Jumping around Malaysia and Penang circa 1965

This is by way of being a RAF serviceman’s take on the wild life in Singapore and Penang. We were attached to RAF Tengah and as such we were allocated the old style “basha” huts for accommodation, these used to flood during the monsoon season. There was a covered walk to the ablutions, with a standing tap outside the toilets. The mosoon ditch, about five meters behind us, was sprayed with DDT every other week.

We just slotted into a bed space wherever the last one left, there being six or eight men to a room, all trades with regard to the remote radar site were mixed in together. We started out with a moquito net, which we all soon abandoned. Our allocated area was separate from the rest of the camp, we were supported however by a great “Sew Sew” who did all our mending and a very rich dobe wallah, he not only arranged our washing but provided us with the obligatory wake up cokes. The original, by the way, american,with cocaine in it. The so called dobe wallah actually took home more each week than we earnt, just a few dollars from each of about 100 men saw him rise substantially above the local workers.

Having set the scene this post is mainly about animals and creepy crawlies. Not long after I arrived someone acquired a white duck and tied it loosely on the tap outside the ablutions where it would chortle away at all and sundry walking past. Very occasionally after a while it would squawk loudly and continuously indicating impending disaster. This took the shape of a small boa constrictor creeping up on him through the grass, someone resolved this by tying a pink ribbon on it so he could seen and removed. The duck survived all until Christmas, a local took him away in the dark for a family meal.

We had within our room a would be “David Bellamy”, look him up. This chap who subsequently became a good pal of mine, was of the ‘if it does not move then poke it” brigade.

Bootlace Snake

One evening during the monsoon season he disappeared outside with the ubiquitous pint mug in his hand, he returned a short while later with the mug three quarters full of “Bootlace Snakes”. Very poisonous, these are so called because they are the size of a small bootlace and can only bite on the fleshy bit between the fingers or the toes. Nevertheless it was quite daunting to see so many together. On another occasion he and one other went outside with a bucket each, to collect Bullfrogs. He won the competition with seventy five Bullfrogs in his bucket.

Monitor Lizard

At the time I was well into photography so went with another mate to a chinese cemetery near to Tengah base. We were strolling around when I noticed a trail like a large drain pipe had been run through the gravel paths between the graves. I decided to follow the trail and was just going up a rise when over the top coming towards me was a huge lizard possibly the one above. It was so big I thought it to be a Komodo dragon, but it wasn’t, it was big and fairly awesome as it came down on me from above. I turned round to see my mate disappearing from the cemetery gates complete with my camera! I followed him very soon after.

Cobra Image with teeth

After dark one evening while on the tech site I was taking short cut across the grass My colleague and I were wearing flip flops. Luckily there was bright moonlight as suddenly I caught a glimpse of some small white object waving below the foot of my mate. He was about to step on a rearing cobra and I had spotted its tooth. All I could do was punch him abruptly to the side. He was grateful eventually. Another facet of the Tech site was that after a drop in temperature of one degree all the snakes would come off the grass onto the tarmac road to warm up overnight. There would be any number of them on the edge of the road as we were walking up.

However, my mate”David’ and I decided to go to Penang for a week’s holiday. We set off from Singapore Railway Station, a very grand Victorian affair resplendent with char wallahs and folks pushing in to carry our bags. When the train arrived we could see that it consisted of wild west carriages with an open end and a balcony at each end.

Two Tigers Relaxing.

We had been going at a fair pace along the rails. After about an hour we were out of the suburban areas, soon to be traveling through the jungle with quick images of small villages along the way then more dense jungle.

Some while later we were passing along a cutting , when suddenly the train slowed to just over walking pace and people were going to the ends of the carriages to look out. There, slightly above us were two magnificent Tigers lying on a rock, just chilling and only glancing down at us as we passed by. All too soon we had passed and resumed speed to Kuala Lumpar. To see such wild beasts in their natural habitat created an image which I have never forgotten.

We arrived in Penang the next day and decided on the third day to go on a cycle tour of the island. We duly set off and saw a stony track running off the road to the right. We took the track and after half a mile we came to a village. All the children who had been playing outside ran screaming indoors, soon to be replaced by a posse of elders who let it be known that we were intruders and not welcome.

As we got back on the road we discovered a “macan’ stall selling orange juice out of a fish tank. The stall was covered with a little shade with stools set each side to ease the weary traveler. The boy in charge asked us if we would like ice in the drink and we said ‘Yes’, whereupon he shouted at another boy on a small motorbike, who then drove off. On his return he had a block of ice which he unceremoniously dumped on a sack on the road, whereupon the stall owner set to and hacked it there and then to small shards which he placed in the orange.

We next moved on to the heaven on earth of ‘David’. It was a snake temple. In those days it was just a large rectangular house with one half wall missing. It was about 15 feet high and you could just walk in. I approached a little more cautiously than he. As my eyes became accustomed to the dim light I could see a sort of chinese altar in the centre and multiple shelving all around the sides of the building and the altar. On every shelf was a snake, off every piece of wood was a snake, I took a discrete step backwards and awaited himself, who was in paradise. Beside the house was what looked like a stripped bare tree covered in bits of brown and silver bits of cloth. Silly me, they we brown and silver kraits among the most deadly snakes alive, whereupon he took a handful of each and placed them on his head, like a latter day Medusa. Putting them back we went onto what appeared to be a large roofed pig pen with very secure bars at the window and a huge padlock. On looking inside all I could see at first was a pile of old tyres. On closer inspection I could see at the very top of the heap a very large head at least ten inches across and at least two deep, with on malevolent eye open. A very large boa constrictor. Of course he wanted to break into this ‘pig pen’ fortunately an armed guard arrived at this point, pointed his old .303 and escorted us off the premises.

Marine Iguana

Continuing our cycle ride we came to the most southerly tip of the island, just a little spit of a beach and rock lunging upwards on the west side. We decided to take break here and himself went immediately into the water. I climbed up the rocks and sought a suitable place to lay down. There were many dark rocks around but eventually I found a space to relax. As I lay there I saw one of the black rocks blink. I didn’t move and sure enough another rock blinked. I had squatted in a whole pile of marine iguanas. At least a hundred, luckily when I stood up they all ran off into the sea.

Meanwhile himself had finally got out of the sea. Fortunatly he was an excellent swimmer as he had had an encounter with a sea snake for some time.
Regrouping we decided to go for a steak and continued around the west side coming on this restaurant in the middle of nowhere. They put us up a magnificent spread for next to nothing, we could not find it again.

Back to Singapore; as I was being driven in the back of a three ton truck a hornet flew into my face and exploded into my cheek, causing my face to blow up like a football, not an experience I recommend!

The race riots in Singapore took place while I was out there and I was witness to

‘Mans inhumanity to Man’.

There is much I could tell about that period, but it is better for me to let it lie. Others are more qualified to tell it than me.

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