Malaysia Southeast Asia

Terror, Power, and Tandoori Chicken

Current Location: Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia
Current  Weather: 77°F (feels like 86°F)
Days Gone: 199
Days Remaining: 17
With less than three weeks until my return the world is beginning to spin faster. It is as if the planet itself is trying to gain enough momentum to launch me back into a society that moves at a different speed. Two days ago I was clutching to the back of a motorbike while it flew through heavy traffic, passing with only inches to spare between bigger vehicles, running red lights, and generally spending as much time in the wrong lane as possible. My driver and cohort was oblivious to my terror. I decided, as I felt the heat of another car’s brake lights on my knee as we swerved around it, that if I survived this journey I would write about it. Thus, you have the above. For I did survive, and in doing so I’ve discovered that I much prefer being the operator of fast and deadly vehicles, not the helpless passenger.

Despite said dangers, our unfaithful steed bore us to Penang National Park, where we trekked into the dense monkey-infested jungle and arrived, at great length and covered in sweat, on a fairly private beach pocked with massive crab holes. The blue-green waters spoke of  relief, so we shed our salt-soaked shirts and swam. Before long, we were joined by a cautious and stealthy sea otter which spent most of its time examining us from a safe distance. Its head would vanish and pop up elsewhere, not unlike Whack-A-Mole from the days of old.

I have finally realized why it is that monkeys feel the need to attack me. And really, it’s all their fault. You see, monkeys happen to instinctively identify bared teeth as a challenge to fierce physical combat. As such, when I laugh at their silly ways and silly faces, they think I am challenging them to a dual. And when a human duals a monkey, nobody wins. So should you find yourself confronted by a monkey with the silliest of faces, even if said monkey is wearing a jester’s cap, do not, under any circumstance, laugh at the monkey. For it will attempt to eat you, and it will start with your bare ankles.

Almost without even trying, I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving consistently since my arrival on Penang, Isle of Food. I must say, though, I’ve sampled all the top Malay dishes from local establishments, and they are all still trumped by Indian cuisine. As such, the image to the right was (one of) my Thanksgiving dinner(s).

I’ve been in Southeast Asia for nearly two hundred days, and I think I’ve avoided writing anything on this blog that might be seen as culturally insensitive. But all that is about to change. I fully understand that many different cultures use many different utensils and practice many different methods of eating. That is all fine and good. I like variety. When eating Pad Thai or any fried noodle dish, I would sooner take up chopsticks than I would a fork. When eating a sandwich or french fries, I use my hands. And of course, should I find myself eating steak, I think the most convenient tools would be a knife/fork combination. However, when enjoying Indian cuisine, the traditional method seems to be the use a single hand. By employing deft thumb movements, one can shovel food from the palm and remaining digits into one’s mouth. I used this method myself many months ago when I found myself sharing a meal of rice and chicken in the wilderness with a tiny Hmong girl. And after I learned the proper technique it worked quite well.

That said, eating heavily sauced rice with your hand is something that, even after a lifetime of training, can end in messy defeat. The other day I was sitting in a restaurant enjoying my meal with the spoon/fork combo. An Indian gentleman at another table tackled his with the hand method. As a result, he had curry and rice not only on his hand, but also spread about his mouth and on his shirt. I watched, amazed, taking another bite of rice and beef curry with my spoon. As another bit of rice fell to his shirt and I couldn’t help but think, “Dude, there’s just a better way.” So there you have it. Culturally insensitive or not, there are times when hand-eating is simply the inferior method. If any Indians (or other eat-with-your-handers) are reading this, feel free to sacrifice me in the comments section and defend saucy hands everywhere!

I’ll keep this brief, but I want talk for a moment about power. I believe that everything is relative. And I mean everything. Power is no exception. The most powerful person in the world is the person who has the most control over you, your life, and your decisions. Therefore, the most powerful person in existence, my dear reader, is you. Uncle Ben was right though, with great power comes great responsibility. What will you do with all your power?

Last thing consumed: Did you see those pictures above?
Thought fragment: I think, should I have such a grand opportunity upon my return, I’m going to opt out of the new TSA death ray scanners just to get the complimentary groping everyone is getting so excited about.

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Malaysia Southeast Asia

Same Same, But Different

Current Location: Pulau Langkawi, Malaysia
Current  Weather: 90°F (feels like 107°F)
Days Gone: 161
Days Remaining: 55

First off we have a tiny bit of business to attend to. If anyone has clicked the Donate link to the right, they have seen that donations are not intended to go to me, but instead to the Wanderlust Lending Team at For Kiva’s 5-Year Anniversary they are offering a $25 loan credit to anyone who invites five people. If you’ve considered lending before, now is the best time because you can your $25 donation would actually contribute $30! You can read more about Kiva at their website or on the Donate page here. If you are interested in participating, send a quick email to with the subject line “Kiva.” I’ll send you an invite within 24 hours. Just keep in mind that the offer expires at the end of October. You can still join after that time, of course, but Kiva will no longer be offering additional loan credit. Now on to the travel stuff.

I escaped Cambodia the very same day my visa expired, which seems to be a bad habit I’ve formed. But last minute escapes are cinematic, no? Back in Thailand on a fifteen day transit visa (aiming for Malaysia) I decided to stop off at an island called Ko Chang. For all intents and purposes, I told myself the detour was “on the way” to Bangkok anyway. I arrived after dark due to some painfully disorganized buses at the border crossing. Little did I know that I would not see the sun for five days. My first afternoon a monsoon struck the island with deadly force. I’m not kidding, seven people died due to landslides and the island lost power for 60 hours. During this time I drained the batteries of my laptop and iPod and read nearly three novels. I also watched the cats hunt geckos. Determined to see the island in sunlight, I hung around for a few more days – though even after the power returned, the rain continued. Finally, on day five, the sun appeared for two hours. I visited the beach but saw only rocks, trash, and a few miserable tourists. At least I got some free barbecue at a bar one night and, due to power outages, negotiated a lower room rate. On day six I cut my losses and fled for Bangkok. But the rain followed me there, too.

From Bangkok I moved south as far as I could on one ticket. The result was a city called Had Yai not terribly far from Malaysia. From there I tried to get a ticket into Malaysia, but the local bus station only offered tickets to the border. So that’s where I went. I walked across the Thai-Malaysian border at around 3:30 PM on a Sunday. I had decided to try to go to another island (the sun was shining again!) called Pulau Langkawi. The nearest port was an hour away and no buses ran there. So I hired a taxi to take me the whole way for about $12. Now here I am, and I might stay quite a while. Malaysia was kind enough to give me a 90 day visa for free. There is a solid Indian population on the island, which is awesome because they all speak English and I’m going to eat curry until I pop. I’ve been here almost 48 hours now and haven’t seen a drop of rain, not even the typical afternoon shower. It is hot though, this is the furthest South I’ve ever been.

I feel like I should apologize for the “…and then I did this”-style of post. I was debating what to write about, but the past two weeks or so have mostly been transit, rainstorms, and basic living. And I guess that’s the interesting thing. I’ve always said that travel is a lifestyle, but I think now this holds true (for me) more than ever before, though perhaps from a slightly different perspective. I am still living, I just happen to be in Malaysia. Take today for instance: I got up early. I found a new local breakfast joint and had some yellow rice, curry, and eggs. I went for a run on the beach. I took care of some internet business (emails, web articles, Facebook, Skype). I went and had a lunch of lamb curry and white rice. I returned to the beach. I read a few chapters of fiction. Then I came back to my dorm and took a cold shower. Next I started writing this post. It’s been a relaxing day. After this I’ll probably head back to the beach to do some writing and watch the sunset. Then I’ll go get some dinner, come back “home,” watch a movie on my laptop, and go to bed. Aside from the context, the day itself is not that unusual. Like I said, I just happen to be in Malaysia. Living.

Last thing consumed: Lamb Curry and White Rice, at only $1.60 – I think I’ll stay awhile.
Thought fragment: Being a Muslim country, alcohol is heavily taxed and absurdly priced. You can buy alcohol free beer at the minimart for US$2 a bottle to play pretend. I think, as a result of this, my stay in Malaysia will be very…hydrating.

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