Matthew's News and Gossip

Matthew's News and Gossip

A man with no talent, but armed with a digital camera, can waste lots of bandwidth

Saturday, October 19, 2002

So I'm now in Thailand, the blur of Malaysia having passed me by. I started in the town of Melaka, where as I mentioned, cadging a lift home off two Russian gymnastics coaches (rhythmic, not artistic, please) turned into an all night drinking session. As the beers flowed Vera (the rope specialist) kept on explaining to me in more and more slurred broken English that she was upset that everyone she met thought Russians were drunks. It wasn't true, she told me! However she at least was a good dancer, her companion Julia, wasn't--despite her appearance at the world Rythmic Gynastics Championships in 1992. They were held in Belgium, for those of you in need of a winning tie-breaker at the Mad Dog pub quiz. Luckily they eventually took me back to my grotty hotel and disappeared into the night; God knows what kind of training the young Malaysia gymnasts got the next day!

Melaka proved quite an interesting town with several temples from the Hindus, Muslims and Chinese all squished together. It was also much older than everything else in Malaysia (having been conquered by the Portuguese in the 15th century) and then by the Dutch and the British. The best part was a huge Chinese cemetry with large elaborate graves. I now know how I'm going to be buried! Actually the cemetry was scheduled to be bulldozed and developed in the 1980s and a huge fuss was kicked up by the Chinese in Malaysia. They used it as a rallying cry to defend their rights, which are somewhat restricted by the government. Admittedly the Chinese have all the money, and the Muslim majority of Malays, led by the soon to retire Dr Seti Matahir (and lots of other words in his title before the surname) Mohamed, believes that affirmative action for Malays is the only way to keep the nation coherent. (Other people might think that a continually re-elected prime minister pandering to the majority would say that, wouldn't he?). Anyway, in the end some rich Chinese paid off the government and the hill was left as the beautiful cemetry it is--mostly used for jogging by the locals.

As I was leaving I met a lovely Indonesian girl called Navi, who was training to be a ship captain, appropriately enough. She was studying in Melaka and wanted to take me to the zoo. I cried off as I wanted to get to Kuala Lumpur, so she had her two minders give me a ride to the bus station. They were so nice and wouldnt even let me buy them a coke--even though they'd saved me a $4 taxi fare. My good luck continued as on the bus I met a very chatty ex-accountant called Lionel. He was reading about financial planning and had just jacked in PWC to become an insurance salesman....maybe a lesson in there. Lionel was a Liverpool fan. As so it seems is almost all of Malaysia, if not then they are Man U or Chelsea fans. Either which way the Premier League has a virtual monopoly on televised sport. Funny then that that night in Kuala Lumpur I was unable to find a TV showing England's pathetic win in Slovenia, although on my return from the jungle I did see the highlights of the even more pathetic draw with Macedonia

I didn’t like KL much. It has got some vaguely interesting buildings, like the Railway station and the Supreme court, but the fabled Petronas towers look very out of place. It’s also heavily Muslim in an open sort of way, and all the Malay women wear headscarves, although they didn’t 20 years ago. Not coincidentally virtually all of the girls had really bad acne. The bookstores contained loads of self-improvement books as well as a few copies of Henry Ford’s “The International Jew”—which you won’t get in a bookstore in New York (apparently). The other ridiculous thing is that the tube/subway/metro system has two different lines. Not much unusual there as there are a couple of places to connect. But the lines are owned by different companies and when you connect you have to go outside and buy another ticket! It makes London transport look intelligent!

After staying in a seedy colonial era hotel called the Celebration, famous for its sizzling and pretty disgusting steaks, I ran away to the bus stop and ended up in Jerantut. Jerantut is the gateway to Tamara Negara, the oldest rainforest in the world and Malaysia’s biggest national park. At the rather dodgy “Green guesthouse” I signed up for a jungle tour in a forest adjacent to the national park with a South African diving instructor called Roach and two Dutch students called Hsskkaaa and Meecccaa, or something like that. The jungle trek wasn't as tough as all the comments made it out to be, but the nights were. The first we spent at a secret camp. My “bed” was a pile of tree branches spread over a frame. In the middle of the night I rolled over in bed and half the branches broke. I spent the rest of the night trying to fit on three branches, terrified of falling onto the jungle floor! The second night was spent up in a cave with Roach's snoring and Meeccaa's sleep talking keeping me awake, although they claimed that my snoring kept them awake, but we all know I don't snore, right!. Total sleep over 2 nights--about 20 minutes!

The hiking wasn't tough but it was very wet and we saw plenty of wildlife in the form of leeches that clung to all parts of us and drank lots of our blood, including this one. Of course no tigers (again!)although we saw a footprint--rather ironic in the light of this news story! I also had fun in a cave with some bats (sorry for waking you, chaps, but this is a GREAT photo!) and climbing down a huge vine from a cave entrance. Tjeska managed to get stung by a hornet on the lip in spectacular fashion! Overall though we were a little disapointed with the tour and so the next day Roach and I went up to the national park itself, via a ride in a tiny car with about 1/2 inch ground clearance which was further reduced when our driver decided to pick up a friend for the trip! On the way up we saw the real central Malaysia....miles and miles of clear cutting. I also managed to lose my camera up on the earlier trip, but another guide found it, after he said he couldn't find it and then I offered him a reward. He also decided that the reward I'd offered was too low and managed to piss me off by bargaining after he already had the camera.

Up at Tamara Negara, Roach and I climbed a damn steep hill called Bukit Teresek and got a good view over the rain forest (a few trees had been trimmed so you could get a view). We laughed and taunted the dummies who'd paid for a guide to show them the way (which was clearly signposted) but they took it well. We then went on the canopy walk, which is essentially a plank of wood suspended in mid air (with lots of ropes to hold on to). After all that effort we decided to stop for a beer, in the five-ish star resort at the visitor lodge. At $4 a can it was the most expensive one we had in Malaysia (For comparison, I was staying in $3 a night hotels!).

Back at the Green house we ran into a) my camera and b) two German women, Tanja and Julia, who very bossily explained to us that everything we knew was wrong (they were probably right but that's not the point!)...luckily they were going into the jungle not out of it so that we escaped their company after dinner. Actually they were quite fun and a little older and worldlier than the average backpacker I've met. Of course after an overnight train ride to the border what should we do but meet 3 German women at the border and head into Thailand with them. I was of course not allowed to go into Thailand on my US passport as I had no Malaysian exit stamp on it (that was on my British one). So much for all the aid the US gave them during Vietnam! On the train a party broke out. Roach got in the first two rounds and soon another English guy called Andrew who was a zoologist at Stirling university and a fun Dutch couple plus half the Thai army joined in. Roach decied to start wearing their clothes. I of course managed to miss my stop, so instead of going to Krabi I went about 3 hours further north, seeing an amazing rainbow and some amazing scenery on the way and made it to the ferry to Ko Pha-Nang. Apparently there is a big Burning man-type party here on Monday, and my hotel is showing the English footy tonight! The chances of me making it to BangKok recede daily!
posted by matthew  # 12:03 AM
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