Thursday 24th March

Scratches, bumps and bruises!I crawled out of bed fairly early and examined my scratches, bumps and bruises in the mirror, showered yet again and dressed in Soe’s trousers once more.  Hopefully I’d be on my way back to the UK today.  I sat on the veranda of the hotel and breakfasted in fine style with toast, croissants, jams and an English style cooked breakfast of sausage, bacon (beef – Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country!), eggs, baked beans, tomato and mushroom washed down with some very excellent Boh tea from the Cameron Highlands.

There was just Soe and I and we talked about ourselves.  He’s a fascinating young man; originally from Burma he became a refugee as a result of his opposition to the Burmese military regime.  He talked about the opposition movement, how he had become involved in it but seemed sorry that he hadn’t been fit enough to take part in the military training.  He talked about being involved in my rescue on the very first day that I raised the alarm and told me how he’d been part of the first search party that had abortively looked for me on Pine Tree Hill.  He gave me the names of most of the key local officers who had been involved in the operation, although, because there were so many names difficult for a European to remember, I guess that I got some of them wrong.  But there were Durai, the guide who works for the Fraser’s Hill Development Corporation, Maya the hotel receptionist, Polis officers Razie, Thura, Thilan, Mat, Ibrahim, Kahar and Bahair all of varying rank, some coming from the small Fraser’s Hill force and others from the Divisional Headquarters at Raub. 

Soe told me about the visit from Janet and Kiew and said that they had seemed happy with the operation and how the British Vice-Consul, Rob Claridge, had also come up to Fraser’s Hill and had himself got involved in it too.  Datuk Maznah Mazlan, the Pahang State Tourism Minister and Junus had both flown over the search area in a helicopter and the Minister had cut through all red tape to get more rescuers involved, helicopters in the air and search dogs on the ground.  The hotel had catered for almost 100 searchers.  Normally they feed an average of 15 people per day and the local market had run out of food with fresh supplies having to be brought up from Raub.  He said that prayers had been said for me in the local mosque and that Christians, Buddhists and Hindus had been praying for me too.

Some Polis officers arrived, including a couple not in uniform who were introduced to me as “Special Branch”.  They wanted me to recount my story, which I happily did and noted down all my details, even including where I had obtained my main qualification from (my very, very ordinary B.Sc. from Stockport Tech!).  They pronounced themselves satisfied and, as a result, I’ll probably never be allowed into Malaysia again for causing all the problems!  Then Janet and Pua from Thor Malaysia arrived to take me back to KL.  We had an emotional reunion with hugs all round, I searched Soe out to say my thanks once again and bid him goodbye, Maya too came to see me off and told me that her husband had himself been involved in the search.  I promised to return next year and do the walk again, but this time with a guide!  So with waves, handshakes and hugs all round I left the Old Smokehouse at Fraser’s Hill and headed back to the Hyatt Saujana at Subang.

Pua drove and he, Janet and I chatted all the way.  We had to go back to the hotel and get my ticket before we could arrange my homeward flight.  There was one from KLIA just before midnight that day, but I’d have to go via London or take the following day's direct flight to Manchester.  I wanted to take the earlier, but only economy and first class seats were available.  After my exploits I wasn’t going to go economy and an upgrade to first class was £2,700!  After terrific help from Janus, Janet’s best efforts and waiting at the local Air Malaysia office for about an hour and a half my return direct to Manchester the following day was arranged.

Back at the Hyatt I phoned Noelene again, having tried and tried to get through to her earlier but only receiving an engaged tone.  We made contact and she told me that it was bedlam at the house; reporters, photographers, camera crews and every other sort of media person wanted to speak to me and her.  Claire was fending them off and later she and Dawn gave interviews to local radio themselves.  Noelene asked if I would be interviewed live by Kevin Boucquet of BBC TV News as he and a camera crew were in our dining room.  I gave the interview and I reckon it went fairly well.  Kevin even said at the end that I should have been a journalist; I think not!

New Straits Times articleI had a wonderful celebratory dinner with Janet, Kiew, Pua, Jacqueline, Adeline and Fanny from Thor Malaysia in one of the excellent Chinese seafood restaurants close to the runway of the old KL airport. They gave me laminated copies of the Star and New Straits Times articles which had appeared in the morning's newspapers and a "welcome back" card.   At about eleven o'clock we said our goodbyes and Pua took me back to the Hyatt.  I spoke to Noelene again. She told me that it was still bedlam at the house and that a real posse of the media wanted to meet me at Manchester Airport.  Apparently, Claire had spoken to the airport media people and they had suggested two options: that they try to arrange for Noelene and the girls to meet me at the airport and we then, if possible, be “sneaked out” of a back entrance.  I could them do a “press conference” on our back lawn later.  Their preferred suggestion, however, was to meet the press at the airport itself and get the interviews over and done with.  Claire had favoured the first alternative, but I wasn’t too keen on this idea and said that we could discuss it further in the morning.

I settled down to sleep and just as I did so the phone by my bed rang and I rather blearily answered it.  “Guess who this is”, said the voice.  “I’ve no idea”, I replied.  “Well, I’m Malaysian", he said.  "Yes and so are 20 million other people around here", I replied.  "But I don't live in Malaysia and I know you from a very long time ago" he responded.  Immediately I said “It’s Foo Wing Chan the Chinaman” and it was.  Foo Wing had been one of my very best friends when I started work in my late teens.  He, Chris Denman and I were virtually inseparable at times.  We reminisced about changing the engine of his ancient Mini in a snowstorm in the front garden of his house in Slough (probably around 1968) how his wife Audrey had cooked me my first Chinese meal and how they had introduced me to Chinese food in London’s Soho.  He had found me because, living in Toronto, to where he had emigrated in the late 60s, he studies the online versions of the Malaysian newspapers each day and saw my name under the headline “British Botanist Rescued”!  He realised that there couldn’t be too many Englishmen in their mid 50s called John Gillatt and had mysteriously tracked me down to the Hyatt (must be the Triad connection).  We chatted for a while and we arranged to speak further when I returned to the UK.  It was such an amazing experience to me.  Because of my stupidity, friends who had been apart for more than 35 years had been reunited.

©John Gillatt, 2005