Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Heaven and Hell ( almost ) ! Part 3

What is the origin of the name Blunderbuss? The term has Dutch origin. The Dutch called it the Donderbuss or the "thunder gun". Donder means thunder, buss means gun. The Blunderbuss was a favourite weapon of pirates. Why? It was an effective weapon for close quarters fighting as it fires a load of shot pellets much like its modern day cousin....the shotgun. The loading of shots and powder is done from the front end of the muzzle which is flared like a trumpet. Then an iron ramrod is used to ram all the stuff deep inside the gun barrel. The firing mechanism was a superb piece of middle -age technology incorporating a metal striker, a tiny bit of flint, a flashpan and gunpowder. And this technology invented in the 1500's, perfected by 1630, lasted for over 300 years until the American Civil War in the 1860's when another new invention revolutionised gun warfare.
Though use of flintlock guns soon faded away, they had already left some lasting marks on the landscape of history, particularly in the English Language. The terms, " lock, stock and barrel" and " flash in the pan" as well as " going off half-cocked" are still very much in use today. All originated from the association with the flintlock gun.

Nightmare at Polonia Airport, Medan

The story continues from Part 2. From Parapat, we soon arrived at Medan and checked into the Garuda Plaza upscale, classy hotel which had a swimming pool too. D3 and D4 enjoyed the food and comforts of this place most. The next morning, after breakfast, our tour guide ensured that our tour group left on time for the airport for our return flight to S'pore. On reaching the airport, we headed first for customs clearance with our luggage. It was very crowded that morning being just 2 days before Christmas. We stood in the queue, waiting for our turn. Soon we found ourselves before the uniformed customs officers who signalled for us to place our bags and suitcases on the long table. They told us to open our luggage for inspection.
D2 and my daughters' bags were checked. No problem. They were zipping up their bags when my own suitcase, which was opened caused an immediate stir! One customs officer pressed on my clothes and found something very hard, wrapped in a towel and paper. He asked, without first opening it, " Apa ini ?" [ What's this? ]
I replied that it was a souvenir I bought in Parapat.
Slowly, he peeled off the towel and paper and blurted out just one word when he held the Blunderbuss for all to see, " Senapang !" [ gun ] . The eyes of everyone there were trained on him, the object and then me. Immediately, like a magnet, other customs officers drew near.
Then the questioning started....right there and then, in full view of everyone, my family and fellow tour members included.
One over zealous officer rubbed it in saying, " ini senapang antique !"[ this is an antique gun ] and required an approved permit. " Have you got a permit for this?" I gently replied that the genuine antique shop I purchased it from had stated categorically that no permit was needed for this particular Blunderbuss...and gave reasons why. I fished out the written address slip and showed it to them. They were all unimpressed! The zealot upped the tone and tempo when he said," Ini banyak mustahak !" [ This is very SERIOUS !]
Another asked, "why were you hiding this in your bag?" [ So, the accusations had started ].
I explained that it was no hiding. The gun is very old, rusted in some parts and must be wrapped up to prevent soiling my clothes and also to protect it too. None of my explanations impressed them at all. Meanwhile, my family was waiting for me to join them as they waited nearby. The officers did not release me. They upped the ante!
They took my suitcase and placing the Blunderbuss in a plastic bag asked me to follow them.
I told them to hold their horses first. I asked, " Where are you taking me to ?"
To see their Chief Officer they told me, who was in his office. So, I promptly spoke to D2 nearby telling her " Not to worry. Just look after our little girls well.....even if the plane takes off without me. I can handle it."
They escorted me to their Chief officer in an office nearby. He was a surly fellow who did not want to take responsibility for making a decision, any decision at all. He did not even give me a chance to speak. He gruffly instructed his men to take me to see the Director of Customs !
Now, I had no inkling where this Director was located presuming it was likely nearby within the airport premises. You can imagine my great shock and disbelief when the same officer ordered that the 2 men take the customs "jeep"[ landrover]. Surely, I thought to myself...I must impress upon these chaps that I'm just an innocent traveller with his family to boot and happened to buy a souvenir, a inactive firearm... and now about to board my flight home. And I must have some basic rights!
I fired the 1st salvo. I told this Chief whether he was listening or not this.
"I bought this from a souvenir antique shop for $ 40. Not thousands of $. The owner stated no permit necessary. No need to declare. He even gave me his hand written shop address here. What is the big deal? If it is so much trouble you can have it! But my plane is taking off soon. I cannot afford to miss it ! My family is waiting for me."
He did not respond to me... but one other thing I said must have impacted on him for he chased them all out with the order" Cepat!" [ Fast!]. I am afraid I cannot divulge what I told him openly, here.
The 2 men escorted me out of customs clearance to their vehicle bay area. I was asked to get into a jeep. I was not told where we were going at first. When the jeep moved out of the airport itself onto the main road I was concerned. Multiple questions and possible scenarios flashed through my adrenalin charged mind....most were unpleasant, I should add.
But I DID NOT PANIC....never did !
Rather than waste my energy speculating on unknown outcomes on what was to befall me, for example....detain for further questioning, pay a big fine, hold till everything is cleared , etc...etc.., I used the approximately 20 minute drive to plan a double quick checkmate.
The driver told me we were going to see the Director but his office is in Medan city, not at the airport. He drove very fast. So, I was going back to the city again! Unbelievable !
He said it would take about 20 minutes to get there. And not forgetting the return trip...if they allowed me to return at all. Our plane was taking off in an hour's time or less.

Follow the dramatic conclusion tomorrow !

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