Chapter I: The adventure begins
First Malaysian Breakfast
Early one February morning in 1974, I found myself eyeball to eyeball with a large fish-head swimming in a bowl of very spicy, bright pink, curry sauce. This was my first breakfast in Port Dickson, Malaysia.
The Fairwinds Hotel
"- view from the front porch"
In the early 70s the Australian government set up a defense aid project for the Malaysian armed forces, which included a handful of soldiers to assist and train the Malaysian soldiers in the use and repair of the equipment involved. Following the end of the Vietnam War, there was a change of government in Australia and this lead to a policy of stationing no Australian military personnel in South-East Asia.
In consequence, I had my breakfast meeting with Mr. fish-head that auspicious February morning. The Malaysian ministry of defense had asked the British to supply the needed people; and, for the second time in my army career, I had the privilege of being seconded to the forces of another nation.
My job was to set up and run a workshop to install, repair, and maintain the Malaysian armys first-ever electronic equipment. The men I would be leading were the products of an electronics technology training school run by two other British senior NCOs.
Malaysia was a very new nation at the time, and the government had only just begun the task of laying the groundwork to develop the high-tech powerhouse that became the Asian Tiger of today.
I was not sure if the fish head curry was normal fare, or a special dish in my honor, or some kind of a test by my new comrades-in-arms to see how I would react. At least, I thought, I have my own fish head in its own bowl, unlike the communal platter of goats meat stew that the guys in the Yemen had served. Not to mention the near-permanent dose of dysentery that went with it. From eating trout, I knew that cheek meat is good eating, just so long as nobody expected me to eat the eyeballs I had had my fill of those when with the Bedu.
There are three main cultures in Malaysia, the Malays, the Indians (mainly Sikh and Tamil), and the Chinese. There are four or five main religions, plus a certain amount of crossover every body, at the least, enjoys celebrating everyone elses holidays. The official state religion is Islam, and I was familiar, from South Arabia, with the rules of how not to offend a Muslim when eating. The others I was not so sure about. So I cut the Gordian knot and just hacked my way in.
The test turned out not to be the fish-head, but the curry sauce that it sat in. Malaysians take great pride in the heat of their curries. They love to blow the head off first time visitors - its almost a national sport - and a Mat Salleh like me fresh off the boat was too good a target to miss. Thank goodness for a father who had served on the North West Frontier and passed on in his DNA an abiding passion for vindaloo. I had been vaccinated to some extent, and so was able to survive the experience with the aid of lots of super-sweet masala chai. That being said, if you ever need a cure for jet lag, try a bowl of Malaysian curry.
2 I find a Home
A Grand Old Lady
One of my first tasks was to find somewhere to live for the next two-and a half years. A friend recommended the Fairwinds hotel and suggested that we go there for dinner to try it out. A short drive along the coast road brought us to a once imposing, now sadly dilapidated, old mansion in a large acreage situated on a hill overlooking the bay. Immediately, I was attracted to the place with its air of decayed gentility, somewhat reminiscent of a Victorian great lady now living in reduced circumstances, but refusing to lower her standards of grace and manners
The meal was delicious and was impeccably served by a wonderful old man who turned out to be the proprietor, Mr. Lim.
I was later to discover that Mr. Lim used to perform his culinary miracles in a kitchen consisting of two kerosene oil burners and an old British Army biscuit-tin for an oven. He could prepare a 3-course meal for 12 people (including Bomb Alaska for desert) and everything always came out on time and done to perfection.
Following the maxim of my late friend Arthur, an ex chief steward of the Cunard line, and landlord of the Anglers Inn pub back home in Brading, I had asked to use the restroom before ordering dinner. Arthurs belief was that keeping the lavatories clean was the hardest, least pleasant, work involved in running any public establishment, so if all was clean, in good working order and well stocked, then the chances were that the kitchen would be likewise.
The Fairwinds bathrooms however easily passed the Arthur test. This fact alone was sufficiently unusual in itself that I decided, then and there, to ask about a room!
Mr. Lim took me back to see a ground floor room isolated in a side wing off the main building. The room was huge with great high ceilings and large screened windows. There was no air conditioning, just thick walls, and large slow ceiling fans. This suited me fine; if you are to live in the tropics then the best way to become acclimated is to stay away from AC. I also think that excessively cold AC is one of the causes of stomach problems and other ailments.
The bathroom had a shower, but also a Malaysian-style water cistern you scoop out cold water with the ubiquitous little red plastic bucket and dump it over your head wonderful!
Not obvious was the chicken wire patch over the hole in the drainpipe outside, which meant that I occasionally had to share the room with the odd snake or two, but how else do you meet the local wildlife?
In short order, I was moved in, feeling spoilt rotten (and loving it), and able to focus on getting on with my new job, or so I thought . . .
3 I meet the old Hag
Rage against the Night
One night I awoke from a deep sleep with something sitting on my chest. The room was icy cold and pitch dark. A feeling of great terror gripped me. There was the presence of evil permeating the room. I lay there totally unable to move and praying for dear life. After what seemed like the longest while, the room started to lighten, the thing left my chest, and then the presence was gone from the room. I sat up trembling and fumbling for a light. I stayed that way until dawn.
The next morning, in the full light of day I tried to analyze what had happened to me. I considered what I had eaten, and drunk, for dinner, what events had occurred during the workday and so on. Nothing made sense. I dreaded the thought of going back to bed that night.
Actually, nothing happened until a couple of nights later when the whole experience was repeated. Then again. And again. This went on for a few weeks and I was getting seriously short on sleep, not to mention very concerned that I was going crazy.
As a senior NCO, in a new unit, the last thing I wanted to do was discuss this with my fellow soldiers. I knew that it would totally rob me of any ability to do my job if word got out. The local Catholic priest was an elderly Chinese man who had not exactly welcomed me to his church I never found out why; and I did not feel able to talk to him, or to trust his judgment. The local library contained no books on matters of the spirit, not even on Islam, since, obviously, anyone seeking guidance should consult the Imam. I prayed a lot. I totally abstained from all alcohol. Nothing worked. I felt trapped in an untenable situation.
One day whilst walking in the forest, I had an epiphany of sorts. The thought just floated into my mind (not a voice, just a thought) that since praying for myself did not work, why not try praying for "it", whatever "it" was. This seemed so obvious that I resolved to try it.
In fact, it took a couple more events to overcome the fear to the point where I could do this. Immediately a feeling of great joy surged through the room. The weight, the fear, the icy cold, were gone, never to return. The presence, however was not gone, I always knew that I was never truly alone in that room, though how I knew this I cannot say.
Many of the people who stayed at the Fairwinds talked of strange experiences, especially in certain rooms. Mainly, they were small things such as doors locking themselves, objects moving and so on. I never shared my personal experience when talk turned to this subject. I continued to pray (still do) for whatever the presence might be, that it could find peace and release from whatever tormented it (them?).
4 The History of the Fairwinds
A friend tells me a story.
After I had been in the country about six months, I struck up a friendship with an old gentleman who had been living there since just after the First World War. He was a bit of a local legend and had made, lost and made again, a fortune in rubber, fought (as a middle-aged buck private) against the Japanese and survived their prison camps. One night over drinks, he asked me if I had had any strange experiences at the Fairwinds, and if I knew of the history of the place.
A local Chinese tin millionaire, he told me, had constructed the building, as a private house. He had spared no expense, even creating the cliff-top hill on which it stood, and importing the wonderful Golden Rain trees that framed the spectacular views of the Malacca strait.
Then came World War II and the Japanese. They commandeered the house for use by the Kempetai, the brutal military police, for use as an interrogation center. On the first day, they rounded up twenty people from the kampong across the road to act as servants. On the second day, declaring that their servants did not provide adequate service, they beheaded them all, placed the severed heads on stakes around the property, and then rounded up replacements. During the time of the occupation, they tortured many people to death there, and carried out many atrocities in the area.
When the war ended, the original owner reclaimed his house. Then, a few years later, his eldest son committed suicide by jumping over the cliff. Since then he has rented the house on an annual contract to Mr. Lim for use as a hotel.
My Mother's take on it
A year or so later, my Mother came out for a vacation. It was her first ever trip outside of the UK, and I put her up with some friends of mine who did not get snakes in their bathroom.
On her first night out, I took her to the Fairwinds to have dinner and for her to see where I lived. She asked if she could use the bathroom in my room. Upon her return to the table, she asked, Did you know that room of yours is haunted?
Daughter of an Irishwoman who had kissed the Blarney stone, she usually went to great lengths not to discuss matters of "the sight" for fear that she might be thought foolish and unsophisticated, particularly, I suspect, by her snotty, know-it-all, younger son. I told her the story.
The medical viewpoint
Over the years, I have read that experiences similar to mine the weight on the chest, a feeling of icy cold evil, being unable to move have a name. In Celtic folklore, it is known as "Meeting the Old Hag." Records of such events have been found in many cultures over all of recorded history.
Medically it is known as Sleep Paralysis (SP). There does not seem to be a medical explanation of what happens physiologically, what the cause is, or what treatment, if any, should be prescribed, other than to warn people not to attribute the experience to any supernatural cause, or to worry that they are going crazy.
Myself, I'll stick with my mother's theory. That room of yours is haunted!