The Metal Detector
Kuching, Malaysian Borneo – While we were in the States I purchased a metal detector from Amazon. It cost around $200 and was to be used here in Borneo.
The machine was long and had an armrest, could tell the difference between foil, tabs, iron, nickel and gold. The bells and whistles also detailed how deep the object was buried. It ran on batteries. I knew I could never figure the blasted thing out, so I gave it to my wife as a gift.
Across the river from our condo is a very large vacant lot, vacant in the sense that it had reverted back to the jungle. We had always wondered who had lived there in the not-so-distant past. We grabbed the metal detector and decided to have a look.
We entered the forest next to a house that had been a dwelling, but all that was left were the four posts and a bit of roof. Talking to the owners who lived next door, we found that there was a dispute over the land, and they were not going to fix it up until the owner had died. He was about 94 and had his wits about him until about 2003 when Alzheimer's took over. He was a joy to talk to about the distant past; but 10 years ago to the present, he hadn't a clue.
We walked in and met a drop of about 10 meters (30 feet to Americans) to a stream, and then it was back up the other side about another 12 meters (36 feet). This part of journey was okay for me because climbing up the other side had rocks in just the right locations where I could get a foothold. Suriani, my wife, carried the metal detector.
We hacked our way through the underbrush, noticing the beautiful orange flowers that had spread through on forest floor. They were waist high and had been planted whenever the house was built. Over the years, they spread outward across the jungle floor.
I selected a spot next to the 20 meter (60 feet) drop off into the river. It was, I would discover later, the septic field. I did not know they had septic fields back then. I thought everything went into the river.
The dig was difficult with my garden trowel. There was hard soil that was honey combed with roots, stems and every imaginable and unimaginable insect. I hacked away and found what must have been ancient gold foil sitting next to a cigarette pack. The metal detector signalled an incredible find only to reveal the covering.
After the dig next to the drop off, we moved through what was then the garden to the back of the house. We thought it was the back because the monsoon drains were still intact and ran through the forest floor. They emptied into another plunge that dipped down up to the houses behind this complex.
The metal detector screamed again and, after fiddling with it for a few seconds, my wife said "Here!" Determinedly, I dug through the roots and leaves only to discover an ancient screw. This went on a few more times until I noticed blisters beginning to rise on my digging hand. We had found more foil, a coke tab and another screw. But, the blisters began to hurt and I said enough.
We packed everything up and walked another way back to where we had come avoiding the nearly vertical drop. On the way, we discovered a mango tree in the flow of the stream which was dropping its delicious fruit. We must have collected at least 10, leaving the blemished ones behind.
The only thing we found out about the house was that it was a colonial government building where a Mr. Mackenzie lived and had a Malay wife named Sulong. But, we did find some nice mangos for breakfast the next morning.
...Life is good. . . . .