Z is for Zakaria: Chukai, Malaysia

Peregrina's Journey
Peter and Margie Benziger
Sat 23 Jun 2012 02:14

       04:14.0N    103:27.0E
Z is for Zakaria

Cruising in this part of the world, or any place where there is a significant language barrier, is never EASY.  Don’t get me wrong!  It’s always an adventure and almost always, lots of fun but sometimes it’s just plain HARD to accomplish little things that you take for granted back home.  For example, last week, Peter and I needed to get a document notarized and sent back to the States ASAP!

We made our way up the Chukai River to Chukai Town in the province of Terengganu – a reasonably large community with excellent services including hardware stores, banks, supermarkets, fresh produce markets, fuel and water – all the necessities for the cruising life.  We thought, for sure, we’d have no problem finding a notary! 

Well, YOU try explaining what a “notary” is to someone who doesn’t speak English!!!  We got lots of blank stares as Peter tried valiantly to describe how he wanted to SIGN a piece of paper (insert lots of flourishing hand gestures here) while someone would WITNESS him do this and AUTHORIZE  the signature after comparing it with Peter’s passport photo.  In truth, Peter did an excellent rendition of Robert DeNiro’s “I’m watching you” hand signals from Meet the Parents but to no avail.  The “man on the street” in Chukai had NO IDEA what we were talking about although everyone thoroughly enjoyed his DeNiro impersonation!

What to do, what to do?  Wait…banks always have notaries!  Let’s try a bank!  Plus, this provided the added bonus of air conditioning so we could cool off as we repeated our improvisational theater performance. 

Foiled again!!!  Apparently, Malaysian banks don’t provide notary services but we did find out that what we were looking for was a “Commissioner of Oath” so at least, we were making progress.  We asked the kind, English-speaking customer service rep where the closest Commissioner of Oath could be found and he disappeared into the back office presumably to get us directions.  Turns out, he was getting his car keys and he escorted us out the door and into his car and drove us a mile or so down the road to one of the local Commissioners.  Time and again, we’ve experienced this with Malaysians.  They are so anxious to help and extend hospitality to guests in their country.  It’s amazing!

So, we thought we were “home free” but this particular Commissioner was a stickler for details and Peter had only brought the LAST page of the document he wanted to sign and have witnessed.  I think the “Commish” thought that we might be asking him to sign something that would leave him liable for our actions or, in debt for millions, or maybe our first and second born daughters (!) so he wanted to see the entire document even though his English was pretty much non-existent and we knew he couldn’t have read it anyway!  Of course, all the paperwork was back on the boat so we were out of luck. 

Our banker friend was running out of his lunch hour break time, so we took the car back where we started and he pointed down the road “…only a couple kilometers” (!) where we might find another Commissioner of Oath.  We hightailed it back to the boat (in the dinghy, out of the dinghy, get the papers, in the dinghy, out of the dinghy) and an hour later, we were back on the trail. 

We found our man, Zakaria, on the second floor of a riverside shopping plaza and, after taking off our shoes, stepped inside his cramped little office.  He was there with his daughter, SuZy and son, Zul (We noted a recurring Z-theme developing here) and to our great surprise all of them spoke excellent English.  We explained what we needed and without batting an eyelash Zakaria whipped out his “stamp” and authorized Peter’s signature.   But, now that business was concluded (4 Ringitts = $1.33) they wanted to know all about us and what it was like living on a sailboat.  We said, “Why don’t you close the office and come see?”  Well, that’s just what they did! Here’s a photo of “Zak” and his son, Zul and daughter, Suzy, aboard Peregrina.  (Zak doesn’t look particularly thrilled in this photo but we find that older Malaysians rarely smile when facing the camera for some reason.)

They were so delighted that we had invited them to see Peregrina that they asked us to join them for dinner that night at a floating restaurant outside of town where we enjoyed quail, which is considered a delicacy here plus squid, fish, rice and delicious mango and passion fruit shakes with her three kids and Zul.  Zak stayed home to care for his wife who is recovering from a stroke.

The next day, Zul showed up at the dinghy dock at 9am to pick us up for a full day of touring the countryside.  We invited our friends, Chris and Nancy from Amulet to join us and the five of set off on an adventure.  It was actually an adventure for Zul as well since we requested to visit two sites that he had never seen…Gua Charas (Charas Caves), a deep limestone karst towering high above the surrounding palm plantations which opens into a huge underground cave housing a reclining Buddha

and the Muzium Sungai Lembing - at one time the home of the largest and deepest subterranean tin mine in the world and second only to Bolivia in terms of production!  The mining operation began here in 1858 with the British leasing the contract for 100 years at 1 CENT per year!  (The Malaysians figured out that was a REALLY bad deal in 1915 and the government took over the lease)  In those first 100 years, 13 million tons of ore was extracted yielding 150,000 metric tons of pure tin valued at US$2 Billion Dollars!  The mine experienced massive losses in the early 70’s (for some reason that is never clearly explained) and all operations ceased by the early 80’s.  The Muzium is an excellent educational forum for the mining industry and all the displays are clearly described in both Malay and English.

Moving on, we loved the very funky Crystal Museum owned by former miner, Lee Yon and his wife Lim Sam Mooi who welcomed us into their home to see Lee’s personal collection of over 3,000 crystalline stones.  It seems that Lee worked 29 years as a miner and, over the course of time he managed to spirit away samples of iron, copper and tin as well as thousands of geodes and crystalline stones.  He showed us his favorite crystal.

We’re not sure exactly how he got some of the larger pieces out of the mine and whether his bosses knew what was going on but now he’s got a nice little tourist business supplementing his retirement!  He even built two sample mining caves into the hillside in back of his house by hand so that the next generation could see what mining was like in the “good old days.”  Peter took a turn excavating a bit deeper into the tunnel which is embedded with small denomination coins left behind by the tourists.

Continuing our roadtrip, we stopped at a restaurant where Zul introduced to the national treat otak-otak, a fish paste wrapped in banana leaves then stapled (!) together and roasted on the barbeque.  

The next night we were invited to Zack's home where we ate a VERY traditional meal and met another brother as well as Zak’s wife, who struggles with the effects of her stroke but sat with us for a few minutes even removing her head scarf which surprised and delighted us as we felt it was an indication that we were considered real friends of the family. This is Zak's home and the delicious food we ate.
After our meal, we returned to the boat and marveled at what a stroke of luck it was to meet the Zakaria family and how blessed we are to have this opportunity to share our journey with new friends in every country.