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Mastering the Art of Nonconformity

16 Oct

Weary of solo travel and curious about the green-ness of the grass on the other side, I joined an two-week overland tour from Bangkok to Singapore.  The tour is bare bones, providing only budget accommodation and transportation.  It’s me and 12 others — 6 Brits, 3 Dutch, 2 Italians, and 1 German.

I’m on the purple route.

It took about 1 minute for the nonconformity sequence to initiate in my head.  Feeling sillily principled, I refused to be leashed around and shown the sights, dang it!  After all, I high-mindedly reasoned, I’m not here to see things anyway; I’m here to feel things.  And so I quickly lived up to my billing as “the American.”

On Ko Pha Ngan, when the rest of the group went snorkeling and elephant riding, I paid a boatman 100 baht to deliver me a couple beaches over.

Boatman.

Thank you, Mr. Boatman!

On Ko Samui, when the rest of the group went on some jungle jeep tour, I met Jamie from Denver in a strip joint and went cruising around the island on his motorbike.

*Okay, clarification on how I ended up in a Thai strip joint: I walked all over looking for a cafe with wireless internet.  Finally I see a decent-looking place with a French sign so I stop in and ask if they have wifi.  The dude says yes so I sit down, order a drink, and crank up my computer. Then I see the wireless network name: “Tams Naughty Girls.”  And then I turn around.*

For the record, Jamie ended up in the strip joint for the same reason as me.

I was supposed to meet our bus at 4:30, but we got lost (shocker!) so I called our Thai tour guide and told him I was on a motorbike and was lost and could he please pick me up at the nearest landmark… the Bangkok Samui Hospital. Things got lost in translation: he thought I crashed a motorbike and was in the hospital.  He almost rang my neck.  Oops.

And today in Tanah Rata, Malaysia, when the rest of the group went to see some aboriginal rainforest village, I signed up for the “countryside excursion” that took me to a tea plantation, strawberry field, rose garden, bee farm, butterfly and reptile farm, and a Chinese temple (groan on the temple front).

Malaysia’s Cameron Highlands.

Workers pluck the tea bushes about every 3 weeks when new shoots grow.

Two Malaysian women on the excursion were nice to me.  In the market square, I noticed them shopping for glass bead bracelets.  So back in the van, when one of the women saw my own glass bead bracelet and interestedly asked how much I had paid for it, I said it was from home and happily slid it from my wrist onto hers.  They were tickled, and so was I.

They are sisters.

On the last stop of the day, the women returned with sheepish grins on their faces and presented me with a bracelet they had bought for me in return:

What’s right with the world.

A Tumble in Thailand

14 Oct

Long time, no post!  All the catching up I have to do is overwhelming me.  So let’s just start with today.

This morning, at 6:30 a.m., I decided to go for a run down the streets of Nakhon Si Thammarat, Thailand with a 23-year-old Dutch girl named Anita.  Thai people were out in droves setting up for some street festival (with giant floats of fresh flowers and golden Buddhas!), and they were all staring at us in amazement because (1) we were white and (2) we were running (the developing world does not seem to understand the concept of running for any purpose other than you need to get somewhere fast).

Then I fell off a 2-foot curb, twisted my ankle, and did three barrel rolls down the street.  Let me tell you, the Thai people really didn’t know what to think then.  Festival preparation came to a screeching halt as I became the street spectacle.  People took pictures of me writhing on the pavement in pain/shock/befuddlement.  Another guy started blessing my knee (which he obviously thought was the source of the injury).  Yet another guy pulled up a Unabomber van, at which point there was a crowd effort to try to get me to go in the van to the hospital.

Amidst all the Thai squawking, tough-as-nails Anita declared me healthy enough to walk the 30 minutes home.  We stopped at a pharmacy, where the pharmacist spoke zero English and clearly thought we were idiots.  Nevertheless, Anita managed to procure some sort of anesthetic gel and an ankle wrap.

I limped back to our hotel and then spent the next 10 hours in a van en route to Malaysia.

So now I’m in Penang, Malaysia, where I’m spending the night at a place on par with the Bates Motel from Psycho.  I would classify the state of my twisted [c]ankle as very good:

And hopefully even better in the morning because I’m currently enjoying some ice and elevation:

I am more concerned at the moment about the sign posted on the door of my lovely sketchy hotel.