Blogs by Ann Massey
The Strangest and Most Interest Person I Met on Public Transport
2/1/2011 5:15:53 PM
A former ex-pat looks back on life in MIri
Lots of children have never used public transport and a ride on a bus or a train for many preschoolers is exciting and more newsworthy than a flight on Virgin or QANTAS. It’s worth mentioning here that I was fourteen when I went up in a plane for the first time. We were about to emigrate to Australia and my father paid out a pound, in the old currency, for a five minute trip over Morecombe Bay. I don’t know what type of plane but it looked like a Tiger Moth. It was certainly of that vintage.
In 1959 air travel was beyond the means of working class families but entrepreneurs (possibly ex- wartime pilots that had survived the Battle of Britain), had snapped up RAF planes. The short trips they offered were a thrilling alternative to donkey rides on the sands at Blackpool, Southport and Morecombe.
The extravagant treat was unlooked for. Horse mad I would have preferred a ride on one of the donkeys. But I wasn’t consulted. Assisted migrants (ten pound poms), we were bound for a brave new and, what I now think my father thought of,as a backward world. I have never forgotten him telling us to make the most of the opportunity. We’d never get the chance to go up in a plane again.
My father died three years before the birth of his great-granddaughter, Molly. He’d be amazed by the blasé attitude to air travel of a 4 year old frequent flyer.
But I digress - when I accompanied my partner, Cole to Miri, for the first time in years, I found myself without a car and with hours and hours of time on my hands. Before he went to work that first day, he warned me never, ever to go into Miri on my own. I think he felt confident that I had no alternative than to stay put because, like many non-users of public transport, it never entered his head that I would hop on a bus.
In the five years that I was to live in Miri, I never saw another ex-pat on the bus with the result that I became somewhat of a local celebrity. I never had to stand, someone was always ready to give up their seat to me and strangers would regularly offer to pay my fare.
One incident that stands out in my memory was a conversation with a fellow passenger. The tribal Dayak told me about life in his longhouse, interesting stories about a world that is disappearing as fast as the jungle that once covered the entire island of Borneo. Just before his stop, he asked me if I would like to see an image of his tribe’s old king and he took the medallion he was wearing from around his neck.
It was with great reverence, he handed me the ornament. Immediately, I recognized Edward V11’s head on the drilled half-crown, (two shillings and sixpence in the old currency). When I was a child it was still common to receive old coins, particularly pennies with the heads of former monarchs. Edward the V11 coins were rare but not as rare as his mother Queen Victoria. I was surprised I’d expected the King to be a Malaysian sultan or one of the White Rajahs, the Brookes, an English dynasty that founded and ruled the Kingdom of Sarawak from 1841 to 1946.
When I handed back the medallion, I told him that Edward had also been my king too and the former head-hunter swelled with pride to learn that the king of Sarawak had once ruled over England.
How did I know my new friend had taken a head? Well he didn’t tell me, he didn’t need to. His fingers were covered with tattoos known as tegulan. Each tattoo corresponded with the taking of a human head.
Many of the customs that I wrote about in 'The White Amah', I heard from fellow travelers. You meet the most interesting people on public transport.
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