Log 25-07-13 : Orang Minyak

July 25, 2013


The 73 year old Hainanese man servant had always harbored reservations concerning his master – the man who lived on the hill.

A constant source of embarrassment to the man servant was that his master was a new planter – hardly the sort who had the pedigree, lineage, breeding and cultivation to appreciate many of the nuanced aspects of fine straits plantation living. This exasperated the man servant no end and was a constant reminder of how age had caught up on him – compelling him to take up this third rate position. To paraphrase – his master simply didn’t appear to have either the finesse or for that matter the cultivation to appreciate how a planter should live.

Instead, he lived his strange life – one where he would be attired in camouflage whenever he was out in the field with his dark skinned tribesmen – men who were always perched on the trees nearby – and it was this aspect of his master’s outlook to life that most enraged the Hainanese man servant.

Like a round peg that can never fit into a square hole. That was exactly what his masters was to the Planter’s way of life.

An aberration like a speck of dust mucks up a picture.

It’s just so irritating thought the man servant as he clenched his teeth and looked out at the man who he secretly despised sitting on his rattan chair.

Apart from his bush jacket that the Hainanese man servant approved of – the rest of the man was unalloyed effrontery in every sense of word to the whole idea of the luxurious and opulent Planter’s way of life – for one his master preferred to sleep on a military camp bed. Instead of a spring mattress. He always slept in the open with the dogs. When the wet season came, the camp bed would be moved to his chambers which required the entire household and few strapping farmhands to move every single piece of furniture. Leaving only a camp bed, rattan chair, side table with an oil lamp.

Even at home, he thinks, he’s in the field – murmured the man servant to himself.

There was no television in the mansion. There was nothing about the house architecturally that the man servant found endearing.

Absolutely nothing at all – unlike the other plantation mansions the man servant once served – there were no frivolous Romanesque arches and cupola’s – no kitsch French windows – no Persian rugs – no chandeliers – no color even, except a sickly grayish white that reminded the Hainanese man servant of a barrack – even the long design of the house with its grilled 8 by 4 windows looked more industrial than stately – only two objects stood out in the whole house – placed on the majestic thirty or so foot long table cut from a length of a single Chingay tree – a violin and a radio sat at end – the radio was always tuned to the BBC world service.

The violin had been smashed to pieces two weeks ago – leaving only the radio and now it hadn’t been turned on for nearly two weeks.

While picking up daily groceries this morning from the village market – since Siti has been sacked. The Hainanese man servant had overheard – how the gang of four – the bandits who had been terrorizing the small holders had been knocked over the head by the mysterious Orang Minyak.

This was just one of the many monikers this kampung self styled Batman was known as – he went by other names – quaint names – to the honey hunters who often harvested deep forest in the night – he was known as the wind – as he was often seen riding his mountain bicycle at full toss through the meandering plantation roads just at the edge of the jungle with his Doberman running beside him. To the Tamil rubber tappers who woke up at three in the morning when latex runs fastest. As it is cool. The man was known as death – they say, he never misses. Never. They say, you can never hear him. Till it’s too late. They say, he is not of this world. They believe him to be from that other dark world.

As the Hainanese man servant looked out of the kitchen window at his master who was still sitting on the rattan chair looking at the bird – he wondered to himself whether his master could have been this man – this character.

After all, the oil man – orang Minyak first appeared just around the time his master took over these lands and built a mansion on the hill – his master was an accomplished bow hunter and was well known by all to have a disdain for firearms as it had a tendency to scare away the birds. On almost every single case in the last four years when the oil man struck – arrows belonging to the man who lived on the hill was found in the scene of the crime – on every occasion, those arrows were presumed to be stolen.

For the very first time the Hainanese man servant began to peer deeply at the figure who sat on the rattan chair – he could make out that all too familiar hardness – that patina that only comes from regular use, like how a rifle gives out it’s bluing to a hard metallic sheen – he wondered to himself whether it might be possible.

His eyes turned to the black and white picture of a younger planter in Africa – it depicted him standing next to a tall African who carried a spear. Another was a sugarcane landowner in Nicaragua seated beside a blond European girl – back and forth, the man servant’s eye darted from the picture to the man – finally as if seized by some uncontrollable fit of curiosity – he went over to the telephone ledger and looked up the telephone number to the provincial planter’s club to nearest to the East – which wasn’t a club at all, but rather one of 37 plantation mansions strewn across South to North of Malaysia.

This network of plantation houses was conceived by John Dunlop during the rubber boom days in colonial Malaya – to allow planters to travel the length and breadth of Malaya using the serpentine plantation roads for field inspections – circa 1915.

Of the original 37 guest houses – each identical in design, size and number of staff. Only 13 survive today – neither the electrical, plumbing or furnishings have changed since the 1900’s – The rest of the other guest houses were destroyed by faceless conglomerates or firms who the Hainanese man servant often described as McDonald planters.

Of the 13 guest houses – the Hainanese man servant knew exactly which one his master claimed to have stayed the night before.

He decided to make a call – after hearing the voice on the other side had mentioned – “your master his a strange one. He sleeps in the open with his dogs.”

The Hainanese man servant realized how foolish he was to have allowed his imagination to run so wild. He even chuckled.

Feeling a wave of satisfaction sweeping over him – his attention was drawn again to the man seated in the rattan chair and suddenly thick vapor of disgust enveloped him – what the man servant saw instead was a pathetic figure of a poor excuse of a planter – a man who even looked somewhat old and haggard – a weak man.

A man who only thought he was strong. But didn’t realize that everyone laughed at him behind his back – yes, a wealthy man, no doubt – a landowner – but in paper only. And this probably accounted for his master’s common peasant ways – he still has dirt under his fingernails. The man servant murmured as if thinking aloud. Not to mention his atrocious table manners – a despicable man – a man who could never aspire to do great things. As there was nothing about him that stood out, except perhaps the suggestion – he was irredeemable.

With these thoughts tracing through his head – the 73 year old Hainanese man servant of the man who lived on the hill began to let out a burst of uncontrollable laughter. It began slowly as a chuckle and gradually it grew so loud that it echoed throughout the cavernous mansion – a sardonic crie de couer.

One where one can never be sure whether the man servant was laughing at his lamentable position for having to take up this third rate appointment or that he simply realized his master could never be that man – the villagers all called the Orang Minyak.



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