5 May 2000
24 April - Monday - Singapore to Melaka, MalaysiaWhat b will miss in Singapore
After seven months on the prison-like island of Singapore I got my discharge papers.I don't expect to miss Singapore, but I will miss my Hui Hui, who is finishing her advanced degree in art. I'll also miss a handful of good people whom I met over the course of my months in S'pore. Mr. Chang a Chinese Buddhist, an Indian Muslim book seller, and two expats, Nicholai Australian retired Sufi and Brian the American Hindu, both of whom have received mention in these pages. Simon the Malay budget hoteler comes to mind as well but his a soul rebel, not a spiritual warrior.
A look at those people with whom I've come to associate with reveals a definite trend. All of them are middle-aged would be guru's somehow on the fringes of society. All of them are men and all of them have a degree of expertise in something other than whiskey, women, or sports. Three of them were vegetarian. They all avoided alcohol and drugs. Perhaps none of them had families of their own. I didn't go out looking for such people I just ran into them and kept up with them more or less. I suspect we all learned something from each other.
So there you have it. b went to what is reputedly the most materialistic island in the world and found quite the opposite brand of associates. Some day b may write an ode for the world traveler: "To all the gurus and girls I've met before."
Back to Melaka
I returned to Melaka and returned to the Eastern Heritage House on Bukit China. I told them I was a return visitor and I think the Bangladeshi guy recognized me. There was a new employee there from Croatia, as well as the fella from Morroco whom I'd met there 8 months ago. The traffic in Melaka was just as bad as it had been, but I spent 3 nights there. I enjoyed most my walk around China town, in several of the huge old houses converted into antique stores, art shops, resturants or hotels. All the people I've met in Malaysia have the same harsh judgement that most expats have of the place -- oppressive, unfriendly and materialistic.
My status as a return visitor entitled me to a night on the town with the owner of the Eastern Heritage House. He took a young Brit and myself to his favorite bar which featured karaoke, hostesses, games,and a couple of pool tables, one of which was a round Malaysian pool table. As you might imagine that dealt little but frustration. We had a couple of beers, shot pool, played connect four and jenga. I lost a beer to the Chinese woman who owned the bar over a connect four game.
27 April - Thursday - Melaka to Kuala Lumpur
I took a bus up to K.L. capital of the rising star of SE Asia, Malaysia. I went to the Backpacker Traveler's lodge, but they had no dorm beds available. There was an African guy checking in at the same time. We agreed to share a double room and split the costs. We both planned to leave in the morning.
Roomie from Ghana
He was from Ghana, but had been away for several years. He had recently married an Indonesian woman and they had a son. He was a radio operator and spent most of his time at sea. He said his son didn't even recognize him when he came back home. He was wanting to get a job on land but didn't know where to start. He was in Malaysia to update his training/ certification. He confirmed what I had read, that the waters from the Phillipines up through the straights of Melaka (between Malaysia and Singapore) were prime hunting ground for pirates. He spoke with visible fear at the prospect of being held at gunpoint by pirates. In his years at sea, He'd never encountered pirates, but had heard enough stories to be worried.
Iraqu, Palestine, Globalization etc.
Our neighbors across the hall were two Iraquis and a Palestinian. They were enroute to South Korea on business. The young Iraqui had left after the Gulf War and didn't plan to return home until things had improved. The Palestinian told my roommate about a club for Africans in Bangkok and about business opportunities. Import/Export knock-off brand clothes. Did some short-sighted arrogant white man think that Indonesians would make Nikes and Thais make Levis and somehow not start to produce their own exact replicas. The Korean's are now supplying the Latin Americas with cars, I suspect the Malaysians will be next with their cheap and sporty Proton.
I was sitting in the lobby of the hotel talking with my roommate when I saw a girl who looked Korean. I said hello to her in Korean and she looked funny and said I'm from Denmark. I asked, "Where are your parents from?" She said she was adopted, her parents were Danish. I asked if she knew where she was born. She said Korea. She assumed South Korea. I spoke more Korean than she and knew more about the country of her birth than she did so she was happy to bring me her Lonely Planet guide so I could make some recommendations. She planned to return to the country of her birth for the first time since she had been put up for adoption. I hadn't spoken much about travel in South Korea and I enjoyed recalling the people and places there. She said that no one ever guessed that she was Korean. Everyone thought she was Japanese. She asked why I thought she was Korean. I said she was either Korean or a very strange Japanese. I said she looked Korean and walked like a Korean.
The new K.L.
It was good to return to K.L. because I was able to take in an area of the city that I had neglected previously. It was good to return to Malaysia in general because I could now compare it to Singapore, which is in many ways a sanitized version of Malaysia. This one area of K.L. around the Japanese Department stores and the Marriot was on track to rival the best of Singapore. The stores, restaurants, cafe's seemed to offer what was available in Singapore at a fraction of the price. The people were more laid back and everything seemed as clean, if not cleaner than, Singapore.
Elsewhere, as in much of Asia, cranes were busy tearing down and building up a new urban landscape.The outlook is big: bigger cities, bigger vice, bigger wealth, bigger poverty.
28 April - Friday - K.L. to PenangI liked Penang the first time I came, I like it the second time. Visual poetry is everywhere in Penang. The Penang I'm referring to is actually Geogetown, the funky town. Not the island Penang of beaches that tourist agents may try to fabricate.
Penang is very laid back, it has more old architecture than other towns and much more traditional and antique furniture: marble tables, wooden chairs, wooden counters, bamboo shutters painted with store names and original logos etc. Backpackers all crowd around Chulia Street which I have learned was once the red light district, hence the abundance of hotel beds! This colorful detail is lost on must travelers as the sack out in their budget rooms on their budget matresses.
Penang & Singapore
Penang is well known for it's food which is dished out from portable hawker stalls all over town.Singapore no doubt once had a similar arrangement, but they have converted the mobile hawker stalls into a permanent fixture of food courts (also known as hawker centers.) People say Penang is like Singapore was 40 years ago and I can easily picture it.
Penang retains the charm, cockroaches, rats and gecko lizards that Singapore has all but wiped out.There are even a few dogs roaming around. Cats have taken over in Singapore, probably because they are more discriminate defecators. The Singapore gov't is all about aiding natural selection, aka social engineering. No one will deny that their iron-fisted approach is successful in acheiving the kind of results they set out to acheive.
The international ports of Singapore and Penang once vied with one another for supremacy. Singapore won. But loser that couldn't afford to tear down it's buildings and reinvent itself holds much more charm for the traveler and more affection for the losers. I'm susupect the old, infirm, blind,and homeless find much more love in Penang than S'pore.
I was jonesing for some Jazz Fest so I tried to tune into WWOZ live broadcast. I found a hotel that offered 24 hour internet service and went there from 1am to 3am two nights in a row. I didn't have any luck listening to the fest, but the owner of the hotel cornered me as I was leaving one morning and asked if I could help them out with their computers. They had just begun to offer internet access and were having some problems. He offered room and breakfast. I agreed and moved out of the Oasis the next day.
I diagnosed the three computers and found that one of them only had 16MB of RAM. I explained that this could slow things down. I went with the insurance Gdogsman to his friends computer store and bought 32MB and installed them. This sped things up and the complaints on the computers seemed to abate. I have since found another problem involving the hard disk driver on one of the computers. But it doesn't look like I'll be here long enough to work that one out.
I've lucked out not so much by having free accomodation, breakfast, and internet access, but by meeting the interesting cast of characters that are attatched to the hotel in one way or another. A ficticious name is used to protect the innocent.
The The Blue Star Hotel and its People
The proprieter of my hotel had a bad experience in Singapore. 2 years in jail and 20 lashes with the cane. Theft was the crime. In his hotel he employees and houses the old, infirm, and homeless. He is not a governement agency. He is an ex-con. A retired musician. He's a drummer, but he sings and plays a fine rendition of Donovan's "Vincent" and other folk songs. There is a colorful crew of misfits that has found a comfortable place to live and hang in the confines of Mr. Chi's hotel and beer garden.
What would the crashed financier do without this place? His body is wasting away, but a smile crossed his face when he listens to Mr. Chi's music. The failed market speculater says his father was a gambler. He says a gambling father sets a bad example. He's well informed about history, technology and Buddhism.He agrees with others that Buddhism is the ultimate truth. He's working on his vipassana realization.
One of the workers is an only son after his 38 year old brother was killed in a motorcycle accident leaving behind his wife and kid.I played a song on the beat up old guitar which is the guitar of choice from Singapore to Penang in Northern Malaysia because it's such a good deal. I know because I bought one in Singapore. Made in China they cost about $25.Anyway, he dug my music, especially my rendition of "(3 o'clock roadblock)Rebel Music", a Bob Marley tune about an experience in England that is a fitting theme song for Singapore.
Leg used to sing and play at the beer garden at the hotel but has changed venues.I've played harmonic with Leg, who is a fine guitarist and singer. He plays old favorites with his own rhythm and a strong deep singing voice that people compare to Tom Waits. He now plays in a place that is a restaurant by day and a night club by night with disco light and all. I'm told he sleeps in the restaurant. I suspect that's his pay.
There are several other people living and working here with interesting lives of their own but you'll have to wait for the book I'm afraid.Meanwhile, the reality of these people and denizens of others remains completely hidden from most travelers. Who are not only content to eat, drink, and sleep with other travelers in familiar settings, but insist on such arrangements.
An Unusual Proposition
I went to the huge Komtar shopping and office complex. I met a Malay government worker. He had earned a Master's degree at Vanderbilt and had traveled around the states. He said it wasn't easy to meet Americans so he wanted to talk. It turned out he was interested in more than talk. We had a lemon tea in a food court. He was from the Eastern Muslim part of Malaysia. He had a wife and 3 children. So much for the small talk, he quickly made his designs evident. He offered me 300 ringett ($75) to give me oral sex. He insisted that a straight Canadian guy had accepted the offer a few weeks ago and wasn't disappointed. I politely declined the offer. He asked if I was offened. I said very little offends me.We cordially went our seperate ways.
5 May, Friday - On to Sumatra
I'm fairly comfortable here in Penang, but I've been here a week longer than expected. Tomorrow I take the ferry to Medan in Sumatra.
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