Mulazine X Dispersant: Terbiar Tour by Nurin Yusof

It is Thursday morning, close to 6 am when I get a call from Nurins’ Travel Agency letting me know that a car would be sent to pick me up for my first stop on Tour Terbiar– the Safari Lagoon water park. I ask what time but there’s no answer and the line disconnects.

I first heard about Nurins’ Travel Agency through my friend Jenny, a travel blogger and mum of 2. There’s this tour, she told me, in Malaysia that takes you through the hidden gems of a forgotten city over 3 days.

At first, I was skeptical– travel packages are unique seeing that they can either offer a certain jouissance for cheap or leave you jaded with a declining bank balance. But after countless lockdowns and a drawn-out pandemic, I was determined to view the world from outside the confines of my apartment complex.

Touching down in Kuala Lumpur or KL as it is known by locals, I make my way through a series of terminals and shopping malls weaving through one of Southeast Asia’s busiest airports before getting into my pre-ordered taxi. After a long journey from the airport into the vibrant city, I arrived at the Frown Hotel in Chow Kit, KL’s red-light district. The room is as expected, quaint, and nothing too extravagant for a budget hotel. I get dressed in my pyjamas and tuck myself into bed.

Artwork by Nurin Yusof 

It is Thursday morning, close to 6 am when I get a call from Nurins’ Travel Agency letting me know that a car would be sent to pick me up for my first stop on Tour Terbiar– the Safari Lagoon water park. I ask what time but there’s no answer and the line disconnects. I stay at the hotel and it is almost midnight when the car arrives, the driver nods emphatically at the email confirmation on my phone screen. Succeeding a silent 25-minute trek across the city, I find myself in a desolate street with no water park in view. A good five minutes pass before I see any other signs of life. 2 girls walk past dressed head to toe in white. I follow them around the back of the building and into the lobby of an abandoned shopping mall. When inside, the 2 girls turn around to greet me, they are my tour guides, Aida and Wei Ling. We walk up some stairs to the rooftop on the 7th floor, “This is the forest in a city,” they say gesturing to the dusty blue water slides and wave pools in front of us. It is empty today but I assume a waterpark wouldn’t be crowded on a Thursday morning anyway. Aida stretches out her arm to hand me the grocery bag she’d been clutching on the way in. Inside was a splotchy red and white bathing suit with the words, ‘TOUR TERBIAR BY NURINS’. I told her I had my own but she insisted I wear theirs. I hid behind an elephant statue to change. When I came back, Aida and Wei Ling were filling up the empty pools with buckets of water.

It was nearly 2 am once we were finished, the girls said it was time for our early morning dinner at the local restaurant. I hadn’t noticed it before but it was on the far corner of the rooftop. We had crabs. “I brought my son, Arif here when it first opened in 1988, he was five,” Aida told me wistfully. She seemed quite young to have a 38-year old son, she looked maybe 20 but I didn’t question it. We didn’t speak much for the rest of the meal.

We get back into the car and they drop me off at the hotel. “We’ll come back tomorrow. First, we will head to Mimaland, then we will grab a snack before our drive to Penang where we will stay for 1 day,” Aida said. When I get inside, I wash the bathing suit in the bathroom sink and hang it to dry on the shower railing.

I think I had fun tonight.

The hotel room phone rings loudly, it is Wei Ling on the other line, “We are in the lobby. Please come down.” I check the clock and it is only 8 am, a mere 4 hours since I fell asleep. I rush to get my things but notice a strong stench coming from the bathroom. It’s too late to do anything, though I make sure to inform the front desk before getting into the car. Aida and Wei Ling greet me in the same white gowns from the night before.

It is 9 am when we get to Mimaland, a theme park built on a hilly 300 acres in Ulu Gombak about 40 minutes from the city. The surrounding area was quite deserted– bar one snoozing security guard, rocked back in his chair, eyes closed next to the park’s main white gate. We drove through the open gate without waking him. “There seems to be a lot of water parks in this city,” I say. “We like to swim,” Wei Ling responds. What became clear to me within the first five minutes was, the theme park, just like Safari Lagoon, was empty. The space looked like a set out of Jurassic Park adorned with life-size dinosaur replicas and long trees, crouched to create a maze-like ambiance. Aida asked if I had brought the bathing suit from yesterday and I said no– this seemed to frustrate her. The water slides here were dry too.

After a few hours, Wei Ling instructed the driver, whose name I still did not know, to drive us back to the hotel. He grunted in agreement. I asked why, and they told me we had to pick up my bathing suit before heading to Penang. I told her it was fine, I had brought my own but disgruntled, she said through gritted teeth, “Not okay, have to use ours.” When we got to the hotel, the air was heavy and grey. I wanted to ask about the smell in my bathroom but no one was around. Once I was in the room, I noticed the scent had faded. I put the bathing suit in my bag and left.

A few minutes from the hotel, we stopped at the gas station to buy some food for our 4-hour long car journey to Penang. I got some egg sandwiches and a kit kat. The driver reaches out and turns up the radio. Just a bit. After scanning through several times, the only music we could find was from a channel playing Virna Lindt’s Underwater Boy on loop. The girls nod with the track humming along softly. What kind of radio station plays the same song over again within the hour? I don’t listen to the radio much; maybe that’s what they do now. Maybe that’s normal. I don’t know.

X-Ray eyes
(My underwater boy) Submarine
(My underwater boy) Have you seen (My underwater boy)

Grey door hands (My underwater boy)

Head goes south
(My underwater boy)
Have you found
(My underwater boy)
Just when you think things are going so well

Touch control
(My underwater boy)
Navigate
(My underwater boy)
Can you wait
(My underwater boy)
Just when you think things are going so well

You don’t know Lying there Vertigo
(My underwater boy)

The road is mostly empty. It is quiet around here. Vacant more so than anticipated. So much to see but not that many people, not many buildings or houses. Just sky, trees, fields, the road, and its gravel.

At 5 pm, the car stops at the entrance of Penang Mutiara Beach Resort. The gates are guarded by fences that aren’t too high. Aida starts to climb over them and Wei Ling follows suit, waving her arms at me to come on through. The ‘W’ shaped building features an open balcony on every level, with unruly greenery draping its edges. More swimming pools, I thought to myself. “We told you, we like to swim,” Aida grins. I must have accidentally said that aloud. Leaping out of the pools are ornate statues of dolphins. It is quiet here except for the crash of a giant branch falling from an untamed palm tree or the sound of waves from the public beach opposite.

We wait in the lobby of the building for almost 2 hours before a man dressed in a white gown similar to the girls appears behind the concierge. I wonder where he’d come from. The girls check me in and hand me a key to room number 66. They told me to go get changed into my bathing suit and that they’d wait for me at the swimming pools.

The hotel’s lift wasn’t working so I made my way up through a flight of stairs but as I climbed the first steps, a wraithlike flash darted out at me. It was a child, about 3 feet tall with blue swimming trunks that flash every time he takes a step. He looks up at me, nose streaming, and says, “ I’m looking for my mother’s bathing suit.”

He turns on his heels and rushes past me down the steps. I continue walking up the stairs to the 6th floor. Down a dim corridor on the first right, is my room number 6. I set my bag on the table, take out the bathing suit, and get changed. The locks on the doors are old, they use keys and not automated card systems. I turn the keys to secure the lock and head down to the swimming pool.

For the next few days, I wake up in a kind of temporary amnesia. I don’t remember what room I’m in; what house, what country. I don’t know where the door is– whether the bed I lay on faces the window. It feels cold and I’m not sure if the cold is artificial. I feel confused and the ground shakes.

I caution myself against panic. I start to go through the details.

I am in my room at home in Singapore, it looks just as I’d left it. Rumpled clothes on the mattress, a crooked pile of books, empty clothes hangers in the open wardrobe. It smells funny, so I open the window. The birds are chirping on my window sill. I’m starting to get hot. I impatiently stand up to undress but it won’t come off me. This red and white splotchy bathing suit has fused with the heat of my skin. I wander restlessly around the room, going from the window to the door, from the door to the bed, from the bed to the table. I pick up things: a chewed pencil, a crumpled pack of cigarettes, a pink lighter with a picture of a half-naked female sailor on it. I fumble a cigarette out of the pack, straighten it out and light it up; the smoke goes straight in my eyes. By the door, I see the child with the flashing swimming trunks. He shrieks wildly and runs down the hallway. I follow him into the kitchen. I feel a bit hungry but the refrigerator is empty. I slam the refrigerator door shut, sit down and rest my head on the dining table. When I look back up, the child is standing in the doorway.

“What are you doing in my home?” I shout.
The child stares at me, wide-eyed. “I’m looking for my mother Aida’s bathing suit.”

I walk back into my room, lock the door behind me, and lay down on my bed. I cross my hands behind my head, the street lights shine in through the window straight into my face. The confusion churns hotly inside me. What happened to me? I roll over and pull the covers up over my head. I close my eyes and breathe loudly into the cavity until I fall asleep.

A scorching heat presses over my legs. I am laying on a lounge chair by the pool facing an elephant statue. I open my eyes to Arif towering over me with his blue flashing swimming trunks, “Mummy, I found your bathing suit!”

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