up” – 1:29:06

“Ok. Let me know if u need any help” – Chamat 9094, 1:30:02

“Shud b fine. We hv been asked to evacuate. I hope I can come back here. Sigh. X know when tho ha ha” – 1:30:48

“I am telling u to do the same too. It’s not safe lah” – Chamat 9094, 1:32:37

“R u still trapped? I m watching news @ ntv7. 3 m’ggal” – Haiza, 1:32:57

“One petronas guy still trap there. Pray for Faizal bdk pdb he went to same
orientation. I am walking out pick whatever clothe I can. Not safe n we’ve been
asked to evacuate” – 1:34:02

“Yes, it’s bad. I’m still watching. Selamatkan yr important documents as well.” – Haiza, 1:40:52

“I only take my passport. The rest cn be traced.” – 1:41:28

“Chamat I m ok ha ha camel trophy adventure aku jungle trekking. Canoe dh pick me up” – 2:29:14

“Hai. Nie abg raf ke? I’m azhar n u cn call me zaneq frm class ‚08. I’m interested in actuary. So wat’s next? .. thnx” – Zaneq 0408, 2:30:26

“Hi zaneq, I am a bit occupied coz ranah runtuh kat bukit antarabangsa. Maybe u cn email me” – 2:54:55

“So ko stay mana ni” – Joe 9094, 3:09:40

“Tu la, tgk news sume kene evacuate, x safe. Abes abg raf g mane? Naik ape? Nasib baik insured. Makin kurus r, takyah jogging dah esk, haha” – Bean 0004, 3:13:39

“Hey abg raf. Hav u been evacuated already?” – Haqqa 0206, 3:17:45

“U sure u ok? Just read ur sms. Aku kat kedah balik raya. Bgtau if aku boleh tolong apa2” – Epit 9094, 3:28:36

“Alhadulillah then that u r still alive. What’s gonna happen to ur apartment?” – Haqqa 0206, 3:36:10

“tempat kau kena raf?” – Kalai 9094, 5:30:37

“Salam. Abg raf nie Kwang. Abg raf slamat x?“ – Kwang 0509, 5:42:56

“Ha ha Kwang, aku dh mati. Aku hantar sms dr bawah timbunan. Help! Last thing aku ingt korang x turun training ha ha” – 5:43:49

“Erm… Rumah ok x?” – Kwang 0509, 5:46:30

“I assume u r x affected by d landslide?” – Izrin 9600, 5:49:29

“Abes 2 mlm nie tido kat mana?” – Kwang 0509, 5:51:23

“Owh ok je.. Abg raf tgh blik ganu ke?” – Kwang 0509, 5:55:07

“Askum. Rough, mcm mana keadaan kat kyoto garden? Sihat ke tak? Bekalan makanan ok ke?”- KNO 9094, 8:08:58

“Is it true that u hv 2 move out?” – Amy, 8:24:21

“Abg raf ok ke” – Zulikhwan 0408, 8:30:54

“R u ok? Saw the news abt the tanah runtuh” – Fadli 9094, 8:36:03

“Watching it on news now. Ya, u r so close! Xpe, backpack pun temporary je, lps ni can reunite w ur ikea furnitures (n ur accord :p). Tink u gotta consider other areas la, coz they say there r stil earth movements there. Take care!” – Amy, 8:49:05

“R u ok? Kak rok tanya u kat mana? Just let us know if u need anything” – Haiza, 8:51:24

“At least kau slamat. That’s the most important thing” – Fadli 9094, 9:02:27

“Aku pun br tau td. Dok pusat pemindahan ke?” – Mattop 9094, 9:06:04

“InsyaAllah kete & all ok nnt. Yg plg penting ko slmt. Ni
mak ko doa utk ko blk cepat skit :-) hv a safe journey & kirim salam 2 ur
family. Let me know if there’s anythg I can do ok” – Jita 9094, 9:11:19

“Ko silap. Patut stay kat relief ctr instead of canoe. Kot2 la jumpa future wife haha” – Joe 9094, 9:34:16

“Ha ha pandai la kau. Bini is the last thing on my mind. Aku postpone caleng lepas ni for a week” – 9:35:08

“Mana tau ada awek yg use sex as relief for stress n trauma ha ha” – Joe 9094, 9:37:30

“Hye rough.. abg ok x? lpk kt ne skrng?” – Topoi 0408, 9:53:04

”Saya mendoakan abg raf ok” – Zulikhwan 0408, 10:50:43

”Gud nite. Thank god they evacuated u earlier. Thngs at bkt abgsa are getting worse. Takut tgk” – Fendy 0408, 12:46:05

“How are you? Heard there’s a landslide near your area. Quite bad. If it is bad, hope u r fine there” – Adam 0610 (from London), 7:13:07

“Abg rough, how’re u? Umah abg affected x?” – Abe 0408, 7:49:07

“Owh thank god u’re safe.. Haha.. Cuak gle kowt dgr brite tu.. Now ktne? Xkeje? Byk ke nyamuk kt utan tu? Alaa., kt dh bese jungle trekking kan ha ha” – Abe 0408, 8:34:01

Right after I SMSed Chamat, I put on the jogging gear and went down – only to be greeted with a big signboard “All roads blocked because of landslide” which the Resident Association put in front of the lift. Still I was not that alarmed – because I thought if the main entrance to Bukit Antarabangsa was blocked, I could always use the Ukay Perdana route.

I should have realised by then the sound of siren and of helicopters hovering – and most glaringly cars being parked by the road side heading downhill. But maybe I was so focused on what I needed to do that day – go jogging, come back and clean up, go to work and leave for Kemaman at 9 pm – that I was oblivious to all this. It’s only when the guard told me that I could drive down at all, that I realised something was really wrong.

I walked – one of the hundreds of people walking down the hill converging at the landslide spot – and only when I was there I realised that it was for real. I started to send SMS and could not send too many because after the first few batches were sent, the no of SMSs that came in was a lot more than I could manage.

Then the phone started ringing – Chibiok, Badut, Chamat, Canoe, Pyan and many others. We still could joke about the whole thing – in fact when Chibiok called, I told him that unless he could get me a chopper, there was nothing he could help.

“Tu laaa kau selalu gelak kat Fadhil, masa ni lah kau perlukan helicopter dia. Kalau kau kurang gelak kat dia now dia dh boleh hantar chopper dia airliftkan kau” – Chibiok

Before long it dawned on me that battery would be a problem as the electricity was down. I was also checking the news via Blackberry quite frantically that it must have drained the battery even quicker. Then the preoccupation was to conserve the battery.

Eventually most of us in Bukit Antarabangsa realised that we have to evacuate and by 1 pm the army was all over the place helping people. They have cleared a path through a hill near the top of Bukit Antarabangsa that allowed us to cross to the other side where the access was not blocked.

I have to admit that it was not all gloom and doom – most people actually treated the whole thing as a jungle trekking exercise, joking and taking videos with their camcorders (myself included).

We had to walk about 2 – 3 km before we could reach the other part of Bukit Antarabangsa and that walkabout took us around the hill top that I have never been before. It all made sense by then – the size of the construction taking place was huge! Developers were building huge 3-storey bungalows on the hill top and the construction work continued unabated even when the stream of people recently evacuated walked pass the area.

Canoe was waiting, so I went back to his place. He sent me to office, picked up my work stuff. Canoe then sent me to my rendezvous point with Dany (Class of 90) who had kindly agreed to give me a lift to go back to Terengganu for Eid-ul Adha.

It was only in the car that it dawned on me the uncertainty waiting in front.

I lived in Bukit Antarabangsa by choice, for reasons that are hard to explain. By nature, I am very protective and private – a home in Bukit Antarabangsa offers the privacy and allows me to protect that privacy. Many memorable events took place there too.

Each year we hold a simple gathering after raya for the batch at my place, though others have much bigger houses to hold something like that. We hold tahlil’s at my place. Most of the Mightyducks meetings were held at my place. Debaters converge each year to plan and spend time together at my place. When we have tournaments for hockey or debaters in KL – they prefer to stay at my place, cramped as it was. Many of my batchmates have spent time together at my place because that’s the last few private places they can congregate and act like bachelors.
It’s a sanctuary, a bachelor’s pad – for many people, not just me. The thought that I might have to abandon a place I cherish that much continues to linger.

I was also quite preoccupied with what happened to the few people I know whose house was situated in the landslide-hit area.

There was this one pak cik, by the name of Raja, whom I have always given a lift. I think at some point in his life, he had a mental breakdown. He was always in front of the gate of his house every morning waiting to get a lift, or in the evening walking by himself all the way from MRR to reach home. Once in a while during the weekends, or when I was on the way back from office, I would give him a lift.

After a second ride, I discovered that he was a Malay College old boy – he was very excited when he saw my batch’s car sticker and started telling me that he went to MCKK too. Since I thought he was a bit retarded from the first time I gave him a lift, I didn’t take him seriously – until he started talking about Big School, the houses and all the things that only budak koleq would have known.

I asked him which batch he was from. He said Class of 1968 – so I asked him a few people from Class of 68 who he could still remember, just to vouch. He mentioned Azman Aris, Salehuddin Hashim, Mokhtaruddin and a few others – so it was obvious that he did go to MCKK.

Along the way I understood bit by bit his life story – his story telling was very incongruent because he could not focus on a single train of thoughts, but I got the gist. He was born into somewhat an upper class background; his dad was a Chairman of one of the big banks and previously a senior civil servant, if I am not mistaken. He pursued a career in banking and even spent time working in London. But along the way something happened to his love life that he didn’t seem to recover since. I could relate to that since in our midst too, I know a few people whose path has mirrored his.

That was two years ago. I picked him up once in a while and he would cajole me to buy his poems. Each day we would walk down to get to British Library, or spend his day at Central Market selling his poems. I used to buy his poems a few times – it was about RM20 each. The poem was not much; it was as if giving RM20 to him for pocket money.

The last lift that I gave him was about 2 weeks ago. I still don’t know what happened to him – he’s an old man, broken by the harshness of life in spite of the promises of privileged life at the beginning. It could have happened to anyone of us – each time I looked at him before, it reminded me of the unpredictability of life.

I hope he is alive. The first thing I will do when I am allowed to go back is to search for his card – he claimed he was a professional poet – and remember his full name. And I hope one day I might still see him standing somewhere asking for a lift, so that I could buy him a drink. He is one vivid reminder to me of how fragile life can be.

The other person is a fellow PETRONAS employee by the name of Faizal. He is a few years my junior but we joined the company at the same time, so we went to the same orientation. He was very full of life and excitement to start working (he just graduated), I just got back from UK and had spent the six months prior to the orientation working in PETRONAS already – so my cynicism (which was legendary among the people who know me!) was in its element when I unleashed it during the orientation. In spite of this, he always looked up to me and he continued to write asking for advices until after a year he was in the company. We became very close during the orientation (though we rarely spent time together after that given how anti-social I was!) so I have always had a soft spot for this one junior at work.

I couldn’t take my mind of what could have happened to him. As the news coverage in the afternoon continued to report that a few people were still being trapped; I had feared the worst for him. There was a whole range of sense of guilt – because back in 2005 when I was first transferred to KLCC, he and others always asked me out to join them for lunch or to hang out. Being a privacy freak and anti-social that I was, I never entertained any of the requests, I always had excuses. The thought that I might not see this guy again weighed too heavily in my mind.

But God’s interference always come when you least expected it. Just as I feared the worst for him, I met him by co-incidence when both of us went to the office at the same time that afternoon. I could not describe the relief I felt. He was in Singapore on a business trip when it happened, so he was spared. Only his grandmother was at home, but she escaped with minor injury I was told. He felt too disturbed to be among the people at the place he was putting up so he chose to go to the office instead.

The whole of yesterday also made me realised a few things – one of which is that when tragedy strikes, we are blind to each other’s colours and differences and will always come together to see it through.

For the first time I saw how multiracial was the communities at Bukit Antarabangsa. Each one tried their best to help each other. The army came from Rejimen Askar Melayu Diraja (RAMD) so you can guess they were all Malays – yet they did not hesitate at all, in fact went out of their way to carry the heavier stuffs from some of the non-Malay old folks. It all happened too spontaneously that rarely anyone took notice of the harmony.

When we reached the relief centre, most of the volunteers for the St John’s Ambulance were Chinese and Indians; while other volunteers present were mostly Malays – yet they all worked together to extend help to everyone, in the most astoundingly serene atmosphere I had observed; a complete contrast from the continuous racial undertones played by the politicians from all races lately.

The first person who frantically called me after the news got out and offered me a place to stay was in fact Bhupinder Singh – the Tax Partner for Ernst & Young Malaysia with whom I have become close over the last 2 years.

Out of this tragedy, personally my faith in the future of race relations in Malaysia was renewed – that there is hope after all despite the never ending bickering among the politicians that pushed the people more and more into isolation, segregation and identification by race. All that it could have taken to mend things is for the political leadership from both divides to concentrate on issues that can bring people together, not the ones which divide and isolate us to identify ourselves with our respective race stronger and stronger. Tragedy, ironically, is one such issue that has the swift effect of putting all the differences aside.

Going through the SMSs and remembering my other pre-occupations yesterday, I also realised how misguided my priorities in life were. During the early hours, I was hell bent on figuring out how to get electricity supply and laptop – so that I could do work. I was not that bothered that the whole place was no longer safe, so long I could sit down and do the work – never mind the food, never mind being cut off, never mind that I could be sitting on a moving ground! That I have a bunch of my staff waiting for instruction in office; and my mind was fixated on concluding one big annual exercise that I have to lead in 2 weeks’ time (so everything has to be executed in a precise and timely manner) – was the top 3 considerations I had in my mind all that morning. Something is definitely wrong when you place work deliverables above your own personal safety and I have no one else but myself to blame for that. That warrants a long reflection when the dust settles.

I also felt very bad that I have to leave the place without lending a hand to the relief efforts. There’s a lot of work that has to be done to do the headcounts, ensure all urgent need is attended to – they need as many volunteers as possible. But I am torn in between going back to see the parents to comfort them that all is well, the very important responsibility in office that I cannot abdicate without letting my staff down and the desire to do something so that I don’t feel selfish in the midst of all the rubbles. However it didn’t take long before I concluded that while the first two responsibilities are about looking after other people, the desire to volunteer stems from the selfish motive to rid myself of the guilty feeling. Once you decide, you just have to live with that decision.

What will happen to Bukit Antarabangsa is uncertain. Because a lot of what this batch carries out together as a batch involves me, Bukit Antarabangsa also features quite frequently among us – on top of the fact that 3 of us (myself, Harrie and Fazurin) are residents of Bukit Antarabangsa.

Bukit Antarabangsa also features very prominently in my personal planning with Syed Asrul and Pejal. I had wanted to achieve a complete financial independence in the next 2 years so that I could pursue things on my own with Syed and Pejal – Bukit Antarabangsa is smacked right in the middle of that consideration.

Everything is now uncertain.

John Lennon is so right when he wrote “life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans”.

7 comments:

  1. Anonymous3:46 PM

    Glad that you are safe. Itu yang paling penting.

    You should take some break pun. It's been one thing after another it seems.

    Take care. Many people need you around them.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awang Gochoh8:03 PM

    Cannot imagine a day without looking forward to your new entry, just cannot imagine. Thank God you are safe.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Anonymous1:12 AM

    Salam. Its an eye opener to a lot of things, hopefully. Its right to balik kg for a while. May u calm down, hope this will not haunt u for life... Hope for the best

    take care

    ReplyDelete
  4. raf,
    semua yang terjadi ada hikmahnya.
    it's all up to us to be grateful or regretful for what Allah have put to us.

    I think it is all a good sign.
    take care

    moqq

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anonymous3:39 AM

    Hope ur kg is not affected by the flood.. Be strong... Noni kan strong??

    ReplyDelete
  6. a noni mus2:45 AM

    Tak dak gambar ker? Take care..

    ReplyDelete