Shuvo shokal from Dhaka,
Remember your school excursions? It was great to catch a coach to a dairy farm outside Albion Park, or to play another school in soccer on Elizabeth Park, Bellambi, or even to see a play at the Seymour Centre. Pelican Sheep Station was as far as most of us went. How about a trip to Pulau Tioman in the South-China Sea for a week? All meals provided; compliant kids guaranteed; resident biologists do all the tuition; just tag along to make up the numbers?
Pulau Tioman is about 32 kilometres off the coast of the Malayan peninsula, at about 2 degrees north of the equator. It is 39 kms north to south and 12 kms east to west. In the 1970s, TIME magazine named it as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The feature film “South Pacific” was filmed there in 1958.
The island is a volcanic outpost with the highest point a bit over 1000 metres above sea level. Our school group were lodged in the palms behind that beach shack in the photograph.
One day we caught a boat to another island where there is no human habitation and swam ashore for lunch (delivered in two cylindrical floating eskies and one watermelon). Another day we sauntered up a rainforest track to a curtain strangler fig spreadeagled over a giant rock. Another day, we snorkelled around the fringing reef, dodging the inquisitive and territorial fish who come up to see who was invading. The coral was branch, table and brain and very colourful. The fish were just as colourful.
Genting and Paya
On land, there is a path between Genting Village and Paya Village, built in the days when there was a rubber plantation there. Most of the island is primary rainforest but the rubber plantation has succumbed now to secondary growth.
There are some interesting animals on the island. A colugo (like a small lemur with membrane between front legs allowing it to glide) came close to camp one night. There was a troop of monkeys nearby and a mouse deer (correctly called a Chevrotain, I believe) had been caught by someone in the village on the day we arrived.
There are also some cats living in among the villagers. They all exhibit docked tails: a product of inbreeding over the years, we were told. There is starting about now a programme to rid the island of these intruders by spaying or neutering them. A team of volunteers was arriving – some from Australia – to assist the Malaysian veterinarians who have also volunteered their expertise.
By the end of the week, we were all attuning to the slow rhythms of the island and, when the ferry was late, no-one was really worrying too much about the prospect of being stranded there for another day or two. In fact, I’m starting to slow down as I type this now, just remembering the week on a tropical paradise. Not a bad excursion for a group of kids in Year 10, eh? The good thing was, no-one had to tell them how lucky they were. They knew.