The day when humankind first stepped on the moon, Peggy (my wife) and I were peddling from the West Coast to the East Coast of Malaysia, across the forested spine of that country on “sit-up-and-beg” bicycles, in other words without the benefit of gears.
I was gungho. In KL we had just unwittingly broken a dust to dawn curfew. We were in the middle of a national emergency, caught in the middle between the Chinese and the Malay…the threat of violence, spreading throughout the country…hadn’t kept us from continuing our bicycle tour. When caught outside after dark (which happened more than once), we were told to sing in English so that no one would mistake us for natives. This apparently worked, or so we thought, because we didn’t have any trouble. I should say we never felt unwelcome. We stayed with Chinese, Indians, and Malays. Often we didn’t have a choice of where to stay. Most of the time people, people we had just met, insisted that we stay with them.
Never knowing where we’d end up each night, our lodging for much of the trip depended on hospitality; from nipa hut simplicity to plantation house luxury, from the cheapest hotels filled with prostitutes to Methodists parsonages with names and address of other ministers, the reception we got was always the same. Our memories of Malaysia will always be pleasant. But it didn’t take us very long to realize that the struggles and life and death situation in that country were anything but fairytale; again at that time, there hadn’t been any reconciliation between the Malay and the Chinese.
Now that was far in the past. But hopefully much of the countryside along the road or highway between the East Coast and the West Coast hasn’t changed that much. That there is still forest and a way to see tapir; and the whooping of gibbons can still be heard. On the East Coast, we were lucky to get to spend a night on the beach with huge leatherback turtles while they laid their eggs in the sand. It was kind of sad, after all of the struggle, to see their eggs immediately retrieved (some for the market and others for the hatchery). Hopefully, these people did their job; and the leatherback hasn’t gone extinct. And what about men with monkeys trained to harvest coconuts from trees? Can they still be seen as they were then, or have they vanished? Perhaps, here as everywhere the pressures of development have brought about change. We can hope those changes have been positive for everyone. But there is another side of me that wishes they’d leave things alone. That thinks people can have it all ways. Now remember we tackled that coast during a time when people were first walking on the moon and all we could see was success.
Times are different now, and we can no longer afford to go to the moon. That’s odd. In front of my computer, in late afternoon on a windy autumn 2008, with no hope of returning to Malaysia, I’m forced to set other priorities for myself, like be realistic for a change and view this situation I find myself in as an opportunity.
To view failures as successes…at this late date…may seem strange too. It was like when someone recently took something away from me…oh, but it made me angry; like I’d put so much of myself into the project, like two years of my life and most of my financial wherewithal; and not have people value what I created. Like what was I going to do after that and how was I going to continue when most of what I wanted and work for was gone? But luckily, in my case, gloom and irritation only lasted about a day. There was my study cluttered and in disarray, and books unread or hazily remembered, waiting. One old man with his study and books got to work and discovered some new things, and so far they seem to be totally original with him. And, oh how rare is that!
More later, Randy Ford