Last night, while trying to decide what photos I should next process and upload, I realized that my photos of the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia did not include one of my visits to the twin towers. I had only uploaded some shots I took on my second time around in Malaysia, but the first shots I took there were idling on my hard drive. So, to right that wrong, I quickly went though the earlier photos and now a few more shots can be found in my Petronas Towers Gallery.
Update: I now have Photos of Thaipusam 2006 available here.
Thaipusam was completely amazing. Seriously. I don’t know where to begin – it was one of the most intense, incredible sights/events I’ve ever witnessed and I can’t imagine too much that would top it in terms of sheer craziness. Terrible and terrifying, beautiful and sublime, Thaipusam was incomparably intense and fantastic.
But, I’m bloody exhausted from it. I got up at 3:30am and was supposed to leave at 4, but another guy who was supposed to come along failed to set an alarm, so we left at 4:30. He’s another photographer, so that explains him being a wanker – most photographers are. I’m the exception. Go on, try to disagree with me, I dare you!
So I got out there about 5. Already the place was seriously hopping. There’s a procession from a temple inside town and I know there were already revellers at the caves the day before, so there’s plenty of Hindu piecing going on through the night. A bunch of people stop at a nearby village where they get themselves pierced and go into their trances.
I started snapping photos straight away even though it was still dark. Some of the tranced-out weirdos didn’t want their photos taken, but it was impossible to know which ones, so I just went for it and got yelled at a couple times. There was one time when one guy in a trance didn’t like my camera flash. He got away from his handlers and stormed up to me with a furious bluster and an intense stare in his eyes then bumped his chest into mine. I just stood my ground while he got in my face before his handlers retrieved him apologetically.
When I mention the handlers, they really do seem like animal handlers at times. The guys who have gone into trances are pretty wild sometimes. The little posse that surrounds them makes sure that they stay in the procession and they clear out room for when they guys start freaking out.
There were, of course, plenty of guys with hooks a plenty through their skin. There were a few different kinds of revelers. Some of them had the hooks through their back and were then roped or chained to another guy who was pulling on them and holding onto them as they struggled forward. Others had a whole bunch of offerings hooked into them like apples, oranges, limes, flowers, small containers of milk and so on.
Then there were the guys that had, for lack of a better word, headdresses. But that’s a really misleading term. Basically, these guys had a metal hip-belt bolted around them and shoulder pads that supported an enormous, tiered construction that featured Hindu icons, peacock feathers or large religious images. The things had both a diameter and a height of two or three metres.
All of the headdresses had chains with hooks leading down that, it goes without saying, got hooked into the reveler. These dudes would also dance around and spin and if you weren�t careful, you’d get a Hindu god upside the head as they spun around.
A bunch of folks also had their cheeks pieced all the way through or their tongues were skewered.
So they all progressed towards the Batu Caves and eventually all got up all 274 steps. The back-stretching devotees had to unhook before they went through the entry arch at the base of the steps though. I can just see their handlers pulling them too hard and causing an avalanche of revelers, hooks and offerings. The headdress bearers, however, had to carry that stuff up the steps. Didn’t look fun.
Once at the top, a lot of the people with lots of offerings would bless devotees. I think that when they were in a trance they were supposed to be in more direct communication with a god and thus that much more holy. (By the way, this whole affair has truly exposed my ignorance of Hindu culture � it has been a long time since Religious Studies 205 and I should really brush up.) The still punked-out headdress bearers often spoke in tongues, yelped or grunted instead of using real words.
I watched one guy blessing a bunch of devotees and I remember one older woman getting blessed and she was just so genuinely moved. She started crying and it was somehow rather beautiful.
I was watching one guy get his dozens of oranges unhooked and he was giving them to onlookers. I got a big orange from this absolute beast of a man. He was enormous and never flinched for a second while getting unhooked. He would give out an orange, grunt loudly and wave off the recipient. He was also wielding an enormous club-like object which made the scene that much better. ‘You take orange! You leave now! AAAGRGH!’
A bunch of the dudes, when they got unhooked or unpierced, freaked out a bit (often the tongue or cheek piercings that did it). Some passed out. Some had fits. Some fell to the ground screaming and clawing at the floor.
After they were through with their fit, they took a while to settle down then they were back to normal and joking around with their friends.
Thousands of people were also buying offerings in plastic bags for the monkeys that live at the caves. All these bags were getting tossed to the critters who were climbing down from ridiculous heights to get them. These bags added to the litter everywhere. The base of the cliffs were especially filthy. And so much of it was styrofoam containers full of food scraps.
Toward the end of the day, I went over to the village where they do the piercings and watched some of them up close. They don’t bleed! I don’t know how it happens, but they don’t. Sometimes there was a tiny amount of blood when they got unhooked, but they quickly smeared ash on the hole and there was hardly a drop to be found.
I watched one of the headdress guys get hooked in and a guy carrying around 60-70 apples get his fruit on. I also saw one of the back-hook guys get one of his done. That was the most unsettling because those hooks were a lot bigger: about the size of a straw around plus they were considerably longer than the small fish hook-sized offering hooks. He had already started pulling at his ropes when his handlers saw that one hook had fallen out, so they held the guy down from his straining and hooked it back in. That was the only time I felt a little uneasy about the piercing stuff.
I saw a woman with hair that was more than 10 feet long. She was probably just over five feet tall and probably over 80 years old. The hair went down to her feet, then looped back up a couple feet, then went back down again. I don’t think it had been washed in decades. I think birds could have made a comfortable home in there. Like emus.
Really, I saw so much wacky weirdness I can’t really even process it. It was such a sensory overload.
I ended up staying until past 7 at night, so that was a really long day for me. Then I had a birthday thing to go to with some folks I met in Taman Negara, so I’m still pooped now. I’m also surprisingly stiff from the day’s continuous walking and my feet don’t like me much anymore.
As for photos, I took more than 1000. When I put them onto the computer this morning, the total was 1048. That’s easily a daily new record for me. I haven’t looked at them yet, but there better be at least one or two winners in there.
I genuinely can’t imagine many scenes that would surpass Thaipusam in terms of intensity and sensory overload. I’m so glad I scheduled my itinerary around it even though that has caused some roundabout routes for my trip. It was well worth an extra trip here. But if I’m ever lucky enough to catch it again, maybe I won’t spend 14 hours straight there and wind up feeling like I was among the revelers.
How much sweat is a human being capable of producing in an hour? I really think I might have hit my maximum today and I wasn’t even hiking quickly.
With many of the travelling companions I accompanied yesterday already gone to KL, I had today mostly to myself and decided to head up to the highest hill in near Kuala Tahan. Knowing full well that the jungle’s humidity would soon have me exhausting the limited water supply I could carry, I slowed my pace down considerably. Apparently it wasn’t enough as I soon found every item of clothing I was wearing had grown darker with the sweat pouring from my pores.
By the time I had reached to top of a hill that really wasn’t immense by any standards, I had already consumed my litre-and-a-half bottle of water. I felt fine though – just wet. And the views from the top were well worth a dripping brow. A couple of different viewpoints had windows through the trees where the surrounding jungle and hills were visible making for a unique perspective on the park.
As for the wildlife I saw today, the bulk of it appeared before I had even reached the main trails. While strolling through the chalets on the way to the trailhead, a long-tailed macaque danced along the rooftops and stalked one of the housekeepers from a distance. When the housekeeper went inside and temporarily left her cart of supplies unprotected, the monkey jumped down and started rifling through the towels and plastic bags.
I have no idea what it was looking for and it didn’t seem too concerned with my approach. I was telling it that it probably wasn’t supposed to be there and waving it away, but apparently it didn’t speak English. As soon as the housekeeper saw the scene, she started shouting in Malay and shooed off the mischievous monkey.
On a weird side note to this minor episode, I was just looking at my photos of this monkey and noticed something I didn’t when I was watching him. It appears to have a length of electrical wire tied around its neck. I don’t know if perhaps it was trapped at some point but escaped or if it happens to have skills as an electrician, but that’s definitely something you don’t see on all the monkeys around here. Odd.
I then headed towards the Tahan Hide which is just off the main pathway through the chalets to check out the area we had visited last night in the dark. I was just curious to see the scene in the light of day. The path to this, the most accessible of the park’s hides, is a raised wooden walkway and while I was wandering to the hide, I noticed movement up ahead. I stopped and armed my long lens to see if I could figure out what was trotting under and beside the walkway.
From underneath the boards appeared a small wild boar. Blissfully unaware of my presence, it marched a set course that happened to take it directly beneath my feet. I could have spit on it if I wanted. But since that’s not really my thing, I let it pass. It was then unable to continue under the boards due to a felled tree blocking his path so it jumped up onto the log and spotted me not more than a couple metres away. Startled as could be it scurried off towards the chalets. I followed at a distance until it disappeared around a couple bends and possibly back into the woods.
It looks like paying the big money and staying in the fancy rooms on the other side of the river might be worth it to have all the animals sauntering around outside your door.
The jungle walk last night was good fun. Our guide from the Orang Asli tour earlier in the day, Aris, took four of us off into the darkened jungle.
We first visited the Tahan hide where a number of eyes peered back at us in the distance and the darkness. Those gleaming eyes belonged to a group of Sambar Deer who were drinking from the small pool in the middle of the clearing. Aris’s flashlight lit up the small deer so we could see them going about their business. They eventually wandered off into the surrounding jungle.
We did the same. The half moon lit our way as we ambled past the trees and untold night creatures. Along the way, we saw small scorpions, spiders, crickets, enormous, brightly coloured grasshoppers, and my favourite, walking sticks. If ever I am going to get a pet bug, I think a walking stick is the way to go. They have some of the cleverest camouflage in nature – even when looking directly at them, you can hardly differentiate between them and the surrounding twigs.
Other encounters included one of the girls, Katy, getting buzzed by a bat in the darkness. None of us saw it, but we’ll take her word for it.
Our last animal encounter of the evening came as we had re-entered the rows of chalets near the park entrance. We had just passed one of the many animal crossing signs on the grounds of the resort and this one happened to be a ‘Snake Crossing’ sign. Just as Jenny had finished inquiring about the truthfulness of the signs and convincing herself that they were just playful additions to the d’cor, we stopped in our tracks. Dead ahead on the path was a small snake coiled and looking a little bit angry.
Aris warned us to give it a wide berth and while he may have been playing up the danger for dramatic effect, the thing did seem genuinely interested in getting a nibble of Aris’s ankle as he passed. Taking no chances, the rest of our small group stepped through the plants to the side (where I’m sure plenty more snakes were hiding).
This little night adventure was, of course, a great time, but I think the light from the half moon made it a little less intimidating than the similar walk I took in Peru. There, the blackness and the huge life of the jungle was just out of reach and ready to swallow you whole whenever it pleased. Here in Taman Negara, the moonlight kept the trees slightly at bay and you didn’t feel the forest encroaching into your space quite so invasively. The sounds of the forest here were also not as varied as in the Amazon.
There, it seemed like every creature ever to walk, hop, slither, crawl or fly was represented by the surrounding buzz. Here, the orchestra had fewer instruments. Truly both were beautiful, but I think I liked the intricacies of Peru’s jungle music. But, perhaps nothing will ever surpass my first jungle experience only because it was my first.
Either way, I’ll gladly try to put myself in the position where I get to do it again because each time is so haunting.
There it is again: the skin. The small, dark pellets of dying skin that balls up and sticks to your hand each time I wipe the sweat from my brow. Yup, I’m out of the mountains and now in the jungle.
But that’s no real worry since the jungle is a fine place to be. Close to the river’s edge and the town, the trails are well-worn and obvious so there’s no worry about getting lost for the amateur trekker, but if your cup of tea is a nine-day romp through thick underbrush, that’s a viable option (and surprisingly cheap too).
If I were feeling a bit more rugged and had more time, I would consider that option. As it is, more of Southeast Asia beckons. But possibly more importantly, I don’t feel like I have to prove my hardiness by subjecting myself to the jungle’s mysteries. While I’m sure I might come away with some wonderful photos, I think I may save such treks for when someone is actually paying me to go.
But even without entering deep into the jungle, there are plenty fun times to be had. On the bus over here from the Cameron Highlands, I met a good group of folks and we’ve banded together to make the wee journeys together. This morning, we ascended into the branches of the tall trees to walk along a lovely canopy swinging through the air. Much like the one I visited while in Ghana, this one was built out of metal ladders and wooden planks. The two members of our group with a fear of heights managed the trip successfully, but there was a bit of a worry that Katy wasn’t going to even make one step onto the suspended walkway when she came close to hyperventilating at its start.
Unlike the walkway in Ghana, this trip was not plagued by a monstrous tropical downpour. While the rain in Africa looked spectacular as it poured down and streaked past you to reach a forest floor hidden somewhere far below, I have to say I prefer taking my time in the nicer weather. Since there is so much wood surrounding me, I shall knock on some to hope that the drier climate prevails.
This afternoon’s trip was to another Orang Asli village. These people followed similar customs to the folks in the Cameron Highlands, but there were obvious differences. This village looked substantially less permanent than the one in the highlands. I suspect the conditions here are a bit more unfriendly – the jungle here seems more eager to consume the things of man than it does in the mountains. Also, I think there had been appropriation of more modern conveniences by the highlands’ people – t-shirts were present in both locations, but here, there seemed to be a smaller percentage of the village donning DKNY clothes.
We also learned a couple of tricks of theirs like how they start fires as well as the assembly of the blowpipe and darts. When I tried my hand at the blowpipe this time, I fared considerably better. I won’t be picking off monkeys in the trees anytime soon, but at least all my shots stuck in the target this time. Our joker of a guide intentionally misdirected my second shot when he exhorted me to aim higher than what would have been a straight and true shot. No bull’s eye for me.
I’m now killing a bit of time before I head off to do a night walk in the jungle. When I did the same sort of walk in Peru, I was overwhelmed by the sense of the life that’s surrounding you. It felt like the jungle could consume you at any point – that this mass of living breathing forest was very much allowing you to trod its soil and if it didn’t want you there, it could take you away. The constant sounds and mysterious noises from the dark are as intimidating as could be and even if we hadn’t seen any wildlife, it would have been very much worthwhile just to feel that force surrounding you.
I’m looking forward to what the world’s oldest rainforest has to whisper in the dark.
In the Cameron Highlands, you’re never far from a hilltop. So it’s not so remarkable that I’m currently typing from the top of a wee hill here at Father’s Guest House. The cool breeze is still a refreshing change after the heat of the rest of Southeast Asia. The nights have even managed to force me into an extra layer of clothes.
I’m not constantly dripping in sweat and I don’t have to endlessly replenish fluids. When I scratch my neck, my fingernails don’t immediately return in a blackened state from the filthy skin desperately trying to escape my overheated body. That equatorial sun still can take a toll, but at least I don’t feel like I’m being baked in the process.
It’s almost like a pleasant spring day. Everyday. You could make cloud watching into a sport here. The wind sweeps puffy shapes through the air so rapidly you get rained on before you see the cloud that’s pelting you. But the rain is rarely anything to fret about – it too is brushed away by the wind in a few minutes.
I’ve spent the last few days wandering about the area both on my own and with a couple of tours in Land Rovers. My first full day here, I hopped on a bus and proceeded to wait for almost an hour before it went anywhere – I spent that time trying not to listen to an old man next to me babble on about who knows what to himself. And when I say babble, I mean practically shout. Of course, he was speaking some foreign language I didn’t recognize, but I’m pretty sure he wasn’t saying anything coherent.
Once the bus had actually started moving, I found myself at the Kea Farms, a group of farms where just about anything that can be grown is indeed grown there. Vegetables, flowers, cacti, fruit, and any other plant you could fit in a car is on sale there in a series of nurseries to make any gardener envious. In addition to the plants, there is a honey bee farm and a butterfly garden. The bees were as friendly as bees get and buzzed around the nearby flowers. The butterflies were plentiful and docile which lead me to learn a valuable lesson.
The lesson is this: having your macro lens is more important than having clean underwear. I made the terrible error of leaving my macro lens in Kuala Lumpur. I’m really not sure what I was thinking there. I mean, the butterflies of the Cameron Highlands and the other creepy crawlies I’ve seen here beg for this lens! To say nothing of what I might see when I arrive in Taman Negara in just over a day. I truly failed myself there since my other lenses couldn’t really capture the images I could have with the macro. When in KL, I reasoned that I could fit a couple pairs of underwear into the space occupied by the lens. But really, if I had just worn my raincoat around my waist instead of cramming it into my tiny bag, all this wouldn’t have been an issue. Oh well.
After the butterfly farm and my irritation with my lack of foresight, I consoled myself with fresh strawberry juice at a farm where you can pick your own berries. I followed that up with a strawberry milkshake. Yum. They just take a huge scoop of strawberries fresh from the vines and blend them all up in front of you to delicious perfection. So good I was compelled to get another one the next day.
The late afternoons and evenings here have largely been occupied by the movies that are always being shown in the common area here at the guesthouse, so that’s been nice and relaxing. Yesterday I saw Crash (very good) and, for the first time since I lived in Japan, the tail end of Lost in Translation. After living there, the movie is that much better – they got so many good details in there.
A couple days ago, I was scheduled for a full-day tour of the area, but it turned into a half-day when the main road through the highlands was closed down for Malaysia’s answer to the Tour de France: the Tour de Langkawi. Cyclists were climbing the area’s mountains in what must be one of the more difficult legs of the race while locals congregated along the roadsides to cheer on the riders.
With my strawberry milkshake in hand, I watched the race with a couple of nice girls from England who have become good companions here in the highlands. All the while, we wondered why anyone would really go out of their way to come watch cycling unless they knew someone in the race.
It progressed like this: Wait for almost two hours. Watch the leader pass. Cheer. Wait for a couple minutes. Watch second and third place go past. Cheer. Wait five minutes. Watch a pack of riders pass. Cheer (and watch the locals cheer extra hard for the Malaysian riders). Wait some more. Repeat. Not much to it. Perhaps if body checking was allowed, or there were obstacles in the way, or, the truly Canadian solution: put the cyclists on ice, give them sticks and make the chase around a rubber disc. Bike hockey! It could be huge.
The morning that day was a little more entertaining. We started by taking in some nice views of the area’s tea plantations before visiting the tea factory. It was surprisingly more interesting than I had expected. Too bad much of the information I learned has already left my head so I won’t be able to sip tea and pompously prattle on about the tea making process in a British accent. Because I do accents so well…
The Land Rover then wound it’s way up the highest peak in the region where we took in the views from a lookout tower and tried not to get blown off the side of the mountain by the gusts.
A short way down the mountain, we stopped once more and our guides detailed the various potential uses of the area’s plants. I now know how to kill a person by using various poisons. My particular favourite is the one that will make a person have a heart attack six months after they have ingested the plant. Don’t cross me folks.
Our trek through the mossy forest was next. Pants covered in mud, we dodged the low branches and tripped over roots while searching for pitcher plants and other wewird and wonderful flora. The pitcher plant is one of the few carnivorous plants in the world. It has a small receptacle where water collects then is mixed into a sweet juice that attracts insects. The hapless creatures drop in, sip some of the nectar, get drunk and quickly find it hard to get out of the slippery petals.
I was supposed to be making a visit to a village of the Orang Asli (meaning ‘original people’) in the area in the afternoon but thanks to the area’s Lance Armstrongs, that wasn’t possible. So, I have decided to stay up here in the cool for an extra day.
This morning was that village visit. The Land Rover made good use of its suspension on the ride there and back on some of the bumpiest roads I have ever experienced. In fact, I can’t recall bouncing around in a car much more than here.
Before hitting the village, we checked out some local vegetable and flower farms where the relatively rare ‘dancing lady’ flowers were growing. They now have their dancing lady moniker after enough people snickered at their former epithet: ‘the golden shower.’
Once at the village, we first visited a nearby waterfall and checked out the poisonous spiders spinning huge webs across our path. At the village, we sampled the Orang Asli’s tea and tried their tapioca. This recharged us for when we learned how to use a blowpipe. I don’t know how long I would last as an Orang Asli hunter – I only tried a couple times, but my first shot was well off the mark. My second was straight and true, but failed to stick into the target. Had I been truly hunting, my prey would have gotten little more than a tickle before scurrying off. Good thing I’m a vegetarian.
We briefly wandered about the village where bamboo houses stand a meter or two off the ground to keep from flooding and rotting. Unfortunately, most of the children were off at school or hiding in some other place. The couple that did show their faces were cute as could be and got a big kick out of seeing their image on my digital camera. Maybe I’ll have better luck and get to interact with a few more people if I get to visit another such village in Taman Negara.
Now, here in the middle of the afternoon, I now have enough time to do some thorough relaxing up in the cool air. I’ll have to make the most of it before I head to the sea level heat.
Lonely Planet calls Georgetown, the old-town heart of the island of Penang off the northwestern coast of peninsular Malaysia, ‘a fabulous city and a highlight of any itinerary.’ I don’t think they really visited this place.
If I were in the guidebook business and had to write an entry for Georgetown, it would probably go something like this: ‘This rat-infested hellhole is filled with the most unfriendly, unwelcoming, unhelpful people you may ever meet. But the garbage strewn through the streets has a stench that’s unbeatable!’
Yeah, Penang kinda sucks.
I will except Kek Lok Si temple from the above description. The hillside Buddhist temple is the largest in Malaysia and it is definitely worth a visit if you already happen to be stuck here. An enormous bronze Bodhisattva statue and a towering pagoda are a couple of the highlights here. Also, at dusk, for the Chinese New Year, the whole temple was illuminated by gaudy lights wired to every corner of every building. Remember Clark Griswald’s Christmas lights in ‘Christmas Vacation’? It was a lot like that except with a bigger area to set aglow.
One last highlight of the temple for me was the vegetarian restaurant at its base. Yum. I went for a late lunch and I had hoped to time it so that I could visit for dinner again, but I left it too long and they were closed upon my second arrival. How disappointing.
But that has been the least of my disappointments with this city. Here’s an example: As I was setting out for my trip to Penang Hill, I had to wait about an hour for a bus to arrive. During that time, I counted 12 rats. Big deal right? Well it is for me. Up until yesterday, I had only ever seen a couple rats in my life (that weren’t in cages) and one of those times was only a couple weeks ago in Kuala Lumpur.
You see, my home province of Alberta has a no-rat policy. That’s right, you can’t find a wild rat in Alberta. And I love the place for it. In fact, you never hear an Albertan say, ‘Boy I wish I had seen a rat in streets today.’ It just doesn’t happen.
So, having only seen a couple of them in my lifetime, I have not yet been desensitized to their pestilent shapes slinking through city streets. A dozen of the disgusting vermin was a bit much of an introduction for me.
Perhaps, however, it was the rotting meat smeared across the pavement that was drawing them to the area of the bus stop. Ah, fetid mystery meat. Is there any nose that doesn’t love your stink? Well, yes as a matter of fact there is: mine. Too bad there’s not much escaping it here.
Okay that’s all fine and good. I can deal with some dirt, some pests and perhaps the odd bit of expired food. These are experiences one has to occasionally accept while travelling.
What gets me here are the people. With the exception of a couple of people, most notably the happy and helpful dude at the hostel next door to mine, everyone here is a dick. Flash someone a smile and it returns to you as a grimace. Walk past someone in the street and they will either stare right through you or glare unwaveringly in your direction like they want to start a fight with you (and a couple days ago, nothing would have given me more satisfaction than to beat one of these rude bastards to a pulp).
Say ‘please’ or ‘thank you’ and you will be ignored – forget about hearing it back. This spirit of brotherly malevolence even extends to the kids. In just about every city I have visited, a wave or a smile to a passing kid yields some kind of smile or wave in response, perhaps a ‘hello’ or, if they are shy, a cute withdrawal to a parent’s protective arms. Nope, not here. Instead, they look back at you with eyes that say, ‘Why the hell are you here? You’re not wanted.’
Direct conversation with the locals is pointless. After a whole day of dealing with the rudeness ubiquitous in this city, I went to try to find some dinner. I landed at some Mexican place where I sat down and a couple minutes later had the chef come out and literally shout at me, ‘What do you want?’ Well, a menu would have been a good start, but apparently that was too much to ask. I went and got one for myself. I glanced it over and asked if I could get a vegetable fajita. I got yelled at again, ‘No vegetable! Only beef!’ It was like the soup nazi had started a Mexican joint in Penang. Sick of this wretch, I tossed down the menu and left without uttering the words I wanted to.
I don’t know, this really doesn’t sound so bad when I look at what I’ve written, but I think I might not be conveying just how rude every person’s gesture was towards me. It was relentless and by the end of the day, I had to restrain myself when some pimp muttered something at me as I passed by. I ignored him as I hadn’t even understood what he said. Then he made it more clear, ‘Pussy pussy?’
I stopped in my tracks and turned back to him and I genuinely felt like getting violent with him. Straw that broke the camel’s back I suppose – my sense of humour about the whole day was finished.
Rather than berate him with the invective I wanted to about how he should probably consider getting a real job instead of sexually exploiting some young girl, I gave him my best stinkeye and moved on. I doubt I’ll be changing the course of this guy’s life through heated debate, so I chose not to fight that battle.
Probably just one of those days. Soaring heat and incessant impropriety got me down and I had had enough. I’m now trying to roll with the punches. It should be easier since I’m leaving here tomorrow. I’m finding myself a bit more able to laugh of the overtly rude talk of people who should be helpful, by just dismissing it with a simple, ‘Bloody’ Penang…’ and carrying on.
Quite the place.
Two days ago, I was lying on a stretcher in a brightly lit and far-too-cool doctor’s office in Malaysia with an IV sticking into my right wrist. Antibiotics flowed from a bag above, down a long plastic tube, and into my veins. An old copy of National Geographic rested precariously in my one useable hand. I was reading an article about the claims various nations were making to territories in the South China Sea – the part of the world in which I happened to be located.
The article detailed the author’s travels through the area while he attempted to gauge the attitudes of those who will be affected by the conflicting claims on the region. At one point, he described his experience hitching a ride with a cargo ship and learning along the way of the risks of piracy in these waters. At that point, he stated something along these lines: ‘The romantic fabric of travelling sometimes does not stretch far enough to cover up the realities of what you are facing.’ I am paraphrasing, but that was the gist of his point. This point forced a deep sigh of understanding from my enfeebled lungs.
Tonight, I find those words resonating with me still. Soon, I will take four different kinds of pills, a sachet of dissolvable powder, and two teaspoons of cough syrup. After that, I will hook myself up to a machine that will pump medicine into my lungs. If I don’t, I may not be able to breath properly. Such is pneumonia.
A fever came suddenly three weeks ago. One minute I was running an errand and feeling a little sluggish, two hours later, I was in bed, hoping the sheets would not reach their flashpoint from the heat I was radiating. With the classic run-over-by-a-bus flu feeling, I lay in bed for a couple days, completely useless.
On about the third day, I woke to find myself in a puddle. No, it was not a nightmare that had forced me to regress and wet the bed. Instead, it was the fever breaking (or so I thought). Sweat had poured from every pore and left a darkened outline on the bed. The scene resembled a filled-in chalk outline of a corpse. After finding some replacement sheets, I went back to bed and soaked those as well.
The night’s perspirations brought optimism in the morning. ‘One more doctor’s office dodged,’ I thought since I felt well enough to actually step outside into the city. In comparison with the previous day, I felt like a marathon runner, but in reality, I was still quite under the weather. But optimism prevailed and I carried on as though delivering a clean bill of health to myself was a perfectly normal and medically-acceptable practice.
That’s when the cough started. First, a tickle. Then a wheeze or two. Then, a doubled-over, throat and lung spasm that left me whimpering after each attack. Oh yeah, and the fever and aches came back too.
When this worsened condition of mine persisted, I relented and went to the doctor. My determination that I could fix anything that was wrong with me had failed. My fears of doctors sticking sharp objects into me were pushed aside by my slightly greater fear that there was something genuinely wrong with me.
And indeed there was. My worried doctor pronounced right away that he thought I might have a minor case of pneumonia. Soon, those fears of mine of doctors sticking sharp things into me became true. My first experience with an IV had me grimacing the whole way thorough.
The clinic I visited was recommended to me by all the expats I had met so far here in Malaysia. Foreign patients are their specialty. This place has become my home away from hotel. The good doctors there have been slowly filling me with small puncture holes and with medicine. I have shown signs of improvement which gives rise to optimism, but still, I believe I have hit a temporary travel limit.
The mind’s connection with the body is obviously such that changes to your body affect changes to your mind. Do enough nasty things to your body and some of that abuse is likely to manifest itself in your thought patterns.
Where once an extended conversation with a charming cab driver about his indomitable passion for karaoke would have had me grinning the whole day, now that conversation is somewhat one-sided because I have to cough and wheeze my way through it. Where once the kids at the markets playing with their toys would have found a new playmate in me, I pass by because I’m on my way back to the hotel to sleep. Where once a sunset would captivate me and send me trotting off to find the best angle to photograph it, I can only watch from my hotel window because I don’t have the energy to haul my gear to a good vantage point.
This miserable attitude has no place in my luggage. I would much rather my spirit be lifted by all of the extraordinary experiences of travel, but when your body doesn’t enjoy the journey, your mind tends to follow along.
With that knowledge in mind, I am doing everything I can to heal this body of mine and with it, my attitude.
And soon, I will be heading home. After more than 13 months of being separated from my family and friends, we will be reunited. My head will rest on a familiar pillow and my lungs will breathe their native air. I have my fingers crossed that the air of my home will trigger a memory of health in my lungs and they will once again function normally. Barring that, I will rest.
I will rest knowing that all of this will soon just be another adventure tale to tell. I will sleep with the knowledge that as my body heals, so will my head. And after my convalescence is complete, I will wake up with itchy feet, wondering where I should go next.
Note to self: Future roommate selection screening processes shall include means of evaluating the sanity of the potential sharer of your dwelling.
That said, I am now laughing at the absurdity of now being homeless in Kuala Lumpur and adjusting my plans for the future so that they don’t revolve around living here in Malaysia. Time to decide what to explore next!
Well, it’s been a ridiculously long time since I’ve done any writing. I hardly know where to begin. I last wrote about my experiences being enthusiastically tackled by Japanese four year-olds while teaching kindergarten and that feels like it was about a year ago.
Since then, I’ve compressed a year’s worth of experiences into the last few months. I’ve grown immensely close with a number of my friends from Japan, worked my butt off, turned 30, watched others turn other ages (usually younger), sang hours and hours of karaoke, said more painful goodbyes than I ever needed to, visited Tokyo with my sister, travelled in Hong Kong, moved to Kuala Lumpur, and started a new life.
So, I haven’t had journal keeping as a top priority for a while now. However, as I settle into my new home in KL, I hope that perhaps I will eventually get more time to record some of my thoughts and experiences. A number of the events of the last few months deserve their own entries and I may retroactively fill in some of the gaps. We’ll see if life cooperates with this endeavour. If my Internet connection remains as terrible as it is now, we may be in luck – I can write in between page loads’
My fantastic winter vacation to Bali and Malaysia has gone largely undocumented in the written word. My camera, however, was rarely resting, so some idea of my trip’s stories should be available by browsing through my many pixels.
January was largely occupied by re-acquainting myself with Japan and my work routine, developing a (rejected) proposal for taking paid leave during the March school break, attempting to figure out what I wanted to do with my life in the near future and dealing with all of the ensuing drama and stress.
The dust has now settled and here’s what’s in store for me: When my contract with JET is finished, I will be accepting an invitation to come to Kuala Lumpur to be the roommate of my earstwhile travelling partner. There, I will be allowed to enjoy a low cost of living and build up my business as a full-time photographer. It’s scary as hell, but pretty damn exciting too.