Ex-hostage bonded by love


  • Nation
  • Saturday, 18 Jan 2003

BY RUBEN SARIO and PHILIP GOLINGAI

KOTA KINABALU: Noel Fong Yin Ken, who was an Abu Sayyaf hostage for 119 days, will add a new chapter in his life. He will be marrying Japanese Yumiko Kitaura here today.  

Ken, as he is commonly known, proposed to Yumiko at his apartment here three months ago. 

“I told her 'let’s settle down',” said Ken, 31, who was abducted together with 20 others in Pulau Sipadan on April 23, 2000 and taken to Jolo Island in the southern Philippines.  

IN LOVE:Ken,who was an Abu Sayyaf hostage,and Yumiko are getting married today in Kota Kinabalu.

He was among the last three Malaysians who returned home on Aug 20, 2000. 

“She said I was not romantic ... no flowers or anything,” he said.  

Recalling the moment, Yumiko, who has been frequently visiting Sabah, said: “He told me that he got a job here and it was time to get married ... something like that.”  

The 30-year-old Japanese, however, did not immediately accept the Sabahan’s proposal.  

She called her parents in Japan for their views as “we are from different cultures.” 

“At first her parents were quite reluctant because they have never been to Sabah and have never met me,” Ken said. 

However, after the couple convinced Yumiko’s parents that she would be comfortable living in the Land Below the Wind, she was given the green light. 

Why is Ken getting married? “I am getting older,” he joked. 

He said it was the right time to settle down as he was now working here as the manager of Nexus Karambunai Resort’s Lagoon Park near the state capital. 

He had quit his job as a dive instructor in Sipadan. 

“Yumiko will not want to stay for a stretch of more than two months on the island as island life can be boring,” said Ken. 

Island life, however, does have its excitement as Ken discovered on June 2001 when he set eyes on Yumiko, who was wearing a swimsuit and diving gear, on Sipadan Island. 

He could still remember the moment he saw Yumiko and instantly fell head over heels in love with her as she was about to go for a dive at one of the world’s top three diving sites. 

That was the second time he saw her. Their first encounter was four years ago. 

 

“She remembered me but I could not remember our encounter because as a dive instructor I meet a lot of people every day,” he said. 

Why did he fall in love with Yumiko? “I don’t know. Perhaps the attraction is that she speaks English well because she studied the language in Australia,” he explained. 

Yumiko also found it difficult to describe how she fell for Ken. “It all happened naturally. When I met him for the second time, I just wanted to be with him,” she said. 

 

When the abduction of Ken and the 20 hostages hit the world headlines, Yumiko heard about the kidnappings in Japan from her friend and her first reaction was “I know that guy.” 

“I was a bit worried because I knew him as my dive master,” she recalled. 

When Yumiko saw Ken again, she was happy and relieved that he was safe. 

 

Ken and Yumiko’s love story took a break when the Japanese tourist had to return home. But it did not end there as the couple communicated daily through the Internet and once a week over the telephone. 

Two months later, she returned to Sabah for a holiday and she became a frequent visitor to the state subsequently. 

As their love grew, there was one topic which the couple had not discussed and that was Ken’s experience as a hostage. 

“She has not asked me about it but she has a rough picture of what I went through as she has seen the newspaper clippings and video footages,” he said.  

 

Explained Yumiko: “Knowing about his experience is not important for us now because it is the past and I don’t want him to think about it.”  

Two years after the incident, people still ask Ken constantly about his days as a hostage. 

“Sometimes I feel bored repeating myself about what had happened there. But I can’t blame them as they are curious,” he said. 

 

Looking back at those traumatic six months when his life was in the hands of the Abu Sayyaf, Ken reckoned the experience had not changed him much. 

Asked whether he would consider taking Yumiko to Jolo island for their honeymoon, Ken laughed out loud and said: “You must be joking.” 

Indeed, there is no reason for him to return to that southern Philippine island. 

 

“It is something very hard to forget for the rest of my life,” he said. 

Today, Ken, who has invited the other eight Malaysian hostages to his wedding reception, will have another event that he will never forget for the rest of his life – a normal, formal Chinese wedding.  


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