Atchafalaya Swamp

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Bapa Borek Anak Tak Rintek Ke?


It's not time
To make a change
Just relax, take it easy
Youre still young, thats your fault
There's so much
you have to know
Find a girl, settle down,
If you want
you can marry
Look at me, I am old, but I'm happy.

I was once like you are now,
and I know that it's not easy
To be calm when youve found
Something going on
But take your time,
Think a lot
Think of everything you've got
For you will still be here tomorrow,
But your dreams may not


How can I try to explain
When I do he turns away again.
Its always been the same, same old story
From the moment I could talk
I was ordered to listen
Now theres a way
and I know that I have to go away
I know I have to go...

©Cat Stevens, 1970 Tea for The Tillerman

I had to quickly rush this weeks edition into the blogsphere. A serious piece for a change, a little to let you delve into the irreverent psyche of Mat Salo.

The reason for the rush is that in a day or two I would meet my father out in the boondocks of Eastern Borneo. Yes, you heard that right, Father is in town.

It’s a story of fate, of coincidence, of Father and Son.

Read on, contemplate, but I think it might leave you a bad taste in the mouth, or at the very least, scratching your head.

I was inspired in part by Captain Pandi in his recent blog, and more recently by Kickdefella’s The Long Walk with Bah Part I, and Part Finale (apparently there isn't a Part II) which appeared in RPK’s Malaysia Today. Blogger extraordinaire Kickdefella, the famous screenwriter and filmmaker, is interestingly also Nik Aziz’s grand-nephew something-or-other.

The Rig Life saga ends at the bottom with some pictures meant to be included in last week’s edition. I hope to dispel the myth of some say the ‘glamorous’ off-shore environment, because after all, Rig Life to me is nothing more like your affairs (no pun here) at the office, but minus the office girls with the low-cut blouse and subtle display of flesh.

Now for the story.

Father & Son

The shrill of the hand phone woke me from my slumber.

It wasn’t a call, but the familiar tone of the Nokia SMS beep.

I had just gone to bed, forgetting to brush my teeth even, exhausted from the day’s activities. The spate of tool failures didn’t help either. I pulled the Nokia from its perch above my cabin reading light (the Nokia also doubled as an alarm clock), and felt that faint stab in my heart, expecting some less-than-favorable news.

Hesitant, I stabbed the buttons and the backlit came on. It was an unfamiliar number.

It was Father, saying he was in Jakarta and on his way to Balikpapan. Surprise, surprise - I was mmediately I jerked out of my reverie. I went out to rear deck, smoked a Dunhill, and flicked the half-finished cigarrette into the Mahakam Delta. I couldn't think of a suitable response to sms back, and with that I plopped back into bed.

Although Balikpapan is a mere four hours away by boat and car from the rig, obviously I just couldn’t forsake my workplace and just leave could I? I had a hole to drill.

Father was to arrive on the noon Garuda flight. I called him the following morning to apologize for not being able to meet him at the airport, but if he’d be around for a few days, I might able to squeeze-in a day in town. He said a car’s meeting him and will take him up north to Samarinda and beyond to a place called Sangeta in Kutai Timur. He explained that Uncle Bok, a crony of his from his planters' days with Harrisons & Crossfields and operating a thriving Oil Palm Agro-Consultancy in Jakarta, had his house in Pulo Mas submerged from the recent Jakarta floods.

Presumably Uncle Bok was busy salvaging personal belongings thus contracting the work out to Father, a valuation for an interested buyer on his behalf. It would take at least a couple of days he added, and I mentally tried to factor-in how long before I can leave the rig, which is just days away too. If I'm lucky and pending no more tool failures, Father and Son might just be able to have a reunion.

Samarinda is the seat of the East Kalimantan province and is at least two hours by car from Balikpapan. I have not been there myself, although my passport has - because Samarinda is where my Residency Permit gets endorsed. But now is a good time as any but the opportunity to do so is pretty damn thin. Father also said something about a possible six-hour boat ride from Kutai Timur, so he needs to travel at least a day prior to make his flight back in time from Balikpapan. Ironically, Samarinda being the seat of government has only a small municipal airstrip while Balikpapan has a nice international airport that can land any wide bodied jets short of Jumbos. Thanks to the Black Gold of course.

Hmmm… to find father and son in the same locale, out in the boondocks of Borneo. So why the fuss about a first-born son wanting to rendezvous with his father? I can always see him whenever I go home to Malaysia can’t I? Back in Malaysia, Father’s house is but a fifteen minute drive away.

The answer isn’t quite so simple.

The truth is I never get to see him at all, both by force of circumstance and by design. I might see him two or three times a year – tops – and if I do, it’s mostly behind my mother’s back (you can already guess that they are ‘separated’, but by a quirk in Moslem Family Law, they’re not divorced – the Malays have a term for it – gantung tak bertali).

It pains me to tell you this -because- Father and Son, are estranged.

And that’s also why, if you give me a guitar – anytime anyplace - I can immediately play Yusuf Islam’s classic seventies hit of that name, and never forget a single verse. And that’s why my heartstrings get tugged each time I hear that Mike & The Mechanics’ tune, The Living Years.

It is not my intention to disparage Father at all, because it has been close to thirty years since he took on a second wife. Which is quite alright, many people do I suppose, but in his case he hasn’t been to see Mother for quite some years already. And this is where our views start to diverge.

In the early days there was some ‘rotation’ between Mother's and the Other House, but almost imperceptibly it got less and less, when finally, after my youngest brother (thus all four siblings dah lepas) got hitched, the ‘rotation’ ceased altogether. Oh, the children are welcome to visit him ‘over there’, but who dares break a mother’s heart?

Now this situation makes it doubly bad for me, because I am the first-born, the Keeper of The Flame so to speak. I have an obligation, not from religious point of view - but to my mind, a moral one - to keep both my parents happy. The bridge has long ago burned, and they are going on in years. Father is in his early seventies but still has a strong ticker, working to raise his other children. Of which he has two, a girl (my sister for cryin’ out loud) who is in the final year of medical school in IMU, and the boy in faraway Portland, Oregon.

What else had contributed to the divide?

Father’s sore point with me was my refusal to underwrite my half-sibling’s college bills, simply because he had ceased to support Mother for many years already. My own youngest sibling was still in college then, and I have a family to support. Even if I had wanted to help, and if Mother ever found out, then without a doubt, Hell is a place I shall burn forever.

My sore point with him was he had mortgaged the roof over Mother’s head – reneging an earlier deal to turn the family house over to my siblings and I so Mother has at least something to show for in fifty years of marriage. To Mother’s consternation he had mortgaged the house to finance the other half’s children to college. Now if you were my mother, how would you feel? Why not mortgage the other house for God’s sake? It’s HER children after all – is Mother’s way of thinking.

Really, can you blame her?

Even with his probable good intention of paying back the loan, time is not on Father’s side. He has no proper income except doing piecemeal contract work. I suspect the Bank will foreclose on the house anytime soon, thus Mother will be forced to shuttle between my sister and I. Of course we’d take her in, but to see her broken by circumstances like this? Well, that would be too much to bear.

The sad part is I had seen all this coming. I had even tried to do something about it. Some years ago I made motions by contacting a high-powered divorce lawyer and tried to convince Mother that divorce is the best option for asset protection. Try as I may, Mother would have none of it!

What? To be called a janda? Meruntuhkan Masjid? How I dare propose such a thing?

Ironically, now she would probably be left with nothing. And - under Syaria’ law, if Mother ‘goes’ first, her assets, like her kampong house in the village for instance, will go to Father to do as he pleases. Not only has Father not left her anything, but potentially all her own legacy can go to her ‘rival’.

You can imagine how all this hangs over her head.

He had just arrived and messaged me from a small hotel in town and was waiting for the agent to arrange a car to go north. I immediately called to apologize for not being able to meet him, to which he said was alright, we can meet in Malaysia. No, it's not alright, if he only knew how important it was for us to meet.

Because I see this as the perfect chance for a heart-to-heart.

Back in Malaysia it’s impossible to have an opportunity like this, since the only way to see him is at The Other House, and any heart-to-heart there is a near-impossibility, especially with stepmother hovering in the background.

It’s quite strange that fate had brought us both here, within striking distance, but in all probability there’s nothing I can do. So the conversation that I’ve been rehearsing for the last few years will probably have to wait.

Pray, tell, but who knows for how long?


N.B. Although estranged, both Father and Son are actually on very good terms. If not for the -uh - slightly less than desirable situation as pertains to Mother, we could've been best of friends.

Many who have met him found him to be easy-going and friendly. Make no mistake, I do love Father, as with love, sometimes one has trouble seeing the other person's views. My maternal grandmother once quipped that she regretted not giving me a tindeh telinga soon after I was born because Father and I are so physically alike. It's an old wives tale about likes repel and opposites attract that kind of thing, and in my case it's quite true because we never saw eye-to-eye on anything.

* * *

Right. Now to back Rig Life.

The galley where our meals are served.

In the last edition, some were wondering what my failed tool looked like. Well, wonder no more.

© 2007 matsalo images. No Unauthorized Reproduction. The Canon Powershot Digital Ixus 850 (SD 800) was used exclusively for the images above.