Enemy in Tioman aka Don’t Believe All Strangers Who Act Like Friends

The minute I set my foot on the island, I’m in awe. Lush greenery, steamy jungle anywhere you look, friendly vibe in the air and pristine sea. ‘This is a paradise,’ I tell myself. The ride from Tekek village to Juara only accentuates my impressions. Ejoy, the manager of the resort and a very nice guy, skillfully manoeuvres his 4×4 through the hilly terrain, serpentines, and narrow paths. ‘This island is not for the faint of heart,’ I keep thinking as we ride through this wonderful landscape. I can’t wait to see the beach and dip in!

Giving a lift to fellow travellers.

Once Ejoy brings me to the simple but beautiful chalet, I quickly dig out my swim suit from the luggage and make huge leaps towards the water when suddenly I freeze as if I was a battery powered doll and the battery just ran out. I’m completely paralysed. “What the hell is this!?” I exclaim in a complete state of shock when I notice some black stains floating on the sea almost everywhere I look. I don’t know what to make of this sight. I’m so taken aback… It takes me a while to realise that what I’m seeing is a huge oil spill! My heart literally stops for a second at this realisation and I’m standing there completely abashed.

Unexpected but real. Oil spills do occur here.

I’m shocked but I am trying to deny the reality. The masochist in me and the conviction that I must swim on the first day of my holiday force me to dip in. I find the least affected spot and tell myself that it can’t be that bad further into the ocean. I swim as far as I can to escape this tragedy. But occasional bursts of pungent oil smell and small oil particles floating all around me quickly have me rushing to the shore. ‘Damn it!” I exclaim in anger, making even huger leaps back to the chalet. The oil spill pretty much monopolises the day and becomes top subject in Juara village. Luckily locals have taken the necessary steps such as clean the biggest spills and report the incident.

Locals are incredibly friendly though. Thumbs up.

The next day I spring up from bed and anticipate improvements. The water looks much better. Not great but better. I dip in again. ‘A bit of oil is for sure harmless,’ I reason with myself. The water is clean but there are still particles of oil almost identical with black stones. I have a quick swim, but get oily sticky feet so I decide to rent a kayak instead to try to paddle somewhere else. I can’t do this game of avoiding the dark dots and cleaning oil constantly.

The kayak looks huge even from a large distance. Meh.

The kayak is a real struggle. It’s a sports kayak, not the light rubber one for tourism purposes. I struggle with everything from getting it on water to paddling itself. I’m exhausted after 15 minutes already and super angry. Angry for my plan for exploring the surrounding beaches on kayak is falling apart but mainly because this strip of the beach is badly affected by the spill from last night and my feet are all covered in oil. Obviously I stepped in those ‘fake’ black stones. As I paddle and fight with ‘the monster’ I cause the oil to move almost everywhere on my legs. I try to clean it frantically but it’s futile. It’s too much and now my hands are covered in it too. “Bloody hell,” I repeat in anger. For a while I sit in the kayak hopelessly and curse.

Not the only one who is grumpy.

I get totally pissed off and quickly rush to the shore yelling at the monstrous kayak. “What the hell, what a stupid idea!” I also yell at myself. By the point I return the kayak, sweat is dripping off me incessantly, I breathe heavily and my feet, legs and hands are all covered in oil to an extent that makes me go berserk. I sprint to Bushman to ask them for petrol that I can use to clean myself up. As I violently burst into the common area I see one of the crew, or so I think, hanging out in the sofa.

What are you looking at, hooman?

I quickly approach him and say what I need. He looks at my legs and hands and says “Oh, how did you manage to do this yourself?”

“Have you suddenly forgotten about the oil incident?” I quickly oppose.

“Oh, no, no. But you must be careful while walking on the beach.” he calmly responds.

“Well, I guess I know that now, but trust me, I don’t usually encounter oil spills on my holidays, so I have zero experience with this!” I somewhat irritatingly react.

“Alright, come with me. Let’s get you cleaned. What’s your name by the way?” he asks.

“Sonia and yours?”

“I am Sid, Sid from Penang.” he proudly continues. While I stand in the backyard black and still charging as a panther, Sid looks for petrol to help me. When he finds it, he ushers me to sit on one of the motorbikes parked there.

“Come, I’ll clean it for you,” he offers. I’m still fuming inside so I appreciate the gesture and lift my right foot as I sit on the bike.

“Terima kasih,” I thank him in Malay, slowly calming down as I see the ‘dark devil’ disappear from my body. “Saya tinggal di Kuala Lumpur,” I continue in Malay.

“Ooooh,” Sid becomes genuinely happy “kamu bercakap bahasa melayu?” he eagerly continues and we keep briefly conversing in Malay. Now, that Sid has cleaned my feet and we spoke in Malay, it almost feels as if we have bonded. He suddenly becomes more eager to help and offers support with other stuff to make my stay even smoother.

“Anything you need, you come to me,” he proudly announces. “Okay??”

“Okay!” I accept and disappear to shower and get back to normalcy.

If the beach ain’t good, the village will. Camera and I, and nothing can beat us.

Once I’m clean again and the ‘oily anger’ subsides, I open a can of beer on my porch. ‘Fuck, oil spill on Tioman and just when I am here…fuck,’ I swear inside my head as I look through the palm leaves fluttering in the tropical breeze, taking slow sips of the beer. I later learn from locals that it’s a common practice of cargo ships to release old oil into the sea. Apparently it’s cheaper to do that and pay a fine than have the change of oil done professionally in Singapore, following a strict protocol that not only prevents from such accidents but is also save for the environment. The world is one crazy place…

Luckily I meet this little, funny and communicative dude. Inseparable now.

When the evening hits, I grab dinner and Sid is super eager to have me mingle with other staff.

“Where have you been all this while?” he quickly approaches me once he sees me enter the restaurant.

“I was meditating,” I answer jokingly but Sid doesn’t pick it up.

“Oh, so you meditate?” he shows interest.

“I just had a beer,” I answer and smile.

“Let’s drink together then! Come, come, sit here,” Sid suggests and acts as a friend, gentleman and good host in one. He ushers me to a wooden corner that remotely resembles a bar. The party is actually fun. We share wine, talk and I learn plenty of stories about the island. The party becomes even better as more guys from the village join us. Travelling solo and speaking some broken Malay is certainly attractive. Sid looks like he is protective and tries to make me feel at home. But there is something that annoys me about him. I assume it’s just the fact that he is old and pretends not to be. That always feels awkward.

Stories include some brutal accidents on these dangerous roads.

At some point Sid is showing me some of his photos. He lingers over one of his apartment and the view from the balcony. “When you come to Penang,” he starts “you can stay with me. Look at the view!” he proudly pushes his phone into my face to make sure I see it.

Red flag!‘ my subconscious shouts but I push it away.

“Yeah, sure,” I reply indolently.

Anyways, it’s bed time. I quickly say bye and feel Sid’s fixed gaze on my back as it cuts through the night until my silhouette disappears completely.

Well lit roads are not common. Only near houses or shops. Torch needed!

The next day the sea looks clean already and I am ecstatic to be enjoying a long and peaceful swim. That’s going to be my routine, followed by delicious breakfast and chilling, soaking up the beauty of the ocean.

But there is also Sid and Sid doesn’t seem to care about my ‘me time’ moments.

“Oh, here you are! You swam really long today”, he shouts as he appears from nowhere. ‘Is he stalking me or what?’ runs through my head.

“How did you sleep after the party?” he asks.

“Fantastic,” I reply.

“Me not good at all,” he explains.

I didn’t ask but I guess I need to hear this.

“Imagine! I had to sleep here, in the restaurant! They locked me out,” he doesn’t seem to stop.

Lock him out? Why? How? I am confused but don’t want to ask because I feel it’s a bait.

“Oh, well at least you connected with nature,” I try to joke.

“But it’s cold at night, you know! It’s terrible. And there are insects and animals out there!” he goes further.

“I understand,” I don’t even try to fake empathy.

“Actually, it was so bad at night here that I was thinking of knocking on your door,” he boldly explains.

I must look like this turtle now.

Red flag number 2! All the switches in my brain start immediately alert me. ‘Wtf, one day he shows off how he sleeps in a hammock rain or shine and now this. What’s this nonsense?’ I analyse it slowly but try not to give it too much attention. And yes attention, that’s what he probably wants. ‘He is just an old man…,’ I think and set this aside. Long silence follows and Sid must break it.

Family transport. I am offered a lift too.

“Listen,” he eagerly kicks off, “when are you leaving? I’m asking because I drove here and could take you back. It’s always so lonely so I wouldn’t mind nice company. It would be great if you could join me. I drive through KL anyway,” he adds and tries to convince me. I know something is off and I don’t quite like him but I don’t extremely dislike him either so I’m giving it a thought. By this point I have already succumbed to the incredibly contagious laziness of the island and have this sort of ‘whatever’ attitude.

One leg only? Sounds like a walk in the park.

I quickly run all the legs of the journey I will have to do on my own in my head and the math is obvious. If I go with Sid, not only could I get to spend one more night on the island, but instead of traveling through JB again I’ll get home seamlessly in one go. I don’t take long to think it over and enthusiastically agree. Life is good I tell myself. ‘Sid doesn’t exactly feel like my buddy but it’s not a big deal,’ I reason with myself. I trust Bushman and since I think he is part of their crew, I trust him too.

It looks so quaint. I can’t stop photographing these scenes.

For the rest of my stay Sid almost breaks his back for me in many aspects. Together with the other Bushman crew he digs out an old bicycle and fixes it so I can ride it. He occasionally brings food and sweets for me (which I always refuse) and most importantly texts all day to ask me about whereabouts, to profess liking me, to demand my professing the same, to send photos of his young self to show his good looks and possibly make me want him. And the list goes on.

Some experiences are meant to happen and their timing is meaningful as well.

He is constantly behind my back but I feel how my smart yet casual ignorance works as an awesome shield.  He also stalks while I swim. Definitely red flag number 3. Each morning when I’m enjoying the cool ocean and playing with water, I spot him sitting in the Bushman restaurant, screening me from afar. It’s more than 50 meters but I feel his eyes on my body. ‘Horny idiot,’ I always think and stop focusing on him. My assumed trust is stronger.

I find solace photographing humdrum life in the jungle.

He picks up on my resilience and indifference and becomes more agitated. But it’s futile. I don’t care. And he doesn’t like that. And I feel my lift to KL could potentially be at risk. But when he mentions two days before the departure that he is also going to take another girl with us, I jump for joy. That means more safety and security. ‘Should be good,’ I convince myself. The day before the departure Sid somewhat changes his mood. He calls me and says I need to join them for a party. I do but only for a while. He touches my feet with his feet a couple times, but makes it look like an accident. This puts me off so I leave the party and go after my business. This makes Sid super angry. Red flag number 4 but by this point I already know he is a weirdo.

I think of my mum and I know she thinks of me too.

On the day of departure Sid switches the mode and starts showing annoyance. He slips a couple nasty labels into our conversation and I totally give it back to him. I can feel how angry he is. Horny, angry and hopeless. At this point he surely starts developing a plan of revenge. In Mersing the real fun starts when we are waiting 20 minutes for his friend to bring his car.

Feels like I am on my own.

His female friend, I’ll call her mola mola (she is not as ugly as this fish, but certainly as dumb looking) follows him like a puppy everywhere. I have the feeling that they even talk about me when I can’t hear them. My instinct tells me I should look for buses, just to get an idea. When his friend arrives, my worries double.  “We will now go to my friend’s house. I need to pick something up,” Sid orders. For now I say nothing. The wait takes 30 minutes and I’m growing nervous. Mola mola is glued to her phone and says nothing. Fuck. I don’t like this.

I wish I could see a familiar face. I met these happy guys in Mersing on the day of arrival.

When they return with his friend, they both completely ignore us in the car and drive to another place. Sid says he will drop me in the town and I will need to take a walk or photos or whatever and wait.

“What? What walk?” I snap at him.

“Yes, walk, I have stuff to do” he angrily responds.

“How long?” I blurt, my heart starting pounding.

“No idea, one hour, two hours maybe more”.

I scold him with a tremendous cadence, accusing him of lying and urging him to quickly drive me to the bus station. My previous thought paid off. I know there is a bus departing soon and I want to be on it. I am hoping mola mola will wake up and act for once as a woman. I hope she will say something to make the idiot calm down and take us home. Instead, she leans towards Sid in the front seat and says “Can you bring me to Mekdi? Please, please, please. I will wait there,” sounding like a 10-year old. ‘Bloody hell, I clearly expected way too much from this simple brain! It’s doomed!’ I shout in my head. ‘I am with 3 idiots, each of them with their own motive and agenda, it’s screwed.’

When adults act like kids it can be fatal. But this girl looks smarter.

I am about to have a knee-jerk reaction, get off quickly, grab my bag violently and dash out of the car. The atmosphere is so heavy you could cut it with a knife. But I’m the only one who minds. As I put my hand on the car’s door handle getting ready for the move, Sid suddenly makes a U-turn.

“Okay, okay, why do you panic so much?” he says with a lower pitch. “I will bring you home.”

“I’m not in the mood for games.” I strictly respond. “Either we go now, or I’m getting off your car,” I say resolutely. His unsympathetic friend mumbles something in Malay. I don’t understand what but it seems Sid has resigned. We are setting off towards KL.

To calm myself down I try to imagine how nice the ride in the bus could have been by the sunset time.

Naturally, by this point I am completely disgusted, worried, stressed and feel nothing but disdain towards that horny idiot. My blood is boiling, my head produces wild dark images and I want to scream. On top of that mola mola is making some silly sounds and remarks and I am ready to kill. But at least I’m on my way home.  This ride is going to be emotionally charged so I grab my camera and take clicks. I can’t say a word which makes the idiot even angrier. But I understand. 8 hours of silence is a tough cake. He drives fast and has unpredictable reactions. Sometimes he just stops, grabs mola mola and they disappear without me knowing where and for how long. I am forced to linger about the car and wait. At one stop, when he reappears again leaving mola mola slightly behind, he confesses he feels sorry for himself.

I feel like the motorcyclist. Too big an enemy to fight with.

“I’m so stupid for doing favours to a foreigner like you,” he starts again. “I should have left you in Mersing for you to rot there waiting for the bus,” he adds. His face suddenly turns evil , full of anger and revenge, and I despise him utterly.

“Now, I have to drive through KL, so inconvenient. Me, trying to be a nice guy and getting this in return,” he continues his rant.

It’s dark and I am not sure what he is going to do. I don’t want to be left stranded anywhere.

My blood is boiling. But I have to focus. I quickly grab my phone, buy more data and check hotels in the area. I expect to be dropped involuntarily at any time. But as long as mola mola is there, it’ll be fine. The problem will start once she gets off. I need to do something to calm the bastard down. I collect all my powers to pull an act. An image of me slapping my cheeks for encouragement runs through my head.

“I’m very sorry that you went into such a trouble. I am sorry that you feel that way.” I say as softly as possible squealing and suffering on the inside. “I certainly don’t want to be a burden, so I will get off with Ema, if that helps.”

It works. He calms down and makes another U-turn.

“Should we have a drink in KL then?”

Fuck, I can’t do this….

“Thank you but it’s late and I’ll need to sleep. I will get off with Ema if it’s better for you”

“Oh, no-no, I will drop you as I promised,” he insists but I need to keep the conversation going.

“So how long have you worked for Bushman?” I ask.

“Work? For Bushman?” he looks at me quizzically. “I don’t work there, I am just a visitor like you. Only with free bed and food in exchange for some occasional help.” I almost want to laugh and cry at the same time at my stupidity. Right from the start I just assumed he worked there. One simple question and I could have saved myself this hassle. ‘Sonia, Sonia, Sonia,’ I scold myself in my mind, ‘what the hell did you think again? And why on earth did you so willingly ignore all those red flags?’ I teach myself with the enemy next to me.

Awas! A word of warning in Malay. How eloquent.

The rest of the journey until the drop off is a disaster. I am blamed for navigating wrongly. I am blamed for almost causing an accident. I am blamed for not knowing the streets and roads properly. I am blamed. I am blamed. I am blamed. But it’s okay, I know I shouldn’t be here in this car with this monster to begin with. When the sleazy piece of shit parks at my condo, I run out of the car by the speed of light. I block his number immediately and in a state of shock write to Bushman to let them know. I keep shaking in my bed for a while and then fall into a deep sleep. I wake up happy to be safe at home, grateful yet for another powerful lesson life has taught me – Don’t believe all strangers who act like friends!!!

28 thoughts on “Enemy in Tioman aka Don’t Believe All Strangers Who Act Like Friends

  1. Ugh…Sonia. What a great story but I firmly believe you have to have faith in strangers from time to time. When I think of all the amazing travel experiences I’ve had simply because I trusted my gut, I’m filled with a sense of gratitude. Better advice would be…when red flags appear, heed their warning. Still, loved the story.

    1. You are totally right Diane! I was so wrapped in the story that I forgot that aspect. I myself have been often very fortunate to meet wonderful people
      who I trusted and they created some unforgettable moments on my travels. I will update the article. And mention the red flags at the end. It’s true that here the issue is the male who wanted to be more than friends and couldn’t accept the reality. Totally agree with you. Thanks for the awesome comment!

  2. Wow what an adventure you had! It’s a beautifully written one as well, though i’m sure it was intense to live through. Thank you for sharing your story.

  3. This reminds me of some encounters I had in Malaysia. Yes, people are friendly, however, you cross them easily. Especially women don’t have it easy to be respected and taken serious. The ‘dilarang merokok’-sign on one of your pix reminds of my struggle with a chain-smoking bus driver – under a dilarang merokok sign – who found it the darndest thing that I pointed that out to him. In the end, he left me stranded at the border to Singapore in the middle of the night – like the guy told you: should have left you….well, he actually did leave me!

  4. Oh my goodness! I’m glad that you made it through this situation safely and shared this story. We definitely need to trust our guts right away when those red flags start showing up.

    1. Thanks so much Phil for the comment. I am glad you liked the twist. Oh yeah, that was a stressful time. Which makes for good stories, doesn’t it?

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