Sunday, April 20, 2014

Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Solo Mountain Biking Trip to Kaeng Nyui Waterfall

"He had the look of one who had drunk the cup of life and found a dead beetle at the bottom."

P.G. Wodehouse

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Chicken in Tree
A chicken (one of several) I saw perching on a flowering tree en route to Kaeng Nyui.

When I returned with Cheryl from our day cycling out into the Vang Vieng countryside, climbing Pha Ngeun, swimming in the Blue Lagoon, and spelunking at Tham Phu Kam, we returned our shitty bicycles and received our passports back - something that rental agencies in Indochina countries like Laos, Vietnam and Thailand require as deposits. Of course, people are now awfully aware of this regional peculiarity thanks to a passenger on board the missing MH370 flight being found to be holding a passport belonging to an Italian national who lost it to a motorcycle rental shop in Patong.

I would then hand my passport over to another bicycle rental that evening for a top notch mountain bike. You see, I intended to strike out eastward the next day at the crack of dawn to visit a waterfall 6 kilometres away called Kaeng Nyui. Cheryl opted to sit this one out because she had a bad knee and could not be persuaded to cycle another metre on the undulating dirt-choked roads of the Laos countryside, so this was going to be a solo outing for me.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Dog
Friendly farm mutt I befriended.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Turkeys
Some unfriendly turkeys I didn't befriend.

Using a proper mountain bike on the dirt tracks here really made all the difference and if you ever decide to cycle in the region, I recommend that you spend a little more to rent one with good shock absorbers. The journey itself took me through some of the more rustic scenes of Lao village life and I was glad for the reprieve from the sanitised, culturally-terraformed environment of the backpackers' town. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily dislike commercialisation - it makes remote places so much more accessible for people like me - but one risks not actually seeing the country one visits if you don't stray off the beaten track occasionally.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Kids
A couple of village kids picking stuff from a field.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Lake Restaurant
A restaurant on stilts standing on a small man-made lake.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Ducks
Ducks in the lake.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Stream
A tributary of Nam Lao after the village of Ban Naduang that is fed by Kaeng Nyui. Presumably Houay Nyui stream.

I dismounted frequently to take pictures of the countryside but even then the journey only took me about an hour, and because the ride was so pleasant, it didn't even feel that long. The sun was still hidden behind the forested hills to the east and it was cold enough that my breath would come out in mists. The wind chill itself was making my face numb.

Entry into the area of the woods and hills housing Kaeng Nyui demands a monetary sacrifice of about 10,000 kip (1.25 USD or 4 ringgit). The villagers of Ban Naduang cooperatively maintain the site and trails so one can think of it as a donation of sorts - which always make me more willing to part with cash. However, when I arrived at the ticketing booth, it was still very early and no one was tending it so I just rolled right through. Saved me a meal's worth of money there. I was planning to climb a limestone hill called Pha Poak the next day so I wondered if I can just start super early again and bypass the necessary fees. It can't hurt to try, right?

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Hills
Less than a kilometre away of ups and downs in the long shadows of the hills.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Sign
Heh, "forigner".

There is a clearing before one gets into the jungle proper where many hawker stalls have been set up to maximally capitalise on the lucrative business of parting tourists from their coins. In the style of the party grounds at the Blue Lagoon, the local villagers have also erected a number of basic gazebos by a stream for tourists to chill out in. It gave the spot a vague atmosphere of desperation and the stink of opportunism, two things that will keep it from replicating the success that the Blue Lagoon at Tham Phu Kam had. That, and the tiny trickle of a stream there is just no Blue Lagoon.

The only other person there when I arrived was a lady who was just setting up her stall (have I mentioned how early I reached there?). Chaining my bicycle to a post, I ventured into the woods on the direction volunteered by a handy signboard.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Jungle
The monsoon forest

The walk through the monsoon forest was pleasant. The trail was well-paved. Bridges spanned over every stream and rivulet. Stairs were installed wherever there's an incline in the terrain. This was meant to be a family-friendly attraction where parents can take their very young children on a nature hike.

Halfway to the show-piece waterfall of the park, there was a smaller waterfall called Kenlon which is only 5 metres in height.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Kenlon Waterfall

The Kenlon feeds a clear pool with a bed of sand and pebbles which would make a very pleasant swimming hole if the water level had been higher - but alas, it was the dry season. I chose to come to Laos in February to ensure that my trip would not be rained on but the con of it was that almost all the freshwater attractions I saw were less than impressive (with the notable exception of Tat Kuang Si, but that's a later post).

Kaeng Nyui is a 34 metres high fall. Back before the 1960's, it was an even more impressive 45 metres drop but a landslide had cut it down to size and turned its plunge basin shallow. The pareidolatrous villagers here claimed that the cliff faces used to sport a distinctive image of a hippopotamus whose spirit they believe to have ruled the place, but after the "guardian spirit" became geologic history, they turned Kaeng Nyui into recreational spot. Apparently, "nyui-nyui" is the word that the villagers used to describe the fine spray caused by the fall's splashing so that gave it its name.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Kaeng Nyui Waterfall 2
Behold, the Kaeng Nyui.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Kaeng Nyui Shrank
The puddle at the base of Kaeng Nyui. My backpack included in frame for size comparison.

I can't say I hadn't been expecting disappointment after seeing the size of Kenlon (which is fed by Kaeng Nyui) but I never thought that the volume of water it dispenses would be less impressive than the shower in my guesthouse bathroom. Water is also piped from the top of the falls for the use of Vang Vieng town so that reduced the dry season trickle even further. I had seen pictures of the fall during the wet season and it is a roaring monster, so unless you happen to be there when the monsoon is pouring, don't bother coming here.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Shrimpy Fish
Little fish in the plunge pool, awaiting for the inevitable apocalypse.

After eating a small packet of nori-flavoured crackers and watching the fishes weave about in the overcrowded shallow pool for a few minutes, I decided to head back to rejoin my wife in town. It was still very early so I didn't hurry myself doing it.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Moth
An Iambrix salsala or Chestnut Bob basking on a flat stone.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Grasshopper 2
A unidentified slant-faced grasshopper basking on a stem of grass.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Grasshopper 1
Yet another unidentified grasshopper found on a dead leaf.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Cricket
A cricket (I think). Man, I really suck at identifying Orthopterans.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Small Waterfall
A tiny unnamed waterfall preceding Kenlon and Kaeng Nyui.

By the time I got back to the clearing which served as the gateway to Kaeng Nyui, the enterprising locals are all open for business selling barbecued chicken, barbecued pork, barbecued fish, barbecued bananas and even barbecued eggs cooked in their shells, I shit you not. I would like to have some kai peank lao but I didn't want to undo a whole morning's exercise.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Peekaboo Buddha
A peeping Buddha in a shrine at Kaeng Nyui.

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Bamboo Dance
Young local girls in Khmu attire performing a traditional bamboo dance for the tourists visiting the area.

Anyway, I was glad to find my expensive rental mountain bike still tethered to where I had locked it. Just for a lark, I wanted to see how fast I can cycle back to town. Several hilly inclines forced me to dismount and push my bike over them but for the most part, it was a sweet downhill ride. In fact, I was going so fast that I fear that I would flip head over heels when I whiz down some of the steeper slopes. I think I might have wore out a good layer off the disc brake in the back wheel trying to slow my descents.

In about less than half an hour, even including the few stops I made to snap pictures, I made it back to town proper. It was barely half-past ten and we still have most of the day ahead of us - which was good because I wanted more time for us to enjoy our next adventure in Vang Vieng. It is the number one attraction of Vang Vieng and is considered a rite of passage for anyone travelling through Southeast Asia. What is it? Find out in my next Laos travelogue!

Kaeng Nyui Bike Trip Vang Vieng Karst
View of the karst mountains of Vang Vieng just outside of town.

Vive La Vientiane: Part One
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: First Night in Town 
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Climbing Pha Ngeun
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: The Blue Lagoon at Tham Phu Kam

Disappointed by a lack of falling water,
k0k s3n w4i

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Dip in a Waterfall at Kubah National Park

"Don't go chasing waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you're used to
I know that you're gonna have it your way or nothing at all
But I think you're moving too fast"

Waterfalls (1994) by TLC

Continuing from the account of my adventure at the Kubah National Park two days ago, I descended Mount Serapi and seeing as time was a commodity I had in excess supply, I decided to take a detour to an unnamed waterfall out in the rainforest. I have been there once before nine years ago with a bunch of my Taylor's College mates and had a great time, so I was partially motivated by nostalgia as well.

My walk down the concrete path was accompanied by a harsh, deafening, cyclical, buzzing crescendo that suffuses the canopy followed by a brief wheeze of exhaustion before starting up again like clockwork. I know that Kubah is home to the world largest species of cicada (the empress cicada or Pomponia imperatoria) but what I heard was quite different from that cicada's unmistakable shimmery evening drone. For one thing, the machine-like cacophony I heard peaked in the afternoon. Anyway, I crowdsourced this on the Malaysian Atheists, Freethinkers and Agnostic Facebook group and one of the members there correctly identified it as the tymbalisation of the jade-green cicada (Dundubia vaginata).

I stuck my camera atop of my fully extended tripod and raised it as high as I could to record this.

Anyway, the route to the waterfall sprouts off the gentle Serapi Summit Walk a third of the way from the park headquarters and it was clearly marked by a signboard that is adorned with pictures of flora and fauna one can expect to see along the trail. I find that a great touch and nature enthusiasts such as myself can use it to guide our amateur observations.

Red: My walk from park headquarters to the summit of Mount Serapi.
Blue: My hike to the waterfall from the top of Serapi.
Yellow: My journey back to park headquarters.

Within the first minute, I spotted one of the stars of the trail: stingless bees. Stingless bees form the tribe Meliponini and there are approximately 500 species within it. Meliponines actually do have stingers but they are reduced and vestigial, and cannot be used for defence. The ones I found were nesting at the base of a large tree in waxy, chimney-pot hives.

Waterfall Trigona spp
If I wasn't pre-informed, I would have thought that these black buzzing insects are flies.

In the same location, I also managed to photograph this alarmingly large ant.

Waterfall Camponotus Gigas
It seems to be carrying some detritus in its mandibles.

The giant forest ant (Camponotus gigas) I saw was almost 2 centimetres in length and judging the size of its head and mandibles, it was probably a worker. These ants typically forage at night but a small handful would venture out in the daytime as well, and research into the ants activity have shown that those who are marked as "night duty" ants would only go out at night and those marked for "day duty" only go out in the day, with no overlap. So yeah, there are way more of these massive ants from hell scuttling across the leaf litter after dark, so if you are into night safaris, I bid you good luck.

The trail to the waterfall will probably not twist any ankles or break any backs, but compared to the trail to the top of Serapi, it was a tad more challenging. Segments of boardwalk interrupt the path on the forest floor at the roughest bits and any obstacles lying across the trail, usually fallen trees, are integrated into the trail itself.

Waterfall Trail through Tree

The trail is friendly and short enough (1.5 kilometre, taking about an hour one way) for young children, as a family I ran into can attest. They were heading back from the waterfall and tagging along were two primary school kids who were having the gayest old time. The patriarch of the family was carrying some heavy looking photography gear and told me that he managed to take some pictures of frogs, for which Kubah is known.

Waterfall Boardwalk
Moss-covered boardwalk.

As I got closer to the waterfall, I started seeing more streams and ponds along the trail and there appeared to be no shortage of freshwater fishes in them. One of the more interesting specimen I saw was this 6-inch long Channidae or snakehead which was terrorising smaller fishes in its little duchy.

Waterfall Fish in Pond
The biggest fish in the pond.

It was quite relaxing to watch it drift lazily towards its prey before striking lightning fast to vanish it, before resuming its languid cruise in and out of the sunlit patches of the pond. I'm starting to see the appeal of keeping an aquarium.

Slowly but surely, the trail veered closer and closer to a large, fast-flowing stream on the right and before long, I could even hear the incessant pounding of water on rocks from the waterfall ringing out from ahead. In my haste to reach my destination, I accidentally disturbed a smooth, slender, bright green snake which gave my monkey brain quite a fright when it darted out from under a pile of detritus of the forest floor and promptly disappeared under another pile. Since I didn't manage to get a good look at its head, I was unable to identify the little serpent.

After 40 minutes from the main trail, I arrived at the waterfall.

Waterfall From a Distance
Ain't it a right little Eden?

Waterfall Panorama 2
Stitched photograph of the waterfall. Click to enlarge.

Mount Singai and the Kubah National Park is part of the Plateau Sandstone formation and geologically they are made up of massive cross-bedded sandstone, mudstone and silty shale, and the waterfall itself cascades down a multi-layered shale-shelf that resembles one of Sarawak's famous kek lapis.

A lady in her forties was already there busy taking pictures with her pink point-and-shoot camera along with a young Chinese couple. The older lady soon left, leaving the lovers to sunbathe on a large stone slab. When it was clear that I wasn't going to leave any time soon, the lovebirds also took their leave, presumably to make out behind a tree somewhere.

Waterfall Caterpillar Cluster
A deeply upsetting cluster of some immobile worm-like horrors under a leaf.

Waterfall Chilling
Me, chilling out on a nice, cool rock reading my new Kindle as the water ran around my body.
Guess how I took this picture.

The waterfall area is an amazing spot for picnicking and bathing, and my only complaint was that the water was not deep enough to swim in. After getting bored of soaking in the cold, clear mountain water, I built a small dam to deepen the rock-pool I was splashing in, raising the water level by about a feet. I am quite certain that my dam would be washed away by the next rainstorm.

After putting on a fresh set of clothing, I left the waterfall at about 3:00PM to head out of the park.

Waterfall Polydesmid Millipede
A tank-like polydesmid millipede I spotted on the trek back.

In about half an hour, I expected to exit Kubah but on a whim, I decided to take an alternate route through the jungle. I somehow accidentally gotten on the Rayu Trail and walked about 800 metres before realising that I needed to turn back. It was five in the evening by the time I got back to my car.

Waterfall Spider
A massive spider about the size of my palm, sitting in a web strung across two palm trees in front of the park headquarters.

On my way out, I realised that there's a designated Pitcher Plant Conservation Area near the park's entrance and having never seen a pitcher plant up close in my life before, vowed to return one day to remedy that deficiency. There are cabins and hostels for rent there as well so I might just try to do some frog-watching someday during nightfall.

After close to three years on living on the island of Borneo, I am really starting to appreciate just how accessible one of the richest, most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world is to me.

PART ONE: A Walk Up Mount Serapi of Kubah National Park

Bathed in falling water,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Walk Up Mount Serapi of Kubah National Park

"Climbing is as close as we can come to flying."

Margaret Young

Must have been written before flight was invented.

On the 30th of March, I decided to drive 22 kilometres out to the countryside and climb a mountain that I see everyday from the balcony of my apartment. Everyone who lives in Kuching have seen it, because after all, it would be hard to miss it considering how it dominates the eastern skyline.

Mount Serapi
Mount Serapi from my house in the morning.

Mount Serapi is a 911 metres high pimple on the surface of the world and its summit is located within the Kubah National Park - which recently made international headlines for being selected as the site of the most beautiful sound in the world by a contest organised by BeautifulNow. Kubah is also renowned for its palm and frog biodiversity in the same way that Penrissen is famous for its birds and leeches, and Santubong for its ability to exhaust hikers and turn men into little girls with its punishing ascent.

In spite Serapi being a full 100 metres taller than Santubong, it is such a walk in a park that some septuagenarians regularly do it as part of their weekend exercise. That's because the path to the top is literally a walk in the park that's paved with concrete - a gentle incline all the way up that rarely exceeds 30° in any significant portion. There are other trails in the park that actually takes you into the jungle like the waterfall trail, the Belian trail, the Selang trail and the Rayu trail (that takes you all the way to the Matang Wildlife Centre) which branches from what is dubbed the "Serapi Summit Walk". "Walk" here needs to be prefixed with "cake", if you ask me.

Mount Serapi Trail
This is how the Serapi Summit Walk looks like.

Mount Serapi Photographer
The most common fauna that can be found in the park.

The walk to the top of the mountain was estimated to take the average person 3-and-a-half hours from base to peak, which I found insulting so I resolved to beat that time. I started off at around 7:30AM with two whole litres of water in my backpack. I finished all my water on the way up to Santubong and had none coming down, and I did not bring a single drop of water with me at Penrissen - so you can say that I have finally learned my lesson.

A little distance from the park's headquarters, I encountered the summit walk's first landmark, a natural frog pond which naturalists believe was created by the indigenous bearded pigs.

Mount Serapi Frog Pond
Not pictured: frogs.

The informative sign there says that these manly pigs purposely dug and churned the forest floor into a muddy flurry to create a "wallow" in which they can roll and cool off in. Over hundreds or perhaps thousands of years of pigs coming to this site as if it is some sort of porcine spa, it eventually deepened into a bona fide pond. Then humans come along and walled it off with a boardwalk so they can gawk at the frogs that have made it their home.

I could hear the croaks of frogs and at one point, caught a glimpse of a maybe-frog swimming under a log, but it was daytime and seeing as frogs are mostly nocturnal, it was a disappointing diversion from my uphill stroll.

Of course, keeping to the concrete path also made it less likely for me to spot any genuinely interesting specimen of Kubah's natural denizens, but I did came across a few (mostly lepidopterans) which have ventured out of the woods.

Mount Serapi Caterpillar on Road
A fuzzy red, white and back caterpillar with a death wish.

Mount Serapi Butterfly 2
A Vindula dejone or Malay Cruiser partially blending into a litter of dead leaves.

Mount Serapi Butterfly 4
The Malay Viscount (Tanaecia pelea) on a leaf. Could also be a female Horsfield's Baron or Malay Baron.

Mount Serapi Butterfly 3
A female Common Archduke or Lexias pardalis looking very different from the black males with beautiful green, blue and purple iridescent markings.

Mount Serapi Butterfly 1
A male Striped Blue Crow (Euploea mulciber) basking at the top of a tree.

Two-thirds (I think) of the way up, I came upon a clearing where the shrubbery was noticeably shorter, revealing Mount Serapi's telecommunication tower sitting at the crown of a hill. It was then that crisis struck like a rumble deep inside my belly.

Mount Serapi Panorama Halfway Up
Stitched photograph of Serapi's peak. Click to enlarge.

It was a literal rumble inside my middle - y'know, that twisting herald of imminent poop. With the nearest toilet being right at the foot of the mountain, I was forced then to answer a philosophical question: If I shit in the forest and no one is around to smell it, does it still stink? Standing behind a large boulder, I fertilised Mother Nature's ample bosom with the earthiest of earthly offerings and as luck would have it, there was an obliging water source - a diverted rivulet - at hand for me to wash up.

Mount Serapi Shower
There was no soap dispenser nearby though.

I have never felt more one with nature.

A mere five to ten minutes later, I found myself at a junction - one leading to the true summit where the telecommunication tower was located while a sign leads off the concrete path, promising a "Viewing Tower" if I follow it for 75 metres. I approached the telecommunication tower but a friendly (if armed) infantryman stepped out of the guardhouse to turn me right around. Drat, it's a military installment of some kind. Robert Frost never had this problem.

With the road less traveled by closed to me, I headed in the direction of the viewing tower. I was keeping time and from the park headquarters, it took me little more than two hours to reach the top (that's almost one and a half hours less time than was estimated). I might have taken me less time if I didn't stop to take pictures so often (and to evacuate my bowels).

Mount Serapi Summit Viewing Tower
The belian wood observation tower.

The advertised tower was lichen-mottled construction that rose over the palm trees and undergrowth so visitors can enjoy the scenery and countryside surrounding Kubah. A yellow-and-black signboard by its side said,

This Viewing Tower was built in 1997 and made of Belian timber. For your safety, it can only accomodate 6 persons at one time"

Belian (Eusideroxylon zwageri) is apparently a rare timber tree well known for its durability and favoured for outdoor constructions that's indigenous to the Malesia region. It is also known as the Borneo ironwood. In a lot of historical sites around Kuching, including Brooke's Cottage at Peninjau and the original church at Mount Singai, the only things left behind are their belian pillar stumps.

It was a very clear day so the view from the top of the tower was nothing less than rousing.

Mount Serapi Panorama Summit
Stitched from 5 photographs (click to get a larger copy). From left to right was Sampadi Island, the turtle-shaped Big Satang Island which stood behind Small Satang Island, and the Santubong peninsula, where I climbed Mount Santubong.

My elation at another successful ascent was sadly shortlived. Before long, small group of sweaty middle-aged men interrupted my solo commune with nature and set up a picnic at the base of the Viewing Tower. I was apprehensive and my fears came true when a few of them took out their cigarette packs and lighters to relieve themselves of the fresh mountain air they climbed up to get.

Mount Serapi Summit Smoker
Look at this ugly motherfucker.

This is the 3rd time in three months that I have been beset by these bastardly cigarette addicts at a mountaintop. I was gassed by them at the top of Santubong at the end of January and then at Pha Ngeun in mid-February. The regularity by which I run into these verminous rats is surely a testament to their ubiquity. Why can't they be content with fresh air? Why can't they be thoughtful enough to not indulge in their killing habits in the presence of non-smokers? I moved myself out of the reach of their malodorous smog and indulged in a meal of chocolate, vividly daydreaming scenarios in which I torture these men by burning their corneas off with a lit cigarette before gouging their eyes out, cutting their genitals off and making them chew their severed manhoods till blood drool from their mouths, and crushing their fingers with a sharp stone, phalanx by phalanx as they scream and scream and scream. Before long, my mood began to improve.

They left after an hour, leaving me with the sole occupancy of the Viewing Tower and after reading from my Kindle a little, I decided to head downhill as the sun crawled ever closer to its house in noon. The day was still young so I decided, on a whim, to take a real hike on one of Kubah's other trails because, why not?

PART TWO: A Dip in a Waterfall at Kubah National Park

Walked in a park,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, April 13, 2014

My Kindle was Stolen so I Bought a New One

"I've got kids that enjoy stealing. I've got kids that don't think about stealing one way or the other, and I've got kids that just tolerate stealing because they know they've got nothing else to do. But nobody--and I mean nobody--has ever been hungry for it like this boy. If he had a bloody gash across his throat and a physiker was trying to sew it up, Lamora would steal the needle and thread and die laughing."

The Lies of Locke Lamora (2006) by Scott Lynch

Yeap, my precious Kindle Paperwhite was stolen from under my nose on the 18th of February, 2014. I remember that date because I have just returned from a twelve-day holiday in Northern Laos with Cheryl the day before, and it happened on the overnight bus I rode from Penang to Malacca. I must have fallen asleep when I was reading We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (one of the best books I've read about parenting ever and I think that all parenting books should be written in the style of a psychological thriller). My hands were still clasping my Kindle on my lap when my consciousness slid away into the night.

When I woke up in the Melaka Sentral bus station, I realised that I no longer have the device on me. I searched all around and under my seat to no avail. Some opportunistic thieving excuse of a human being must have taken it when my guard was down, and he could have gotten off at any of the stops preceding mine. Kindles are uncommon in Malaysia and most people don't even know what species of gadget it is when they see me reading from it. As a matter of fact, does not even ship the device to Malaysia so I had to purchase mine from a local third-party reseller. So while I lament the loss of my beautiful state-of-the-art e-book reader, somewhere out there, a thief must be thinking that he or she had just stolen the world's shittiest tablet PC.

With a sigh, I unregistered my missing Kindle from my Amazon account to prevent anyone from buying any books with my remaining gift card balance (about 130 USD at the time, which was no paltry sum), even though I was pretty damn sure he or she is close to illiterate. I was also pissed because I was forced to read the last third of We Need to Talk About Kevin using my smartphone's Kindle app. Grrr.

Okay. Deep breaths.

Last month on the 12th of March, I ordered a replacement from a second generation Kindle Paperwhite (the so-called "Paperwhite 2") with ads as screensavers to reduce the cost and no 3G (only Wi-Fi enabled). It was a package deal that comes with a "stylish case". The total came up to RM640. Since I live in Kuching, I expected that it would arrive at my doorstep on March 14 earliest but to my surprise, my mailman brought it to me on the very next day! The Kindle Malaysia team must have sent it off the moment I made payment!

What disappointed me was the "stylish case" it came with. Unlike the case that my previous Kindle shipped with, this new case was way too small to accommodate the device. I had to brute-force it in but even then, the edges of the Kindle stuck out like a burger patty with too-small buns. I suspect that it's a case that's designed to house a different product.

So I wrote to Kindle Malaysia and complained, and they kindly offered to take back the old case and send me an Amazon original leather cover if I would top up what I what I paid with RM110. The "premium case" is selling at RM219 apiece on their site so after subtracting what I paid for the shitty case, I was essentially getting a RM39 discount.

My Kindle Paperwhite 2 Premium Leather Cover
The Amazon original leather cover I eventually got,
made from premium natural leather harvested from premium natural cows.

I paid a total of RM750. If you convert the prices listed on Amazon's page to ringgit for the products I got, it should all cost RM521 at the current exchange rate - so that's RM229 more. I guess that's just one of the extra costs of living in Malaysia since Amazon refuses to ship to their amazing e-book reader here. I suspect that they think we are all illiterate based on everything they have heard our nation's leaders said on the world stage.

Anyway, the case was perfect and is totally worth the higher price. It is secured using a magnetic clasp so there's no fidgeting with snappy elastic bands like the one on my old case. The best part is that it also automatically wakes or sleeps the device whenever I open or close it - so I don't need to fiddle with the tiny on/off button with my sausage fingers.

In case you were wondering, I specifically asked for the pink case (or fuchsia if you are a woman and care about such trivial differences in hue). I like my stuff to be distinctive and brightly coloured so I can find it at a glance and people would always remember what's mine. And besides, I think only a guy who is insecure about his own manhood and sexuality would be afraid of being seen carrying or wearing something pink.

My Kindle Paperwhite 2
The device fits snugly into the case.

Wait, have I even talked about the new features that are loaded with the Paperwhite 2? Here's a list:

  • A higher contrast E Ink Carta display technology. Basically, the blacks are blacker and the whites are whiter.
  • Improved LED array in the frontlight, reducing the blooming or "blotchiness" at the bottom of the screen that plagued the illumination of the older Paperwhite.
  • 25% faster processor (1 GHz) that allows for faster page turns. I can totally vouch for this -the hiccups evident in the older Paperwhite is noticeably reduced.
  • Better response to touch input, but I don't really feel that. In fact, Paperwhite 2 seems to have a clumsier response to my touches than its predecessors. While the old Paperwhite lags behind my typing speed, it catches up accurately. The Paperwhite 2 would skip some of the letters I tap on, necessitating that I type slower.
  • The new Page Flip feature that allows the user to skip ahead or back in the text in a pop-up window and go back to the previous page - which is great so when I am reading The Winds of Winter later (heh, wishful thinking), I can summon Page Flip and flip back to the beginning at any time to look at the maps to figure out, for example, where Meeren is in relation to which backwater Daenerys goes to next instead of returning to Westeros. In case you are interested, you can summon Page Flip by swiping upwards from the bottom of the screen.
  • Goodreads integration! Goodreads is a "social cataloguing" website that book nerds use to show off to other book nerds just how many books they are consuming. It's how they decide who is the nerd king. I started an account there just because of this feature the came bundled with my Paperwhite 2.

Anyway, all of the above just makes an already excellent device even better. The original Paperwhite was already a near faultless reading experience so no reinvention of the wheel is called for here. However, after being a Kindle owner for near a year, I do think that there is one aspect that the good folks from Amazon can work on: Better integration of diagrams and pictures! It isn't a problem when you are reading a novel with simple illustrations but when I was reading textbooks such as the Principles of Evolutionary Medicine, I found that I could not enlarge the charts and table in it - and that is frustrating. I would totally buy more textbooks for my Kindle and study more if this is fixed.

Aside from that, I love my new Kindle Paperwhite 2 so much that I want to gay marry it.

k0k s3n w4i