Category Archives: Writing Competition

First Runner-up: Junior Writing Competition 2009

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THE BUS DRIVER’S NIGHT

By FELICITY CHONG

Mr. Ravi didn’t earn much. His pay cheques were always undersized, especially these days where people rarely take the bus anymore. But Mr. Ravi worked diligently every day. He drives the bus everyday but doesn’t even have a vehicle of his own. Fortunately, Mr. Kong, his best buddy is always ready to lend a helping hand and a ride home.

As Mr. Ravi waited for Kong to drive the car round, he noticed a little old lady sitting alone at the bus station. She looked like she needed help, so Mr. Ravi walked over to her.

“Good evening, madam. It’s very late. Do you need help? Do you want me to call someone for you?” Mr. Ravi asked kindly.

“No, thank you. I’m waiting for the bus. I need to go to Taman Sungai Mas”, she replied.

“It’s already late. The buses aren’t running anymore. What if I call you a taxi instead?” Mr. Ravi said, still helpful.

“No. I must take the bus. I will wait here until a bus comes”, she answered.

“Where is your house? My friend could give you a ride home. You shouldn’t stay here”, Mr. Ravi suggested.

“No, I must take the bus”, she said firmly. Mr. Ravi was puzzled by the woman’s behaviour. Why did she need to take the bus so badly? He glanced at the woman who looked average. She was old and dressed poorly. She was holding on to a big bag, it looked like a travelling bag, but it didn’t look expensive.

Mr. Ravi couldn’t decide what to do, so he asked Mr. Kong for his advice. After a while, both of them decided that there was nothing else to do but give her that ride on the bus.

Mr. Kong was a manager of the bus station, so he had the keys to the buses. He handed the keys for the bus to Mr. Ravi. Mr. Ravi started the engine and they went together.

They drove out of the Taiping bus station and proceeded to pass the Taiping Mosque and the Legend Inn Hotel. Mr. Ravi drove slower than usual, as there was no rush to stay on schedule. The town was particularly quiet and peaceful at night. Since they built Taiping Central, the youngsters seldom come to Taiping town to hang out. At night, the town almost looked like a ghost town.

Mr. Ravi was enjoying the serenity and silence. Looking at the night lights and the stars, breathing in the cool night air, all his worries seemed to have been blown away by the wind. He didn’t worry about the fact that he couldn’t make ends meet. Things would have been better if Mr. Muthu, Mr. Ravi’s father had not disappeared with the family’s savings and left him to take over the bus driver job. It didn’t matter. The town of everlasting peace was all Mr. Ravi was thinking about.

In the rear-view mirror, Mr. Ravi could see the old woman enjoying the night scene too. Mr. Kong was already fast asleep.

“It’s quiet”, she murmured. Mr. Ravi didn’t say a word, he just smiled. He was sure the old lady could see his face in the reflection of the mirror.

“I’ve never been on such an empty bus”, she continued, “I wish he was here. I wish we could take this ride together. You know, I met him right here on this bus. It was early Tuesday morning. I was working as a part-timer at a restaurant.” Mr. Ravi kept quiet and listened to her story.

“The bus was packed, but I could see empty seats at the back. He stood up and offered me his seat. I told him there was no need, but he insisted.” She gave a small laugh and continued, “What a strange man he was. I had never seen anyone as tall as him in my life. He got up and gave me his seat. I thought he was going to sit at the back. But no, he sat down at the seat just behind the seat that he was sitting in before. I had to laugh. He laughed too. And that was how we met”.

She shook her head and smiled. It must have been a very pleasant memory, Mr. Ravi thought. Her most treasured memory.

“After that, I kept seeing him each time I got on the bus. If it was pure coincidence, I thank God. Though I don’t think it was. Our whole life revolved around rides on these buses, back and forth this route. We even took a bus to our marriage ceremony.” She laughed and Mr. Ravi laughed as well.

Then, she paused.

“It was raining heavily. It was difficult to see through the thick rain. The driver was too fast and he didn’t see the man waving in the rain for the bus to stop. It did stop – right on top of my husband”, she grimaced.

“He died”, she said, her voice only a whisper.

No one spoke after that. Suddenly, there was a familiar buzzing sound. It was the bus bell. Mr. Ravi pulled the bus to a stop. He looked around and realised that they were right in front of the Malay graveyard beside the Pengkalan Aur Mosque.

“Here, take this”, she passed her entire bag to Mr. Ravi.

“I can’t take this. It’s all right, this ride is on the house”, Mr. Ravi said quickly.

“No, please take it”, she left the bag on the seat and climbed down the bus.

“I love the bus. Always have and always will”, and she disappeared into the darkness.

Mr. Ravi opened the bag and saw that it was filled completely with money. Inside there was a note, saying:

To Mr. Muthu,

Thank you for wanting to pay for my husband’s funeral expenses. What happened to my husband was an accident. It was nobody’s fault. I had already forgiven myself. You should do the same. Please take your money back.

First Runner up: Senior Writing Competition 2009

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‘THE NEST’

Dusk descended upon the wooden structure, enveloping it with an unspoken secrecy. The silent shades of evening began to spread around, like the powerful, outstretched wings of a vulture, waiting to pounce upon dying prey, devouring them, mercilessly, menacingly, and cutting into their deep terror… There were no means to escape, except to wait for the descent of dawn, now an eternity away.

They heard a soft ‘THUD’ and paid no attention to it. The air was chill and crisp. Outside the wooden cottage, the wind began to murmur and whisper, like a forlorn maiden longing for her misery to be heard. She wept ceaselessly, pining for her long, lost love. Her sorrows aggrieved, her sobs rose to a painful moan, escalating to a piercing note, shattering the laughter of the boys inside, nailing their astonishment stone dead.

“Did you hear that?” Meng Chai asked, his trembling voice betrayed his feelings.

An eerie silence enveloped the air, circulating above the burning wood, threatening to consume the mighty courage of the king scouts.

Sam, who was sitting nearest to the open entrance, scampered to his feet; like a frightened rabbit, terrified of the uninvited invasion. He had suddenly felt a chill down his spine. He moved to the fireplace, throwing some firewood into the crackling flame, trying to recollect his composure. A king scout had to remain calm and confident. Everyone remained stunned, as if a careless sound, a sinful utter from the lips would have angered the ‘unknown’. It had made its presence felt, though invisible, but forcefully, adamant to show its omnipresence, its fearsome power…

The group of young boys, barely out of their teens, had trudged all day in the damp, wet woods. Sam the leader, together with Meng Chai, and some childhood friends, all six of them were spending an overnight stay at one of the dilapidated cottages at Maxwell Hill, “Let’s have a fun weekend to celebrate our installation”. Sam had suggested and The Nest was chosen.

The Nest was one the cottages built during the British rule in Malaya. The Perak British Resident, George Maxwell discovered a beautiful hill right on his doorstep. Soon, development work ensued to turn it into a popular getaway for the British officers, a respite from the hot and humid tropical weather. By 1880, several British cottages were erected. Parties and social gatherings were held to foster camaraderie among the elite. Pony rides and sedan chairs were the early modes of transportation. By WWII, a road was literally carved out from the hillside by the prisoners-of-war with many having died under the cruel administration of the Japanese government.

Located at 1,035 m above sea level, The Nest is only accessible by 10 minutes’ heavy puffing and heart-throbbing trekking on a steep, narrow and winding granite stairs, and after a turbulent three-hour journey by government-owned jeeps. From the foot of Maxwell Hill, the road twists and turns through lush vegetation, and the air becomes cooler as the jeep climbs higher. It is a stomach-churning, headache-inducing journey as the jeep winding up the narrow tarmacked road with a width just enough for two small jeeps to pass, almost brushing against each other, missing only inches apart. If a collision happens, it will send the vehicle plunging into the deep ravine. Hence, the journey ascending Maxwell Hill is not for the faint-hearted, as the wheels will screech to a sudden halt when the jeep driver attempts to avoid a head-on crash with an oncoming vehicle. Thankfully, such accidents are unheard of, as the experienced drivers can visualise every nook and cranny, twist and turn like the back of their hands.

The young scouts remained seated in front of the fireplace when the mist began to thicken. The Nest, by now heavily shrouded in white mist, looked ethereal. There was a basement where the washroom was situated in one of the bedrooms across the large hall. Sam felt the urge to ease himself but he chose to ignore the impending urgency. He was terrified of the unexplainable episode. The scream was full of pain, hopelessness and…agony. Was it real or merely his imagination? Just as he threw firewood into the flame, Meng Chai’s face suddenly twisted into a distorted expression His whole body jerked, then shook violently. As the boys rushed to tend to Meng Chai’s abrupt epileptic fit, their attention was distracted by a movement at the entrance…

In a dreamy state, the boys were enchanted by a storm of sparkling dust dancing wildly against the dark, evil surrounding. For about a few seconds, which seemed like eternity, the particles settled and a ghostly apparition slowly swirled upwards to a rhythm inaudible to the boys’ ears. A shadow, half visible, half obscured, began to form. It was a figure of a man, a very thin male, naked at the upper body, pale and white. His features were shrunken, grey and weak, his lips an ashen hue, his eyeballs protruding, bloody, and motionless. Pointing his fleshless forefinger towards the scouts, he let out a high-pitched howl from a hollow at his throat.

As if in a trance, the young boys were rooted to the ground. Escape was the only message the brain commanded but the body failed to comply. A terror, so deep and powerful, making its advance, inching forward. Like a python sizing up its victims, the sunken sockets scrutinizing the boys. With his upper limbs, he was crawling towards the scouts who had all been paralyzed by fear. All the while, a shrill shriek followed every movement… these were the cries from Darkness, the message from Evil, the calling of Death!

The creature was barely half a foot away and Sam could smell the nauseous stench of rotten flesh. The skeletal finger was nearing Sam, at the ankle of his foot now, sending tremors all over his body. And then he heard… a sharp, shrill piercing through his eardrums. It sounded familiar yet unclear, remote, and he felt it coming from within. And everything came to a HALT!

There was no first crow of dawn at Maxwell Hill, nor the chorus of the morning birds. The scouts waited for the break of dawn, which took forever to descend, and made their way home. They certainly had more than what they would bargain for, an encounter they would forever remember and lived to tell.

LAM YEAN PING

Ipoh Echo Writing Competition

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The Ipoh Echo writing competition closed with a bang recently when prize winners in both the Senior and Junior categories were invited to the paper’s office in Jalan Lasam for tea and to receive their cash prizes.

The competition which ran in six issues of The Echo over a three month period, saw a  poor response of only 10 entries in each of the categories with a trickle of entries in the first two months and a sudden burst in the final week before the competition was declared closed. In fact, some came in by the skin of their teeth on the very last day.

Promote English

The original intention behind the competition was to promote the use of English as a medium of communication, a mission that is aligned with that of the Ipoh Echo; and to stimulate creativity in thought and expression. If the winning entries in fiction for this competition are an indication, then creativity is well and truly to be found in abundance in Perak. All three winners in the Junior category chose fiction and their stories are being featured here in this and future issues.

Junior Winners

Leading the way is, coincidentally, our Ipoh Echo’s very own Miss Echo of Issue 85, Jessica Lee Jiun-Xiu, a 19 year old student who has just completed her A levels and is making up her mind as to what and where she will study next. Her winning entry ‘The Journey’ is featured here on the next page. First runner-up Felicity Chong is a 17 year-old from Taiping whose story ‘The Bus Driver’ and second runner-up Nabilah Musa’s story ‘The Wonders of Perak’ will be appearing in forthcoming issues. The Ipoh Echo predicts that these budding young writers will do Perak proud as their talents blossom into full flower later in their careers.

Senior Winners

In the Senior category the first prize went to Sandra Rajoo who wrote a lively and captivating piece on ‘Ipoh’s Iconic Polo Ground’ (this page) while second prize went to Lam Yean Ping’s (also from Taiping) evocative, spine-chilling fictional tale ‘The Nest’ and third prize went to Yew Sook Moy who as the shy and relunctant winner, declined the invitation for tea and refused to be photographed for the Echo. Her winning piece ‘Will Perak Experience a Renaissance?’  had an urgency in its call for action, an incisiveness in her style that belies her amateur writer’s status.

The judges, consisting of Fathol Zaman, Jerry Francis and SeeFoon Chan-Koppen who between them share more than 80 years of journalistic experience, had a hard time picking the winners as the standard was generally high and the winners selected won by a narrow margin.  Entries were judged on six criteria: composition, grammar, style, expressiveness, captivating and storyline.

SFCK

http://ipohecho.com.my/v2/2009/12/21/the-journey/

http://ipohecho.com.my/v2/2009/12/21/winner-senior-writing-competition-2009/

Junior Title Winner: The Journey

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The distant rumbling grew louder as the train approached. Shannon picked up her bag and made her way across the platform to board the train. She didn’t in the least mind the 3-hour journeys every weekend. Shannon walked into the now familiar coach and found her seat. Looking at her watch she realised that it would be another 15 minutes before the train departed from the station. She let her eyes wander, watching the many different people enter the coach: chatty students, serious business men, bustling families, even quite a number of senior citizens.

“Excuse me”; Shannon looked up. She moved her legs to let a young girl about her age take the seat beside her. “Studying in KL?” asked the girl in a friendly manner as she settled down. Shannon as usual just nodded a shy yes in response. “I’m Bianca, from Ipoh. Studying in KL too.” The girl continued as if hoping to start a conversation. Shannon looked over and replied “Shannon. I’m an Ipoh girl too.” “Good to visit home once in a while eh?” commented Bianca chattily. “Or are you one of those crazy ones that travel back and forth every weekend missing out on the whole KL lifestyle?” she added with a little laugh. “Well, if you put it that way I guess you could call me crazy.” said Shannon loosening up. “I just go back for ballet classes; that’s it. Beats any night life in the big city, for me anyway.” Bianca looked at her disbelievingly. “Soon you’ll realise it’s for more than that you’re making these long journeys for”, she said. Shannon looked a little confused but just smiled and remained silent. The train jerked to a sudden start. Bianca turned to Shannon and said, “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just grab forty winks”. “No problem”, said Shannon as she watched Bianca shut her eyes peacefully. The lolling motion of the train as it rambled on the creaking tracks seemed to lull her to sleep.

Glad to have some time to herself again, Shannon snuggled in her chair and gazed aimlessly around the coach at the masses of people who seemed to occupy almost every seat in this coach. Her mind wandered to the conversation between the two people seated across the aisle on her right who looked like working men in their thirties. “Oh, and this time I’ll make sure you have a taste of the famous ‘nga choy gai’”, said one enthusiastically. “I don’t mind that as long as I get the curry mee I specially came down for”, came the reply. “Don’t worry. I wouldn’t miss it for the world either. And it’ll still be at the same cheap price we got it for the last time.” “At that price I could eat multiple bowls and not feel the damage in my wallet.” “I’m sure we’ll be planning a third trip up here maybe for the ‘tau fu fa’ before we even get on the train back.” The conversation continued on and on about how cheap and how tasty and how much variety of food there was in Ipoh. Suddenly Shannon realiz\sed how much she missed the delicious food in Ipoh that she could get at much cheaper  prices there than anywhere else. “Maybe food is also part of the reason I come back to Ipoh”, she thought as she listened to the friendly argument about where to go and what to eat first.

Her train of thought was interrupted when an elderly lady bustled her way down the aisle past Shannon to the row in front of her. “Mrs. Wong!” exclaimed the lady rather loudly to the passenger seated there. “I’ve been watching you from behind for sometime.” Slightly startled by the loud exclamation, Mrs. Wong turned around, “Ah May”, she called, pleasantly surprised. “What are you doing here?” “I just visited my daughter in KL”, was the reply. “This is my grandson”, said Mrs. Wong indicating the boy next to her. “He’s coming to Ipoh for the weekend.” “Say hello to Aunty Ah May” she told him. “So you have children in KL too”, said Ah May. “I really don’t understand why these people like to live in that busy place”, she added after a pause. “Ya, I feel so locked up there. I’m always relieved to be back in Ipoh”, agreed Mrs. Wong. “Ipoh also has that sense of freedom where I can just drive round and not spend half the day lost or stuck in traffic jams”, she added. “Don’t forget the fresh and cheap groceries we get from the Ipoh market, especially the crunchy thick ‘tauge’”, said Ah May. “It must be the water in Ipoh that gives only us such delicious ‘tauge’”, said Mrs. Wong. “That’s what I heard.” “And it’s also the water that gives Ipoh girls their smooth and fair skin.” Chuckled Ah May. Shannon smiled, quite proud to be an Ipoh girl.

As she turned to the window she noticed the scenery had switched from a grey concrete jungle to a patchwork of green with a deeper green of the mountains as a backdrop. The never ending tapestry of green that seemed to go all around enthralled Shannon for the first time. She never noticed the green hills that surrounded Perak before. As she was staring out the window in wonder a familiar majestic white station came into view. Shannon snapped out of her daydream to see her family waiting at the station to pick her up for dinner and straight off to ballet lessons. As she looked at their smiles she realised they too, were a big part of her reasons to come home. This was a more insightful train ride than she expected. She got up behind Mrs. Wong and as she stepped out of the carriage she conveniently dropped her bottle of ‘KL’ water into the bin. “Maybe I should drink more water from ‘home’”. She thought with a smile.

JESSICA LEE JIUN-XIU

Senior Title Winner: Iconic Polo Ground

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Ipoh’s Iconic Polo Ground

Tucked in a secluded corner of the suburbs of Ipoh, at the corner of Brash Road and Golf Club Road, is a vast and majestic-looking park cum playground which caters to the approximately 600,000 residents of this old-fashioned city. Officially known as the Sultan Abdul Aziz Recreation Park after a former ruler of the state of Perak of which Ipoh is the capital city, this park is better known to the locals as the Polo Ground. Apparently, in times past, the playing field was where royalty and the upper echelons of society indulged in their favourite pastime, polo, a sport that was a source of entertainment and recreation to the upper classes then.

Besides the large field that sits squarely in the centre of the park, the Polo Ground is also famous for its fitness trail or par course, with roughly 23 exercise stations of workouts with varying levels of difficulty, placed at strategic points round the park. One is given a choice of exercise, be it step-ups, push-ups, stretches or body-bends, among others, which come with easy-to-read instructions specified on big boards.

Big, colourful slides, swings and see-saws make up the children’s playground which take up the front section of the park, clearly visible from Brash Road. This corner is always teeming with children especially in the evenings and school holidays.

And if foot reflexology is your thing, kick off your shoes and get some foot therapy on a reflexology path built at the front end of the park. Stones and pebbles of varying shapes set closely together massage and apply pressure on your feet to stimulate them in order to benefit different organs in the body. Walking on this path in your bare feet is certainly no walk in the park!

Towards the far end of the grounds is a small lake, fringed by short flower shrubs and rocks,  enticing all with its calm and tranquil waters. After a round of exercise in the morning or evening, it is pleasant to just sit around this pleasant, garden-like lake and enjoy the serene and peaceful atmosphere.

The Polo Ground comes to life very early in the morning with loads of people coming in for their morning workout on the vast grounds. Most are regulars. Though comprising mainly middle-aged and senior citizens, these people show energy and vigour in their daily routine. Some will be jogging or brisk-walking along a jogging track that circles the entire field.  Elsewhere, little pockets of people are seen clustering in their favourite spots in the park to perform exercises of their liking, be it Tai Chi or line-dancing. The sound of music is ever present in the air and body movements that synchronise with rhythmical melodies show the flexibility and energy of these enthusiastic and committed aficionados.

Even the Perak Sultan, Sultan Azlan Shah, is a frequent visitor here, and the sight of outriders and bodyguards signals his royal presence. His Royal Highness has no qualms about joining Ipohites on their daily, morning jaunt. Likewise, his subjects are equally at home walking along the same track with His Majesty.

When the sun rises higher in the sky late morning, and heat permeates the surroundings, the Polo Ground slowly becomes deserted. By mid-morning it is almost empty and quiet. But this is just a momentary lull in the day in anticipation of the evening crowd.

As evening draws near, hordes of people return to the park. The difference is that, this time, besides joggers and walkers, young adults and children make up the throng. There to take advantage of the park facilities after work and school, they come just as frequently as the morning visitors.

The playground gives the children an avenue to release pent-up energy, and a chance to exercise their lungs! Their infectious screams and laughter permeate the air and punctuate the sky like balloons bursting on a sunny day, as they play on the swings and slides. Older children have no qualms about rushing all over the place, tugging at one another or even quarrelling amongst themselves. They are watched apprehensively by parents and grandparents who sit patiently on the benches in the shade of the many trees there, keeping an eagle eye on their young charges.

The field is usually monopolised by young male adults furiously engaged in a vigorous game of football. So engrossed are these energetic young men in their game that they are quite oblivious to the other goings-on in the park! And during windy days, it is not unusual to see a spot of kite-flying, with vivid, multi-coloured kites dotting the clear skies and families preoccupied with this skill-demanding sport.

As the sky darkens to signal the end of daylight and the tired joggers, sportsmen and children reluctantly prepare to leave the park, the sounds of people slowly filter off and tranquillity and silence descends upon the area. The day’s chapter may have drawn to a close, but the anticipation of yet another day at the Polo Ground surely lingers in tired and relaxed minds.

Ipoh’s Polo Ground may be unknown to outsiders but the park has become a landmark of sorts to Ipoh residents and is really an enduring facet of Ipoh’s landscape now and perhaps more so in years to come.

SANDRA RAJOO