Flash-back to 2015.
It’s a cool Autumn night on the Gold Coast in Australia. Craig and I are cooking up a pile of chicken wings we rescued from the dumpsters behind Woolworths.
I notice a guy with a huge backpack walking past. He looks oddly out of place on the Surfer’s Paradise boardwalk. Like me and Craig, he doesn’t seem to fit in with the immaculately dressed tourists. His backpack is almost bigger than he is, and he has the nervous, disoriented look of the confused traveler that I’ve worn myself so many times. I wave at him and smile. He walks over to us.
“G’day mate” I greet him. “Are you hungry? We’re making a huge BBQ and there’s more here than we can eat on our own.”
He looks at the chicken frying on the grill.
“It looks good” he says, with a slight accent.
“Where are you from?” I ask him.
“Malaysia” he tells me.
“Cool! I’ve been in Malaysia a couple of times” I tell him. “Great place! I hitchhiked there. people were super friendly and helpful.”
“Really?” he replies, sounding a bit surprised.
“What’s your name?” I ask.
“My name is Kamal, but you can call me Bob.”
“Good to meet you Bob! I’m Manny. That’s Craig and that cute doggy there is KC. Stick around. We’re going to eat in a minute.”
Bob smiles and puts his backpack down.
“OK. Thank you. It’s nice to meet you, guys.”
By the time we finish eating our BBQ dumpster chicken, me and Craig and KC and Bob are good friends. He’s a cheerful guy with a quirky sense of humour. He tells us that he came to Australia to backpack around with a few hundred dollars and now he’s run out of money, but he isn’t worried about it because he knows that Allah will take care of him.
“You don’t have any money left at all? Where are you sleeping?” I ask Bob.
“Well… unfortunately, last night I slept under the roof of the public toilet in the park” he admits.
“Are you serious?” Craig asks him. “Look, why don’t you come and camp with me and Manny at the spit? It’s a nice spot, near the beach. We’ve got a tarp set up, and some rugs and a campfire. It’s not the Ritz Carlton, but it’s comfy.”
Bob accepts the invitation enthusiastically, so we all head up the beach, back to our hidden campsite, tucked away in the woods.
Bob spent the next four days with us, swimming, dumpster diving and talking around the campfire. We discovered that he was a musician, so we invited him to busk with us. He played and sang beautifully and the look on his face when we put a bundle of cash in his hand at the end of the night was magic.
All that was two years ago. Every few months I’d see Bob on Facebook and we’d have a quick chat and every time we chatted he would invite me to visit him in Malaysia. Last week I finally took him up on the invitation.
Bob met me at the bus stop here in Kuantan. He still had the same cheerful grin on his face, the same happy-go-lucky charm.
We’ve spent the last week hanging out at the beach, playing music together, and eating massive amounts of delicious Malaysian food.
Aside from being a talented musician, Bob is a big time conversationalist, and luckily for me his English is awesome.
Bob’s experiences with us dumpster diving on the Gold Coast blew his mind in the same way that my mind was blown the first time I hitchhiked across Malaysia back in 2007. When we aren’t at the Teluk Cempeduk beachfront busking we are talking about ecology, politics, and the weirdness of being a nomad in a foreign land.
Teluk Cempeduk beach is absolutely gorgeous (photo’s above). The water is sparkling, the white sand is clean and soft and there is very little tourist development. On the boardwalk where we busk there are little market stalls and a fairground area for the kids, but no big resort hotels or massive shopping malls like on the Gold Coast. The hills behind the beach are covered in thick jungle and there are monkeys playing on the sand.
There is a really vibrant busking scene on the Teluk Cempeduk boardwalk at night. Every night we go to the beach there are at least three bands playing. People are really interested in the music and supportive of the musicians – they stop to listen to us play, and we make decent money every night. There are no cops or security guards harassing us like there are on the Gold Coast either. So many times when Craig and I played on the street in Australia we would be told by the police to move along – that doesn’t happen here in Kuantan. Unbelievably, in Australia you are supposed to apply for a permit to play music on the street these days. They don’t have any bullshit like that in Malaysia. There is even a sign above the gazebo on the beach saying ‘busker’s corner’ – that’s a street culture I can relate to.
(Below: Bob at ‘Buskers Corner’ – Teluk Cempeduk beach, Malaysia.)
(Above: playing the blues with Bob.)
>> Check out Bob’s awesome tunes here!
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