Saturday, March 29, 2014


"And you can't fight the tears that ain't coming
Or the moment of truth in your lies
When everything feels like the movies
Yeah, you bleed just to know you're alive

And I don't want the world to see me
'Cause I don't think that they'd understand
When everything's made to be broken
I just want you to know who I am"

Iris (1998) by Goo Goo Dolls

Have you ever attended a funeral of someone you knew all your life and not feel even a twinge of sadness? And all you felt were detachment and you wondered if there was something wrong with you? Have you ever, in the heat of a fight with some one you love, step out of the crossfire in your mind? And you watch disinterestedly as the two of you kill each other with words? Have you ever have thoughts so dark that you bury them where you buried your soul because you are afraid that people will see you as the monster you secretly are, and they would cast you out in the wilderness with the other beasts that prowls in the shadow of humanity? That you just want to hold down a pretty girl who spurned you and force yourself on her? That you want to strangle your baby because he refuses to sleep and wouldn't stop crying? That sometimes, you wish you can just stop pretending to care about others and fulfil all your selfish desires or to live free of inconveniences and pain?

Do you feel as if you are somehow different from everyone around you? Do you smile and greet your friends, your colleagues, your neighbours, hoping desperately they wouldn't know what you really are and burn you at the stake? Does it seem like you alone can see all the ugliness of the world in stark black and white, while all others wander stupidly like farm animals through life in a dream, a fantasy? That there is goodness? Hope? A good God who loves you no matter what and listens to your tiny, whiny prayers as if they were at all important to the grand spinning orrery of the cosmos? Isn't that what God is? A lie you tell yourself to feel special, that the most important being in the universe cares about you, has a plan for you and had prepared a heaven for you to spend eternity with him while he casts everyone you dislike down to hell to burn? You'd like that don't you? You'd pretend to feel sorry for them, and you'd even blame them for all the delightful torture you have imagined for them for daring to disbelieve in your special imaginary friend. Serve those bastards right! All while thinking you are righteous and adored by God.

Do you feel like you are always pretending so you would not scare your friends or family away by that gaping bottomless void inside you? That there is no one home? Just yawning emptiness stretching miles and miles with no oases, no horizons and no daylight? Unlike the schizophrenics and psychotically depressed, you have the opposite of voices talking to you - you hear the deafening roar of silence. Not the silence of a library or that of restful sleep, but the silence of a predator stalking in the long, tall grass right before the red chase and the death of prey.

I sit in my office, behind a large solid wooden table, in the Psychiatry clinic everyday. And across that table - no, diagonally from where I sit so my patients would feel less of a barrier between them and I as what the handbooks say - I listen as they tell me their innermost anguish. I heard how ugly husbands and wives can be to one another in spite of their sincerest vows. I get all the most sickening details of how they were sexually violated, how they were brutalised by those they love. I see the carrions of families, their festering entrails laid out before me in various stages of being torn apart by diseases, drugs, money and the basest passions. No wonder all these poor wretched souls need their prayers, their blind unquestioning faith and their flimsy origami gods, folded in exactly the shapes they want them to be. And I, in spite sharing none of their beliefs, encourage them to do just that even though all I really want to do is tear it down and tell them how stupid they all are. I would say: Go to church or your mosque or your temple and be with people. Feel supported, feel the safety net on your soles. Live the delusions that hold you together and make you think you are whole. They need these things and they need me to play my part. And I play it so well that some of my patients would even tell me what a great, caring, understanding doctor I am. One woman told her mother, whom I was treating, "You must thank God for giving you such a good doctor!" I put on my smile at that praise even though I really wanted to laugh.

Even though I want to reach across that table of mine, grab my patients by their shoulders, shake them and scream: "I am just as broken as you! Can't you see how broken I am?!"

Half the time, the mask feels warm, like soft flesh with pounding pulse beneath it. When I feel the sadness and grief of others, when I try my hardest to help them, was it empathy? Or was it something that walks like it and quacks like it but is far more hollow? Maybe I'm so good that I fool myself. I don't know anymore. I think I used to but what once was certain just faded like a dream in the morning, no colours or details whatsoever - just a vague sense of something missing. I want to be a good person, a good doctor, a good husband and a good father. I want to do right by all of those beside me. I want to love and be loved. But right now, I am so tired of failing I just want to shut everyone out, lock myself away and throw the key down the deepest well of self-loathing and self-pity I can find.

I hate that I can't change the world. I hate that I can't change even one person. I hate most that I can't, no matter how hard I try or how loudly I cry, change who I am inside.

k0k s3n w4i

Friday, March 28, 2014

Surprise Weekend at the Borneo Highlands Resort

"A family is a unit composed not only of children but of men, women, an occasional animal, and the common cold."

Ogden Nash

Last Saturday, I was planning to bundle our entire family (sans cats) into my car and go for a day at the beach right after I punch out from my Friday call. It was to be Darwin's first ever encounter with sand and sea but the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley, as Bobby Burns would say. After a few days of comfy, breezy overcast skies, the sun rose high and shone hot on Saturday. Darwin is a bit delicate - as babies are wont to be - and I had no intention of baking my firstborn so I scrapped the plan as soon as I got home from work. Cheryl was very disappointed because I've been talking through the entire week about going to the beach that weekend and she had spent all morning preparing to go nowhere.

So, I went to my computer, looked up a number and made a quick call. Then I told my wife that we are going to spend a night at the Borneo Highlands Resort. A one-and-a-half hours drive later through some kampungs with the picturesque Penrissen range always in view, we have arrived in a sort of commercial paradise for those who can afford it.

View From Room in Borneo Highlands Resort
The view from our room, stitched from 4 photographs.

There were two types of accommodation options available at the Borneo Highlands Resort - one of 30 rooms at the "Clubhouse" or one of their 10 "Jungle Cabins". I got us a "Birdie" room at ye snooty House of Clubs at the song of about RM240 a night (breakfast included). In case it is not already made abundantly clear at this point, the Borneo Highlands Resort main selling point is its 18-hole Hornbill Golf Course, its well-coiffed grass bordered by rainforest and damp from mountain mist. Every painting in the house depicts golfing. There are ceramic bas-reliefs of each of their holes in the corridors. In their lobby, a wall was reserved for the photographs of their most notorious guests and I saw mugshots of Mahathir, Badawi and Taib there.

The Clubhouse itself appears to be a weathered, peeling half-timber affair perching at the edge of a hill that exudes a delicious haunted Overlook Hotel atmosphere. It's the perfect holing up spot if you are into writing horror novels or nursing your inner axe murderer.

Borneo Highlands Resort Clubhouse
The Clubhouse where we stayed. Photo taken in the evening when the mist thickened.

Borneo Highlands Resort Room
Our Birdie Room.

Our room was a woody chamber with no telly, because the people who run this place takes their "Back to Nature, Back to Basics" slogan seriously. I found a burial pile of TV carcasses siting in a dark, musty shower room opposite our room. The only source of food in the entire resort is their open air Annah Rais Café and they only serve expensive vegetarian fare. Someone told me that that's because the owner of the resort is a Buddhist. I can't see his decision being very profitable as his target clientèle are mostly made up of wealthy wagyu-carving plutocrats, and such devoted adherence to one's own principles can't help but elicit admiration from me. The food was pretty delicious though and as guests, we enjoyed a 20% discount. I almost didn't feel that sense of being incomplete that I usually experience every time I omit meat from my meals.

The first thing we did was drive 2 hilly kilometres from the Clubhouse to the Kalimantan border viewpoint. A signboard informed me that it was about 1000 metres above sea level with a 600 metres drop from the edge.

Kalimantan Border Brighter
At the edge of civilisation. Yonder lies Indonesia.

It was invigorating to see an ocean of trees and mountains as far as the horizon from so great a height. Shadows of cloud crawled silently and lazily over untouched rainforest below while birds frolic carelessly through the cold air between lances of late afternoon sunlight. The Penrissen range is a designated Important Bird Area (IBA) and it shows so if birdies are not your thing, you can pick up a binocular and watch real birds there instead.

There, I set up my tripod and took our first ever family photo.

Kalimantan Border Family Portrait
From right to left: Me, Cheryl and my hairless heir.

It is the first photograph to include all three of us in it.

Darwin Foot in Mouth
Darwin, displaying his innate skill of putting his foot in his mouth, just like his old man.

After soaking up the stunning scenery and resisting the temptation to pee 600 metres into a neighbouring country, we got into the car again and circumnavigated the entire resort. We drove past an abandoned vineyard and a flower garden which was closed to visitor at the time before getting off near the stables to introduce to Darwin his first horse. By this time, daylight have started failing.

Darwin and Pony
He was so psyched.

Horse Rollover
This is upside down. It's actually a picture of a flying horse carrying the planet Earth on its back.

Borneo Highlands Resort Pony Dick
We also inadvertently introduced Darwin to his first horse-cock. Good thing he won't remember any of it.

The entire day was incredibly relaxing and the fact that so few people were there at the resort (in spite it being a weekend during a school holiday) contributed to its pervasive mood of peace. We saw little more than a dozen people and I don't believe that more than 5 rooms were occupied. All the golf courses we saw were devoid of golfers. There was a large prayer banner in the reception area for Flight MH370 and the staff members were encouraging their guests to scribble on it with a permanent marker, but it looked rather pathetic with so anaemic a number contributing to it. I didn't, being atheist and thus, having no use of talking to make-believe deities hoping to magically influence world events.

When we left the resort in the following day, we stopped beside a pretty multi-tiered waterfall we saw when we were crawling agonisingly up the mountain at 5km/h. We stayed for less than a quarter of an hour there because some local youths have taken over the site and have started a smoky cook-out using wood fire (one of them pissed in full view of us at the wayside). I made a mental note to return to it again if I ever come this way again. The water was crystal and the shallow rock pool was perfect for splashing in.

Damn you people who have as much right as I do of being here.

Darwin at Waterfall
Darwin, listening to his first waterfall.

Of course, the highlight of my stay at the Borneo Highlands Resort was my solo unguided hike up Mount Penrissen which looms over Hole 13. I'll talk about it in excruciating detail in a subsequent write-up - it was like no other trek I ever did. Both my legs were streaming with blood by the time I finished.

RELATED POST: To the Edge of Sarawak at Penrissen's Peak

Spontaneous vacationer,
k0k s3n w4i

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Whole World Prayed for One Thing and God Couldn't Give a Damn

"Well you only need the light when it's burning low
Only miss the sun when it starts to snow
Only know you love her when you let her go"

Let Her Go (2012) by Passenger

Today, we learned that the missing flight MH370 is assumed to have crashed into the Indian Ocean with no survivors. 17 days of a worldwide prayer campaign for the errant jetliner seemed to have failed to generate a miracle to reverse the accident that had happened 17 days ago. And the call to prayer was everywhere. Just this weekend, I went to the Borneo Highlands Resort with my wife and kid, and I noticed that they had erected a ceiling-scraping banner in the reception foyer for their guests to sign their prayers on for all the lost souls aboard MH370. The outdoor activities director there handed me a marker - expecting me to add to it - but I handed it back, saying politely that I don't pray. Suddenly, he was a lot less warm to me, as if I just told him that I don't breathe or that I don't see my own reflection whenever I look into a mirror.

It's like the other day when I saw a bumper sticker on a car in front of mine that told me, "Seven days without God makes one WEAK." This is the sort of every day discrimination I face as a non-believer. If I don't subscribe to the beliefs of the majority, I am an acceptable target of scorn and terrible puns.

When one receive such pricks on a daily basis, one tends to develop an equally prickly demeanour - and that can make me sound like an asshole on my best days. So, when I found out about the fate of MH370, I tweeted sarcastically: "So God ignored ALL your prayers for so many days? Sounds like a jerk. Or nonexistent. ‪#‎MH370‬"

I regretted it almost as soon as I clicked "Tweet" but I stopped short of outright deleting it. I dared write it, so I supposed it would be craven of me not to own it. I wanted to see if anyone would call me out on it.

Sure enough, within minutes, a colleague of mine wrote to me on Facebook. He said,

Classy Kok very classy.. Perhaps not the best time to argue the existence of god

I find myself agreeing with what he said. In fact, I found his words so apt that I "Liked" them. Then, I wrote this in reply,

Or perhaps it's the best time.

Everyone have gone through some sort of tragedy in their lives, as did you and I. In the period it took for this report to come out saying that none of the 239 passengers survived, 500,000 children have died in the world before their time. Where are their prayers? Where are their hashtags, signature-riddled banners and Facebook statuses? If 239 people dying in a day is not the best time to question the existence of God, then are you saying that I should just shut up forever because every day, far more that 239 people perish in untimely and tragic circumstances?

The world is filled with senseless suffering. In my last call [at the hospital], they brought in a woman who was sexually assaulted and no one cared because we hear the same story every day. Many more died in our wards all over the country in the seconds I took to write this. I recently talked to a 12 year old girl who was raped - was God watching it as it happened? Did God just look on as millions of children in the world continue to suffer in slave prostitution rings while He makes a note to self to punish their pimps in hell LATER?

I couldn't find peace with all of these until I finally let go of my delusion that there is some sort of impossible father figure who takes care of things - that bad things just happen and there's really no greater meaning than that. I see many people on Facebook offer their form of condolences, in prayers, in
"they are in a better place now" wishes. That's their prerogative and I left them to it. But have you ever considered that maybe, just maybe, some people need the sort of solace I found in accepting the chaos of life, that no one upstairs is responsible for their pain?

Because what are all their prayers if not arguments and assertions of the existence of God themselves? Is that classy? Are the loved ones of those aboard MH370 all believers?

Why don't you go on their prayer statuses instead, in their promises of an afterlife, and tell them
"Classy, very classy. Perhaps not the best time to argue [for] the existence of god"?

There's really nothing more I can add to this.

Kind of a jerk,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Halimah Versus the Malaysian Syariah Court

"O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm in justice, witnesses for Allah , even if it be against yourselves or parents and relatives. Whether one is rich or poor, Allah is more worthy of both. So follow not (personal) inclination, lest you not be just. And if you distort (your testimony) or refuse (to give it), then indeed Allah is ever, with what you do, Acquainted."

Verse 135, Surat An-Nisā' (The Women), Al-Qur'an

The name Halimah has Arabic roots and it means "gentle" or "mild mannered". I think that it is high time that Malaysians know its meaning considering how frequently we see it mentioned in our news these days.

Halimah is the singular name of a 42-year-old Indonesian migrant worker who, on December 8, 2011, was arrested by six inquisitors officers from the Penang Islamic Religious Department (JAIPP) at a reflexology spa along Jalan Seang Tek, Penang. She was questioned for two hours before being brought away in handcuffs - because presumably, the JAIPP officers were afraid that she would overpower all six of them and escape.

Her crime?

Khalwat. Like her name, that is a word that has Arabic origins and it means "solitude" or "alone", and in Malaysia, it refers to the so-called crime of "close proximity". She was accused of khalwat with a client she was attending to i.e. massaging his foot. You see, unmarried and unrelated members of opposing sexes in Malaysia - if one or both of them are Muslims - aren't allowed to fraternise unchaperoned in case something sexy happens although details are sketchy on how long and how close do you have to be to someone for it to be considered khalwat. I suppose it depends on how holier-than-thou the Islamic officers are feeling that day when they catch you but I don't really know and care very little.

Once, a Muslim girl from my med school asked me out on midnight walk on a deserted hill (alone) because she was feeling depressed from a recent break up with her Chinese boyfriend. I had also went out to dinner with her and always afterwards, gentleman that I was, walked her home (alone every time). In another instance, I accompanied her (alone together for most of the day) when she went to get some travel papers sorted out. I thought I was just being a good friend and didn't realise that I was her accomplice in her heinous acts of khalwat! I suppose I must turn her in now.

Anyway, for committing sweet, sweet khalwat, Halimah was sentenced to a 14 days jail term and a RM3,000 fine. Now, why am I bringing Halimah and her khalwat case up? What distinguishes her from the thousands of khalwating couples that the Islamic enforcers haul in everyday?

Hint: It ain't her mole.

Halimah is a Christian woman.

I guess the Arabic name Halimah must have thrown them off because Malaysian Muslims are easily confused. They also made it illegal in Malaysia for non-Muslims to use the word "Allah" because they were afraid that it might lead them astray, causing them to walk unwittingly into churches and accidentally fall into baptismal pools - in spite of the fact that the use of the Arabic word for God predated the existence of Islam. And as this case demonstrated, even the smartest, most learned Muslim men on Islamic laws in Malaysia (presumably that's who they staff their state enforcement departments and Syariah Court with) are similarly susceptible to befuddlement when it comes to separating anything Arabic from Islam.

Being a Bandung native of little education, Halimah's command of the Malay language (though it sounds like Indonesian) is limited. Her poor grasp of on our national language is evident when she was asked questions in Malay, which had to be repeated several times to her before she can understand them. And being Indon and Catholic, she was also not very cognizant of the crime that she allegedly committed so when they hauled her in front of the Lower Syariah Court without any legal representation and read the facts of the case to her in Malay (without reading her charge sheet), she "pleaded guilty". It was on that basis that they sentenced her, and as far as I can tell, she was punished for the crime of stupidity and incompetence - the JAIPP officers' and the Lower Syariah Court's stupidity and incompetence, that is.

"I told them that she’s a Christian, not a Muslim, but they would not believe me," Halimah's employer, Datin Josephine Ong, said. "When they took her back for questioning, they kept telling her to just admit to it and admit that she’s a Muslim and that if she admits, nothing will happen to her."

Nothing will happen to her? Dishonest much? It seemed like her "confession" was also extracted under duress and deception.

Furthermore, Halimah's boss's assertions which if true, would have rendered their charge null, but they didn't even bother establishing that their perp is Muslim before charging her under Islamic laws! That means they are lazy as well. Damn, the crimes of JAIPP and the Syariah Court is multiplying!

So due process went on and last year in September, Halimah and her allies appealed to the Syariah High Court - which I imagine must be presided over by the absolute top dogs in Syariah legalities (unlike the riffraff in the Lower Syariah Court) and isn't as susceptible to simpleminded confusion - and they... sustained the decision of the Lower Court.


Just so you know, Halimah has a family registry that records that she, her husband and all her children are Catholics. She has a baptismal certificate proving that she was baptised in Medan on June 19, 1982. She even has a letter from the Indonesian Consulate verifying the authenticity of the documents! The Islamic authorities have EXACTLY ZERO proof that she had ever converted to Islam.

Yet, she spent the last three years fighting their illegal charge and sentence on her. She have not returned to her home to see her husband and kids since her arrest in 2011. And it looks like she would probably miss her daughter's wedding in May this year as well. I am a simple man and I don't know much, but I know what justice is and the Syariah Court seems to be in the business of upholding its opposite.

On Tuesday, she appeared in front of the Syariah Court of Appeal. Why she didn't simply walk away, fart in the general direction of the Syariah Court while flapping both middle fingers is beyond me. They have no case and no jurisdiction over her. If they try to nab her again, she should sue the fuckload of them for unlawful arrest because she's Catholic and the Syariah goons, in the immortal words of MC Hammer, "can't touch this".

And since the Syariah Court is now in the business of ruining the lives of non-Muslims like Halimah, I see it in turn as an invitation for non-Muslims to criticise their actions and judgments - like how they approved 1,022 child marriages last year. Whenever I discuss or argue over Islamic theology, I was always told by enraged Muslims that I am a kafir who does not understand scripture, and that I should always read the Qur'an and the Hadiths with the guidance of someone who is well-versed in them so I would not misinterpret them. 

Well-versed how? Like a JAIPP witch hunter or a Syariah Court judge? You let these bumbling zealots rule your lives? That's real faith alright.

Immune to the Syariah Court,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Are Non-Malays More Tolerant of Child Rapes?

"I used to play with the dolls in the presence of the Prophet, and my girl friends also used to play with me. When Allah's Messenger (ﷺ) used to enter (my dwelling place) they used to hide themselves, but the Prophet would call them to join and play with me. (The playing with the dolls and similar images is forbidden, but it was allowed for `Aisha at that time, as she was a little girl, not yet reached the age of puberty.)"

Too recently, I was called in to do a psychiatric evaluation of 12-year-old Malay Muslim girl who had sexual intercourse with her 23-year-old male cousin. I was told by the referring doctor and the girl's mother that the whole affair was consensual, to which I snarkily replied: "I didn't know 12-year-olds can consent to sex."

If I didn't transmute my anger into sarcasm, I fear I might just hit somebody. After asking a few gentle questions, I learned that the girl knew nothing about sex (beyond a few dirty words boys in her school inserted into her vocabulary) or even that intercourse can result in a pregnancy. She also said she didn't enjoy the act and that it hurt every single time, but had chose to bear it for her amorous cousin's sake. Her parents did not make a police report because it never even occurred to them that what happened to their naïve preteen was rape most foul. If anything, they were angry at the girl for squandering her chastity. To my exasperation, we actually had to force her parents to alert the authorities, threatening to do so ourselves if they don't.

The law assumes that a person would have to reach a certain age before they are considered competent enough to do certain things: like drive a car, buy booze, vote, or consent to sex and marriage. The age however, differs from country to country and we can debate till the universe collapse about the optimum age at which an individual reaches the requisite level of maturity to say yes to boning, but let's not. In Malaysia, a person can consent to sex at 16. Statutory rape is a simple enough concept. It is rape - period - if anyone has sex with a boy or girl who is below 16, no matter how desperately he or she is asking for it.

That also means that in Malaysia, the law thinks that you are capable of making life decisions as important as who you want to be married to before you can even drive a car (that's 17).

But wait! According to Act 303, Islamic Family Law (Federal Territories) ACT, 1984, there's a little something extra:

No marriage may be solemnized under this Act when either the man is under the age of eighteen or the woman is under the age of sixteen except where the Syariah Judge has granted his permission in writing in certain circumstances.

What this basically means is, you can marry an underage girl (or boy) so long as a Syariah long-beard gives you the okay. Only Muslims in Malaysia are privileged with this special exclusive dispensation (so no legal underage vaginas for the likes of atheists like me). We Malaysians were most recently re-acquainted with this legal peculiarity by that incident in Sabah last year where a 40-year-old restaurant manager raped a 13-year-old schoolgirl in his car. To avoid the legal repercussions of child-fucking, he petitioned to marry his rape victim as his second wife at the Syariah Court - which approved it.

I guess this is one of those "certain circumstances" that the Syariah Court permits. Child rapists can marry their underage rape victims and then continue to legally fuck them forever? Halal!

Our regular court (not guided by the shining wisdom of Allah) however, sentenced the child rapist to 12 years of prison and 2 lashes of the rotan so when he is expected to come out of the slammer, his new bride would finally be of age.

Sorry, everything I've written so far is just a (crucial) preamble to what I actually intend to talk about so bear with me. Yesterday, our Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar, when confronted with statistics that showed that Malay Muslims in this country are disproportionately involved in statutory rape cases, said,

"Maybe the non-Malays are not as sensitive about it, which is why not many people come forward to make reports."

He further said,

"Statistics showed that the reports by Malays were higher than those from the other communities, as the Malay Muslim community could not accept children born out of wedlock, which is against Islam."

Call me crazy but I don't think that's it, Junaidi dear.

He is essentially implying that other races have a more cavalier and accepting attitude towards child rape, hence the purported under-reporting - which I think is ass-backwards because if under-reporting is indeed the case, it makes more sense to say that it is due to Chinese, Indians and other races being more sensitive and ashamed of child rape. Not to mention that Junaidi was also, in a way, claiming that Islam is morally superior to other faiths. In more civilised countries, saying what he said was tantamount to political suicide but in Malaysia, it's just Tuesday.

Also, I find it terrifying that "children born out of wedlock" is the primary concern of the Malay Muslim community when addressing the issue of statutory rape - not the fact that freaking children are being preyed upon by predators.

Wan Junaidi
"B-b-b-but I pulled that right out of my ass!"

Now, how disproportionate are the numbers?

In 2012 a total of 1,550 statutory rape cases were reported, out of which 1,243 cases involved Malays, 73 Chinese, 45 Indians and 189 from other races.

2012 Statutory Rapes by Ethnicity
Mmm... child rape pie.

2013's figures are commensurate with the preceding year's with 1,147 cases out of 1,424 cases involving Malays, 62 Chinese, 32 Indians and 183 others

2013 Statutory Rapes by Ethnicity
I intentionally chose yellow to represent the Chinese. I'm Chinese so I can do shit like that.

Malay Muslims make up about 50.4% of the entirety of Malaysia's population but contributes a whopping 80% of the total reported child rape cases in the past two years. That's the huge honking elephant of a discrepancy that Junaidi was racistly trying to explain away from the living room.

Now, why is that? I would like to propose a counter-theory to the one offered by Junaidi.

What I Think is the Explanation (Maybe).

If they want to arrest me for violating blasphemy/sedition laws for writing this, they better arrest Mr Junaidi too - though unlike him, I can actually present some evidence backing up my arguments.

Remember that long introduction earlier where I spoke of Act 303 which effectively said that only Muslims in Malaysia are allowed to marry underage girls and boys (so long as they do so under the auspices of the Syariah Court)? That's all relevant here.

In 2009, 479 girls who underwent pre-marital HIV testing for Muslims were under 15 years old - 32 of them were under 10. In 2012 alone, there were 1,165 applications to the Syariah Court for marriage where one of the parties (usually the bride) were below 16. That's almost as many Malay Muslims who were involved in reported statutory rape cases in that same year. A shocking 1,022 (almost 90%) of the 1,165 petitions were approved so I guess "certain circumstances" must cover a lot of ground where it is okay for someone to marry a child according to our Syariah Court's interpretation of Sunni Islam.

One can maybe even say that there already exists a permissive culture amongst the Malay people in viewing children as potential brides. Ready for marriage and motherhood. Ready for sex.

Maybe, just maybe, this normalisation of child marriage and sex with minors in the Malay Muslim community have something to do with their grossly disproportionate over-representation in statutory rape statistics? Is that far-fetched?

Not that there's anything wrong with child marriage, no sirree! I mean, even the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) married Aishah when she was only 6 years old and consummated their marriage when she was just 9. Clearly all these child marrying business is holy and sacrosanct and falls strictly in line with the highest standards of moral rectitude and cannot ever, ever be questioned, right? After all, as religious people are fond of saying to dirty kuffar like me: all religions are exemplary and teaches only the goodest good.

I wonder if I am going to be asked to talk to any more raped children at work today.

P.S. This post was originally titled "Why Are Most Child Rapists Malay Muslims" but I fear that the Muslim mob might read that as a derogatory statement rather than an accurate description of Malaysian child rape statistics.

Not allowed to marry children
under any circumstances,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Climbing Pha Ngeun

"The poetry of the earth is never dead."

John Keats

Bike Trip Pha Ngeun Lady with Basket
A Lao lady carrying a woven basket at the base of Pha Ngeun.

Pha Ngeun was one of the things I was really looking forward to doing in my Laos itinerary. It is a rocky hill located about 3 kilometres outside of the main Vang Vieng town and is easily accessible on foot or on bicycles. It offers what is arguably the best view of the karst countryside without going skint from paying to go up in a hot air balloon (at about 100 US dollars per butt, we'd need to sacrifice a quarter of our paltry budget to make that happen).

So, on the morning of our second day in Vang Vieng, we rented two bicycles and struck out westward into the local paddy-field boondocks.

Bike Trip Bridge Over Nam Song
Toll bridge over the Nam Song. Picture taken by Cheryl using her phone.

In hindsight, I think we ought to have walked or at least rented mountain bikes with decent shock absorbers because the road was craggier than the seediest neighbourhood on the moon. It was also the dry season so every passing vehicle throws up a cloud of choking red dust in its wake. We were also forced to dismount multiple times to push our bikes when the uphill bits of the alleged road got too steep to pedal through on our one-speed steel steeds.

It would totally have been a gruelling and joyless slog if the view along the way didn't look fucking fantastic.

Bike Trip Scenery and Cows
Mists, mountains, fields and cows.

Bike Trip Pha Ngeun Bike View
Stitched this from 3 pictures. Makes one want to sing Country Roads, doesn't it?

While I was still researching our trip, I came across some achingly beautiful stills of the panorama from the top of Pha Ngeun but they were few in number and all of them were either framed too restrictedly or have unsightly watermarks splashed right across them. To wit, I decided to summit Pha Ngeun, snap some photographs of my own, and share them on the internet for the benefit of the world.

To find Pha Ngeun, one only need to look out for a sign on the right side of the road (assuming you were travelling from the main town) that reads:

Welcometo pha ngeun mountain.
*pha ngeun mountain is a beautiful natural mountain.
visitors can walk from phone ngeun village to the top of pha ngeun mountain about 500 metres, or 20 minutes. the way is safe and easy for visitor go up. when you reach the top of pha ngeun mountain, you will see good view.

Just to share a bit of the local flavour, I preserved the punctuation, capitalisation and grammar in the above quote.

If you are illiterate and unable to read, you can simply keep an eye out for a rather steep gumdrop-shaped hill that's practically standing right beside the road.

Bike Trip Pha Ngeun
Like a Hershey's Kiss™ after someone had bitten its tip off.

We chained our bicycles right outside a local store where we bought some drinks and took a small village footpath right to the base of the hill to begin our ascent. The villagers of Phone Ngeun charges each visitor a 10,000 kip entrance fee (about 4 ringgit) for maintaining the trail and the basic observation decks at the top.

By the way, did I mention that the name Pha Ngeun means "Silver Cliff"? I too wondered about that until I saw the hill from the west.

Bike Trip Pha Ngeun Silver Cliff
It was a cliff that is silver. Who'd have thunk it?

The path up was gentle and easy to follow. It was only near the top that the ascent became more vertical, but the villagers have built wooden steps over the hardest parts. Even if you take a leisurely stroll up, taking plenty of pictures along the way, you are still going to make it in less than an hour. There are no official numbers that I can find but most guesstimates I've seen pegged it at 250 metres.

Bike Trip Pha Ngeun Path
There is even chicken wire bordering the ledge at some parts to stop hikers from falling off.

Bike Trip Pha Ngeun Middle Finger
Cheryl giving me a sign of endearment for making her climb a damn hill so early in the morning.

The first observation deck you'll come across at the top would give you a decent view but walk a little further - past a pleasant meadow of wild flowers and over some harsh limestone jags - and you'll find the second hut, perched precariously over the hill's namesake and facing south.

What that little wooden hut offers was what I came here for.

View from Pha Ngeun
Panorama of the Vang Vieng countryside stitched from six photographs. Click to enlarge.

I am not what you would call a very physical person but I always have a yenning inside me for high places. I suspect it is residual infantile longing from my babyhood in the Genting Highlands, where both of my parents worked. When I backpacked through Tamil Nadu, I only made two stops there - Ooty and Kodaikanal - and both of them were hill stations. When I returned for a month of backpacking in India after I graduated from med school, I spent the entire time in the Dauladhar range of the Outer Himalayan mountains. I love the scenery from great heights. I love the chilly climate, perfect for outdoor adventures or huddling inside with blankets and a hot drink to read. In a way, I am starting to realise that what I think of home is not a question of latitudes and longitudes, but altitude.

I also enjoy the fresh cold mountain air that fills your lungs and feels like it is cleansing your very soul as you exhale. Not much chance of it here on top of Pha Ngeun though.

Bike Trip Pha Ngeun Smoker
I have never wanted to push someone off a cliff so much.

Three other hikers were already at the observation deck and all that fresh cold mountain air was apparently no good for them so they had to smoke some cigarettes, of course. I ran into smokers when I summited Santubong earlier this year too and it seems like it is my inescapable fate to have these pestilential tobacco addicts plague me wherever I go. Nowadays, whenever I see smokers, I just mentally wish them painful, horrible deaths - and if I ever crack and become homicidally insane, I would probably just go and violently kill every smoker I see until the police have to take me down with deadly force.

I was glad when they left shortly after we arrived. We were glad that they took their noxious cloud with them and Cheryl found that an opportune moment to pump her breasts (she's still nursing Darwin). Then disaster struck when Cheryl accidentally let slip one of her trumpet-thingies and it rolled off the platform. That meant that her already bothersome chore of regularly milking herself would be twice as bothersome for the remainder of our vacation!

That was unacceptable and I, valiant husband that I am, went after her suction cup by clambering over the railing and doing a spot of freestyle rock climbing.

Bike Trip Pha Ngeun Hero
"If I die, tell Darwin that his old man was a hero."

I then fell 250 metres into the middle of a field and died in bloody spattering of organs and loose change. PLOT TWIST! This is actually my vengeful spirit blogging.

Anyway, after a short snack of a bar of Snickers and an expired Mars Bars (must read expiry dates when you buy perishables in Laos) and getting used to the amazing vista, we started our descent. I could easily have spent the entire day up there reading and napping but that would be running the risk of meeting other humanoids who violate other people's airways with their personal slow-suicide kits cigarettes. Besides, we had a schedule to stick to and I wanted to make it to Tham Phu Kam before noon to do a little swimming and caving.

I'll tell you more in my next post.

Bike Trip Pha Ngeun Spider Dew
A dew-decorated orb web I saw on the way down.

Bike Trip Bridge Village Weaver
Another kind of weaver that we met at Ban Na Thong, a village we passed before reaching Tham Phu Kham.

Vive La Vientiane: Part One
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: First Night in Town
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: The Blue Lagoon at Tham Phu Kam
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Solo Mountain Biking Trip to Kaeng Nyui Waterfall
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Tubing Down the Nam Song
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Last Day in Town at Pha Poak and Lusi Cave
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: The Night and Morning Markets
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: Phou Si Hill, Haw Kham and Wat Xieng ThongSabaidee Luang Prabang: Out Alone in the City 

Silver surfer,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, March 10, 2014

Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: First Night in Town

"And the walls kept tumbling down
In the city that we love
Great clouds roll over the hills
Bringing darkness from above"

Pompeii (2012) by Bastille

Vang Vieng Town
Street in Vang Vieng.

Pretty much every hotel or guesthouse in Vientiane can arrange a minibus for Vang Vieng, a backpacker town situated just 3 to 4 hours north of the Lao capital. The town proper of Vang Vieng is little more than a collection of cheap travellers' inns, uninspired restaurants, and tour offices that have proliferated along a stretch of road that happens to pass through some of the region's most amazing karst landscape.

Vang Vieng Panorama from Guest House
The view from our room at the Mountain Riverview Guest House (please click for a larger view). Be envious.

Mountain Riverview Guest House Balcony
Our balcony, from which the above view could be enjoyed.

In just the past decade, it exploded into what travel columnists call the world's most unlikely party town as an estimated 170,000 tourists flock to Vang Vieng yearly, most of them young YOLO'ists who are still far and away from exhausting their birth supply of stupid. It became a frat boy Disneyland - its veins filled with cheap Beerlao, its synapses abuzz with marijuana, mushrooms and opium. Coupled that with the town's number one attraction - riding the inner tube of a tractor tyre down the clear waters of Nam Song, a river that runs beside the town - then you get a whole lot of young foreigners getting injured and dying by the bucketfuls. 27 tourist deaths were reported in 2011 alone (an underestimation, said a local doctor as many fatalities are taken straight to Vientiane).

Hot Air Balloon Evening
Hot air balloons go up thrice a day. Also seen from our balcony.

Aside from the trivial issue of evolution at work ridding the human gene pool of kids who are too dumb to live, the party atmosphere was also taking its toll on the local rural population which, aside from having to bear with the bikini debauchery that the travellers import into Vang Vieng, were losing their own youths to drugs, liquour and petty crimes.

Vang Vieng Biker Girl
Exemplified by this hell-riding toddler.

We met Bonnie and Micke, a Swedish couple vacationing in Luang Prabang, who told us that they have decided to leave Vang Vieng out of their Laos itinerary because they didn't want to add to the sorrows of the local Vang Viengites because of this very reason - something I find odd. The people of Vang Vieng don't hate the infusion of tourist moolah into their beautiful little backyard backwater (in fact, almost all the businesses in Vang Vieng depends on it). What they hate are tourists misbehaving during their visit. I think that they might in fact welcome more tourists who would go there to have nice, clean fun.

Besides, the Lao government have clamped down on Vang Vieng in 2012 and cleaned up the once-hedonistic hamlet of most of its undesirable elements, allowing the town to refocus itself on its healthier adventure tourism aspects such as caving, rock climbing, and kayaking.

Vang Vieng Sunset from Guest House
Sunset over Vang Vieng, as sighted near our guest house.

Cheryl and I reached there by late afternoon and checked into the Mountain Riverview Guest House, a charming wooden cabin-like outfit with a great view of the Vang Vieng limestone peaks and a not-so great view of the Nam Song located behind Wat That (a local temple, not a misspelt enquiry). It only cost us 15 US dollars or 50 ringgit a night.

Mountain Riverview Guest House Bedroom
The spacious air-conditioned room with a double bed and a clean attached bathroom.

On our first night, we just explored the town. The streets were far more sedate than what most older reviews of Vang Vieng have led us to believe. Many restaurants and bars listed in our outdated guidebook were no longer in existence, though every restaurant and drinking hole were still playing reruns of Friends.

Vang Vieng Friends Everywhere
Vang Vieng: the one place in the world where Jennifer Aniston is still relevant.

It seemed that the local authorities have largely succeeded in cleaning up Vang Vieng.

In no time at all, we reached the southern end of the town where we happened upon some kind of fête on the grounds and on the streets outside of Wat Si Suman. There were game booths, shooting galleries, street vendors hawking food and trinkets, and even a giant inflatable bouncy castle for kids to ricochet off each other in.

Vang Vieng Fair Psy Balloons
And for some reason, super-deformed PSY helium balloons.

Vang Vieng Fair Darts
I caught it right before the green dart pierced one of the balloons.

The tourist restaurants in Vang Vieng are infamously generic and unimaginative, with every shop offering identical menus of gentrified Lao food and awful local reinterpretations of Western fare. So that night, Cheryl and I got acquainted with Laotian street eats instead. We had kháo nǐaw (sticky or glutinous rice) cooked in a bamboo segment - which we had to peel like a banana to get to the gooey goodness inside.

Vang Vieng Fair Sticky Rice in Bamboo
Still the best kháo nǐaw we had in the entire trip.

Vang Vieng Fair Sticky Rice in Bamboo Tam Jiak Face
A picture of a smiling Cheryl devouring the kháo nǐaw.

We also shared a piece of incredibly stringy and gristly pîng kai (or grilled chicken) on a stick. Cheryl thought that it must have belonged to a free range village chicken, as the one we would later have on our return to Vientiane was far easier on our teeth.

Vang Vieng Fair Ping Kai
Or at least we thought it was chicken.

Vang Vieng Fair Barbecue
The lady we bought our kháo nǐaw and pîng kai from.

The grill lady who sold us our meal was kind enough to show us two falang how to access our sticky rice when she saw us turning the bamboo segment in our palms in confusion.

Finally, we rounded off our piecemeal dinner by sharing some deep-fried fish balls and sausage bits drenched liberally with powdered peanut and sweet savoury sauce, and garnished with cucumbers, mint and other unidentified fibrous objects.

Vang Vieng Fair Fishballs
A unique spin on the familiar.

The fish ball fry cook from whom we bought it from saw me photographing his work and insisted that I take a picture of him instead.

Vang Vieng Fair Fishball Fry Cook
Yeap, Asians are pretty much the same everywhere.

The atmosphere was so congenial and the people were so friendly that for the first time after I've landed on Laos, I felt welcomed. Vang Vieng had seen more than its fair share of travellers bringing sin and vice into their idyllic karst Eden, and flouting their customs and rules so I wouldn't be surprised that they would have grown a reflexive dislike towards all foreigners by now - but it seems that they still reserve an optimistic acceptance of all their guests. That is heartening to see.

Before we head back to our guest house for a spot of R&R, we rented two bicycles and bought some snacks in preparation for the next day when we intend to strike out into the countryside proper. I had my sights on climbing to the top of Pha Ngeun which boasts what is arguably the best view of Vang Vieng's postcard-perfect mountains outside of a hot air balloon's basket, and visiting the sacred Tham Phu Kam and its very popular Blue Lagoon.

That day trip cured all of Cheryl's inclinations to accompany me on my "adventures" for the rest of the holiday (or as she likes to call them, "torture"), but that's another post for another day.

Vive la Vientiane: Part One
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Climbing Pha Ngeun
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: The Blue Lagoon at Tham Phu Kam 
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Solo Mountain Biking Trip to Kaeng Nyui Waterfall
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Tubing Down the Nam Song 
Veni, Vidi, Vang VIeng: Last Day in Town at Pha Poak and Lusi Cave
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: The Night and Morning Markets
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: Phou Si Hill, Haw Kham and Wat Xieng ThongSabaidee Luang Prabang: Out Alone in the City

Did not help destroy Vang Vieng,
k0k s3n w4i