FEBRUARY 1-2 (AT SEA)
SOUTHEAST ASIA (Part 1 of 3)
After rejoining the ship in Cochin, India on January 31st, we headed towards SouthEast Asia for several “back to back” landings in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, and Vietnam. There is one theme that holds all of these stops together. Ungodly HOT and HUMID. Temps in the high 90‘s each day with 100% humidity. We were two slugs dragging our cumbersome bodies through the thick air, drenched in sweat from the moment we “walked the plank” (that’s how it felt)… until we got back to our blessedly air-conditioned ship. We dressed as sparingly as the law would allow but it did no good. We couldn’t even find relief in the shade. Most of the locals didn’t even sweat! And, many had on long sleeve shirts and thick jeans! Darwin would have been proud. We were very close to the equator, so the temperatures only very slightly throughout the year. In the summer (May-Sept), the monsoon rains bring malaria-toting mosquitoes out in force. I won’t be changing my citizenship any time soon.
I know that all of you back home are freezing your tushies off and can’t believe I have the gall to complain about heat. Before you start reading… conquer up the hottest, most miserably humid summer day you can imagine, and you will be right there with us.
That being said. Here we go…
FEBRUARY 3 – PHUKET ISLAND, THAILAND (Maiden Call)
Phuket is an island off Peninsular Thailand where most residents are descendants of Chinese, Malay, Thai, Indonesian, and Indian immigrants that came to work in the booming 19th century tin mines.
We anchored off shore and rode tenders to Patong Beach. This is a town pumped up on testosterone in the form of white males looking for action (to put it delicately), and there was plenty of it. Seedy massage parlors with shadowy doorways partially concealed exotic women… demurely batted their dark eyes at potential customers. Massages start at 10 bucks an hour, with “fringe benefits” on an a la carte basis.
Steve hung out in town absorbing all the “culture”, while I toured the Wat Chalong Buddhist Monastery in the less developed central part of the island. The compound houses the most ornately decorated temples in Thailand (pics below). It is best known for 3 monks who were pioneers in advancing herbal medicine. It was awesome. Except that “out of respect”, I had to take my sandals off and cross over 20 feet of searing hot marble tiles before enter the building. I left a few layers of skin behind.
When I got back to town, Steve showed me a brochure he picked up for a “Prawn Fishing Park” where you fish using a bamboo pole to catch prawns in a huge manmade tank. Challenging huh? And sanitary too… as dinner is frolicking in the feces of a million or so of it’s closest friends. He was tempted to pop into the “Ripley’s Believe it or Not Wax Museum” – but decided to pass. A few hours here was plenty of time.
FEBRUARY 4 – GEORGETOWN, PENANG ISLAND, MALAYSIA
Continuing down the east coast we arrived at Penang Island, Malaysia early this morning. The island is 110 square miles with a population of 770,000. We docked in the capital city of Georgetown. Penang was largely independent until 1786 when it was purchased by the British East India Company who established a “free trade” port.
In modern day, the city is an eclectic muddle of colonial mansions and buddhist temples from Burmese, Thai, and Chinese traditions. Motorbikes, cars, rickshaws, bicyclists and pedestrians all compete for space on the narrow streets. Our highlight today was a visit to the Khoo Kongsi clan home (pics below). It is a vibrant temple filled with etched stone, gold leaf sculptures, and mythical creatures, seen through a haze of fragrant incense. Confucian traditions dictate that immigrants must unify and strengthen their communities. These structures were erected to welcome families with the same name to their new country. Pics attached. Gorgeous, isn’t it? We only lasted a few hours here before succumbing to the heat.
FEBRUARY 5 – KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA
Continuing further down the east coast, we arrived at Port Kelang on mainland Malaysia this morning. This is the port for Kuala Lumpur (known as KL) which is inland – about 2 hours away by bus. The name which sounds so mysteriously exotic in Malaysian, translates for us into a mundane “Murky Creek”. We had mixed feelings about all the “bus time” required to see the city – but since it is the Capital – decided to make the trip. We rather wish we hadn’t.
KL is an unplanned, cosmopolitan city choking on pollution from motorbike, car, and bus traffic. By unplanned, I mean that the street map we were given was completely useless. We would walk one block and the road name would change to something else that was not on the map. We spent most of our time trying to figure out where we were. It was loud, HOT, and frustrating.
We wound up in the part of Chinatown that tourists aren’t supposed to find… just in time to see a tiny women with a big cleaver lop off the head of a live chicken. WUMP! It’s legs twitching as she adeptly plucked the carcass clean of feathers with lightening speed. I didn’t want to watch… but was physically unable to avert my gaze. As we regained consciousness and backed away, Steve narrowly missed stepping on the biggest rat I’ve ever seen. It looked accusingly at him before waddling into the abyss behind a dumpster.
And yet, everywhere we looked, people were happily shoveling unidentifiable food into their mouths. Nothing is refrigerated, even in the extreme heat. Meat hanging on hooks, coated in exhaust fumes. Cartons of eggs baking in full sun. Which makes you wonder about our Super Sanitized Society. Are we too cautious with food? Perhaps we could boost our immune systems naturally if we exposed our bodies to more culinary challenges. Food for thought… but not a theory we wanted to test before hoping on a bus with no toilet.
We finally found our way back to the “pick up” spot and the ultimate reward. Up ahead… an oasis in the desert of fatigue, befuddlement, and grumpiness… a bright shining pair of golden arches… McDonald’s! Clean bathrooms, plentiful toilet paper, and cool artificial air… Nirvana. We staggered towards the door, tongues coated with dust, as a life sized “Ronald” greeted us with palms together in a traditional “Namaste” buddhist greeting. While we sat here sipping diet Coke and waiting for our ride, we noticed again how delightfully multicultural Malaysia is. The tables were full of Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians peacefully coexisting as they munched on french fries.