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Saturday 11 June 2011

In Another Lifetime !

This morning I had a phone call from a friend and ex-colleague in Singapore. He reminded me it was almost 25 years to the day of the "Clark Kent" incident. He asked if I could write it up and send him a copy. I have done so and also to provide a little light cheer from the diabetes sent Eddie a copy for the blog.

Julie and I were living in Holland Village, Singapore. Our apartment (now demolished) was in Merah Saga just up the road from the Chip Bee Coffee Shop. The Chip Bee has a wonderful mix of locals and university ex-pats. The food was so good that, apart from breakfast at home, lunch at the university, we were there almost every night. The food was cooked by the owner’s grandmother and she offered all my favourites –Char Kway Teow, Hokkien Mee, Laksa, Mee Goreng, Masi Lemak, Chicken Rice, etc. It after such an evening meal on a Sunday that Julie and I returned to our apartment. The apartment always had the windows and the balcony French windows left open such that when you entered you were always welcomed by a cooling breeze. Julie had gone for a shower and I had poured a whisky and was sitting out on the balcony when the phone rang.

Over a very bad line a person with a very strange accent (to me at least) said "Hello this is the police sergeant calling from Mersing." Thinking this was some kind of prank I replied "Oh yes and I’m Clark Kent." The person then apologised "Oh sorry I was trying to get in touch with Dr Wilson." What then followed was a dialogue straight from a Monty Python script in which I tried to explain my first response had been a joke and he insisted that he didn’t want to speak to Clark Kent. The issue was only resolved when Julie spoke to him in Malay. He really was the police sergeant from Mersing. A group of friends were trapped on the island of Pulau Sibu south of Mersing. The south-west monsoon had risen and the boat owners felt that they couldn’t safely launch the boat and had radioed Mersing police station. I was to "bluff it out" with the friends work colleagues until the friends could make it back to Singapore. Thinking it would be only a day or two I readily agreed.

Let me now digress and tell you about my first week on the then wonderful island of Pulau Sibu. The journey to Sibu started with a taxi ride to the Singapore side of the causeway, a walk across the causeway, through Malaysian customs and out to pick up a taxi. The fare was always a 100 ringgit, a compilation tape of current western pop music with one passenger in the front and three passengers squeezed in the back. I was very pleasantly surprised when my friends insisted that I take the front seat. However, on the 120 miles to Mersing I began to understand why! I was later to learn that such was nature of the taxi-drivers’ driving skills, the front seat was known as the "suicide seat." Upon arrival in Mersing we would get dropped off at an old colonial Rest House. (A chain of Rest Houses existed in Malaysia for the then travelling government officials in the days of the Empire). The Rest House in Mersing is beautiful with unbroken view of the Padang and the South China Sea. Upon evening a walk into town for an Indian curry. My first meal there a swarm of flying ants were mating above the table. After mating the male dies and drops into the …. Oh well more protein! Upon rising, males were always advised to make sure they had completed a number 2 (females and number 1 and 2). The boats had no toilets (this was one of the many reasons why Julie, ever the Princess, would never go) and if necessary it was a case of pants down and over the side!

My first view of Sibu was the white sandy beach and the backdrop of coconut trees. There was a beach bar/restaurant, a shower block and "A-frames" for sleeping. On the other side of the island was a Malay Kampong (village) which supplied fish and vegetables and whose cattle would wander aimlessly across the beach. Activities consisted of walking barefoot along the beach, snorkelling, viewing the coral and strange tropical fish, reading during the day and eating, drinking ice cold Tiger beer and putting the world to right during the nights.

A few days after my first visit I felt a terrible itchiness in my left foot. Turning the foot over, there seemed to be a huge worm under the skin. Straight down to Dr Chen’s practice (a wonderful old fashioned Chinese gentleman – the practice is still there). I remember him asking me if I had been to a beach and mentioning "hookworm" and he prescribed tablets and cream. I was to crush a tablet, mix with the cream and apply to the foot. Home that evening, I read the information that came with tablets. They were clearly to be taken orally. I then consulted a medical dictionary. Hookworm – average infestation 4000 – 5000 worms –unless treated death within 3, 4 days. Nine am the following morning back at Dr Chen’s practice. He could hardly control his chuckling as he explained that the infestation was animal hookworm from the cattle on the beach. The lifecycle of the worm began when the worm was dropped in the cattle faeces where under the tropical sun the faeces would rapidly decompose. When the cattle would walk over the beach with any little cut in their feet the worm would enter the blood stream, make its way to the liver, breed and the life cycle would repeat. When the worm enters the human foot, with a different blood system, the worms wander around under the skin and the worm is known a "larvae migrant." To ease my worries, Dr Chen wrote me a note for the "skin clinic." Straight out of the practice I made my way to the taxi rank and asked to be dropped at the skin clinic. Entering the building, it did seem a little old fashioned for Singapore health facilities long benches and a machine where you pulled your patient number. Upon hearing my number called I entered the room without noticing the various anatomical diagrams on the walls. The first two lines of dialogue"
"Well let’s have a look, take your trousers down."

"Take, take my trousers down, doctor it’s my foot!"

Now noticing the diagrams on the wall the doctor and I both dissolved into hysterical laughter. He explained that the term "skin clinic" was used by the conservative population as a euphemism for the STD clinic. He then directed me to the brand new University Hospital where I was greeted with the welcome "Could we take a photograph?" and viewed by a long line of junior doctors.

Back now to my friends trapped on Sibu. It was eight days before they could persuade the boatman to attempt the crossing. Like the UK if you are absent from work for more than 3 days you need a doctor’s note. So they too had to troop down to Dr Chen with a sorry tale of a collective bout of "number 2 problems"

Happy days



Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your story, made me chuckle, thanks,

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this John