Balls for
Sepak Takraw
[Balls for Sepak Takraw]
Immediately after they walked into the fitness/pharmacy shop, they were accosted by the cherub-shaped Chinese salesman with the single-hair protruding cheek mole.

"Massage for you" was all the warning he had before the man began buzzing his shoulders with the hot pink and green vibrating dildo. Standing next to him, Li Hsien began cracking up while he stood there stunned.

By the time the salesman had moved the rod up for a scalp massage all three were laughing hysterically, (along with the nearby cashier) though he realized that the salesman did not realize exactly what was so funny.

Apparently, the vibrating dildo was legitimate massage paraphernalia and the salesman had no idea of the original product market, though the massager was almost assuredly a big hit with the old Chinese aunties.

After gaining composure, they thanked the zealous salesman for his demo and went on to the insect repellent section, their original goal.

They were on their way to Malaysia and reports of occasional cases of malaria and dengue fever were enough to stir him to grab some "off" with its 100% DET contents. Mosquitoes would flee in terror at the lethal combination of chemical weapons and the electronic mosquito-exploder swatter he’d bought in Taiwan which looked like a badminton racket but with electrified netting to suck in the flying pests and shock them with enough volts to cause them to explode with a satisfying "pop".
Langkawi Beach
[Beach in Langkawi]

With repellent in hand, they weaved their way around the evil waddling massage troll and made their way out of the Great World Shopping Center and went Back to the Straits Times Building (where Hsien worked) to get the car.

He returned home to do laundry and then pack for the weeklong expedition from Singapore up the West Coast of Malaysia to the island of Langkawi on the border between Thailand and Malaysia.
Malaysian Church
[Malaysian Church]
Fortunately his flatmates Nick and Ray were not home so that he could use the dryer without freaking them out. You see, dryers are considered really weird in Southeast Asia. Most people prefer to hang-dry clothes.

So every time he used the dryer he felt as if they were thinking he was quite the weirdo. For him, dryers seemed very natural and convenient especially compared to hanging clothes for three days in the humid Singaporean weather.

Anyway, the next day, they started out at the reasonable hour of 9:30 AM. Hsien’s father had agreed to drive the four of them (Hsien, Richard, him and Allison) to Johor Bahru (JB) which was just across the causeway bridge that connected the island of Singapore to the Malaysian mainland.

Eric on Deck
[Eric on Deck]
Hsien’s father had intended to get one of the family cars fixed in JB where services like auto maintenance were much cheaper. So he had offered to drop them off at the Budget car rental office on the way.

It took them about 15 minutes to traverse the entire island of Singapore from North to South on the BTE (Bukit Timah Expressway) but about 40 minutes to get through Malaysian customs. He had recently sent his passport through the washing machine and had sadly gotten a new one, so this was his first stamp in the new book.

Johor Bahru

JB is a border town proper, much like Tijuana; skanky, and dirty with heavy traffic, hordes of moneychangers,
Trishaws in Melaka
[Trishaws in Melaka]
black market street stands, and a constantly changing stream of faces.

But JB is also a town on the rise. Attracted by the stable political climate and a low wage margin, investors have been pouring in for the last decade. Also, Singaporeans flock across the causeway on weekends for cheap products, food, and a thriving underground

They had brunch in a hole in the wall hawker shop while the paperwork was being completed at Budget. He had chicken rice and was careful not to dowse it with too much chili-garlic sauce since it would be 4 hours to the next toilet. The woman in that course, gruff, grunting hawker stall-Chinese way said,
Karaoke Stars

"Chicken rice, ah. Packet?"

"No eat here".

"ah (referring to him)...uh? (referring to the next person)".

And she was off to grab one of the chickens dripping off a meat hook in the shop window and one of those awesome thick chopping blades.

The food came in a minute or two, so much for fast food being a western specialty.
Red Square
in Melaka
[Red Square]

The road to Melaka (this first day’s destination) would offer only "stooper poopers" with a bucket of water or faucet and hose for cleaning. Yes, that is right. No toilet paper allowed. Malaysia is a right hand only eating country if you catch the drift. It is considered very unclean to wipe with paper. Water, to many Malaysians is the only sanitary way to clean. As a result, there weren’t even TP roll dispensers in the bathrooms, just the evil looking hose.

Malaysian Sunset
[Malaysian Sunset]
Once again, he was happy to have the opportunity to drive in a wrong-side drive country. So long as there was a steady stream of traffic, of course, driving was no problem. It was only on the deserted roads that he ended up drifting into the lanes for oncoming traffic or making right hand turns into the right hand lane. Whatever the case, driving in Malaysia was far less stressful than driving in Bangkok.

KL Tower
[KL Tower]
Navigation on the other hand, was seriously tough. He learned early on that the Malaysian government was so thrifty as to provide only one street sign per turn off perhaps 50 meters before the exit. Of course, most of those signs were 50-75% covered up by foliage or had already fallen to the ground, so the one warning was fairly laughable.

As the highway from JB to Melaka was a maze of minor turn-offs onto criss-crossing highways, U-turns were the rule.

But with four of them on navigation duty, they eventually found their way out of the JB suburbs and onto the four-lane North/South highway which slices its way up the west coast of Malaysia hitting or grazing all the major cities and towns including JB, Melaka, KL, Ipoh, and Penang where they would be stopping.

From JB to Melaka, the road was an endless stream of palm oil plantations with their low, thick lines of palm trees stretching off into the rolling Malaysian countryside.


Melaka is quite different from JB. One of the oldest cities in Malaysia, with recorded history as far back as the 14th century, Melaka does have a permanence and calm to it unlike JB which is all flux. However, it is not a city tied to its past either. In fact Melaka, as much of Malaysia seems to be caught in that awkward stage between modernity and traditionalism with an uneasy foot in both.

Francis Xavier
[Francis Xavier]
Truthfully, he didn’t much like Melaka. It seemed dirty, drab and trafficked. However, it was a nice stopping point for a day and a night.

In Melaka they visited the primary tourist trap, the Red Square and in particular the one-armed statue of St Francis Xavier which they had laughed heartily about while reading aloud about Melaka in the car.

The statue paid homage to a saint who was said to have miraculous powers. The tale went that the pope requested an arm be sent to Rome from Xavier’s dead body and that the wound flowed blood even though Xavier had been dead of 62 years. At any rate, somewhere along the line, someone had chopped off the arm of St Francis’ statue and it became a tourist attraction.

Wall in KL
[Wall in KL]
The cities only other place of interest was the "House of the Babas and Nonyas." There are two unique ethnic groups in the Straits. One group, the Eurasians, is a group of mixed blood descendants of the Portuguese colonial period.

The other group is the Peranakans who are composed of Straits-born Chinese that have adopted a quasi Chinese/Indian/Indonesian/Malay habit. This group of inhabitants are descendants of male Chinese traders and Malay local women and their cultural heritage extends back to the 15th century. The Peranakans are known for their unique food, architecture/interior design, and their wedding ceremony.

The House of the Babas and Nonyas (mother and father) are a tribute to Peranakan culture, architecture, and life. The house can be seen by private walking tour with English-speaking guides.

Petronas Towers
[Petronas Towers]
Next morning, they had breakfast of Teochew porridge, which is essentially chicken rice soup with hardly any broth, and then split, having seen as much of Melaka as desired.

They had a long drive up to the island of Penang next.

The drive through Penang cuts through the tin town of Ipoh set within a picturesque limestone valley. They stopped in Ipoh for lunch.

Like Thailand, the food courts in Ipoh had a central, and he thought, inconvenient, pay point instead of the Singapore-style where one pays at the stand he eat at.


Though there were sites to see in Ipoh, the group decided to keep on driving after lunch in order to arrive in Penang at an earlier hour. In fact, because of a traffic jam in Penang's capitol, Georgetown, they arrived in the late evening, checked into the Garden Inn, and headed out for dinner at the next door "Winston Coffee Center" which was a haven for old Chinese guys who wanted to smoke, talk and eat really greasy local food while watching karaoke lounge babes belting that special kind've obnoxious Cantonese vibrato.

It was quite the sleaze joint. But it was also full of energy and the food was great. Of course it followed the general rule that when you see a bunch of "C" health ratings posted, the food is excellent. "A" restaurants are typically sterile tasting.

Open Durian
[Open Durian]
The next morning they had to wake up quite early in order to catch the ferry from Penang to the island of Langkawi. So they had decided to stay near the port; hence the sleaziness of the hotel and the food center.

However, both the hotel, with its paper thin walls, pay by the hour theme, transvestite "masseuses", and smoky lobby and the sleazoid and grimy Winston Coffee Center definitely had their charm.

The ferry terminal in Penang was empty at 7AM. They'd arrived early since they'd not purchased tickets in advance and wanted to be first in line at the ticket counter. Only two or three early bird dock workers shuffled around the dusty jetty and buying tickets was no problem.

No Durian Sign
[No Durian Sign]
Like all docks, the seawater was somewhat murky and a thin layer of oil refracted the morning sun into iridescent rainbows across the surface. However, given the unhealthy conditions, nature had still maintained its dominance. Jellyfish and dozens of medium-sized fish could be seen below waking up and catching breakfast. The jellyfish splayed themselves across the top of the water as if sunbathing.

Eventually the crew and several passengers began to appear and they boarded the double-decker hydrofoil that would make the three-hour journey from Penang to Langkawi Island. They settled in and waited until the boat filled up and pulled out of the dock heading for the open sea.

Malaysian Market
[Malaysian Market]
For him, the trip was pleasant. He was not one to get seasick, so the storm waves did not do much to his stomach. 'Storm waves'? A yes, right. Well, soon after the boat disembarked, they were overtaken by one of those fantastic tropical storms with rain so hard it can knock one down, and so thick that it can virtually blind you. What made things worse was the fact that the crew had asked everyone to go indoors which meant that the seasickness-prone members of the group could not sit on deck where they could focus on the horizon and be cooled by the sea breeze.

However, in the end, none of the party used the supplied plastic bags. Instead, they bounced their way up to the dock in Langkawi and ran off the boat onto the covered dock through the waterfall that poured between.

They quickly grabbed a cab driver from the anxious and loud wall of local touts and made the twenty minute drive to the other end of the island.


Open Rambutan
[Open Rambutan]
Langkawi is in the Andaman Sea, off the northern border of Malaysia and the Southern border of Thailand. Thus, the style, people, food, and lifestyle were much like places he'd seen in Thailand. The island is fairly self-sufficient with vast tracks of rice paddies covering the flatlands. Water buffalo roamed happily through the paddies in herds and chicks ran wild everywhere.

The locals are mainly farmers but do support the tourism machine as well. The dress is typically Malay. Men wear simply and grungy pants and shirts and women wear brightly colored baju karong or kabaya with full hair-covering headgear in that particular blend of tropical Asia and Islam. Most people walk or ride aging bicycles or mopeds.

Langsat Fruit
The island is oblong with a great deal of flatland for farming and a mountainous area in the interior. Most of the resorts lay on the North of the island opposite the port and a cement factory.

They checked into the Holiday Villa Langkawi and were greeted by a "No Durian" sign that had he and Richard in stitches because Allison and Hsien had been threatening to eat durian everyday during the trip and durian in any enclosed space is an evil situation.

Durian is a local favorite fruit that looks like a solid green morning star with spikes jutting out of the head- shaped body. Inside is a fleshy fruit that tastes and smells like dog crap. Well, at least to most uncultured "ang mo's". Anyway, the smell is so powerful and durable, that it reeks up a car or hotel room for days.

Allison and
[Allison and Richard]
At any rate, after some chiding, they checked in and stowed the luggage. It was mid-afternoon by the time they hit the pool and it was still pouring rain. But tropical rain is always an exquisite pleasure to swim in.

After swimming, and a game of water frisbee, they all checked in to the hotel spa and had 45 minute traditional Malay massages. Unlike Thai massages, there is no cracking of joints. The Malay version relies heavily on deep muscle rubs (like the Swedish style) with an abundance of oil and powder. He thought is was somewhat relaxing but preferred a more forceful style for his computer-programming damaged joints and muscles.

After the spa was dinner which was primarily composed of Malay traditional dishes such as Laksa (a rice noodle dish in a Tamarind base soup with a fishy flavor), Nasi Lemack (coconut rice with chili paste and boiled egg, fried nuts, and chicken or fish), Fried Kway Teow (thick flat noodles with beef, chili, and Chinese broccoli), Inchi Kabin (spicy fried chicken and sweet sauce), Soto Ayam (Malay Chicken soup) and curried meats and BBQ chicken wings.

Tower in KL
[Tower in KL]
The next day began fairly late as the weather tended to imbue laziness and since they'd been going full steam ahead since Singapore. They phoned the tout from the day before and he agreed to shuttle them around all day for $15 a head.

Initially, they hit the regular tourist spots such as the tomb of the unfairly accused maiden and the traditional stilted Malay house with singing dudes. The whole thing was okay but pretty deeply unimpressive. So quickly they realized that they had to take a bit more control over the itinerary and just instructed the driver to hit a beach and let them wander around some deserted coastline for awhile.

The rains had cleared up and they had a leisurely walk down a crescent shaped lagoon. Of course, the rain had muddied the water, but it was still warm and calm to swim in.

At the point of the lagoon a wide channel opened up which separated the beach from a small island ripe for exploration. He and Hsien crossed the channel to explore while Allison and Richard 9who were not as good swimmers) stayed on the beach to swim and relax.

However, soon after they reached the island, and spent some time browsing the sand for shells, another flurry whipped up out of nowhere and they were pelted with stinging rain again. They sought shelter in a small protected bay near a wall of boulders and waited out the storm. Meanwhile the channel got more and more violent and wavy.

When the storm eased, they made their way back to the channel. As they emerged from the rocks, they saw Allison and Richard who were quite relieved to see them, who had taken shelter under some trees, and who were just about ready to go call for help.

Waterfall Jump
[Waterfall Jump]
However, the two on the beach waved them back yelling across the channel that the current was too string and the waves too choppy to make a crossing. However, it seemed safe enough to him. At worst they would be carried off into the center of the lagoon and could swim in. Both felt as if they could make the swim, so they started the crossing.

Fortunately, the current's bark was worse than its bite and they easily navigated the channel. Unfortunately there were quite a few now submerged rocks and both got several cuts on their legs. But all was well, and they made it back in one piece.

Eventually, they got back to the van completely drenched and guiltily had to wake up their peacefully sleeping driver.

From there, they went for lunch, stopping long enough to raid a road-side fruit stand where they picked up durian, mangosteen, and rambutan. The Malay durian was much less fragrant then the Singaporean stock so it was more palatable 9though he still had to hold his nose to get it down). The rambutans with their bright red spiky whiskers were nice (basically huge grapes) and the mangosteens (sweet nectarine like taste) were great!

After lunch, they headed back inland for the waterfalls that by now were swollen with runoff. We had a few hours left before we had to return to the resort so we went to the falls with the shorter hike. However, he thought that it was also the less touristed one which was good. He was pleased to see a deep pool at the base of the falls which was great for jumping. The climb up the side of the waterfall was challenging but possible and after several attempts, he found a path. There were several good jump spots but since the deepest point in the pool was only 6 or 7 feet and not overly wide, it demanded exacting aim.

And the best news of all was that none of them got any leeches while hiking in and out of the falls area. It was not unheard of for leeches to sometimes fall out of the trees onto hikers or to wait on leaves for passing animals.

The next day was spent in the bounds of the resort. They had to catch the taxi back to the port by 5, so they decided to stay close by. That was fine though because it gave him time to rent a jet ski and thrash around for awhile.

It was actually very fun. If one went out beyond the sheltered bay at the resort, one could find nice sized swells to jump.

Rice Fields
[Rice Fields]
The weather had cleared up again and he got fairly red on his nose and shoulders, but fortunately did not get burned. Another benefit of the kind weather was that the ride back to Penang was calm and relaxing. They sunbathed, sprawled out on the deck and watched the sun set over the horizon.

That night they returned to the Garden Inn in Penang. However, this time they had more time to play in the city and were hot to find an ultra sleazy karaoke lounge so that Richard could have his first Asian karaoke experience. With little trouble, they found a joint fairly near the hotel and went in.

The patrons and employees double tacked furiously as they entered. Surely they can't mean to be here! The place was filled with old Chinese uncles drinking bad beer served by Karaoke wenches on their laps. They were shuffled upstairs to the private rooms and commenced to blare out all the worst from the Bee Gees to the Beatles and from Spice Girls to the Cardigans. They even found a swing danceable song and performed for the hostesses who gigglingly crammed at the small window to peer in at us.

Haggard and hoarse throated, they returned to the Garden Inn in the wee hours and crashed.

The next day they drove all the way back to Kuala Lumpur (KL) and spent the afternoon shopping. In the evening they had Thai food in a trendy neighborhood like old Town Pasadena or Boat Quay in Singapore. They had intended to go to a KL club that night, but everyone was so tired after eating that they totally wussed out and went back to the hotel (which was a five star palace in central KL). The next day, they saw all the sites of tourist-oriented KL and then made their way back to JB to drop off the car and catch a ride back into Singapore.

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