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Weather has opened up. Way more sunny today. Looks like that typhoon isn't going to hit Koh Samui.
More good news. I found a cheap place in a quiet location. On the south coast on a beach called Thong Krut. AND there's room.
This doesn't look good. This morning the waves look too aggitated.
I checked the local weather report and it seems like there's a tropical typhoon headed this way. Great just great.
I'll stay until the 26th then cut my trip short and head back to Malaysia. I briefly considered salvaging this trip by visiting other places in Thailand. But the entire of Thailand is affected by the typhoon so the weather is going to be bad everywhere else, even into inland into Chiang Mai.
I'm canceling my boat tour of the islands and the marine park that I have scheduled for tomorrow. Too dangerous. I doubt the tour operator will give me back my money, so I'll have to chalk it up to another lesson learned about bad planning.
Till then I'll make the best of my time on Koh Samui and take an island tour by elephant instead.
It took 21 hours by bus, van and boat but I finally made it Koh Samui. The van journey took the longest. Well, it felt like the longest. The suspension on the van was so poor my ass felt like a prison playground when I alighted. Not that I've been to prison. I just watch a lot of Shawshank Redemption.
I'm staying at the Galaxy Resort on Lamai beach. Per square mile, there are more white faces here than there are locals. I hear more English accents than I do Thai. Fuckers.
I wanted to stay at Samui Silver Beach, an isolated resort recommended by Michael because it had a small bay to itself, but I chickened out and opted for the luxury location near the shops and restaurants. I'm telling myself it's only for the next few days while I get my bearings. My reservation runs out on the 26th when the hotel will be full and I'll be looking for other accommodations.
Today I'm doing the walkaround Lamai and the nearby beaches up to Chaweng beach, some 8 kilometres north. The weather doesn't look too good. It's overcast but the beach is beautiful. Clean fine sand.
Don't check back here until January 3. While there are internet cafes in Koh Samui, I won't be uploading any pictures. Internet cafes tend to secure their computers, disallowing access to the back where the USB ports are. And I don't really want to publish without the accompanying pictures.
But I will continue to prepare material on my laptop along the way.
Koh Samui is a tiny island in the bay of Thailand near the Thai-Malaysia border. I'll be there for the next 12 days.
I've packed my compactable 100-litre green Wynsster backpack. Inside:
2) RM40 bus ticket to Haadyai (a town across the border)
4) iBook recharger
5) Mobile phone
6) Mobile phone recharger
8) A couple changes of t-shirts, shorts and underwear
9) A pair of coral-green island slippers
10) Thailand guide book
11) 'Fresh Air Fiend' by Paul Theroux
12) Two towels (a bath towel and a beach towel)
13) Cap (BBC branded)
14) 5 litre backpack for walking around with
15) Fuji Finepix digital camera
16) 4 spare AA batteries
17) USB cable to connect camera with iBook
18) Two types of suntan lotion (SPF 12 and SPF 8)
19) 10,000 baht (Thai currency) equivalent of USD$230
I leave on the 10pm overnight bus and will reach the border at about 5am. The border only opens at 6am so I should be in Haadyai by 8am. And from there, another bus to the town of Krabi, then a bus to the sea-town of Surat Thani and a ferry to Koh Samui.
I left Pangkor on the Tuesday noon ferry. Slightly tanned, massively sunburned. Eager to explore other islands around Malaysia.
Not that Pangkor was bad. Rather, island holidays are appealing to me. And I'd someday like to find the perfect Malaysian beach. Somewhere there has to be a huge sparsely populated beach with clean white powdery sand and plenty of sunshine.
And not forgeting a cheap but comfortable room with air-conditioning and hot water. I'm not so adventurous as to completely rough it.
I learn nothing today. Except that travel brochures lie.
No matter how many times you've seen it, do not attempt to hang a hammock between two coconut trees. The laws of gravity, as outlined by one Isaac "I'm Never Eating Apples Again" Newton, still apply to hard-shelled head-smashing coconuts.
Nipah Bay (Monday afternoon)
I ended up at Nipah Bay on Monday afternoon after I checked out of Pan Pacific. Even if I wanted to stay, Pan Pacific was fully booked. Apparently the hot water problem involved the entire wing where I stayed and made several rooms unfit to take guests.
Nipah Bay is about 2 kilometres (a little over a mile) south of Pan Pacific on Pangkor island. I got a room at the beach front hotel of Horizon Inn. It used to be a wooden Malay stilt house facing the bay but an enterprising Chinese man bought the place and turned into a complete resort with a restaurant, a gift shop, a convenience store and 12 guest rooms. In the off-season, it's under USD$25 per night, cheap enough for backpackers.
The beach is a light khaki colour and is about a kilometre and a half long. It faces a coral reef so the sand is moist and mixed with coral bits, mixing into it a whitish colour. But the grains are far less fine compared to the beach at Pan Pacific. You can't make a decent sand castle from it and expect it to stand.
It is crowded here. I walk to the furthest end of the beach, away from the stretch of chalets and hotels to a relatively quiet spot. I sit there for hours, making myself indistinguishable from a turnip.
That is, if turnips could get sunburn.
I wake up 7am but don't get up till half an hour later.
I take a walk along the beach to where a buffet of local and continental cuisine has been prepared for breakfast. A dark-skinned man, with a hard-brush, is sweeping away the debris that the tide brought in the night before while behind him, half a dozen children play in the escaping tide.
On the horizon, I spy two fishing trawlers -- two of the fleet I saw go out to sea last evening to do some night fishing -- stubbornly refusing to come in with their catch. The reddish rays of the morning sun highlight them against the purple sea like graffitti on a stone wall.
I have no plans.
Pangkor island (Sunday afternoon)
If anybody wanted to reach you while you were on Pangkor, they'd have to resort to calling your hotel room -- which I reckon would most likely be empty. Mobile phone technology does not reach this part of the world. Nor will it likely ever. Nor do I want it to.
We reached Pangkor at about half past four. But not before some haggling with several hotel clerks trying to get a room for the night. Finally we ended up at the Pan Pacific which has its own beach, facing the setting sun. It guarded the privacy of its guests with a sentry post at the mouth of the private road leading into the estate through its nine-hole golf course.
By the time Shan and I reached the Pan Pacific, the sky was clouding up in the distance, signaling an impending storm. The tide was far from docile and the land-bound winds were picking up. That was forgivable compared to the horrible beach -- pollution had turned the sand the colour of my dead grandmother's skin.
The room we received was rather well done, with Balinese furniture throughout and wood panel flooring. Its assets were that it had a patio that faced the beach and that it had a beautiful bathroom of almost equal size to the room. I am always impressed by people who place a huge importance on the bathroom. We spend an inordinate amount of time in the bathroom which is often underestimated.
I quite liked the fact that the Pan Pacific was isolated and it is very pretty. But I don't think the price was worth the lousy beach. Which is just as well that I didn't pay the full amount. There also wasn't any hot water in the room and the manager finally relented and gave us a 60% discount. Neither did I pay for the meals.
Hindu temple in Lumut (Sunday noon)
It was so hot, by the time I got back, there were two dead flies on the passenger seat of the car. Flied just the way I like them.
Shan and I stopped over at the Hindu temple on the way to the ferry to Pangkor. The temple was little more than a rough-hewn cement dias with a corrugated roof on four posters and no walls.
The cement platform lay in the middle of a barren field surrounded by oil palms, reflecting the simplicity and impoverishment of its congregation. By the time we arrived, there was a small pile of slippers at the bottom of the temple, left by the devotees before they stepped up to the temple.
Shan is a devotee at this temple and the 16th of December was chosen as the day to consecrate a new 9-foot tall statue of the goddess Kali, the keeper of the underworld.
The statue was a huge grotesque fetish made of stone and clay with wide open gold-leaf eyes and skin painted little-boy blue. Kali was depicted having a belt of severed limbs and a necklance of severed heads. Her tongue stuck out as if to get a taste of the fresh departed souls that she would find on her plate.
The ceremony began at noon with the burning of sweet-smelling incense, the simple sacrifice of flower petals on flames and chanting by the priests. It quickly turned to outright passionate devotion by the several of the devotees.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw one of the priests suddenly fall to the ground and shake violently. He was followed by a skinny devotee doing some dirty dancing to music only he could hear.
I would speak to the priest a short while later and he would seem a like a normal easy-going guy, with an instant smile -- nothing like the screaching felon I beheld.
The congregation grew from just two dozen to two hundred within an hour. Cars piled up along the dirt road, offloading the faithful. The mood began to build as fast as the hypnotic beat of the drums played by the temple band.
Shan was very affected by the ceremony, as was everyone. People moved the music, some fainted. I saw him put a lit paper candle into the mouth of a priest who promptly swallowed it. The next thing I know, Shan was putting on a belt with bells (signifying the belt of limbs Kali wore) and was smoking strange cigar to enhance the trance. It was pungeant with the scent of rot instead of wood and spice.
I showed him pictures of it later and he said he couldn't recognise himself. When the priests told him later that he had also walked on sharpened knives during the trance, he turned to me. "Tim," he said,"you have witnessed something not many people have."
To Sitiawan (Saturday midnight)
At about midnight Saturday, I got into a beat up white Nissan we rented at an exorbitant price and headed for a small town called Sitiawan in the state of Perak. "We" meaning Shan, his wife, his two boys (6 and 11), his nephew and I.
It was the long Hari Raya weekend and Shan invited me to take an unplanned trip with him out of town as a weekend vacation. The destination was Pangkor island, a few kilometres west of Sitiawan (which itself is almost 300km north west of Kuala Lumpur on the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, south of Penang island).
The journey would take three and a half hours with one stop at the petrol station. If we had left earlier in the evening, it would have taken much longer as the traditional Hari Raya traffic plugs all the thoroughfares with harried people trying to get back to their home towns.
We didn't take the massive federal highway. Instead we used the older roads passing through villages with roofs and front lawns lined with colourful lights to welcome guests for the festivities. The sweet smell of burning palm leaves blew in through the open windows of the Nissan as we cut through palm oil plantations.
It is now 4am Sunday and I am booked into a double single room at the Flamingo Hotel for RM72. We had to rouse two graveyard-shift care-takers who were asleep in the hotel lounge to book me into the room. Shan and his family will be at his mother-in-law's which is in nearby Lumut. Tomorrow morning, we shall take a ferry to Pangkor.
That is, if we can rouse the kids.
Selamat Hari Raya!
That's the greeting for the Malay holiday we're celebrating this weekend. Basically it means "Happy New Year". Hari Raya (the holiday not the greeting) is both a cultural and Islamic religious holiday for the Malays. It marks the beginning of a fresh lunar new year and the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
For the Malays, the holiday has the significance of both Christmas and New Year combined. It's the annual home-for-the-holidays madness rolled into one. All the shops, except for the ones run by the Chinese and Indians, are closed as everyone leaves for somewhere else. The towns and cities are dead, save for the colourful Hari Raya lights along the streets and gardens.
It isn't quite as festive as the Chinese New Year with its loud lion dances and dragon dances. Hari Raya consists mainly of relatives and friends dressing up in their bright silk bajus and visiting one another at their homes. They have huge sit-down meals where ketupat (rice cubes wrapped in green pandan leaves) is served.
You won't hear fireworks going off during the celebration. People in the rural areas traditionally make powerful but unstable bamboo shooters which tend to have tragic effects, especially on children inexperienced at manipulating gunpowder loads. So the federal government's solution was to declare an outright ban on all fireworks, even the safer smaller crackers and whirleys manufactured in factories.
Nevertheless, the festive mood is not dampened.
The Malays of Malaysia have taken a leaf out of the Chinese way of celebrating lunar new years and have adopted the practice of giving away token sums of money to children in green packets (similar to the concept of Chinese red packets). Of all the practices to borrow, one would have thought they'd pick something less burdensome to parents and less profitable to ice-cream vendors.
Selamat Hari Raya!
I watched this movie
, starring Robert Redford and Brad Pitt, last night at the cinema. As they say in Japan, it was clap.
Vely vely clap.
Sorry for being late on this one. I'm just doing my part to making a point about the internet that some arrogant duffuses (duffusi?) seem to have forgotten.KPMG
is kicking up a fuss
because some people started linking to its site and started sending out what is basically a cease-and-desist letter to them. So bloggers all over the world are linking to KPMG to let them know that their policy means butkus.
Check out their theme song in the wired.com
article. The lyrics go: "KPMG/We're strong as can be/A dream of power and energy/We go for the goal/Together we hold/On to our vision of global strategy..."
Haha! I kid you not! A company like KPMG that thrives on the maintainance of its credibility and the "protection of its brand" actually has a theme song, let alone such a cheesy theme song. It could have come straight out of the Induhvidual section of Dilbert
My art director
As a copywriter, I form part of a two-man team with my art director to define creative advertising solutions for a client's marketing problems, produce presentation materials, present them and eventually produce the media materials for printing or broadcast.
There is one problem though. My art director.
He just happens to have such a hypersensitive character, if it snowed in the Himalayas, he'd get chills here. And he strongly believes that I am out to get him. He's apparently been spoilt by an earlier partnership with a copywriter who ended his sentences for him and doesn't yet realise how rare those partnerships are. So he expects me to do the same, supporting his ideas more often than not. That would be ideal for me too... if he knew the difference between an idea and an execution.
When our boss suggests that he "think harder", my art director's solution is to think of more ideas, not better ones or improve on the ones he has. They're half-thoughts. Murky thinking in a business which seeks to make selling propositions crystal clear to the consumer. If quantity was what was required by the clients, newspapers would be as thick as bricks, filled from headline to baseline with his ads. Enthusiastic he is, clever he is not.
So I end up rejecting a lot of his ideas. And he takes that quite personally, resorting to the only way he can get back at me... by attacking me verbally with our colleagues. What's more he holds grudges. On Monday mornings, he continues to remain mad at me over a disagreement we had the week before.
I won't take responsibility for his hurt feelings. That's something he has to learn to deal with himself. But I do occasionally feel guilty that I cannot help him.
He looks to me for approval, but I cannot offer it.
Jodhpur and Jaisalmer
One possibility I'm investigating for a short India trip is the northwest region of the ancient state of Rajasthan. Lonely Planet describes Jodhpur as an experiment in packing more palaces, statues and temples in one location.
Pictures of Jodhpur that I found on the internet focused on the intricate architecture of the ancient buildings found around the city. For some reason or other much of the buildings in the city have been painted a uniform shade of bright blue. Hundreds of miles from the ocean, a city of coral.
I might spend a few days there walking around. Then again I might book a train to Jaisalmer a few hours to the north west, on the edge of the desert border that India shares with Pakistan. There, I will take a camel excursion in the desert for three days. Wunderground
weather for the region in mid February (when I'll have some leave time during the long Chinese New Year break) suggests somewhat cool between 54F and 86F. So it's sweaters for me.
I've already booked the flight tickets, but Malaysian travel agents work in such a way that I don't have to confirm till nearer the date. The thing holding me back is the thought of spending only a few days in a place with so much to see and do. It would kill me to leave.
I might end up with the safer choice of the beaches of Goa or Andaman instead. Nothing to do but beach beach beach.
One of my clients is a new train system for metropolitan Kuala Lumpur called the KLIA Ekspres. It's a system that has only one purpose -- to ferry its passengers between the city and the KL International Airport.
Toward that end, it has only one route and makes no stops except at either terminal -- one in the airport and one on the edge of the city centre, near the hotels and shopping district.
I was among a small group of people, which included the Malaysian minister of transport, to take a preview ride on the train before it begins service in April. At its highest speed enroute, it flies at 160 kilometres per hour. But it audibly starts to rattle at around 140. Not that you would normally notice unless you were, like I was, looking for something like that. The peaceful journey distracts you. It takes you through part the countryside, littered with the odd block of low-rent residences, warehouses and factories, but mostly green and hilly compared to the greyer and flatter city.
Most of the users of the train are expected to be locals, some who travel regularly as part of their job and some who see off travellers or meet them. The tickets are about half the price of the cut-throat airport-run taxi service. But it saves the effort of having someone you know drive you there and back. Only a relatively small percentage are expected to be foreigners, but they're expected to be the first group to take to the service because it avoids the uncertainty of travelling in a foreign city.
I still have my doubts of the success of the service. The simplest way of travelling between airport and city is still the taxi. Taxis drop you off at your home or office. The train doesn't. You'd still need to take a taxi to and from the city terminal so it isn't as effortless. Besides which the ride between airport and city doesn't take that much longer in a car. Maybe 20 minutes extra, give or take five minutes. Traffic is rarely that bad on the highway between airport and city.
Converts will probably be those who, out of necessity or preference, choose to spend less time travelling and being concerned about getting to the airport on time. The service literature guarantees a ride in 28 minutes. No traffic jams, no wet weather to impede the trip.
Despite my doubts of its eventual popularity, the next time I need to use the KLIA, I'll definitely use the KLIA Ekspres. I, unlike most Malaysians, live not more than half a mile from the city terminal. And I prefer to slip in and out of the country in a fussless manner.
We need to eat less
Wouldn't it be great if we didn't have to eat? We'd save hours not just during the eating part, but also the cooking part and the arguing-over-what-to-eat part.
Imagine: people lost in the mountains wouldn't have to eat each other; during dates, we'd just skip right to the sex; and we'd be able to do away with this nasty thing called etiquette.
Who was the idiot who invented the fork when we've got perfectly good fingers?
If I didn't have to eat, I wouldn't have to be in complete pain while I am wearing these braces. Yup I got them on my teeth yesterday. They don't look as bad as you might think. I'm wearing the ceramic ones that blend into my tooth enamel. You'd have to be really close to me to see the thin wire holding the ceramic bits together. But you won't get that close. Luckily, having the inability to eat properly also means I get bad breath from indigestion.
The pain will last for the next two months. That's probably when the worst offenders in the crooked department, my lower front incisors, will be much straighter so they'll be less pressure on them. In the meantime, I'll be losing weight from having to subsist on soft foods like fish porridge, eggs and milk. That's not so bad really. At least I have a good excuse not to eat brocolli for a while.
After the man received the full treatment -- shave, shampoo, manicure, haircut, etc. -- he placed Little Johnny in the chair. "I'm going to buy a green tie to wear for the parade," he said. "I'll be back in a few minutes."
When Little Johnny's haircut was done and the man still hadn't returned, the barber said, "Looks like your daddy's forgotten all about you."
"That wasn't my daddy," said Little Johnny. "He just walked up, took me by the hand and said, 'Come on, kid, we're gonna get a free haircut!'"