And so we were done. My first overseas trip after Taiwan. The first while serving in a unit. I was looking forward to leave. It was fun but by now you would know that I hate travelling, I was really looking forward to go home. Of course, the thing I was looking forward to was, to finally get to use a proper clean toilet.
LEAVING OLD CAMP GROWL
After the normal administration stuff, we left Old Camp Growl. Our home for about 18 days. Less if you were out in the field. It was just an open patch of land with tents, toilets, water tank and canteen set up. As they tore the place down, it goes back to an empty piece of land. You would never know that that place housed 500 plus people at a time.
The first feel of air condition after 2 weeks. The tour bus brought us to Rockhampton City. I looked out the window and it looked the same as we left it. I think it still looks the same now 20 years later. I like it very much. It was sparse. No crowds. Bright and sunny. Not too hot and definitely not humid. It is a place that would be lovely to retire in. But I guess, as a youth, the place might be pretty boring. You can have a walk through of the city via Google Earth street view now. I think it looks pretty much the same.
R & R
We will be having our 2 days 2 nights R&R. Organised tour in the day and free and easy in the evening. We stayed in this place called the Sundowner Lodge. It was a pretty and a simple place. I did a google search and it is now called the “Q Motel Rockhampton”. Still look exactly like how I remember. It is nice. I was in the same room as my buddy Nurizam.
So in the day, they brought us around the city. Went to some touristy spots like a gemstone park, post office, shopping mall, places like that. We had our dinner at about 5pm and then we were left on our own. Here's the funny part. When we were left free and easy in the evening, everything was closed as almost all business closed at 5pm. So basically we were roaming in an empty city.
There was one big mall that was open though. It was called Target. It closes at 7pm. So we all head there and see what little shopping we could do.
Most of us bought milk as they were cheap. I think it was about 80cents for 2 litres. It was quite fun to drink that much. There was also Vanilla Coke. Remember I said that it was our first time seeing it? A number of us binged on it and quite a number of the Malay boys bought bottles of it to bring home. Remember that it was Ramadhan? They planned to bring home for Hari Raya. Surely the people and guests at home will be surprised to see and taste the flavour. Sounds like a fun thing to do. A souvenir from Australia. The bottles were huge too. They didn't sell them in 1.5 litre bottles like we have here. Theirs was 2 litres. So you see these boys lugging out 4 to 6 bottles of vanilla coke each out of Target at 7pm.
We took the bus to a port town called Yeppoon and we took a ferry to this resort island called Keppel island. To be honest, I cannot remember much about this day. I guess it must have been pretty boring. I think we just walked around and took pictures. Some of the guys went swimming at the beach. I didn't bring any swimming gear so, I think I just walked around. And in the afternoon, we went back to the mainland for dinner and then free and easy. Again everything was closed so there was nothing to do. Nurizam and I went to Target again to have a last look on any souvenirs to buy back home.
THAT EVENTFUL NIGHT
As Target announced the closure for the day, Nurizam and I exited and decided to walk back to our lodge. We calculated that it was about 4 to 5 kilometres walk which was nothing for our youthful fitness.
As we walked, we passed by a club called Hooters. I remember we were given flyers that day in the ferry to Keppel Island saying that Hooters will be opened that night. I guess it was the only thing that was opened or maybe they opened it specially for that night.
As we passed it, we didn't even enter it, it looked like the normal boat quay shophouse so you can see it from the outside, we saw almost everyone was there. It was very very crowded. Nurizam and I just looked from outside. It was funny. The whole city was closed and these whole bunch of hundreds of Singapore army boys swarming the small place. We tried to look for the girls because Hooters had waitresses in tight white t shirts and small orange hot pants. We did see some from outside. Somehow they looked...... Singaporean..... it was fishy. Where the Australian girls at? Hmmm.... not worth it. Anyway we didn't like it so we walked on. But it was quite a sight. Imagine hundreds of these entertainment starved boys in a small shophouse. Weird..
We then walked on along the empty roads. The roads turned to streets as we head further away from the city centre.
As we walked past another shophouse kind of building, 2 guys ran out from it in front of us. I cannot remember who they were but they were our army boys. They looked at us and said,
“Sergeant.... you better go inside. I think your friend is going to die already!”
“Sergeant Fardlie la...”
Nurizam and I looked at each other and wondered. Is he getting beaten up? We both rushed in.
To our surprise, there was a small room that was opened for business. It wasn't dim neon coloured but like a bright fluorescent lit room. There was a strip bar inside and we saw Fardlie laughing his guts out. Apparently he was laughing at some of our guys in the strip club watching 2 really fat ladies stripping. This time they didn't look like Singaporeans. They were really Australian ladies. How did these guys manage to find this place is beyond us but they definitely know how to beat the crowd. I think there were about 20 of our guys in there compared to hundreds at Hooters. They were really laughing and enjoying themselves. Nurizam and I sat and watched the strip show and the antics for a while. We both don't drink so it was fun to watch but not our kind of entertainment. After a short while, we left. But yes, it was less crowded, the strippers were more concentrated to the small number of guests and it was fun. It was funny too.
We were back on the dark streets as we continued our walk to our lodge. The streets literally got smaller and narrower. The areas got darker. Because it was dark, random bright lights attracted our attention.
We saw a light which happened to be in the path of our journey. It was a small coffeeshop. Very much like our small stalls at a shophouse. There was only one burly man behind the counter. We wonder why it wasn't closed.
2 boys sat at a table. 1 caucasian and 1 aborigine. They were about 15 or 14. The aborigine boy suddenly walked to us and stood in front of us blocking our way. I don't know if he was trying to look intimidating but he really wasn't. He was small and had to tilt his head up to look at us.
“Hey mate.... you got a cigarette?”
Funny boy. I gave him a stick of Sampoerna. A kretek (clove) cigarette.
“Thanks. You have a light?”
I lit the cigarette for him.
He said thanks, inhaled the kretek cigarette deeply and blew a puff. As he walked back to his table, he wobbled and fell as he tried to reach his chair while holding his head. His friend and the owner rushed over to help him. Nurizam and I chuckled as we walked on. The young lad trying to act tough in front of us couldn't handle the kick from a puff off a kretek cigarette.
We then walked along a narrow street with 2 storey buildings beside us. From afar we saw a group of youths, maybe about 10 of them. We paused. They were holding metal rods and baseball bats. They were breaking into a store and smashing its glass window. They were in our path so we stopped to see. They were about 100 metres away from us.
And then as they were breaking the windows, they saw us. Maybe they didn't expect anyone to be there at that time. Heck it was just about maybe 9pm.
They shouted at us from afar and walked towards us. It was a view from Purge movie I tell you. But somehow we weren't scared. They walked and as they came nearer, we turned around and walked. We could hear them shouting at us to stop. We didn't and then we ran. We were not scared I tell you. We just ran while smiling. This was an adventure!
They chased after us and we just sprinted laughingly while turning corners around the blocks. If you do a google map search on Rockhampton, it looks like many other European or American cities with squarish layouts and right angled streets. So it was quite easy to navigate as long as we head towards a general direction.
Our sense of direction was strong. Our fitness was at peak at that time. We sprinted and run around corners knowing that they were chasing us. It was fun. We just kept turning at corners and at times we were actually behind them. We saw them getting tired. We saw them gave up and catching their breaths. As they stopped and pant... we appeared at the other end of the street. They saw us but couldn't chase us. We looked over our shoulders and walked on laughingly. It was fun.
We are almost reaching our lodge. Maybe another kilometre away. We walked past buildings. Like I said, everything was closed and it was dark. If any room or building was lit, it would be obvious.
One room on the second floor was lit. We walked pass it and a lady looked out the window. At least she was pretty.
“Hey boys...!! Do you want to have fun?”
She then put a leg out of the window ledge and straddled on it. She was half naked and encouraging us to come up to the 2nd floor. Then there were a few more half naked ladies at the window and I think 2 men. Well they were all half naked or fully naked I don't know because the lower part was covered by the ledge. They kept asking us to come up for fun. Hahaha. It was funny. We declined laughingly. But it was fun seeing it. As we walked further the ladies waved at us.
“Bye boys! Have a good night!”
I don't know. I just feel that was a nice gesture.
We have reached the main road of our lodge. We headed over to a petrol station just across our lodge. We bought a loaf of bread, water and a jar of nutella. We went back to our room and binged on it as we watched TV to sleep.
It was an eventful walk and I can remember that clearly until today.
BACK TO ROCKHAMPTON AIRPORT
Back at the airport. Ready to go home. I really couldn't wait to go home.
Remember the boys buying bottles of Vanilla Coke? We were told that we were not allowed to bring gassy drinks on to the plane. Hahaha. Luckily I didn't buy any. I didn't want to lug heavy bottles in my bag.
The boys were disappointed. It was a good souvenir. It was for Hari Raya.
And then they said in Malay, “If we cannot bring the drink, at least we bring back the bottle as a souvenir.” It was nice. The bottle was different and the printing clearly says Vanilla Coke. So the bottles were a consolation.
And then you see these 500 plus people sitting on the floor of the small Rockhampton Airport, passing bottles of Vanilla Coke around to be shared by everyone. Drink and pass. Drink and pass till we empty the bottles. I am chuckling as I type this. It was funny. Drink as much as you can and pass around. We drank till we bloat. And that was how we ended this trip.
NEXT WEEK : ALERT RED
Categories : The Army Series
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