On the way to Serasa International Ferry Terminal
14.05.2012 - 18.05.2012
From BSB to Serasa, May 17th 2012
Normally, getting up early is a sacrifice. Worst it is when the night has to be passed with a mind thinking of a 3.5 million blackmail from the government water supply in my country. I woke up exhausted mentally. But the sun on Bandar Seri Begawan was just as excited as the days before to start the day. It seemed that it was just a few minutes ago when I peeped through the curtain and it was still dark outside.
As I walked across the wooden bridge through the water village, wild birds of several species chirped on my left and right along the bridge. They greeted me while hopping from one branch to another. The branches of wild bushes which had long leaves bounced to the weight of the bird on tip of their leaves. Once again I couldn't believe I was walking in the capital city of the second richest country in Southeast Asia. I had always thought that walking in a natural bird orchestra like this would only happen in the woods, or in fairy tales.
There was one particular bird of my favorite. It is a little bigger than a sparrow. It has a plump stomach which makes it look cute. The feathers are dark brown, the head is black, and the beak is white. As these birds bounced from one leave to another, white dots filled the air like stars. I regretted myself for not getting up earlier so that I could have time taking their pictures.
That short walk along the wooden bridge is an experience that would stay in my memories for long if not forever. I can always hear them greet me, "Selamat pagi, selamat pagi! Mau ke mana, mau ke mana?"
Luckily there were several buses that went to Muara. The first, maybe the second, had already left. I got on bus number 39. I was anxious for the bus to leave as soon as possible, because I was worried I wouldn't be able to catch the first ferry to Labuan, Malaysia. As I sat by the window as usual, I watched other buses coming and leaving Bandar Seri Begawan Bus Terminal. I saw a rather plump lady getting off a bus with a bit difficult. It looked like she had trouble with her knees. Poor lady, I thought to myself.
Minutes went by. The driver started the engine. Passengers were still getting up the bus. Suddenly, that lady was on the stairs. She stood awhile looking at the seats behind me, and then sat next to me.
She asked me something in Malay which I don't remember what it was. But I remember I answered, "Hanya melancong saja." The next thing I knew, she was chattering in Mandarin. Oh, my! Then she looked at me with a questioning look on her face. Oh, she's asking me something. "Wǒ qù Labuan," I answered to whatever question she was asking.
Our driver approached us for the fare. I reached out my purse from my backpack. But before I could pull the zipper open, this lady's heavy arm fell on my hands. She said she was going to pay for my fare. Bus fare in BSB is only 1 BND. But I have installed my mind with a philosophy that says, for everything there is a price.
Nevertheless, language barrier came in between. How do say, "Let me pay for myself." in Mandarin? Ah.
So, she paid for me. The driver returned to the front of the bus, stood next to a machine box which looked like a ticket box. He cast his eyes to back of the bus seeming to count. Then he pushed a handle on the side of the box several times. Little pieces of white paper came out.
The driver gave me one. He turned to the Chinese lady next to me and spoke in Malay,
"Excuse me. Just now you only paid for one."
"No, no!" I turned furious. I always hate injustice. I don't mind paying my fare, but it would be making this lady's money meaningless if I do so.
The driver signaled me to keep silent but I completely ignored.
"She already paid for two just now. She told you she was paying for me."
"I only took one dollar just now," the driver explained. "I gave her a ticket already, but didn't give you one. So here I give you one, and I want one more dollar."
The lady opened her little hand bag with a total confuse look. One small fold of a few 1 Brunei dollar bills laid there. Our driver picked that fold of bills. "Look!" he said. "One, two, three, four!" He took 1 note and returned the 3 to the lady. Then he turned his head to me, "Kamu mengerti?!"
In my home country we only address others with 'kamu' when we have a close relationship. Although I already understood that in Malay its common to address even a respected person with 'kamu', the driver's attitude felt "harsh for me. I just nodded and said, "Yes, I understand."
The driver got behind the wheels and the lady next to me mumbled endlessly in Mandarin. I assume she has a deficiency with her palate. Her articulation wasn't clear. That just added the challenge for me to comprehend spoken Mandarin.
She pointed to the little piece of paper in my hand. "Bla... bla... bla... hái méi... bla... bla..."
What?! 'Hái méi' means 'not yet'. "You haven't got this?"
"Hái méi... bla... bla..."
After the rather harsh encounter with the driver, I had not the courage to ask him why he didn't give this lady a ticket.
"Bla... bla... bla... Yīgè rén yīkuài."
"Duì. Yīgè rén yīkuài." I was just too happy I could understand a phrase from her mumbling.
With a feeling of guilty, I clipped the tiny ticket between my fingers. I didn't pay, but got a ticket. This lady paid for herself and me, but didn't have a ticket at all. Without any hesitation, she took the ticket from my hand when I offered it to her.
I turned my head to the window and wondered of 3 things. First, is there a Guinness Record for the tiniest paper ticket? Second, what should I say if there's a ticket checking? Third, what on earth is this lady's motivation buying me a ticket? I am a strong believer of 'There's nothing for free.' and 'For everything there's a price.'
"Nǐ?" Her voice suddenly broke into my thoughts. I had let her chatter to herself, because I couldn't understand her. And now she's asking, how about me. About what?? I turned to her and put a big question mark on my face.
"Nǐ? Yǒu méiyǒu?" She is asking me, do I have it or not. Have what??
"Yǒu," I answered careless that I had.
She continued her chatter -- faster. Just last night on the phone, Mom criticized me for not making an effort of using my Mandarin other than saying 'thank you' and 'you are welcome'. Now, Mom, are you satisfied? What could be better than practicing with an articulate handicap Mandarin speaking? Heeyaaa...
Minutes went by. Although my face was pressed on the window glass, I couldn't concentrate on what was running through my eyes, because what constantly ran through my ears from this lady next to me broke my conscience. I felt bad for neglecting one who had paid for my ticket.
"Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bù dǒng," I said to her.
Beyond expectation, she burst out into a big laughter. "Huahahaha!!! Nǐ bù dǒng ma?"
"Shì, wǒ bù dǒng."
"Huahahaha!!! Nǐ bù dǒng! Huahahaha!!!" She clapped both her hands on my left shoulder and arm. "Huahahaha!!! Wǒ de shuō nǐ bù dǒng ma?"
I shook my head. Yes, I didn't understand her talking. Now, she understands that her chattering had been meaningless and she would stop.
No, she didn't. Not at all. I tried harder to understand her talking. As far as I could grasped, she was saying that many people don't understand her talking. "Even my Dad sometimes doesn't understand me." That just broke my heart.
She asked me where my parents lived and what they were doing. And then she unzipped her handbag open. There were only two three items besides the thin folded one Brunei dollar bill our bus driver returned to her. She is obviously not rich. She pulled out a cord out of her bag. It was an earplug.
The next thing I could grasped of her talking was, "I don't have a player for this. When we arrive at the terminal, can you buy me one, please?"
See? Nothing is for free. Here you go.
"Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bù dǒng," I said to her again, but this time it was 20% a lie.
"Nǐ bù dǒng?" 'You don't understand?' she asked, but kept on talking.
She rubbed her knee and said that it hurt. I only got the word ”tòng" and figured out the rest.
A thousand thoughts ran through my mind. In this rich country of oil, I am traveling on low tight budget. Buying this lady something is certainly out of question. What shall I do if she keeps on following me? I answered myself, she certainly won't be able to run after you, because her knees hurt. What if she follows me to Labuan? I answered myself again, she can't afford going to Labuan. How do you know? You've seen her bag. What if... ? Ah...
She repeated, "Can you please buy me a player, please? Kěyǐ ma?"
"Wǒ meiyou qian," I answered. To this, she looked at me with a child's look of disappointment, although I reckon she must be older than me. Her look was like a child left hopeless because she so desperately wanted an ice cream but her Mom had no money. Her look was saying to me, "Really? You don't have money?" Her look pierced down through my heart.
"Wǒ bù dǒng," I repeated.
"Nǐ bù dǒng a." This time she didn't laugh as she said it. She fell into silence.
A big Indian guy got onto our bus. He cast his view to the passengers and then talked to our driver. He looked liked someone who was going to check on us. Oh, no! What if he requires for our tickets? What should I say? I don't mind to pay a dollar as I haven't paid anyway. But, would he accuse me of a cheating attempt? Huahhh what a journey this is!
To my great relief, he dropped off at a bus stop without asking for our tickets. (He did, on my way back from Labuan!)
Just as I took a deep breath, I heard again, "Bla... bla.... bla... shénme shénme... kěyǐ ma?"
"Duìbùqǐ, wǒ bù dǒng."
She did not speak again for the rest of the journey.
Muara Bus Terminal was quiet. Well, is there a crowded place in Brunei? Besides my bus, there was only one other bus. As the passengers got off, carefully I asked my driver how to continue to Serasa International Ferry Terminal.
"You just give your ticket to him." He pointed at a man standing by the bus door. "He will stamp your ticket, and then you take bus number 33 to Serasa. When you are in the bus, show your stamped ticket."
What?? Show my ticket?? Cold sweat fell on me.
Before I could figure out a sentence of explanation, I saw a crumpled little white thing right beneath the bus stair. I bowed down as fast as I could and picked it up. The man standing right next to the stairs opened my newly-found folded crumpled ticket. In a split of a second I could imagine him say, "This is not your ticket. You've just picked it up from the ground! Where is, your, ticket?"
No, he didn't say that. He read my ticket, turned it upside down, stamped it, and returned it to me. Done? This has caused me more tense than any immigration check point I've been through.
Muara Bus Terminal was a small terminal surrounded by shops and restaurants. I saw a woman having breakfast on the stairs.
"I want to go to Labuan," I told her in Malay.
"Just wait here. The bus to the ferry terminal will come."
Suddenly I felt something soft on my arms. "Shénme shénme... kěyǐ ma?"
"What time does the ferry for Labuan leave?" I asked the woman again.
As this woman answered me, "Seven thirty." that Chinese lady left my side.
I stood there thinking. "Wait a minute. Seven thirty? It's seven already now. What time will the bus come? Will there be enough time?"
That Chinese lady came back to me in a more pleading voice. She held my arm. "...... kěyǐ ma?"
I didn't at all meant to ignore her. I was terribly worried I would miss the ferry. If that happens, I wouldn't have another chance during this trip.
"What time will bus number 33 come?" I turned back to the woman sitting on the stairs.
"Will it be possible to catch the seven thirty ferry?"
"Sure, sure! Just stay here."
I realized that whenever I stroke a conversation with this woman, that Chinese lady would move away. This time, she moved away and never came back. She turned at the corner of the shops and vanished. Actually I wanted to tell her again how I really don't have the money to buy her a music player, how I feel sorry for her, how I... but... Ah.
I have promised myself to return to Brunei one day.