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Over-friendly natives

October 03, 2008|By JASON HAMILTON, 27, Ranson, W.Va.

As a young man I've been able to do quite a lot in my 27 years. I've traveled the world -- 15 nations, four continents. Ninety-nine percent of that traveling has been through missions and development work in Asia and Africa. I'd like to share a vacation horror story that, looking back now, is quite hilarious.

In 2004, I was living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a one-year missionary assignment. I had the opportunity to visit a resort area in the north of the country, near the border of Thailand.

Being a foreigner, and Malaysians being very hospitable, my hosts sought to entertain me during my time in this resort.

During an afternoon when I thought I could catch a nap and some downtime, my hosts wanted me to visit an island off the shore that had baby orangutans. (On a side note, orangutan is a Malay world; "orang" meaning person and "utan" meaning forest.)

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I, being a begrudgingly gracious guest, conceded and decided to visit this monkey island with them. The outcome of this journey should have been apparent as I slid into a very weathered-looking boat with a small outboard motor. This little craft skipped and bounced all the way to a little island off in the distance.

After making it to the island -- praying all the way -- I immediately saw that this was a much different type of zoo or sanctuary than I've visited. The first thing that I noticed was that WE the people were encaged while the orangutans roamed free in the trees above us. We walked along a pathway that was covered by mesh and chain-link fence so we looked like the show to the monkeys.

As we arrived at the end of the path, there was a trainer with two smaller orangutans they called "toddlers" because of their age and their stage of development was similar to the toddler stage of a human. The trainer let us know that even though they were small, they had the strength of a full-grown man.

As we approached them, my hosts were extremely shy and did not want to interact with these little primates. As the outgoing, obnoxious American that I am, I decided I would break the ice and go up to them and at least pet them or something.

As I approached one of them, one orangutan reached up and grabbed me strongly in a place that is not suitable for print and would not let go. As I'm trying to get this one off my "region," the other one jumped on my back and was pulling off my shirt and grabbing my glasses. By this time, the one on my lower half had let go and I was now focused on persuading the one on my back to relent -- I finally did in half laughter and half fright.

As the last one was climbing off my back, I pulled out my digital camera to try and document some of this. Just as I got the camera out of my pocket and hit the video record button, I felt this warmth on the top of my head and something splash on my glasses. As I looked up, I saw the first monkey hanging from the cage urinating all over my head!

At this point, I went into panic mode and began to flee from this obviously territorial primate. As I fled, I paid no attention to my hosts as I elbowed and knocked them out of the way. As I ran shrieking like a little girl, I remembered that I had the camera on and clicked it off. The entire scene was documented "Blair Witch" style on my tiny digital camera.

As I often speak in churches and youth groups, this story has become the ultimate icebreaker to the hardest of crowds.

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