These little men were in my life for a short, blissful, week over ten years ago. Their family owns a secluded cove on the smaller of the two Perhentian Islands, off Malaysia’s East coast. We reached their home by squid boat, an overcrowded, possibly dangerous, wooden vessel that was used for fishing by night, and as a passenger ferry by day. As we neared the cove, the boat’s captain radioed to the island and a small motor boat was launched to meet us. We awkwardly climbed down from the large swaying vessel into the small one, causing violent rocking as we manoeuvred our huge bags, two small boys sitting in the bottom of the little boat, watching us with friendly smiles.
Those children never stopped smiling. I didn’t hear them whine once. I suppose it’s not that surprising, their home was as close to paradise on earth as it’s possible to get. The white sand on the little beach met the dense, green, verdant jungle, alive with the sounds of a thousand creatures. We stayed in a small wooden hut on stilts in the thick of the jungle. It was very basic, with no windows, but we fell asleep to the rhythmic cacophony of insects and woke each morning to the crashing of the sea on the rocks below us.
The boys had, in many ways, the kind of life I’d like for my children. Each morning, they’d go by boat to the island’s only village, where they went to school. Each afternoon, they’d come home and play on the beach. They learnt English from the small number of tourists who came to stay and ate delicious, healthy curries and bananas, jackfruit, coconuts, picked from the trees. Their father would bring them pet kittens, who’s sad demise at the hands of the giant iguanas who came out of the jungle in the rainy season, didn’t bother the children. They swung in hammocks and swam in the sea.
I’ve no doubt their life wasn’t without it’s problems. For secondary school their only option was boarding school on the mainland, an experience their older sister hated so much she only lasted a year. And their little home was often at the mercy of the elements, they’d be trapped for days if the sea was too rough. Walking to the village was only just possible, you had to carefully find your way through the tangle of tree roots and cut through the curtains of creepers with a machete.
But for all the problems, the family were very happy. They’d chosen this life for themselves and their children rather a like Malaysian Tom and Barbara Good. They were proud of their sparkling beach and the home they’d built there. They could have had better jobs, more money, more security, if they lived on the mainland. But instead they had chosen their own little corner of paradise.
The family still runs a guest house on the little beach, I checked in the latest Lonely Planet. The boys must be teenagers by now, I wonder if they still smile all the time?
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