Friday, June 27, 2014

Cold, Hard Cash

"A bank is a place that will lend you money if you can prove that you don't need it."

Bob Hope

I think most households would have some sort of receptacle for the loose change that we unwittingly generate in our day to day transactions. In my household, it takes the form of a plastic tub which Cheryl bought for me when she got tired of me secreting coins everywhere like an incontinent piggy bank every time I come home – and now that we have an infant at home whose main mode of interaction with the world around him is gustatory, it had literally became a matter of life and death.

A couple of weeks ago, the tub began overflowing and I decided to take the lot to a bank and convert them into a form that would fit into my wallet more readily. Counting the coins proved to be a much more challenging task that I anticipated because they were in a mix of the old 2nd series coins and the newly minted 3rd series pieces. The new 50 cents are about the same size as the old 20 cents and are only ever so slightly bigger than the new 20 cents. Complicating it further is the fact that both the new 50 cent and 20 cent coins are gold in colour (the former being nickel-brass clad copper and the latter are made from nickel brass) so I had to look at each gold piece carefully to confidently differentiate them. The new 5 cent coins are also bigger than their 2nd series predecessors and are actually closer in size to the 10 cent coins (old and new) so there’s that as well. But counted the lot I did and after counting the stacks I've built from them, I found that they totalled a sum a little more than RM170. After that, I plowed the stacks into a plastic bag and then nested that into a second plastic bag before bringing it with me to the bank.

Coin Exchange at Bank
Hardly anything that glitters is gold.

The first bank I brought my swag to told me that their coin-counting machine was out of order and that no, they cannot just take my word for it regardless of how upstanding a citizen I am or how many old ladies I have helped across busy streets.

That could not be helped so I took my heavy bag of loot to a nearby second bank. The receptionist who handed me my number told me that I need not bother as their bank does not offer the service of transmuting metal into paper for its customers. I ignored her because by this point, I was already sufficiently annoyed that my hearing had begun failing me.

When my number came up, I walked to the counter and plopped my baggie of cold hard cash right under the nose of the teller. He looked like he was going to repeat what the receptionist told me but I cut him off at "Sir" because I am not in the habit of letting people tell me the same things twice as if I am a particularly stupid dog.

"I would like to pay my credit card bill with these coins," I said, handing him a payment slip with my credit card number on it. He looked at me hard for a second. I smiled in reply.

He excused himself from the counter, presumably to get ahold of someone belonging to a higher pay grade than he is, and returned with a lady who asked me how she could help me. I repeated my request.

"I'm sorry, sir," she began. "Usually, we would tell our customers to sort their coins into their separate denominations before accepting them. You see, our machine..."

"So, is there an official company policy saying that you cannot accept my coins if I haven’t sorted them?" I interjected because I wasn’t in the mood to give any fuck. I was not going to go through the tedious process of counting the bloody coins again.

"No, it’s just that…" she faltered. "If you don’t want to sort them, then you have to leave your coins with us for a couple of days for us to sort them for you before processing your credit card payment."

"Excellent!" I said with a huge grin on my face. "Let’s do precisely that!"

She was taken back because she didn’t think that I would agree to that. After another awkward moment, she excused herself, saying she would be right back.

About a minute later, a middle-aged gentleman came to the counter instead and asked me, quite unironically, how he could be of service. The lady who talked to me must have given up.

We had a repeat of the previous conversation I had with the woman, including him telling me that they "usually" have their customers sort their coins first and I demanding to read their SOP guidelines.

"Look, your colleague previously said that I can leave my coins for a day or two for your people to sort," I told him. "I agreed to it, so I consider the matter settled. Unless you are saying she lied to me?"

He stupidly repeated that line about how they "usually" have their customers do the sorting before bringing their coins to them. Since stupid is a game that two can play at, I stupidly repeated the prior agreement I had struck with the lady.

"Okay," he said resignedly and picked up my bag of change.

"Good man! There’s RM170 in the bag. I will check if the correct amount is banked into my credit card account," I said and shook his enervated hand.

Like I always say, why let customer service providers frustrate you when you can frustrate them instead?

P.S. According to Act 519 (Central Bank of Malaysia Act1958), in section 24 regarding legal tender, the bank has the right to refuse a payment in coins if the amount exceeds RM10. If they knew the law, they could have refused me on that ground alone. But they didn’t, so la dee da.

k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sabaidee Luang Prabang: The Night and Morning Markets

"In my travels I found no answers, only wonders."

Marty Rubin

Continuing from the last write-up of my Northern Laos travelogue series, Cheryl and I arrived in the royal city of Luang Prabang on the 10th of February, a little before nine o'clock in the evening. While I love the sense of discovery in walking into yet another strange corner in this awesome world of ours, I also dislike the disorientation that it entails. Being an obvious tourist who can't speak the local language or read the local signs, we were subject to the mercy of the indigenous predators which prey on foreigners, taking advantage of their ignorance and naiveté. Cheryl was doing better than me because she can speak a smattering of Thai, which is similar enough to Lao to be useful in bargaining for stuff.

Unlike in Vientiane and Vang Vieng where I had made advanced bookings for guesthouses, we chose not to do the same for Luang Prabang - favouring instead the advice given in a few travel fora I frequented encouraging us to just walk around town carrying our backpacks until we see something we like. After about an hour of guesthouse operators telling us that they were full or that they were too expensive for me, we finally docked in at Tha Huea Me Guesthouse that faces the Mekong River at Mathatoulat Street. I had to pay a bit more than I wanted to but it was worth every kip, as most of the old city's attractions were located 5 minute's walk away from it,

Luang Prabang Tha Heua Me Guesthouse Bed
Our room at Tha Huea Me Guesthouse.

After unloading, we walked across the street to a riveside restaurant and had our first meal in Luang Prabang. We ordered a couple of dishes that Luang Prabang is famous for like orlam (a speciality stew of the region) but the highlight was flash-fried crispy Mekong riverweed (kai paen) which are algae gathered from the bottom of river that was hung up, dried, pounded and pressed into thin sheets with stuff like green onions, galangal, garlic or tomato, and sprinkled with sesame seeds. They tasted like a spicier version of nori. These are typically served with jeow bong, a delicious local sweet and spicy paste made from chillis, galangal, et cetera with rubbery bits of water buffalo skin in them.

Luang Prabang Kai Paen with Jeow Bong
The kai paen and jeow bong combo quickly became my new favourite food.

Having spent most of the day riding a bus to get here, we wanted to stretch our legs a little before heading back to sleep so we walked to Rue Sisavangvong which is closed to motorised vehicles from 5 to 10 nightly to make way for the Handicraft Night Market.

Luang Prabang Handicraft Night Market
Cheryl looking at baby bibs and baby shoes for Darwin, who was back in Penang with his maternal grandparents.

I have read many testimonies from travellers in this region praising the Handicraft Night Market in Luang Prabang as the best shopping experience in Southeast Asia, to the exclusion of far more famous bazaars in Thailand and Vietnam. That's because a shopper is actually allowed to browse at their leisure without being harried and assaulted with pushy offers here. The peddlers here have pride and would not try to force a sale if you ultimately decide not to buy their wares, though I cannot divine how long this will stay the case. The variety and profusion of wares here are also quite impressive as they range from Beerlao T-shirts, metal-ware and jewelry fashioned from salvaged bombshells, woven apparel to paintings, woodcarvings, antiques and local teas.

Cheryl bought herself a pair of rainbow coloured hammer/harem pants, a very comfy type of trousers favoured by female Western travellers which I introduced to her in Vang Vieng (she was wearing one in the picture above), a painting for her sister, some pretty cushion covers for her parents, and a pair of craft baby booties for our baby boy. I bought a 5 inch tall wood sculpture of a woman in a rice paddy hat, just because.

Luang Prabang Handicraft Night Market Girl Posing
A little girl at the Handicraft Night Market striking a pose when she saw me raise my camera.

Haw Pha Bang and Handicraft Night Market
Another shot of the Night Market, with the opulent Haw Pha Bang or the Royal Chapel which houses Luang Prabang's most treasured relic (more on that in the next post) standing in the background.

We got up early the next day and had our breakfast at a cheap looking corner shop located by the intersection of Manthatoulat and Kitsalat, literally a stone throw away from our guesthouse. A lot local Lao people were breakfasting there as well so we figured it must be good.

Between us, we had a bowl of noodle soup, a bowl Laotian rice soup (khào piak) and something that the hawker called "fried banana",

Luang Prabang Laotian Rice Soup with Fried Bread
Our breakfast.

The "fried bananas" were no bananas at all but is actually the Lao version of the Chinese youtiao which I grew up with. The Lao people call them pah thawng ko. They are basically deep-fried strips of dough that frequently accompanies rice congee and bak kut teh in Malaysia.

Right after that, we decided to just take a stroll through the nearby Ban Pakam fresh market where all manners of raw edibles were on display and for sale.

Luang Prabang Morning Market
In Cheryl's hand were 4 large packets of kai paen which I bought and later regretted.

Luang Prabang Morning Market Catfishes
Freshly caught and killed Mekong catfishes with eerily lively eyes for sale.

This is just a brief introductory piece on Luang Prabang and just so you know, there are going to be many more posts in the pipeline about this awesomely quaint city as we spent almost 5 days there, more than anywhere else we spent in Laos. Anyway, after our visit to the morning market, we went and climbed Phou Si Hill which was located right in the middle of the historical district followed immediately by a visit to the Ho Kham (the Royal Palace Museum, former residence of the last monarchs of Laos) and the Haw Pha Bang to see the exalted symbol and palladium of Luang Prabang, from which the city got its name, before finally ending up at Wat Xieng Thong, one of the prettiest, most important monasteries and temples in the country.

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
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: Phou Si Hill, Haw Kham and Wat Xieng Thong
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: Out Alone in the City 

Not usually seen in markets,
k0k s3n w4i

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Sins of Our Fathers

"We seldom realize, for example that our most private thoughts and emotions are not actually our own. For we think in terms of languages and images which we did not invent, but which were given to us by our society."

Alan Wilson Watts

This is a Father's Day post.

One of the questions that people asked me the most after they found out that I had my first-born son take his mother's surname was, "How did your parents take it?"

That is an important question because I am Chinese and the very core of Chinese culture is the Confucian concept of filial piety. Disobedience to one's parents and ancestry is considered to be one of the most unforgivable sins a Chinese person can commit. Ensuring the continuity of one's family name - the 姓 or surname - is a sacred duty that is entrusted upon all Chinese men. Friends and colleagues asked me about my parents opinion on my son's surname because more than anything, they wanted to know how my family could accept my act of sacrilege.

I have always given vague answers to that question and occasionally, outright evaded it. What I usually say is, "I have discussed it with my parents before Darwin was born. He is my son and that decision was mine to make." That's usually enough to placate most busybodies. It also has the advantage of being absolutely true without actually revealing how my parents reacted to my, how should I phrase it... blood betrayal?

Fact is, that's exactly how it was taken: a betrayal of one's family and blood (never mind the fact that Chinese women are expected to "betray" their "blood" every day). My mother disowned me, said that I did it to hurt her and cut me off from my inheritance. One of my favourite aunts said many harsh things to me over the phone and we have never talked since. My father alternately blamed me, my wife and my wife's family, lashing out indiscriminately like a wounded proud animal, spitting many hate-filled utterances that I would never have imagined could come out of his usually gentle, soft-spoken mouth. He had, in his moment of outrage, called his one and only grandson a bastard.

I don't blame them and I certainly don't blame my father. In many ways, his reaction was understandable. The weight of thousands of years of Chinese tradition compelled him to denounce my action as nothing less than a complete abomination, and it is just as hard for him to put down that cultural burden as it is for a person raised as a Christian to blaspheme in the name of Jesus or a Muslim to eat bacon. From what he said, I gathered that he saw me as a weak, placating man who was either going beyond all reason to please my wife or was somehow bought over by my wife's family via monetary means. In a way, his disappointment in me; his perception of me as an avaricious, unprincipled coward was what cut me the deepest in this entire sorry feud.

That's because everything he accused me of is the opposite of that person who did what I did. I risked being disowned and disinherited for what I believe in. I stood my ground against the monstrous momentum of that thousands of years of Chinese tradition my father and family are yoked to when it crashed headlong into the unyielding, unbreaking backbone of my most cherished principles.

Growing up, I was fed a steady diet of TVB Chinese period dramas that impressed upon me the importance of one's family name which, in many ways, is synonymous with a person's honour. Only males have the exclusive power to pass down the surname and the few rare times the reverse occurred had always been depicted in the context of an impoverished, degenerate man changing his name and marrying into a wealthier, more powerful family which has no sons to pass the family name down. As you can see from my own experience, not much has changed since the Qin dynasty.

This patriarchal practice forms the root of the disproportionate treatment of men and women throughout the annals of Chinese history. Female children, with their inability to continue their family's line and the combined cost of raising them and the cost of dowry when they are married away, are considered to be net losses to a family or "money-losing enterprises", to loosely translate a charming Cantonese idiom. This devaluation of the female gender directly led to one of the darkest elements of Chinese traditions and culture: two thousand years of gendercide committed against the female sex.

Till today, and perhaps aggravated by China's one-child policy and the lower earning power of women, the Chinese people are still killing and aborting female infants to the tune of millions. The sex ratio at birth (SRB) of China in 2005 was recorded at 121 males to 100 females, rising drastically from 106:100 in 1979. By 2020, men are expected to outnumber women by 30 million. This is what our Chinese "culture" and "tradition" of passing down family names exclusively through the male line represent to me. Our Y-chromosomal surnames are the symbolic bloody knives that have killed hundreds of millions of innocent girls over two dozen centuries of deadly sexism.

So tell me: how can I brand these sins of our fathers into the very identity of my innocent baby boy? How can I meekly comply and add to the silent assent for this "traditional" idea that men are better than women, that I am somehow superior to my wife? Am I not a man of principle?

And I assure you that more than anybody else, I have considered the consequences that might be visited on Darwin because of his unconventional name. Will he be teased or even bullied for it? Will people question his legitimacy behind his back or even to his face? Will he hate me for singling him out by giving him his mother's name instead of mine?

Darwin Father's Day 14.6.2014
A 9-month-old Darwin, wondering how that piece of cardboard would taste like.

I don't have the answers to those question. What I do know is that I do not want him to grow up thinking that men are more important than women. And I certainly do not want him to carry the same two thousand years old cultural burden my father did which resulted in the murder of countless baby girls and made a grandfather call his innocent baby grandson a bastard.

Besides, what the fuck is Chinese culture anyway? Some sinologists have argued that the earliest Chinese people might have even practiced matrilineal naming conventions because when we look at the Chinese character for "surname" (姓) we can see that it is made up of the radicals of woman (女) and born (生). I neither read or write Chinese, nor worship any of my forebears' deities but that is somehow okay? And why are we wearing T-shirts, jeans and Western-style dresses instead of changsans and qípáos?

We have to admit to ourselves that the "Chinese culture" of any century is going to appear strange, offensive and even blasphemous when examined by a Chinese person from a preceding century. That is because culture is a constantly evolving construct and anyone who tries to defend any cultural tradition as the "correct" version is going to fail inevitably before the jackboots of progress.

My parents are not the enforcers of Chinese culture but rather, its victims. Their beliefs which formed the barrier that separated them from getting to know their only grandchild are not their own beliefs, but that of generations past - all of them insolently making little changes to their cultural traditions every step of the way anyway. Now, nine months after Darwin arrived into this world, my mother have since let it go and have chosen to fully embrace him. As for my old man, I texted my him this morning with an awkward, tentative Father's Day wish. I have not given up on him. I once met a beef noodle seller in Subang Jaya who recognised me and told me that my father is one of the nicest, most decent men he knew, and refused to let me pay for my lunch. I know that. Deep inside my father beats the heart of a good man.

"Thank you, son," he replied.

It's a start. Perhaps one day, he might even be proud of what I did.

Being a Woman in Malaysia
Naming Darwin

On both sides of Father's Day,
k0k s3n w4i

Saturday, June 14, 2014

My Return to Santubong

"Gonna goose that goose
Gonna quack that swan
Gonna rubber my duckie all night long
Gonna whack that Mallard
Until its feathers plume
Gonna Huey Dewey Louie all over the room
Scrooge McDuck, gonna give it to you
Dive into your gold until you say
DuckTales, whoo hoo!"

Sex with Ducks (2010) by Garfunkel and Oates

On April 20 last month, I went back to Santubong to see if my stamina have improved since my last ascent because I have been climbing some mountain or other every week since the beginning of this year in preparation for my trek up to the lofty Pinnacles at Mulu National Park on the 12th of May - which, as the more observant would notice, is a matter of history by now and I would bore you with those details in good time.

Anyway, just to quickly summarise my most recent Santubong climb: I entered the mountain using the Bukit Putri trail this time which many have said to be a more pleasant trek and boy, was it ever! The forest is sparser and less oppressive on that trail and it closely skirts one of Santubong's ridges, so there was almost always fresh air. All in all, I passed two groups of hikers on my way up while a Eurasian man overtook me. It took me about 2 hours and 50 minutes to reach the summit, beating my previous time by about an hour (which isn't saying a lot since the Bukit Putri trail is known to be easier). The real difference I noticed was that I didn't feel any aches or soreness in my body after this outing. Following my previous climb, I couldn't walk up a single step of stairs without my thighs screaming like the souls of the damned. That infused me with a not-insubstantial amount of confidence boost, ceasing my regard of my impending Pinnacles climb as a suicide mission.

This time, missing the constant threat of expiring from the exertion, I was able to pay more attention to the bugs and other small creatures that make Santubong their home. A fellow trekker told me that once, he even saw a hornbill in flight hereabouts - which would be such a treat if it happened on any one of my hikes! Also since I made such good time, I could afford to spend about 2 and a half hours loitering on Santubong's summit and even took a restorative nap.

So with that out of the way, here are the pictures I took this time,

Santubong 01 Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia)
A male Common Iora (Aegithina tiphia) right at the beginning of my hike.

Santubong 02 Bukit Putri Trail
A section of the Bukit Putri trail before it joins the common summit trail. There's always a cliff to the right.

Santubong 03 Tall Ladder
Rope ladders on the latter half of the hike. It's higher than it looks in this picture.

Santubong 04 Datuk Merpati Bust
A bust of Datuk Merpati, the superhuman founder of Santubong.

Santubong 05 Summit
The gazebo at the top of Santubong, currently being occupied by some assholes from a silat (local martial arts) school who don't understand the concept of public property. They even collected bottles of their urine inside, for some reason or other.

Santubong 09 Asshole Taking All of Pavillion Denying Others
I was not joking about the pee.

Santubong 08 Dangerous Untended Fire
A choking, smoking plastic fire they left burning untended for whatever bugfuck fancy that have crossed violence-addled minds. I put it out using water from a nearby well, to the applause of other hikers. The vegetation on Santubong is already so dry. All it takes is one stray spark to barbecue the entire mountain!

Santubong 06 Dirty Well
The gross looking well I mentioned earlier.

Santubong 07 Snack
Brunch! "Made with chocolate, pretzels, peanut butter, caramel and peanut."

Santubong 10 Common Three Ring (Ypthima pandocus)
A Common Three-ring (Ypthima pandocus) with folded wings, showing its underside. The "three rings" refer to number of ocelli on the underside of one hindwing, as seen here.

Santubong 11 Common Three Ring (Ypthima pandocus) Upperside of Wings
Another Y. pandocus showing its upperside.

Santubong 12 Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete diva)
A Painted Jezebel (Delias hyparete diva) feeding from a flower.

Santubong 13 Unidentified Skink
An unidentified brown skink skittering nervously around the peak.

Santubong 14 Sea View
Southwest view. Click for larger view.

Santubong 15 Bako and Kuching View
East view. Click for larger view.

Santubong 16 Swiss Smoker
A Swiss jerk smoking near me without asking me if I was okay with it.

Santubong 17 Grasshopper
A tiny, green grasshopper with striped hindlegs. I still suck at identifying them.

Santubong 18 Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon)
A pretty Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon) feeding.

Santubong 19 Common Bluebottle (Graphium sarpedon) Sucking Nectar
Another G. sarpedon that wouldn't even stop fluttering while feeding.

Santubong 20 Blue Helen (Papilio prexaspes)
Looks like a Blue Helen (Papilio prexaspes) sunning itself on a leaf.

Santubong 21 Other Peak
A peek at the other peak of Santubong which I was told was inaccessible.

Santubong 23 Moth from Nygmiini Tribe, Genus Nygmia or Rhypotoses
A moth from the Nygmiini tribe. Likely Nygmia sp. or Rhypotoses sp..

Santubong 24 Scenery from Viewpoint
View from Santubong about halfway down the mountain.

Santubong 25 Jade-Green Cicada (Dundubia vaginata)
My first ever snapshot of the very loud jade-green cicada (Dundubia vaginata). I kept hearing them when I was hiking at Bukit Serumbu and Kubah National Park (where I took a recording of their shrill, soulless, almost-mechanical tymbalisation). It's good to actually see one. The picture quality left much to be desired though.

Santubong 26 Jade-Green Cicada (Dundubia vaginata)
Here's a profile shot of another D. vaginata. They always creep to the other side of their trees whenever I approach them and if I get too close, they will buzz away to another tree.

Santubong 27 View from Bukit Putri Trail Entrance
View of the sea and Satang Besar Island near the entrance of the Bukit Putri trail.

Santubong 28 Mountain from Kampung Santubong
An unencumbered view of Mount Santubong from Kampung Santubong located at its foothills. Majestic, no?

Santubong 29 Beach by Lim Hock Ann Seafood Restaurant
The beach at Kampung Buntal, a fishing village near Mount Santubong. Yonder lies the peninsula that hosts the Bako National Park. The building on stilts to the far left of this picture is a seafood restaurant called Lim Hock Ann.

Santubong 30 Lim Hock Ann Seafood Restaurant
The interior of Lim Hock Ann seafood restaurant. It quickly filled with customers shortly after this picture was taken.

Santubong 31 Lim Hock Ann Seafood Restaurant Midin Fried with Garlic
When I first visited Sarawak in 2005, I was treated to some strange vegetable by my friend's mom at his house. I was told that the vegetable is called "midin", a fern known by the scientific name of Stenochlaena palustris. I fell in love with it instantly and insisting on ordering it for every single meal after that. One can even say that it was the reason why I decided to apply to Sarawak for Housemanship training in the first place.

Santubong 32 Lim Hock Ann Seafood Restaurant Jellyfish with Sesame Seeds and Peanut Sprinkles
A sweet and sour jellyfish, sesame and peanut salad that I adored when I first had it here in Lim Hock Ann in 2005.

Santubong 33 Lim Hock Ann Seafood Restaurant Deep Fried Ikan Kurau or Threadfin Fillet with Lime
A deep-fried threadfin fillet. Also known as ikan kurau in Malay. Served with a slice of lime.

Loves, loves, loves midin,
k0k s3n w4i

Monday, June 09, 2014

Nobody Expects the Malaysian Inquisition!

"Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

Monty Python's Flying Circus

On Saturday, I cycled 24 kilometres to a waterfall near a village outside of the city of Kuching and on my return journey, the left pedal of my bicycle came completely off - making it impossible for me to cycle back home. I was stranded in the middle of nowhere fun, about 20 kilometres displaced from my apartment.

As fortune would have it, a Bidayuh man in a pick-up gave me and my broken-ass bicycle a ride. Due to my accent, he identified me as a mainlander and not a native of Sarawak. Through no fault of mine, the conversation turned to how I feel about my adopted home and I told him about how I enjoy the blurring of racial lines here in Borneo.

"The Malays, Chinese, Bidayuh and Iban all intermarry freely. Race mixing is a far bigger deal back in the Peninsula," I said.

"Yeah," he agreed absentmindedly. "There's no reason why not. I'd let my children marry any race - so long as they don't marry a Malay."

Whoops. That turned racist pretty quickly.

"Anyone who wants to marry one of them has to convert to what they believe in, but they aren't expected to do the same. They expect others to give up their beliefs, their heritage and their cultural roots, as if those are less important compared to what is Malay and Muslim," he continued. "Is that fair?"

"I suppose not."

"Imagine the family reunions," he said, unsmiling. "If my Muslim son-in-law or daughter-in-law visits, we have to trip over ourselves just to make sure that their every dietary restriction is met. Remember how much fuss they kicked up recently over a little pig DNA in a chocolate bar? Marrying Muslims divides families. It causes inconvenience and unhappiness."

That racist man made a really good point, I admitted to myself. And he did also rescue me from a 20 kilometre trudge back to Kuching under the merciless afternoon sun, so I didn't argue with him.

Earlier this year, JAIS (Selangor Islamic Religious Department) raided the Bible Society of Malaysia and confiscated hundreds of volumes of Bibles translated to the Malay language because they think that the only reason why Christians want Malay Bibles is to use them to proselytise to the Malay Muslims in this country. There was also that story about JAIPP (Penang Islamic Religious Department) arresting a Indonesian Catholic woman who they mistook for being Muslim because of her Arabic-sounding name (for the crime of being unchaperoned in the company of men), and more than two years later, she is still battling the Syariah Court which by right, should have absolutely zero jurisdiction over her.

Now, in the span of just the recent eight days, the Islamic inquisition of Malaysia unexpectedly gatecrashed both a wedding AND a funeral. This must be like some kind of record for them.

On June 1, JAIS barged their way into a Hindu marriage ceremony held in a Hindu temple in Petaling Jaya to halt it, because what probably happened was that one of the invited guests, noticing that the bride has a Muslim name decided to blow the whistle and tip JAIS off about it. The bride had a Muslim name because her deadbeat father converted their entire family to Islam - something that his illiterate wife did not realise until it was too late. After the bride's dad ran away, the mother raised the entire family in accordance to the Hindu faith. Zarinah Abdul Majid (the bride) have been a practising Hindu all her life and have spent RM20,000 in legal fees alone trying - to no avail - to change her official name and religion. The wedding that JAIS ruined cost RM30,000 and Zarinah's 400 wedding guests could only watch as JAIS officers hauled her away, sari and all, for questioning.

Also, what kind of soulless excuse for a human being you have to be to alert JAIS to this joyous event that you have been invited to partake and share in?

Bride JAIS Raid
Zarinah being hauled away for questioning on her wedding day.

Then today, on June 9, JAIPP enforcers stopped a Chinese funereal procession and - you won't fucking believe this - dragged the coffin with the deceased's corpse in it away using a van. Apparently, the departed (a 38-year-old waitress called Teoh Cheng Cheng who had a Muslim boyfriend) had converted to Islam but neglected to let her family know about her switching teams before she fell to her death from her apartment. Now, as the funeral was yesterday and she died on Saturday (that's two days apart), one wonders why the JAIPP goons did not break the news earlier to an already distraught family? Why bring even more pain and sorrow to the Teohs? CAN SOMEONE EXPLAIN TO ME WHAT THE FUCK IS BEING GAINED HERE AT THIS JUNCTURE? Is Teoh Cheng Cheng alias Nora Teoh Abdullah less likely to receive a favourable judgment from Mighty Allah because she was unknowingly buried without the proper magical Islamic rituals?

JAIPP Raid Chinese Funeral
JAIPP making off with Teoh Cheng Cheng's totally Muslim corpse.

The fact is, as loudly and blood-curdlingly Muslims in Malaysia bark at the rest of us to respect their faith and culture, they have proven time and time again that they have exactly zero respect for anyone who does not believe in the same Arabic god they do. That's why they can so righteously and shamelessly walk right into the middle of a Hindu wedding and nab the bride away. That's why they can so confidently halt a Chinese funeral and heave-hoed a dead woman in her coffin onto their body-snatching hearse, while being deaf to the confused pleas and tears of the deceased's mother.

These are zealots that have no sense of sympathy or decency in them at all because they have grafted the immovable weight of blind faith onto the stump where their empathy used to be. My fellow Muslim Malaysians, look at them. These are the men that you have empowered to represent and defend your religion, to police over you and all those who share your faith. At the end of one of the five daily prayers you offer to your Allah, ask yourself if what they did were the actions of good, decent, compassionate men. Is this the face of Islam that you want to show the rest of the kuffar in Malaysia? Do you think that this will inspire others to learn more about or even embrace your religion?

My son is about 9 months of age now and when he's old enough to ask me what Muslims stand for, I am going tell him that half of them believe it's alright to do what they did to others in that wedding and that funeral, while the other half did nothing to stop them.

Afraid of Muslims,
k0k s3n w4i

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Last Day in Town at Pha Poak and Lusi Cave

"There is no real ending. It’s just the place where you stop the story."

Frank Herbert

The date is 10th of February, 2014. We had the morning free until 11:00AM before we had to haul ass and skedaddle to our next stop in Luang Prabang so in attempt to make the most out of my time in Vang Vieng, I decided to climb a lump of rock I've been eyeing from my guesthouse since I arrived. I noticed that it has a red flag on its top and after asking around, I found out that (a) it is called Pha Poak, and that (b) one can enjoy a rather stunning view of the karst mountains from its peak.

I set out at about 7:00AM, jogging briskly westward towards it to save as much time as possible. After crossing a couple of footbridges across the Nam Song, I followed the white flags poles with white plastic bags tied to them which marked the dusty route through the paddy fields to Pha Poak.

02 Pha Poak Early Morning Ballooning
Hot air balloon taking off to catch the sunrise.

01 Pha Poak Footbridge Outside of Town
Footbridge over Nam Song, the river which we went tubing on the day before.

03 Pha Poak White Plastic Bag Guide Flags
The trail-marking flags and the dog which followed me part of the way.

04 Pha Poak Panorama
That gumdrop shaped hill standing in the foreground of the Vang Vieng karst mountain range is Pha Poak.
Picture actually stitched from photos taken after I descended from it.

Even with my multiple photo stops, I still managed to reach Pha Poak's base in under 20 minutes so I was making good time indeed. I noticed that there was no one manning the admissions counter and thought that I could get away with not paying any money again (like the previous day at Kaeng Nyui) but alas, I found that the entrance to the trail was locked as tight as a duck's arse. After surveying the surrounding, I couldn't find any easy way to circumvent the gate and every hopeful lead was overgrown by thorny creepers.

05 Pha Poak Counter Entrance Fee
10,000 kip, 1.25 USD or a little above 4 ringgit.

I was confronted with the dilemma of walking all the way back to town to join Cheryl (who was no doubt having a leisurely time devoid of sweat-wringing exertions) or sticking around to wait for someone to unlock the gate - and I elected the latter option, thinking that I'll just loiter until 8:00AM. If no one turns up by then, I would turn back lest I miss my bus. And fortune favoured the persevering! A sleepy looking fellow reported for duty a little before eight and after failing to sell me a can of soda, he let me through and I began furiously making my way to the top.

16 Pha Poak Gated Entrance
Entrance to the top of Pha Poak and Lusi Cave.

I have no idea how high Pha Poak is from base to summit but it only took me 10 to 12 minutes to scale it, and not stopping for taking pictures along the way certainly helped. The trek was tougher than Pha Ngeun (which was a little less than an hour's straight walk to the top) because the trail on Pha Poak requires one to actually do a bit of climbing on the razor-sharp rocks that the hill was made out off. There were initially wood and bamboo ladders bridging the rougher bits but as I neared the pinnacle, there was none to be seen.

12 Pha Poak Red Flag at Peak
Sharp, broken bits of limestones littered the top, marked by a single red flag.

For such a short climb, the payoff was immense. While Pha Poak isn't as lofty as Pha Ngeun, it was fortuitously placed right in front of the dramatic and iconic limestone formations that Vang Vieng is known for, making it a unique vantage point. The view was first class.

08 Pha Poak Panoramic View of Karst Mountains
Panorama of the karst landscape of Vang Vieng from the top of Pha Poak.

10 Pha Poak View of Karst and Plain
The valley below. I wish I can BASE jump right off it.

Because there is a negligible amount of vegetation growing on Pha Poak's crown, I had an unimpeded 360° view.

09 Pha Poak View of Vang Vieng Town
Vang Vieng town to the east.

11 Pha Poak Red Flag at Peak
Red flag flapping wildly in the strong thermals.

I didn't stay very long because there was simply no way to be comfortable up there. Every surface was covered by pointy, sharp rocks that threaten to tear new anuses in my posterior. After drinking in the scenery for about 20 minutes, I started my descent. There is still a Lusi Cave for me to see (though I doubt it would be much considering how I have never read about it in my pre-trip research).

07 Pha Poak Sharp Peak
The entire peak looks like this.

06 Pha Poak Sharp Rocks
Rocky descent.

13 Pha Poak Wood and Bamboo Ladders
The ramshackle ladders.

The entrance to Lusi lies near the bottom and it looked like a solutional cave to me. There wasn't much to see and whatever were there were heavily defaced by graffiti. The cave formations or speleothems were so uninspired that I did not tarry or proceed much further. It was a pity that I could not find the time to also take in all the more spectacular caves in Vang Vieng like Tham Jang or the Tham Sang Triangle. Perhaps another time.

14 Pha Poak Lusi Cave Graffiti
Graffiti on the cave wall.

15 Pha Poak Lusi Cave Formation
Some multicoloured flowstones that are too high up to be defaced.

By 9:30, I stomped back into town, showered, stuffed everything I brought with me to this country into my backpack, and had my first meal of the day - a huge cheese, egg and bacon baguette sandwich from the stall opposite the tour agent I bought our bus tickets to Luang Prabang from.

17 Vang Vieng Large Delicious Baguette Sandwich
I can kiss it.

Anyway, in case you are curious about what my fairer, smarter, better-smelling half was up to while I was perspiring my way up a glorified pile of pebbles, here are a couple of snapshots from her phone camera,

22 Morning by Nam Song
Riverside cafe and bar with a view to die for.

23 Morning by Nam Song Cheryl on Hammock
Cheryl chilling out on a hammock, sipping a cold drink.

After my belated breakfast, there wasn't much for us to do but wait for our ride to come in from Vientiane to take us along Route 13 to the royal city of Luang Prabang, the former seat of power of the last kings of Laos.

18 Vang Vieng Cheryl High Five Puppy
A puppy high-fiving Cheryl. That's the mark that was written on the back of her hand when we rented tubes to go tubing yesterday, in case you are wondering.

19 Vang Vieng Chicken Closeup
A chicken that decided to hang around with us too. You can imagine how saurian it would look if it got mange or something

The journey would take roughly 8 to 10 hours through the mountain roads which are fraught with hairpin turns and lightlessness (as the technology of lit highways have not reached this part of the world yet). I also read that the scenery on Route 13 between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is unspeakably impressive - and indeed it was. There were soaring mountains that dwarf anything standing in Vang Vieng and valleys that dip into eternity. Few guesthouses punctuates Route 13, but I certainly wouldn't mind staying in one of them for a day or two, just kicking back and looking at the gorgeous landscapes.

Sorry that I don't have any pictures to share because the windows of the bus I was riding looked like they hadn't been cleaned since the establishment of communism in Laos. I did however, have this to share,

21 Crane Crash on Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang Route 13 Road
Motor-vehicular mayhem.

Our journey was delayed by almost a whole hour what looks like an almost certainly lethal traffic accident involving one very crumpled mobile construction crane. I couldn't see any other vehicles involved so I guess said crane must have rolled down from up high. They were in the process of trying to hoist the devastated machine using a larger crane when we arrived on site so that gave me some time to get off the bus and stretch my legs. Cheryl pretty much napped through it.

Anyway, when I write about Laos again, we would be in Luang Prabang. Till next time, then.

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
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Solo Mountain Biking Trip to Kaeng Nyui Waterfall  
Veni, Vidi, Vang Vieng: Tubing Down the Nam Song
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: The Night and Morning Markets
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: Phou Si Hill, Haw Kham and Wat Xieng Thong 
Sabaidee Luang Prabang: Out Alone in the City 

For the love of baguettes,
k0k s3n w4i.