Author: Viktor Lazić
BELGRADE – The Charge d’Affaires of the Malaysian embassy in Belgrade, Yubalzan Yosef, recently said in Belgrade that happiness and entertainment were what the tourist industry of that country offered our guests in Malaysia! To this can testify, the diplomat said during an event entitled Malayia Day and held at the High School of Tourism, the young but already very experienced Serbian travel writer Viktor Lazić.
EvroAzija.info publishes the experience during his short stay in Malaysia of Lazić, a writer and lawyer, shared with those present in the School. The text is entitled Happiness after a Robbery in Malaysia.
“I won’t talk to you about geography, the natural beauty and sights of Malaysia. You can find all about it on the Internet and in books, and, believe me, it is worth the effort. I will talk about a terrible robbery, about how close I came to having my trip to Malaysia become the worst nightmare of travelers.
My first meeting with Malaysia happened in the summer of 2007. It happened when after many years diplomatic relations were renewed between our two countries, and I was in a group of the first travelers after the wars of the 1990s to set out from Serbia to Malaysia. As always, I went to a new country with an open heart, giving it an opportunity to present itself to me without any prejudice.
Meeting with Robbers
I entered Malaysia from Singapore. I toured the city Johor Baru, the capital of the state of Johor, which is on the border. It’s quite a large city, with a population of about 1.3 million. The name Johor probably stems from the Arabic word for jewel.
Malaysians often give names after materials found in a territory which are plentiful. Many people from all of Asia go there looking for their own jewels, looking for their own treasures. Ready to do anything to make their ‘Johor Baru dreams’ come true.
Border areas are always problematic, gathering points for smugglers and people of ill will of all types. I never considered that while I was touring museums and having a peaceful lunch in a restaurant with a wonderful view of the city.
After lunch, on the road to one of the museums, suddenly two motorcyclists appeared in my vicinity. This did not appear odd – on the contrary, in Asia it appears as if even babies are born on these ‘motorised bicycles’. Often entire families of five or even six manage to travel together on one motorcycle!
I continued on my way and allowed them to pass behind me. Within a millisecond I felt a strong blow in my back, I fell to the ground, but they were already very far. I never felt how they managed to cut the straps of my bag around my waist and the bag I had on my back.
They had taken everything. My entire wealth with which I had arrived in Malaysia; to me as valuable as the whole world. The bags contained my entire traveler’s life for the whole planned stay in Malaysia – about 600 euros, my budget for a 45-day stay, airline tickets and, most importantly, my passport and all other documents.
The only thing that was left were ten Serbian dinars in my pant pocket.
The Kind-Hearted Policeman
I don’t want to say I was desperate. I was much more than desperate: my first day, perhaps even my first hour in Malaysia, a country which I would perhaps never again have an opportunity of visiting, perhaps my last hour in it. The distant and beautiful Asia, the unattainable dream I had reached by hard work and saving on my school fees – the 600 euros were a gift from my parents, a payment into my traveler’s fund instead of my university fund, as I had managed to enroll in the study program free of charge, had once again become unattainable.
I let out a yell after the robbers, the loudest so far in my entire life. After that, dejected and unhappy, I set out for the police.
The police chief, a kind-hearted fellow, was genuinely upset by my situation. It appeared that I could share my pain with that man, and I wasn’t wrong. It was his birthday, but he hid the fact from me. He was ashamed to appear happy, when I was as sad as I was.
It was getting dark, and I had nowhere to go. The chief offered me the only accommodation he had – a comfortable jail cell. In this way in the same day I was robbed of everything I had and found myself between the four walls of a prison cell! All jokes aside, it was very generous from him.
And then his friends organized a festivity for me, bringing a whole cake and some food. Before taking anything for himself, he pushed it into my hands: to eat and to drink, and to celebrate, and mourn, with him as if I was his brother. On that occasion I tasted for the first time durian – known as the Asian ‘king of fruits,’ which has an unbearable smell.
On the next morning he gave me some money, about 20 euros. If we know that a bed in a hostel could be found for 2 euros, it was not a small amount. It was what he and his colleagues had collected from their pockets, so I could afford food and other necessities for the next few days.
Everybody tried to convince me to return immediately to Serbia. It was also the bureaucratically simplest solution. Something inside me was essentially opposed to it. The kind-hearted policeman had instilled hope into me. It was clear as crystal that robberies of this kind happened everywhere. And that Malaysia did not deserve for me to leave, without learning at least a little about it.
The policeman also helped me pick up money from a bank; as I had no documents, it was not possible for my family to send me any money at all. The policeman guaranteed for me and went with me to the bank. As a sign of gratitude I gave him the only thing I had left – the ten Serbian dinars from my pants pocket.
However, it was only the beginning of one of my most wonderful journeys. The police record was worth more than any documents. I did not ever again have to explain anything to anyone. At every step Malaysians, people of great empathy, apparently unsociable, but exceptionally honest, well-meaning and kind-hearted, helped me as if I was a member of their family, with great sorrow that such an unpleasant thing had happened to me in their country.
Humaneness at Work
It was touching to see so much humaneness. During the month I spent there, I never paid for accommodation once – motel owners always let me stay for free, and in Malacca one even gave me clothes and shoes to replace those that had been stolen!
It was easy to replace the airline tickets, which were paid for in advance. But the biggest problem was money. I could easily write a novel about the bureaucratic problems I had raising money.
Owing to some stupid law, it was strictly prohibited to send money from Serbia to foreign countries. My parents had no way of helping me, but money had to be sent on foot to my aunt in London, via someone travelling to England, so my aunt could send it on by Western Union.
However, as I did not have a single document, I could not collect the money (except for that first time when the policeman guaranteed for me). And the embassy in Jakarta did not want to send new documents until I paid a stiff 300 and more dollars for them!
Once you have money, you pay less attention to human character, because you do not depend on people. And people also look at you differently, perhaps they have some expectations... But when a foreigner from the other side of the planet appears at your door, a man of a different skin color, different language, different temperament, and shows on his face that he needs help, he who offers it even before the foreigner has asked for it really deserves to be rewarded, at least in heaven.
The Hospitality of a Malaysian
All the money sent to me I had already spent, some of it for learning about Malaysia and food, but much more for getting a passport and new visas. I had a scheduled flight to Borneo, the state of Sarawak, magical jungle areas and old tribal customs, the land of the headhunters, and Sabah with endangered orangutans, the raflesia, the world’s biggest flower…
I felt that I had no choice. I entered the plane completely penniless, knowing that I would be able to collect the next sum in two days’ time. That meant that I would eat my next meal in two days (and I was already hungry), that I would have to walk or hitch-hike from the airport to town, that in the town I would have to beg to be let into the museum free of charge and that I would probably spend the night in the streets. It isn’t hard to understand that I was dejected. I sealed myself in a shell, angry at myself and the whole world, all I wanted was to sit next to a window and see some Malaysia at least from the sky, and for the two days to pass as quickly as possible.
In the line entering the plane, an elderly Malaysian stood next to me. I don’t need to say that I had not taken a bath in several days and stank, and did not want anyone to stand too close to me. I did not feel like talking, either.
The old man tried to ask me something, to establish some sort of contact, but I ignored him. Even more, I glared at him, letting him know that he should leave me alone. He tried again. And again. The seats on the plane were not numbered, so he sat in the same row as I, with an empty seat between us. Persistently he tried to talk to me.
Later on he told me that I had looked very sad to him and that he had tried to help me. But I slapped him with my look and my words, I rejected him, turned my back on him and looked through the window.
Just before the end of the flight I got fed up and we exchanged a few words. I told him about the robbery and showed him the police report. He invited me to be his guest. On the next few days he took me around Borneo in his car, showing me its beauty, organizing feasts, opening the door of his family, accepting me as if I was a member of it. I toured Borneo like I could never have done, with any money whatsoever.
Many people have learnt to know Malaysia. An increasing number of tourists are visiting the region, with good reason: nature, history, exotics, culture, art – this country has everything. And safety. What had happened me was in fact an exception, and for me it ultimately turned out to be a prize. Maybe I did not see everything I wanted, maybe I did not get to know Malaysia as a country, as I should have. But I certainly got to know Malaysians. Their merciful souls. Their exceptional inner beauty. And that is the most important thing.
All of this happened seven years ago. I have mentioned only a few in a series of everyday events. I need to extend special thanks to the staff of the Malaysian embassy in Belgrade, who did everything from here in Belgrade, even above their objective possibilities, to assist me and secure new documents.
I have already forgotten the names of many who helped me, I have only a few recorded in my diary. I can ask each one of you to thank every Malaysian you meet in my name. To receive him or her with an open heart, to welcome him with open arms. There is a great probability that you will not be mistaken, that you will be rewarded with exceptional friendship and a wealth which has no price.
About the author
Viktor Lazić (1985), a writer and lawyer, is one of the greatest Serbian travelers. He is working on a PhD in Chinese law, speaks several languages, is a scientific and professional translator for the English language with a licence of tourist guide, a philatelist and numismatist.
As the ninth generation, he is heir to two hundred years of tradition of the family library (officially opened in 1882). He is the president of the Association for Culture, Art and International Cooperation Adligat (within which have been opened the Museum of Books and Travels, the Museum of Serbian Literature and the Museum of the Novi Sad Raid).
lazić has spent a total of nine years travelling around the world and systematically touring 80 countries on four continents, discovering lands and peoples, writing travelogues, collecting valuable and rare books and objects. So far he has published four books: Goethe – Between Poetry and Truth (2005), Roaming Around the Land of Smiles (2006), The Great Adventure (2010), and In the Heart of Sumatra (2011). He is a member of the Serbian Writers’ Association.
Author of the text: Viktor Lazić