Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The East Coast Chronicles: Kuantan

Our first stop on this journey was Kuantan partly because Mie Pak Lah had a job to complete there -- an artist's impression of an old building in Kuantan that was scheduled for restoration.

We also had a contact there by way of Atord and his English wife, owners of Kuantan's most happening restaurant, Crocodile Rock. The restaurant is a converted bungalow near Teluk Cempedak, serving up really good food like pizzas, pastas, etc. From the looks of it, the place is pretty popular. No matter how packed the place was, Atord always welcomed us with food, drinks...and even accommodation! Yes, we put up our nights in Kuantan at his office. To Atord and wife, we thank you so much for your hospitality.
On the second night in Kuantan, we were introduced by Atord's wife to the Tengku Puan of Pahang. It was quite an honour for us to meet her, especially when we learned that she paints, too! I even managed to ask her to draw something in my sketch book!

Overall, Kuantan, I think, is well-placed as the gateway to the East Coast, especially now that the East Coast Expressway has opened, linking Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur within a couple of hours. However, this only leads to a disturbing juxtaposition of old and new in this capital city of Pahang.

On one side, you see the busy, thriving city and its young people chasing after their modern lifetstyle. On another, you see the older generation toiling away on their fishing boats at the nearby rivermouth, doing what they've traditionally done for years before.

On this journey, Mie and I sought out the old places which we feel were much more beautiful than any modern architecture or city could offer. We looked for the quiet spaces where the Kuantan of old still resides. And while these pockets of peace may have been rare and few in urbanised Kuantan, we did manage to find them in places like Pantai Gelora and Tanjung Api...even the names evoke a certain romance and nostalgia, don't you think?

Tanjung Api is a little fishing village where you can still see the fishing boats going in and out to sea at the Kuantan river mouth...all this within a short distance of Kuantan town itself. It was quite a sight to see a thriving, bustling town like Kuantan on one side, and the fishermen and their boats on another. It's a reflection of the see-saw balance between modern and kampung that is essentially Kuantan!

Teluk Cempedak was beautiful, too...tapi sayang, the view from the road leading to it was unceremoniously blocked by two very imposing Western influences, the red-haired clown in yellow overalls and the old guy with white hair...Those two just tipped the balance of Kuantan into ugliness.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The East Coast Chronicles -- My travel buddy

Suhaimi Abdul Wahab, also known as Mie Pak Lah, was my travel buddy to the east coast. He was my junior at the MARA Institute of Technology (ITM), studying fine art, those many, many years ago. That's how I first knew him.

When he went for the entrance interview at ITM's art and design school, he brought along an art porfolio when everyone else, his peers, brought along only themselves! Needless to say, he frightened the other candidates away!

But that is Mie Pak Lah and his desire for perfectionism. When he does something, he wants it to be as perfect as possible. (This, of course, becomes a problem when he has to depend on other people and their work doesn't meet his exacting standards!)

As a student, he was outstandingly skilled, especially in his drawings. He impressed the lecturers when many other students failed them.

Mie has never worked for any establishment, management or organisation, except that sometimes he teaches art on a part-time basis at some universities/colleges. Upon graduation, he traveled the world to Europe and many parts of Asia, living the life of a so-called bohemian. Wherever he went, he would do paintings and sketches, getting whatever payment he could get for them, surviving only on this.

I guess this makes him a naturally seasoned traveler -- one who can survive in any situation.

It was good to do this road trip with him because both of us wanted to paint live, and we both wanted to document the state of Malaysia at this time. It was a great opportunity for us to bounce ideas and challenge each other.

Furthermore, when Mie crits my work, he doesn't sugar-coat his comments. Sometimes it's tough to swallow, but then it is the bitter pill that makes us better.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The East Coast Chronicles -- Summing up

I'm back from my road trip to the East Coast. Mie Pak Lah and I travelled 13 days, through four states, and visited numerous little towns, secluded beaches, quiet villages.

Our journey started on 12 May and ended on 24 May 2009. From Petaling Jaya, we used the East Coast highway that brought us to our first destination, Kuantan, where we stayed for three nights.

Using Kuantan as a base, we explored the surrounding areas of Tanjung Api, Teluk Cempedak, and Pantai Gelora.

We left Kuantan town on 15 May and headed for Cherating, making a stop at Kemaman. In Cherating, we put up the night there and pushed off for Kuala Terengganu the following day.

Between Cherating and Kuala Terengganu, we passed by Kampung Rusila, Rhu 10, Kampung Cik Wan, Kijal and Kemaman.

We stayed in Kuala Terengganu for two nights, and visited the boat-making facility at Pulau Duyong. It was simply excellent.

We pushed off for Kuala Besut on 18 May, taking the scenic coastal road. Along the way, we stopped at Merang and made beautiful discoveries in Batu Rakit, Penarik and Mangkuk.

Our stay at Kuala Besut was hosted by a good friend, Lan Pulau. He made arrangements for us to go onwards to Pulau Perhentian Kecil, where we stayed at his place in Mira Beach.

We spent two nights on the island before we headed back to the mainland and onwards, with Lan Pulau, making us a threesome, to Golok, Thailand.

After putting a night at Golok, we left for Kuala Besut the next day, then Kuantan again, spending one night in each town.

By the 26 May, I was already on my way home.

I could easily say that the trip was about me and Mie Pak Lah. But, honestly, it wasn't just about us. My trusty station wagon, with its own character, also played an important part.

It was also the people we met along the way. Strangers would just come up and sit with us for hours as we painted. The fishermen, tired from days of work at sea, would beckon for us to share their fresh catch and lunch.

It was the food we had at simple stalls. The little roads we took by chance, which eventually led us to special and secret places so beautiful, we never imagined it could have been there. It was the atmosphere of the east.

We went without map or compass. Just with the serendipitous hope that we would be lucky.

We had gone with the intention of painting en plein air and we came back with the loot to show for it -- lots of watercolour paintings, studies and sketches in pastels, charcoal, watercolour and ink. We also took loads of photographs of the places we visited, and these will be our reference for our future works.

The next few postings will be on some of the places we visited and the experience of mixing with the locals.

One thing that struck me as weird, though, was when during one of my conversations with my wife, she asked me if I ever felt like a tourist when I was traveling to the east coast. And in answering her, I was surprised that yes, strangely, I did feel that way!