These two words evoke memories of an entire two days spent holed up in air-conditioned meeting rooms, as interminable golf games take place outdoors. Of volleyball games and bowling matches conducted with faux joviality. Of ostensibly hot dinners which are nothing but congealed lumps of cheesy potato wedges and gelatinous vegetable goo by the time we repair to the dining hall from the conference room. Of hours of simpering and cringing through 'ice-breaker games' which compel us to make animal sounds and tear around the conference room like genially demented kamikaze pilots.
And so it was with a great deal of moaning and sarcastic repartees that my workmates and I were pulled away from our workstations and our ever-growing mountains of files to attend a departmental staff retreat, at a location which I shall not disclose, in Alor Gajah, Melaka.
Reductions to our retreat budget meant that our accommodations had to be downgraded from a reasonably comfortable resort to very basic lodgings in an unheard-of location, which looked and felt as though it hasn't seen a vaccuum cleaner or a mop since Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.
Still, being restless and accustomed to working, nay, - thriving - in adverse conditions, my workmates and I descended upon the place with our usual gung-ho spirit. I was told the noise level in the district went up several thousand decibels upon our arrival.
I was one of the designated drivers, and am pleased to report that The Battletank performed quite heroically all the way there and back.
The chalets look picturesque from the outside, but are in somewhat poor repair on the inside.
It wasn't the air of shabby desolation about the place that dismayed us about the resort, however, for it did have a sense of quiet dignity about it. Rather, it was the fact that the people who run the resort are so overt about their religious zeal. There were tasteless and offensive banners and literature everywhere, essentially running down all other religions as false and inferior. I almost expected the staff to start speaking in tongues and the theme song from "Children of the Corn" to start playing in the background.
In the conference room, we learned from a plaque that the founder of the resort died the same year as his final mission, which, incidentally, was to Pakistan, and my colleagues and I speculated on whether he had been murdered in Pakistan.
It wasn't a politically-correct conversation to have, for sure, but the evangelistic atmosphere about the place was so oppressive that it was difficult for us to remain respectful and sensitive.
One of my colleagues came over to drag me out from under the bed as the brainstorming sessions begin.
The productivity and problem-solving seminars had the same air of hopelessness as the Chinese Communist Party's denunciation meetings.
Lunch provided some cheer -- the food was good and there were specially prepared food for those of us who are vegetarian.
We were supposed to build replicas of refugee camps in the open field, but the resort owners' dogs came and flattened everything. The dogs must have been agents of the military government!
Don't be deceived by the sad face -- these dogs are impossibly cheeky!
Even the so-called 'jungle trekking' session failed to impress. We tramped through what was obviously a former rubber plantation, swearing and cursing at the mosquitoes. There was no flora to speak of save recolonisers such as macarangas and other weeds. My colleague Nick managed to sneak a cigarette and a plastic tumbler of coffee with him on the trail. Clever sod.
The rope bridge across the stream, if you could call it that, was a great source of amusement for us.
The activity that we had most looked forward to was the aerial runway, also known as "Flying Fox". I was the first to go, since I have no fear.
Serves me right for being cocky. I slammed right into the truck tyre that was intended as a brake and suffered head and neck injuries as a result. For 3 days after the incident, I had to live with a whiplash injury, giddy spells and ringing in my ears.
And this is how we prune the foliage with our feet.
Some of us just couldn't get enough of the rope bridges.
We reviewed the photos later that night and I was so overcome with mirth that I fell off the bed howling with laughter. My laughter set the others off and we raised the roof with our collective baying. Rumour has it that we could be heard all the way down at the Mahkota Parade.
Our neither-relaxing-nor-productive 2 days came to an end on Friday evening. We managed to get one of the resort dogs to join in our group photo. The dogs were unfazed by all the noise and attention.
Our staff retreat may have officially ended at 1600 hours, but my passengers requested a jaunt to Melaka town in order to do a spot of shopping. I complied, because the pain in my neck and head were not of the degree of severity (yet!) that would require me to let someone else take over the wheel of the Battletank. All through the drive home, I asked my buddy and front passenger Amarjit to keep up a lively conversation to help me take my mind off my pain. It was with admitted relief that I dropped my passengers off at the office so I get a heat pack for my throbbing head and neck.
We may have wasted two days at a retreat that has brought us no visible benefits, but it was good that we spent it in the company of friends. It was a Friday night -- and the weekend brought with it the promise of football matches, helping out at the SPCA, spending time with my friends, a Saturday night dinner party, a Mothers' Day lunch, bike rides and other adventures. Now that's what I call a retreat.
Covert Operations, OUT.