16.02.2007 - 23.02.2007 23 °C
Before I get into any stories...My dad has signed me up with SKYPE, an online telephone service that makes calling internationally very cheap (although its only possible when I have high speed interned access). Not only can i make outgoing calls but you can call me and leave a voicemail that I can check when I get to a computer. Id love to hear your voices and an update on how youre doing. The downside is that the combination of the time difference (16 hours) and my infrequent access to internet means I may not be able to call you back right away. That being said, the number is 916-273-9531 and the call will cost as much as dialling any other sacramento number.
I am now in Kuala Lumpur, home of the Petronas towers, the National Mosque, and the best indian and chinese food ive ever had. KL is also
the most western city ive been to yet. My hostel has an elavator, solid albeit thin walls and a roof as well as internet access (which im using gratuitously) and laundry service! The city is actually much like LA. That is, if you imagine LA as humid, dirty (well, dirtier), with a MUCH more confusing infrastructure and populated exclusively by chinese, indians and islamic malaysians. Thats KL. Like LA there are some impressive buildings but no defined downtown, the city basically spralls into the surrounding jungle.
Keeping the LA analogy going, I went to the Santa Monica Bl. of KL a few nights ago. Bangsu Baru is filled with a multiplicity of Starbucks (a cup of coffe and a scone were the same price as in the US...the equavalent to two nights accomodation!) expensive restauraunts, clubs and hip kids. Thats about as far as the comparison goes beacuse the clubs were mostly empty as its almost payday so everyones broke...oh and theres no openly gay population as homosexuality is a crime (punnashible by whipping according to my travel guide). So thats pretty different than santa monica...or is it?
Lest you believe I may as well be back in California, Ive also seen a bit of the fringes of society in the nation's capitol. But first, here is a bit of background info on how I got to the fringe:
10 Days ago I was looking for the trailhead to a day hike in Cameron Highlands. To get there I took a small side street off the main throughfare which wound its way uphill in a generally deteriorating manner so that by the time I reached the end of the road it was less of a road than a crumbling swath of asfault admist an encroaching jungle. Atop the road was a group of small bamboo homes with corrugated tin roofs and people whose teeth made the aforementioned road look like a dentists wet dream. Orthodontics aside, the people were quite friendly and pointed me to the path leading through their village and onto the trail. After my hike I discovered that the location of the trailhead was actually in an Orang Alsi (the indigineous Malaysian people) village.
Fast foreward two days and you will find me poking around a gift shop in the touristy town of Tana Rata when I see some very nice Orang Asli wooden carvings with heafty pricetags (1000 USD and up). Although the carvings were well out of my price range they were rank with the smell of adventure. I decided to do a bit of research.
As it turns out, Orang Alsi is actually the name of all the indigenous people in Malaysia of which there are several subgroups and many tribes. The tribe responcible for the votive figures and masks I saw in Tana Rata were the Mah Meri (a tribe which lives on an island off the coast of Selangor). Additionally, it turns out that several western and Malaysian "middle men" have purchased the figures at extortionist rates and sold them at huge profits online and in big cities. Due to the exploitative work of previous "middle men", Mah Meri artisans are unable to leave jobs as fisherman to focus on carving. The unsustainable nature of the carving has led to fewer and fewer young people who are interested in the work.
So its my idea to find this tribe with the intention of purchasing the figures at a fair price which should still nab me a fair sum. There were just a few problems for this would-be Indiana Jones.
1) The Mah Meri dont speak english or Malaysian, but a Mon-Khymer dialect...my Khymer is a bit rusty.
2) They have had bad experiences with "middle men" before.
3) Althought they are a sedintary tribe, they do not live anywhere near the only road that runs through the island.
4) They hunt monkey with blowdarts (this isnt so much a problem as a great bit of trivia that paints a wonderfull picture of me runing away from angry villagers amidst a hale of poision darts). Indeeee!!!!!!!
So, to solve problems one through three and to try and avoid number four, I got ahold of a graphic design teacher named Ra-tah who specalizes in tribal art. After a bit of a vetting process she has agreed to give me a proper introduction to the Mah Meri and has even arranged for a bit of floor space and a mat for me to use as a bed while Im with the tribe.
So back to the aforementioned fringes of KL. As part of the vetting process (to make sure that I wont damage her hard won reputation among the village) Ra-tah took me to a squatters settlement of Orang Alsi on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur. It was there that I got to meet a few artisans from a village in Perak (the villagers had come to KL to deliver some woven baskets and bangels that Ra-tah will attempt to sell). As the Orang Asli in the squatters setelment had spent more time in cities they were less likely to take offense to any bad behavior I might exhibit. My interaction with them served as a litmus test for Ra-tah to determine if I was worth introducing to the Mah Meri. Naturally, I found out about the test post hock.
I leave for the Mah Meri village by bus on tuesday afternoon, then we will be picked up by some some vilagers on motorcycle for the final leg of the journey. Then ill get introduced and left with the villagers; what happens after that is a bit of a mystery...
Some random thoughts, anecdotes and bits of mental detritus
I have thrown out my anti-bacterial hand sanitizer and given away a third of the clothes i brought.
Recently I learned that frog legs are quite tasty. They are more savory AND more tender than chicken. The only down side is the leg bones you have to eat around. Those all natural toothpicks have the nagging propensity of reminding me that 10 minuts ago dinner was happily hopping around in an aquarium, quite oblivious to the impending doom. Ribbit.
Ive had "travelers stomach" once on this trip. After eating at street vendors for two weeks, drinking beverages with ice, and totally ignoring the time tested and doctor reccomended addage "peel it, boil it or forget it" I decided that I deserved a meal that cost more than three dollars. Conviently enough I had a lay over in the tourist resort of Ao Nang (this was back in Thailand). So, its steak for dinner with a side of mashed potatoes and the shits for a week. Irony?
So until tuesday i get to take in the sites and indulgie myself with the perks of the big city. And my favorite perk might just be hot water. When you averge one hot shower every 3 weeks those hot showers become really special occasions. So special infact, that the only suitable comparisons for the amount of pleasure they bring would be completly innapropriate to discuss given the mixed company reading this blog. Suffice it to say, hot water is absolutly amazing.
As always theres loads more to tell but its late so it will have to wait until the next chapter.
Hope you all are well!