Copyright 2008 by Cap’n Fatty Goodlander
I like Asia. I’m currently anchored off Johor Baharu at the very southern tip of Malaysia. Actually, we’re lying in an amazingly polluted river which separates laidback Malaysia from the commerce-crazed greed-heads of Singapore.
JB is a fairly large, modern, expressway-choked city of half-a-million people. However, everyone is very friendly. Even the taxi drivers are nice. There is no crime. The officials at Customs and Immigration are cool: “Welcome, and if you want to stay longer than three months… come back and see us… to fill out a different forum!” was about it.
Even the bums are polite here. We tied up at a squatter’s camp—and were treated like royalty by Paco and his crew of smiling, Koran-hugging hobos.
Things are cheap. My wife Carolyn and I go out to breakfast for one dollar US… that’s for both of us. (“Sugar daddy! Sugar daddy!” she screams with delight as I make a grand show of paying the bill.)
Of course, I’ve got to be careful saying stuff like this. Malaysia is an Islamic country, a devout Muslim country. Some people take it as ‘anti-American’ when I’m so bold as to indicate that, hey, maybe Muslims are human too.
Although I personally don’t have any admiration for Islam (or for Christianity, for that matter) I must admit that the average Malaysian appears happy.
Yes, he watches our violent videos and listens to our obscenity-strewn hip-hop-music—and then just shyly and demurely declines to take part himself.
They are very respectful: of the rules, of their elders, of their leaders.
Now, to be honest, I was never much on ‘being respectful of your elders’ until I was one.
Now I find it nice.
To pretend otherwise would be hypocritical.
No, I certainly don’t agree with the way they treat women. In fact, I strongly disapprove. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t understand and empathize with a Muslim father telling me he doesn’t want his daughter to be Britney Spears.
Can I find more bad stuff to say about Malaysia? Oh, sure. Plenty. After all, I’m a journalist, remember? Generally speaking, hygiene is poor. Restaurants are filthy. To walk down the street is to physically assault one’s nose: from dead animals to open sewer pipes… this place literally reeks, stinks and is a vomit-inducing olfactory insult to all mankind.
All of which is sort of charming… in a quaintly-putrid sort of ‘…is my nose-twitching?’ way.
I mean, Malaysia ain’t exactly the Switzerland of SE Asia.
They don’t call it the Turd World for nothing.
The toilets are the worst. They don’t use toilet paper. Instead they use their left hand… and some stagnant, germ-infested water to haphazardly splash themselves with. Ugh!
This means that the average ‘washroom’ in Malaysia has never been… washed, that is… and is a damp, stained mess of wet-yellow and lumpy-brown… all in all, enough to gag even the stoutest of head-scarf-wearing sewer rats.
Now… in order to enjoy what I’m about to tell you next… you have to forget what I just told you. (Yes, life’s an intellectual bitch, eh?)
The food in Asia is the best in the world. I know, I know… that’s entirely subjective. But I came to Asia as an American meat-and-potatoes man and I’m now a confirmed rice-and-veggies dude. ‘tank u veeery veeery much!’
Living in Asia shows you what wonderfully efficient machines we human-beings really are: the head carrier who runs all day with a large pile of cinderblocks on his head and his rickshaw driver counterpart who trots up-hill with his cart filled with towering cement sacks… all eat the same handful of rice-and-what’s-handy three times a day.
Food stalls are everywhere. My favorite is a plate of chicken-kebabs… almost a meal itself for less than a buck. Fresh fruits abound… for pennies. Seafood comes from the fishing boat to your plate… without leaving your food-stall sight.
Halal chicken is especially good. It is officially ‘killed with a sharp knife’ according to ancient traditions… yes, veery, veeery tasty… if served from a right hand.
Food isn’t just food here… it is religion, culture and love. Food is… almost sexual in Asia.
There was a recent newspaper survey in which people were asked, “If today were the last day of your life, what would you do?"
Many Westerners said ‘rob a bank’ or ‘have sex with a movie star…’ or ‘get drunk’ while ALL the Thais questioned said they’d have an elaborate feast with their family… and then happily went on to specifically list the separate dishes and their individual sauces and their careful, precise preparation.
Yes, Asia is completely food-crazed.
…and, amazingly, most of it is good for you!
They believe in fresh-fresh-fresh. (Don’t tell the SPCA but some vendors in the early morning fish markets fillet their fish alive… and fold them open to display their still-beating hearts)!
Yes, Asia isn’t like New York, Chicago or LA. And they don’t want to be. Actually, it’s more amazing than that… the rest of the world barely exists for them.
No, I don’t like the music… even the best of which seems like an ice-pick-in-the-ear.
Generally-speaking, Asians are fairly honest. They seldom steal. However, cheating is allowed. Cheating isn’t really cheating… it is considered more of an intellectual joust… and if you’re dumb enough to believe anything they say, well, shame on you.
Yes, I’m often charged a skin-tax. I don’t like it but I occasionally am forced to pay it.
Bargaining is a given. I’ve had store-owners accuse me of extreme sadistic cruelty… and state that I’m robbing the very food from the mouths of their starving babies… but once a bargain is struck… they talk with me, they joke with me, they welcome me into their homes and treat me like the honored guest I am.
In some Asian countries, the word for ‘hello’ translates literally to, “…would you like some rice?”
Time doesn’t mean much here. They’re basically unaware of the hourly-wage concept. I purchased a very nice folding bicycle for my wife Carolyn for $30 and then repeatedly brought it back to the place where I purchased it… to have various things installed, changed, etc. Then it got a flat tire. Months later she decided she wanted a different style of brakes and also wanted to change the gear ratio… each time, the squatting gentlemen who sold the bike to us refused all payment for his services, saying, “…you customer and customer-work is free!”
They are curious. In the South Seas, Africa and the Mideast, many people aren’t curious at all about foreign visitors—but SE Asians want to know how long it takes for a sailboat to circumnavigate, how we catch fish, how we sleep, etc.
They are terrible litter bugs: they shed their garbage without a thought. Ditto, air-pollution. Their cities are so polluted that, if the sun pokes through the urban haze… it scares ‘em.
We sailed into India and were wheezing within 72 hours. We stayed sick (really listless and blah) for the entire three months we were there… and only slowly recovered the following week after our departure.
Malaysia, in particular, is a melting pot: 40 percent Malay, 40 per cent Chinese, 10 per cent Indian and the rest a rainbow of cultures.
I particularly enjoy the religious concepts of the Chinese: a smattering of Hindu, Buddhist, Confucius and Charlie Chan. Their Gods are mostly soap-opera, and much time is spent being tricked by the Gods or attempting to trick the Gods. (Yes, the Gods can be tricked—but be careful, as clumsy trickery usually backfires!)
Example: a felonious Stateside friend of mine was about to be sentenced in Federal court. Thus I went to a Chinese friend here and explained the situation. He said, “…no problem!” and brought me to The Temple of the Lenient Sentence.
“Here’s how you do it,” he whispered to me. “You make a deal with the Gods. Be specific. Tell the Gods exactly how big of an elephant you’ll give for exactly what sentence. BUT DON’T PAY UPFRONT! If you do, the Gods will take the swag and forget all about their promise! However, if the Gods do come through for you, you MUST make payment or… WOW! SERIOUS BAD KARMA!”
The bottom line: everything worked out well. My friend only received three-to-four and I lugged such a large, bejeweled elephant to the temple I could barely carry it. (Okay, he was guilty as sin!)
Yes, Malaysia is filled with surprises. Their modern founding father (picture a combined Thomas Jefferson and George Washington) is a fellow named Doctor M. He’s still alive. He once conducted a grand social experiment (referred to as the New Economic Policy or NEP) to correct the disparity of income between the wealthy Chinese and the poor Bumiputras (Malay). He decided to ‘nationally level the playing field’ and to, basically, ‘start over again fairly.’
Anyway, Doctor M. did everything humanly possible to make the Malay and the Chinese have the same amount of wealth at a specific point in time. He believed, firmly, that once the Malay was on an equal economic footing that he’d managed to stay there.
Ten years later the hard-working, thrifty Chinese had most of the money once again and the Malay had little or nothing… but some happy-happy memories of free-spending.
…how did Doctor M spin this… the complete failure of his life’s work and his central core belief?
He didn’t. “I was wrong,” said he glumly.
Are there dark clouds on the horizon for Malaysia? Sure. The more the secular West pushes them away, the more they are forced into the arms of their own religious fundamentalists.
Basically, Malaysia’s capital of Kuala Lumpur aspires to be an Islamic Big Apple—but it is feeling increasingly isolated from the rest of the First World.
But in many ways Malaysia is currently heaven-on-earth for the cruising yachtsman. It is cheap, safe and friendly. Anchoring is completely unregulated and there are numerous modern marinas (sans the high prices) every few miles along its western coast.
We anchored off one fancy resort/marina in lovely lazy Lamut—and paid one dollar (per boat, not per person) per day for use of the pool, gym, library, video room, laundry room… everything the luxurious resort offered but the actual bed!
Even better for the cruising yachtsmen: Malaysia is considered to be below the hurricane belt. (But so was Grenada, eh?)
And best of all, while Indonesia, the Philippines, Viet Nam and Thailand have increasing amounts of violent crime and governmental corruption… Malaysia has neither.
Only smiling people. Stuffing delicious food into their mouths. With their right hands.
Editor’s note: Fatty is on his 48th year of living aboard and is currently exploring the remote islands of the Gulf of Siam.