Being here in this beautiful land of Terengganu, listening to Maher Zain’s “Paradise”, I can’t help being carried back to the time when I made a trip with Syasya all the way from Selayang to Pulau Redang, Kuala Terengganu and Kemaman. It was filled with memorable times and I enjoyed almost every bit of it.
* * *
The last third of the night.
We decided to drive to Kuala Terengganu, where we’ll ride the boat to Pulau Redang. Hence we needed to leave very early in the morning. Some might describe 3am as “ungodly hour”, but being Muslims, we know that 3am is as Godly as you can get.
Anyway, I ran a bit late because I was preparing some egg sandwiches to eat along the way. Well, I did sleep late because I’ve just came back from a family weekend break in Sg Klah. It’s such a much-needed break for me and Syasya.
We left at 3.30am. There were only lorries on the road, the Pasar Borong is already buzzing with activity.
I tried to sleep while Syasya drove, but with the winding road and the excitement, I wasn’t sleepy. The most I could get was about 10 minutes.
It started to get really foggy after Bentong. It was creepy, but in a beautiful kind of creepy. I was reminded of the time we drove from Te Anau to Milford Sound in New Zealand to watch glo-worms. Of course, the fog in New Zealand was way more dense, we could not see much in front of us.
I remember thinking to myself, how breathtaking it would have been on the daytime after the rain. Obviously I did not know what I was going to see in the next few hours of our journey.
* * *
We stopped by at a rest area in Gambang for fajr prayers. It was rather quiet there but we weren’t the only ones stopping there for prayers, although most of them were men.
After buying some coffee, filling up the petrol tank, we were all set for the next portion of our journey. I took over the driving, as I knew Terengganu a little better than Syasya.
As the name fajr goes, the skies have started to light up. It was not so obvious at first, but bit by bit, we could see the outlines of the trees.
The mist was lifting and the air cool.
It seemed like the skies were going to be clear and blue.
Lining the highway were rows and rows of oil palm trees.
Carpets of grass, the color appeared so fresh, it almost felt like we could see the individual droplets of dew on each of their little leaves
The birds already flying out; even when we could not hear them chirping away, we could feel their cheer as they search for the day’s provisions.
The skies brightened, more yellow and lighter blue now.
I took a deep breath. MasyaAllah. I was speechless. My eyes welled up with tears.
If this is beautiful, what would paradise look like?
By that time I was so glad that we made that journey. Early. Alhamdulillah.
The sun finally made its appearance when we reached Kuantan. Round, yellow, warm and comforting, we had to stop for photos.
After Kuantan, we continued our journey with the sun rising on our right.
* * *
The surprise visit
On that beautiful morning, Ihab was scheduled to finish his night shift in Hospital Kemaman by 8am. We reached Kemaman by 7.30am. I actually planned to meet up with him on our way back to KL from Redang, which is a few days after. But since we were there right at the end of his shift, I decided maybe we should just stop by and pay him a visit.
Outside the big city of Kuala Lumpur, perhaps the people are not so suspicious. I just had to take a peek at the emergency department registration counter, gave my salaam and asked to see him, the medical assistant there immediately called him out.
It didn’t seem like it was a busy morning for them.
Donning the blue hospital scrubs, with his smile (that could light up this whole town) and loud, clear voice (a little awkward, as always) he exclaimed what a pleasant surprise it was to see me there. I introduced him to Syasya.
The sun was climbing up. The breeze is rather cool, I shivered a little, but I was not sure whether it really was just the breeze or was it something else.
The nicest thing was the entrance was facing the sunrise. Our faces were lit up fresh and happy, in shades of yellow and orange. The streets bustling with traffic. The breeze was gentle and cool. The registration counter quiet.
We spoke for a while. He was waiting for his colleague to come and take over the shift from him. We were thinking of getting some breakfast but his friend was nowhere to be seen. So we decided that coffee would probably have to wait until the promised day.
* * *
We were lucky we did not stop for breakfast, or else we may have missed the boat to Redang.
The traffic was really bad near Bukit Kuang; a bridge was being built and there were detours along the way. I was a little stressed because “we are on a holiday, we’re not supposed to be stuck in traffic.”
What could we have done anyway, so we chat about our past and present, then one of our senior doctors called me up to refer a case, I told her, “I’m actually in Terengganu.” She said, “Oh, you got transferred over there?” That’s not an unreasonable assumption, seeing the circumstances. I said, “No, I’m on a holiday.”
We reached Kuala Terengganu at around 11am, right on time to check in for the boat ride. We managed to finish almost all of the sandwiches and carried our bags onto the boat.
I can’t remember whether they had entertainment on board, we both slept the whole journey there.
* * *
The first sight
We arrived in Pulau Redang at about 1pm. The skies were blue and the sun was shining oh so brightly, giving the sea such clear green color. The white sand just glistened under the afternoon sun.
We were happy. Amazed beyond measure. Despite the crowd.
Yes, the crowd.
Well, at least our room was spacious and quiet.
* * *
Swimming with the fishes
The first two snorkeling trips were with another three full boats of tourists. We did enjoy the swims, but the one that was the most memorable was one that we had on the second afternoon we were there.
There was supposed to be another snorkeling trip, but we decided to stay in the hotel and just swim around the hotel beach.
It was a great decision for both of us.
The water was so clear, it’s as if we were swimming in a swimming pool but with sand as the floor.
There were only a few people as everyone else may have gone for the snorkeling trip.
It’s nice to swim with the fishes, big and small. Some as big as dinner plates, or maybe even bigger. We didn’t get tired of swimming back and forth to the beach. The sea was deep enough for us to see some corals or just float around.
It was definitely more quiet without that 60-over people trying to swim with the sea creatures too. We were fine not seeing colorful corals, I guess if we really wanted to enjoy the deep blue seas properly, we may need to get a diving license and go further away from the islands.
Maybe next time.
After over three hours swimming around enjoying the clear water with the company of the fishes, we decided to get back to our hotel room.
Our noses were red and burnt.
We didn’t mind it at all.
* * *
For both nights, we slept at 9pm, and woke up at 6am.
* * *
Of songket and batik.
A visit to Kuala Terengganu would not be complete without stopping by in Pasar Payang for Terengganu’s famous batik and songket. It reminded me of my father the most, because he loved the beauty of their craft, and bought all of the batik we’ve ever worn were from Terengganu. We started our shopping expedition in Bazaar Warisan, the new building in front of Pasar Payang, rather than the old market itself.
As if he could sense it, my father called me right when I stepped into the bazaar. He told me to get some songket material for me, my mom and sister, all expenses paid by him. I was so happy because, truthfully, I have almost ran out of money.
We spent a great deal of time haggling with the shopkeepers and owners. Obviously, Syasya is a better person to do it, being an avid shopper herself. Furthermore, she probably have more patience when shopping is concerned. It really was to our advantage as we did manage to get some really nice prices for those pretty silk and cotton that we bought.
Pasar Payang wasn’t such a great experience. A shopkeeper became a little rude when Syasya started asking her about which rice we should buy for nasi dagang, how do we cook it. The kind of customer service was so different from the nice and friendly lady in one of the batik shops that we visited in Bazaar Warisan. Even those shopkeepers in the batik and songket sections upstairs were not so friendly. Perhaps it was the heat and the lack of lighting. Or maybe the friendly lady has travelled a lot, so she learnt from her experience dealing with others outside Terengganu.
I find it funny, though, because the place is visited by so many tourists during the summer months, one would have thought that they would be more friendly.
* * *
That rainy drive
We left Kuala Terengganu to head to Kemaman quite late that day. I managed to buy bags of keropok for my family and friends. It was rather cloudy and it started drizzling after Marang.
There is something about the color green that makes it beautiful all the time. It doesn’t matter whether the skies are blue or cloudy, whether it’s during sunrise or sunset, green would always look magnificent. They would look different with different weather, but one weather as pretty as the other.
Hence, the drive down was as amazing. It drizzled on and off, the coconut trees waving at us, the seas appeared to be slightly rocky, and in some areas, fog was lifting.
I suppose if the roads were lined by buildings upon buildings, it would have felt so gloomy, but since there were trees along the way, the feel was different altogether.
* * *
When we passed by Paka, I was reminded of a niece of one of my nurses. Yasmin was 7 years old and visited us in the hospital quite often. During school holidays, she would stay with her aunt (my nurse) and follow her to work. She’d sit in our pantry playing with her iPad or reading magazines.
Or chatting with us.
That’s how I got to know that her mother has a restaurant in Paka.
We searched for the restaurant, it was rather easy as it has a unique name. I thought, Yasmin must feel very happy if we came to visit her.
It was such a pleasant surprise for her, although she was a little shy in the beginning. Then she brought her kitten out, Syasya fell in love with it immediately and started playing with it. The kitten was so contented with all the attention that it had, so it fell asleep on Syasya’s lap.
Meanwhile Yasmin talked and talked about her repeated trips to KL, her many aunts, her hobbies, her clothes, her accessories…it wasn’t that awkward, in fact, it wasn’t awkward at all.
After a good meal accompanied by free desserts, we left for Kemaman.
It was already quite dark at that time.
* * *
I can’t believe I’ve never tasted laksam before. Ever. And I pride myself in saying I grew up in the east coast for seven years of my life.
There were a few reasons why I chose Awana Kijal as a place to stay for the night.
I’ve stayed there a few times with my family when I was younger, it has a huge swimming pool, and the best thing about it is it’s breakfast spread.
I sat alone on the breakfast table as Syasya wanted to spend some time walking on the beach before breakfast. It was a weekday so many Petronas workers and oil and gas engineers were there having their first meals of the day.
I took my time trying the different types of bread, the patisseries, the meusli, omelette, Malay kuih, enjoyed the teh tarik which was so nice.
Then I saw those laksa-like thingies.
I did not even know its name!
Luckily they put the noodles, gravy, sambal and condiments together. So I put all of them in my bowl, sat down on my lonely-but-not-sad breakfast table, and then…..
I fell in love. I JUST fell in love at the first bite.
The noodle soft and moist, the gravy thick and creamy, the fish is flavorful, the spices and salt just rightly balanced.
That was one of the tastiest dishes I’ve ever eaten.
I still can’t believe I have never tried it before.
* * *
Ihab and I planned to meet up during that trip, and we have planned that way before I came over. Yet by the time I have checked out from the hotel, shop at Mesra Mall, had lunch at (believe it or not) Secret Recipe, we were still undecided on where we shall meet.
You see, he’s scheduled to finish work by 3pm and will join the night shift at 10pm. On that particular day he had to come early in the evening to perform a song or two for a farewell party in the department. So I didn’t want him to travel too far, thinking that he should get some rest before the grueling night shift starts.
But then I saw the mouth-watering chocolate cake at Secret Recipe, with an offer of a discounted cup of coffee.
“Tapi kat KL pun ada Secret Recipe, kak,” he said in his text.
After sending Syasya off to a spa to pamper herself for an hour or two, I found myself trying to cross a busy road in front of Kemaman Hospital.
We decided to meet up at Hai Peng Kopitiam.
The famous, crowded and noisy Hai Peng Kopitiam.
I found a table for two, cramped between other tables for two, and waited for him. It was rather breezy, although it was hot. The coffee shop is situated next to a huge tree, which gave us the impression that we’re having meals under a great big tree, rather than in a building.
I’ve had lunch, and Ihab wanted to save his space for the night party. So we ordered some toasts and coffee.
As my host, he’s not happy, though.
“You want some rojak?” he asked. I said no.
After chatting for another few minutes, he asked, “Nasi lemak? More roti bakar?”
For his sake I ordered a bit more of the coffee shop’s famous toast.
For the first time I heard in speak in local dialect, when he met some of the locals who knew him. Well, it’s not like I often heard him speak but knowing that he’s a true KL boy, I knew that this is something new.
We spoke about my trip, about the tourists that frequently pass by the town, the roads, a little about our jobs and exams…in the end, he said, softly, “actually I wanted to buy you some more expensive and special coffee…”
The coffee is actually another story. He felt indebted that I helped his mother and uncle out on one rainy day a few months back. So he promised me to buy me “a cuppa”. Even though I did not feel like he owed me anything, I said, “It’s ok. You can buy me coffee and cakes in KL. The best that you’ve ever tasted.”
With that he felt happier.
The meal did not even cost him RM10. I don’t see what’s wrong with that amount, but I guess growing up in Arabic hospitality, he wanted to do more.
As we crossed the busy road to my car, I was a little disturbed because I felt like I was crossing the road with someone else, someone who crossed roads as busy as this with me, back in Sabah during happier times.
But then he turned to face me, the image broke and Ihab’s back to my reality.
* * *
Two days after that, I was back in KL. My father sent me a picture of the day’s news: some areas in Kemaman were badly hit by thunder storm. My heart missed a beat, but I thought, “Erm…Ihab was online on Facebook yesterday..”
Our journey back to KL was slowed down significantly by the thunderstorm. It started after Maghrib prayers in Gambang, all the way to Temerloh. I drove all the way because Syasya had to be on call the day after, and I had my own farewell party. I didn’t need to work though.
I drove at most 60km per hour, if we went faster we’d be blown away by the strong wind. It was such a scary drive; the sun has set, visibility was poor, the roads slippery and the wind was so strong we could feel the car shaking at times.
Thankfully we arrived safely in Selayang close to midnight.
* * *
Why did I say this trip changed my life?
One simple reason, it made me realize that I could wake up very early, have a productive, happy day without feeling too tired. The day would be smooth sailing and usually end well.
I have never been a morning person before that trip. Having enjoyed the sunrise immensely, seeing the birds and trees and the blue skies, feeling the breeze on my cheeks, it gave me the motivation to keep on doing it.
These days I wake up early most of my weekends, and I could enjoy the blessings each morning.
It was such a meaningful memory for me, the whole four days, that as I wrote this piece, I felt like I spent two weeks there. Even when the dynamics of my relationship with both of them have changed, it still is one of the sweetest memories that I have ever had.
* * *
I remember when I first met you
I felt that God answered my call
There was that one place I always thought about
And I just wanted to be there with you
The place that no eye has ever seen
The place that no heart has ever perceived
I had a great feeling inside of me
That one day I’ll be there with you
And now that we’re here feeling so good
About all the things that we went through
Knowing that God is pleased with us too
It’s not a dream, this is so true
Feeling the peace all around
Seeing things we could never imagine
Hearing the sound of rivers flow
And we know we’ll be here forever
The feeling is indescribable
Knowing that this is our reward
Do you remember the hard times we went through?
And those days we used to argue
But there was not one thing that could bring us down
‘Cause we always had in our minds
The place that no eye has ever seen
The place that no heart has ever perceived
The place we’ve been promised to live in forever
And best of all, it’s just me and you
I remember us praying at night
And just dreaming about this together
I’m so blessed to have you in my life
And now we can enjoy these blessings forever
Paradise is where we are now
Paradise, a dream come true
Paradise, O what a feeling!
Paradise, thank You Allah!