The morning air was cool to the touch as I made my way to the beach; one lonely soul clad in a simple blouse and a sarong, with headscarf all askew at a careless angle. I could feel the gritty sand enveloping my naked feet in a warm embrace as I sauntered down the sloping shoreline.
The sounds and sight of the gentle waves rising and ebbing in the near distance were hypnotising, and in the far horizon, an orange ball emerged from the foot of the sky, its glow suffusing over the calmness of the morning.
It was the dawn of innocence all over again. I was back home in good old Dungun, to all things good and familiar. How wonderful it was to inhale the breezy, slightly salty 'udara' Dungun once again, how refreshingly crisp the air.
Nothing much had changed since 13 months ago when I was in Dungun last. Nothing, except that Mak is gone. Two simple tombstones in a serene graveyard facing the sea were all I had of her now. I could feel the tears welling as I quickened my pace to the edge of the water.
It was ironic that I had come home to nothingness on the homefront. Even Mak's single-storey bungalow is currently unliveable, for lack of attention. My sister Idah who lives in Kuala Lumpur and holds the keys to the house had confided that the once spick & span dwelling was in disarray.
I had expected to lodge overnight at my other sister's house next door to Mak's. Unfortunately, she had taken the opportunity of the mid-term school break to visit her working children in Kuala Lumpur. As it were, we were like two ships that passed in the night.
An annoyed thought temporarily crossed my mind; someone should take responsibility about Mak's house. Pay somebody to look after it, or turn it into a family retreat, or rent it out, or even sell it and divide the proceeds, whatever. Just don't let it rot. Don't let the memory of Mak die with that house.
The trip to Dungun was to be a speedy one, just an overnight stay. I was back in town to attend the 50th anniversary of my alma mater, Sekolah Menengah Inggeris Dungun (now renamed Sekolah Menengah Sultan Omar) and to once again regroup with classmates, schoolmates and teachers I had not met for 35 years.
Accomodation in Dungun and the vicinity was booked solid during this period, for the anniversary clashed with the school term break. But we managed to find a place to stay for the night - Ulek Beach Resort - a beautiful albeit slightly pricey resort fronting the Dungun beach.
It is located in Sura Hujung, just next door to the Dungun Golf Club and a few metres away from UiTM, Dungun campus. In Dungunspeak, that's prime location and as far as amenities go, it's worth the money.
Built in the standard style of an East Coast lodging house i.e. individual chalets inter-connected by a series of cobbled pathways, its traditional architecture blends well with the kampung surroundings and it has (almost) all the facilities of a town hotel. A standard unit (called Teratak) is priced at RM288/nett per night; breakfast for two included.
Traditional touches include tempayan (earthernware jar) and gayung tempurung (water dipper) placed at the foot of the stairs leading up to each chalet, a wakaf (open-sided resting area) and a perigi (well) by the side of the swimming pool, and water-filled takar (clay pitcher) on each table in the dining area.
One outstanding feature is that each chalet has a jacuzzi although Pak Abu and I didn't even have time to indulge ourselves in it. We arrived past 10pm Friday and checked out at noon the following day, immediately after attending the Reunion at the school hall.
If at all I have a teeny-weeny grouse against the resort, it is that our request for a late checkout (to 1.30pm i.e. after Zohor) was denied. The excuse given was that they were expecting a large group that afternoon and didn't want housekeeping to be held up (by ONE late check-out??)
[Because I am a graduate of a hotel and catering school, had offered hotel development and management as my thesis, and had worked in a hotel before (Subang Merlin, in the mid-1980s), I'm not easily 'kelentong'-ed about hotel management vis-a-vis housekeeping.... *smile*]
We told them that since we checked in at 10pm, and that was eight long hours later than the standard check-in time of 12 noon, at least honour our simple request of wanting to perform solat Zohor first before leaving.
Sorry, said the guy-girl combo at the front office counter adamantly, with a stiff smile. In the end, we did the necessary (and had lunch as well) at The Kelab Desa Rantau Petronas in Kerteh which has reciprocal arrangements with our home club, the Royal Lake Club of Kuala Lumpur. Oh, well....
(Next: DESSian Reunion)
Footnote: The hotel we stayed in, in Coleman Street, Singapore, apart from offering first-rate service, also provided late checkouts (ours was to 5pm) to their guests to accomodate those catching a flight out, so they didn't have to while their time unnecessarily at the airport lounge. I think that's as good a selling point as any. We know we would be repeat customers there.