On the day I left Sungei Besi transit camp for Australia, I wore a yellow T-shirt bought from the camp’s only grocery and sundry shop, which was run by a Chinese Malaysian couple. My shoes, jeans and travel bag all were bought with my money by ‘Papa’.
Papa was a Cantonese-speaking, Chinese-Malaysian man in his 60s who was thin, bald, agile, vivacious and quick-tongued, and insisted that the Vietnamese people called him ‘Papa’. He looked after the camp’s general store that contained goods for the refugees’ daily use: small food and drink buckets, sheets, blankets,…
I happened to know Papa when one day, on his regular walk around the camp, he visited our ‘shipping-container’ residence. All the girls and women crowded around the ‘Asian Santa Claus’. He gave each of us a packet of Nasi Lemak (Malaysian rice dish) wrapped in banana leaf. I could never forget the fragrant and rich coconut rice as well as the crispy fried anchovies, the sweet-and-sour garlic chilli sauce and the big sunny-side-up egg. Decades later, after many trips to Malaysia I could never find any Nasi Lemak that tasted so nice as the one Papa gave me that day. Maybe the pale Malaysian milk tea, the instant noodles, half-cooked soggy fried chicken, insipid and tainted steamed salted fish and other lacklustre meals that I invariably received day after day in the camp had accentuated the flavour of that dish? But wait there’s more!
1.THAI PIRATES CONTINUING BRUTAL ATTACKS ON VIETNAMESE BOAT PEOPLE by BARBARA CROSSETTE, Special to the New York Times – Published: January 11, 1982
“WASHINGTON, Jan. 10— Nguyen Tien Hoa says he escaped from Vietnam in mid-November aboard a 50-foot boat that carried about 75 refugees, more than half of them women and children.
By the end of the month, Mr. Hoa, 31 years old, wounded, distraught and alone in a disabled vessel with his 10-year-old brother, drifted ashore in Malaysia, where the boy died of shock and untended injuries. But wait there’s more!
The Communists relax patrolling during monsoon as the sea’s rough, but there’s a two-week window in November when the sea’s calm so we set sail then. It was 1983.
On day two, we’re adrift for half a day due to mechanical failure. But wait there’s more!