Malaysian Excursion - 1 Mar 2003

Sent: Saturday, March 01, 2003 11:17 PM

I bolted for the border.
I left with my guitar, my novel "Gravities Rainbow," one change of clothe, my passport, some photos, and my music book all crammed into my day pack. It is a nice feeling to be able to travel with almost nothing. I guess the guitar in hand is something but the pleasure and accessibility of it make up for the extra load. I can pull it out and play anywhere and rarely does anyone complain. It is also a good way to meet other guitarists.
I boarded the ferry with my bag and guitar and walked around it a bit looking for a quiet place to play. I walked by this crazy looking German guy and he asked me if I played guitar and what kind of music I played. He looked a little nuts so I was nervous about talking to him at first. We talked a minute and the way he held his hands when he was miming to play I could see that he could play classical well. You can see it in the hand positions as well as the dexterity of finger movements.
I thought I would like to hear him play but he still gave me the willies. We talked a little more and I found out he was headed to Malaysia. I asked him why and he explained that he needed to cross the boarder to activate his new tourist visa. That was exactly what I was doing.
When I got on the ferry I was a bit bummed because I forgot to bring a Guidebook and I knew I would need some explaining to cross over and cross back, efficiently.
The guy’s name was Kluno. He looked like a slightly freaked out dance hippy. His fisherman’s pants were hot pink. He was wearing a sleeveless, leopard skin print shirt and a strange bandanna. He had that emaciated look going hard. At first I thought he was a strung up hippy. I later came to realize we was a really nice guy with great taste in music but eclectic taste in clothe.
He told me about how he went across the border last time and didn’t even have to go past the train station / immigration stop. I was interested. I asked him how easy it was and he said it was a "Piece of Pie."
I’d sat down on the bench across from him by this time. I relaxed a bit and before I knew it I was lying on the bench napping. I put my stuff by my head and went to sleep. I awoke twice ready to scream from some nightmare I can’t remember. It was otherwise a pretty short trip across to Surat Thani.
Kluno woke me when we arrived. I was feeling pretty dead to the world. It was night “three” without much sleep so I was struggling.
I did wake up watching the ferry try to dock. There was an extremely strong easterly blowing and the ferry was having trouble pulling up next to the pier. They threw their docking lines twice and then swung around the end of the pier for a while on just one line. Finally one of the guys got the second line on and they cranked it in. The procedure took about 20 minutes and it was clear it was very difficult.
I was glad the boat was in a safe bay protected from this wind.
At the ferry station we got on a bus which would take us to the town. The Bus guys decided to try and make an extra buck and asked if everyone wanted to go to the train station. Most people were headed that way but many of them were afraid of getting ripped off.
I don’t believe I have explained the rip-off syndrome yet.
Thais believe that if a person is financially better off than another they should naturally be willing to share more of their money. It is a Buddhist influenced belief that one should not be attached to ones money.
Before I go any farther I must qualify what I am saying by the fact that I am not a Thai person. I understand some Thai beliefs and customs but I could well be wrong and if any Thai refutes me than there is nothing I can say. What I am explaining is that this is just Andy speculation so take it for what you think it is worth.
I will give an example of the rich being obligated to give more. If we all graduated from college in the same class and were all out to dinner then the person with the wealthiest position or job would have to pick up the bill. It wouldn’t even be considered to have another person pay for it. So, if I am a doctor with my own practice then I pick up the bill when I go out to eat with my friends in Thailand. That is a custom and in some ways a nice ethic.
Where it goes wrong with Farang is that most Thais feel they deserve that extra money they can get from a Farang because naturally anyone who can afford to travel to a foreign country has more money than a Thai person. Anyone from the western world comes from a country where wages are much much better. This is all true to a degree. Unfortunately Farangs don’t have the same ethics as Thais. Most farang have worked hard for their money and want to travel as long as possible.
This naturally leads to a conflict because foreigners are rich and should be willing to part with their money easier.
And then you have the budget traveler who is always trying to get the best deal and get by on almost nothing. I have seen this infuriate Thais and they have a name for this kind of foreigner. They call them "Farang Kee Nock" which literally means bird shit foreigner. The implied meaning is that they stay way too long in Thailand, take what they want and shit everywhere.
There is one more element to this conflict.
Most Thais hold the belief that it is your own obligation to protect your belongings and money. If something is stolen from you it was your fault for letting it get stolen. It was your fault for not realizing you were being ripped off.
There are two good stories to explain this one. The first is a Peace Corps volunteer my father told me about. The guy had just recently bought a beautiful camera in Hong Kong and was on vacation taking photos.
His camera was stolen buy one of the bus attendants. He made a huge fuss about it to no result. He complained about it for days and days until finally one of his Thai friends who happened to be a monk talked to him. The monk said "stop complaining about your camera, John" "your continual talk about it is making you look stupid" He explained that Thais hear his complaints not as a legitimate claim but like he is telling everyone how stupid he was to let his camera get stolen and how smart the bus attendant was for getting away with stealing it.
In the west everyone feels an obligation to help others protect their belongings. It is simply a different ethic.
The second story that really sends the idea home for me is the car theft in front of the restaurant. A wealthy Thai pulls up in a nice BMW and locks it in front of the restaurant. He goes in and up to the back to some private party.
There are seats and tables out in front of the restaurant and it is fairly crowded.
A young man comes up to the car with a coat hanger and proceeds to try to open the car door with it. The customers at the restaurant watch. This is what they say to each other.
"Hey, look at that guy trying to steal the car!"
"Do you think he can do it?"
"I don’t know, lets watch."
"He’s in the car!"
"This guy is pretty good."
"He is working on the steering column."
"If he pulls this off I will be quite impressed."
"Yes, He’s got it started and there he goes."
"Yes, pretty impressive."
Not a single person out of 30 said anything or shouted anything. They just watched for the entertainment value and then were impressed that the guy pulled it off so smoothly.
The problem with this ethic is that it makes ripping off farang a fairly acceptable thing to do. Farang then worry about getting scammed all the time and they get more careful and haggle for the best prices they can get where ever they go.
So, it should be obvious now what I mean about the rip-off syndrome. I feel it at times as well and I use my Thai as much as possible to avoid getting scammed. I still do get taken and when I do it helps me to think that I am giving a little more because I am from a wealthier nation and can afford to. It is still hard sometimes.
I have run into many Thais who are very bitter about this point. I was in a Cow Mun Gai restaurant, which is usually a cheaper place to eat. It is standard Thai fare so it is usually much cheaper than the farang oriented Thai food. I was there because I love Cow Mun Gai. I had a delicious meal and was talking to the proprietor, not about prices, but about my time in Thailand and how much I liked Cow Mun Gai. The proprietor added that I was getting a better deal because even the coke was cheaper here and that I should come back. I agreed and then from behind me some Thai guy said. "You can afford it, farang, so don’t F---ing complain." I was shocked to hear the bitterness in his voice. I was about to get angry and explain that I had said nothing about prices when a bit of calm came over me. I looked at him calmly and then explained to the proprietor that I was not at all concerned with the price. I was much more interested in the delicious food and that I would certainly be back. The guy behind me quickly took a different tact and proceeded to praise my Thai speaking ability.
One wonderful thing I have learned in Thailand is how to sidestep an argument. The Thais are very non conflict oriented and it makes for a wonderfully relaxed society.
I managed to make him see he was acting out of his bitterness over the Rip-off syndrome and it was very effective. I also have a bit of bitterness over the Rip-Off Syndrome so I shouldn’t talk too much like I am high and mighty.
Back to the story.
The farang on the bus were afraid of being ripped off. I knew it was worth paying an extra 50 Baht to get to the train station but many farangs got off the bus. The Thais were annoyed because it really was a good deal and these silly farang were being paranoid again.
I saw Kluno keeping his seat up in the front of the bus and stayed put knowing he had made this trip before and knew his stuff.
We arrived at the train station and looked at our times. There was a train headed south from BKK to Kuala Lumpur that passed through the station at 2:30 am. Ungh!
2:30 am!#@$@#?%. I was getting really tired. That was our train so we got tickets.
I sat down next to these two Kiwi girls and talked with them for a spell. One was actually from England going on a world tour and the other was a New Zealander heading back to London. They were an odd pair but nice enough. We talked for a few hours and then Kluno came over and joined us. He seemed to spook the girls a little. I offered my guitar to him to play and he took it. He sat down on a bench near us and proceeded to draw a crowd. There were Thais asking for "White Shnake" and a European girl with fawning eyes. It was funny.
The two girls left on the train running north to BKK at around 11 pm and Kluno and I occupied the station as it emptied out.
A pretty cool American came over and asked if he could play guitar. If anyone is brave enough to ask, I usually oblige them. He played a little and explained that he was a diving fanatic and was on a tour of Thailand and Malaysia. I drew the diving fanatic conclusion because he talked about his last dive to 148 feet. I have never heard anyone going to that depth before so I was naturally impressed. He could have been fibbing but he didn’t seem the type. It was nice to meet another American out and about in this small world of ours. He was headed straight into Malaysia, an "Islamic Hotbed," just to do some diving. It was nice to see someone else who was not letting all that crap about war and religion get in his way.
I often wonder if those of us on the boat are the only Americans around. I hope we are making a good impression.
After Brian left it was Kluno, I and this crazy dog.
There was a small convenience store in the station, which was closed up with lots of tables and stuff around it. There was a dog inside one of the tables on a small, elevated shelf. This dog would not stop barking. It barked and barked and barked for hours and hours on end. I couldn’t believe it at first but quickly it started to drive me mad. Both Kluno and I walked over to the dog to see what it was doing and maybe to try to calm it down. We had the opposite effect. It doubled its barks per minute. I could seriously say the dog was barking 30 barks a minute. When the station was really quiet it would slow down to 15 to 20 barks a minute but when we went over to see what the hell was making it bark it would triple to about 60 barks per minute. It was even worse that I had not slept in the last three days. It really tried my patience. I wanted to run over and scream at it and chase it away.
I didn’t.
We looked at it clearly at one point and it helped me to realize the situation the dog was in. It was blind. The owners had set a fan blowing in its face. There were mice and rats running all around below it. It was barking at the fan. It would also bark at any loud noise it heard. It barked all night. Well, it barked from when we arrived at 9 pm to when we left at 3:30 am. That was six and a half hours of loud barking.
Kluno helped me out in this case. Somehow we started talking about governments and regulations and how things were in Thailand. This then moved on to how insane things were in Germany. He explained that there was nothing in Germany that was not controlled in some way by the government. "Even there is a tax on dogs!" "But, there is no tax on cats!" "What kind of craziness is that?" "We have to register cats in Germany but we have to pay taxes on dogs."
He got quite riled up about it and I could see why he was in Thailand. He had spent some time with a therapist and I think his insurance was paying for his life in Thailand. He never mentioned that but he did say that he had spent his last thirty years "Doing everything for everybody but me."
It sounded like he had a mental break down at some point. He seemed like he was doing OK in Thailand though. He just looked a little crazy. In actuality he was quite mellow and pleasant to be around.
His rant about Germany was interesting and I put in my two cents about American regulations and such. It was fun.
It distracted me from “insane, blind, barking dog.”
At about 2:30 am we found out that our southbound train was delayed another hour. F@#$!%^!!
I laid down on a set of seats. They were the plastic kind that fit nicely when sitting up but have these nasty ridges when lying that make it nearly impossible to sleep. I laid there for about 10 minutes staring at the corrugated ceiling and listening to crazy dog. At some point I actually drifted off. It didn’t last long as someone walked by crazy dog and he went nuts.
This went on for about an hour and finally Kluno woke me up as the southbound rolled into the station.
I had a top bunk in a sleeper cabin. Thank goodness!
I was at the other end of the train car from Kluno. I crawled into my bunk, pulled the cheep towel style blanket over my head and fell asleep in seconds. It was such a relief to get away from insane dog.
I slept solidly until the conductor woke us up for the immigration stop. Everyone had to pack up and get off the train to go through immigration. I stumbled out of the train with Eva’s two bags over my shoulders.
I should explain about Eva. She was a frightened looking German girl. I am not exactly sure how old she was but she had this perpetually frightened look in her eyes. I felt bad for her.
Her "Boyfriend" had broken his foot in a serious diving accident and she had to take both her stuff and his stuff back home to Germany alone. She also spoke almost no English.
Her man had asked us in the station if Kluno and I could help her get to Kuala Lumpur. We explained that we were not really going into Malaysia accept to get a stamp at the border and he wandered off to find another person.
Eva ended up across from me in the train car. Before we got off for immigration I helped her fill out her form because she couldn’t read English either. Talk about having it hard. I should be thankful I was born in an English speaking country.
When we got to the immigration station she had 5 bags. Three of them were large backpacks. I picked up two of the large ones and left her with three. We got in line behind the rest of the people on the train, who were a bit more on the ball than us stragglers. I saw Kluno at the front of the line and waved to him. He smiled at my two large extra backpacks. I shrugged.
Me, a nice guy? The way I see it, you gotta help others sometimes. My father would say, “make a career out of it,” but I don’t feel it in my heart, so it would be fake.
We made it through the line and had our passports stamped out of Thailand. I had to go into the back room to pay my three-day fine. The immigration guys were quite nice about it and asked me all about my life in Thailand. It was a pleasant break. I had to leave Eva’s bags outside and she wanted to get through the Malaysian Immigration before the train left so she stumbled off with all five of her bags. I waved goodbye and she smiled in that cute yet frightened way. I think she got the Malaysian Immigration officer to help her carry her boyfriend’s gear. Last I saw Eva, two young Malaysians were talking with her on the train. I trusted that she would be OK.
I went to the Malaysian Immigration booths and found no line. I got my second stamp saying I had entered Malaysia. The conductor for the train wanted to hurry and get me back on before they left but I explained I was heading in the other direction. He said "You can’t do that!" I said "He’s doing it," and pointed at Kluno. The guy looked at me for a second and then wandered off and found an immigration guy. He brought the guy back to us. The immigration guy listened to the conductor and agreed. We couldn’t do that. Kluno explained that he had done it last time. I said "It should be fine, it’s totally legal."
Like I knew.
They both looked at us for a second and then said, "OK, OK let us help you." "We’ll tell you when to come back through Immigration the other way."
Kluno and I Said "OK."
After they left we looked at each other and laughed. I wandered around the Immigration building for a while and found a place to get some curry and coke. It was tasty curry. Yummy Malaysian food.
About 1 hour later a train came through heading to Hat Yai. It was an express train, what we wanted, so we joined the crowd coming off the train at the signal from our helpers. I laughed some more and made it through both immigrations with a smile.
We climbed into the northbound train and sat next to each other. It was a pretty crowded train but the trip went fast. We arrived at about noon in Hat Yai.
We then decide to take a minivan north to Surat Thani. A big mistake. I hate those minivans. They are supposed to be air-conditioned but are always really hot. They overfill the vans and the back suspension goes out and you hit every little bump on the expressway. The drivers are ex rally car drivers that have no fear of a burning-gasoline-smashed car crash. It sucked!
We arrived in Surat Thani at 5 O’clock and Kluno asked if I would help him shop for lanterns. He was hoping I would help him because of my Thai. I said "sure." He volunteered to pay for dinner but just having his company was nice in itself.
In the minivan he had pulled out his CD player. It was the most recent model and sounded really clear and crisp. He pulled out a CD and put it on. I started looking at his collection and then we started talking about it. He had spent some time traveling in Africa and had found some really great music there.
Now this was coming from the stiff over-stressed German man in the seat next to me. He explained that if he ever went back to Africa he would forget about all the wild animals and safaris and he would go on tours and to as many concerts as possible. "There is something wonderful about the way those people move." "Everyone moves like it is second natural but it is the best moving and dancing I have ever seen in my life." "It is their life to dance."
Did you know there is no word for sin in their language?" "They dance like that." He let me listen to some of the music and it was really mellow but super groovy. One song sounded really bluesy but it had a wealth of percussion and a super fly guitarist who was all over the scale. I could hear the blues roots but feel the dance in the percussion. It truly was groovy.
He had other kinds of ethnic music. There was a beautiful CD from some Afghani musicians and an Iranian CD that was pretty cool. He had a lot of meditation music as well but that was not quite as intriguing. In fact it almost put me to sleep. I was still really exhausted from lack of sleep.
We listened to the Kanda Bongo Man’s album titled "Zing Zong." It made my hips wiggle.
I got a room in a place Kluno’s friend recommended. Kluno’s friend is Thai. He is starting a Karaoke bar on Koh Pangan and Kluno is helping with the design and d?cor. Kluno wanted to buy 8 or 9 outdoor lamps to light up the area around the bar, but he wanted a certain style. We checked into two rooms in the hotel and then went around to take care of his business. I got my watch fixed at some point.
We wandered around for a while and found two shops. He wanted to look around more so we finally got on a motorcycle taxi and he drove us to another two places that ended up being closed. I explained to Kluno that most of the shops were closing and that he should come back to these places tomorrow morning. I got the motorcycle taxi to write down the names of the shops in Thai.
I then asked the motorcycle taxi guy if he knew any authentic Thai-food places that were fairly cheep but busy. He took us out of town and dropped us off at a bustling little Som Tam shop. I am not a big fan of Som Tam but this shop had delicious food. Kluno asked for a salad with only raw papaya, lemon, tomatoes and onions. It took a while for the cooks to understand what he wanted. I explained it clearly but they forgot to clean out the motor and pistol before they made his "Salad." It came out really spicy hot. He couldn’t and wouldn’t eat it. We reordered and I asked if she wouldn’t clean the motor and pistol first. The second time it came out great and Kluno enjoyed it thoroughly. He almost ordered another plate. I now understood why he looked like a junky. I went through two plates, a bowl of sticky rice, and a finely ground chicken dish called "Lap Gai." He ate almost nothing.
The food was good and at 20 Baht a plate it was a steal. Listen to me. I’m not concerned with prices, Noooo.
Anyways, Kluno picked up the bill and we had a nice time talking as we walked back to the hotel.
The next morning he came by at 8 am, which was way too early for me still. He said I should drop by the temple where he is staying and check out his friend’s bar. I think I will, even though I have not seen him for about 3 weeks now. He was nice and I felt happy to know him. We parted ways.
At 11 am I rode the ferry back across the strip of water to Koh Pangan and found myself happy to be heading back to the boat.
When I had left we all talked about the possibility that they might have moved the boat to another bay on the island or to Thong Sala for repairs. I was to check my E-mail to find out where the boat was.
I entered an Internet cafe? and found out that I had no e-mail from anyone on the boat. Where was the boat? I didn’t know. I wrote some letters to friends and waited. "Maybe they are busy and have not had the time to write to me."
At about three in the afternoon I went and ate some Com Mun Gai. I then got into the conversation I mentioned earlier in the chapter with the guy blaming me about the proprietor telling me how cheep coke was in his store. The guy was really nice after that and as I talked to the proprietor the guy said he had seen a large red sailboat on Had Rin. Had Rin was the main beach on the island with the full moon party and all the bars and dance clubs. I was surprised to hear that they moved the boat over there but I was relieved that I knew where the boat was. I was considering renting a motorcycle but I thought the roads were supposed to be quiet difficult going out there so I would just take the taxi. It was only 50 Baht.
I grabbed my stuff and jumped into a taxi. I met this crazy Kiwi who was working in Australia on the ride over. He was a full throttle wrangler. He rode horses and motorcycles out on Australia’s Northeastern Range herding cattle and catching bulls. He told me this one story about how they would catch fast running cattle. They would ride up behind a small cow or bull on a motorcycle and grab it’s tail. They would pull the tail over the gas tank and then speed up past the cow pulling it’s legs out from behind it and rolling it. They would then jump off their bikes and quickly tie up the cow or bulls hind legs. This would essentially immobilize the cattle until they wore themselves out.
He told me about when he was too slow one time with this large bull. It got up really fast and he was off his bike. It charged him and the only thing he could do was pull out the 45 his boss keeps and cap it in the head before it ran him over. He shot it three times before it fell.
Talk about some great stories.
The ride over took about 20 minutes and when we arrived I headed towards the sheltered side of the beach and he headed toward the busy side. He said "See ya ‘roun’ mate." I said, "yah." I searched the sheltered side of the island and found a blue sailboat. It was tied up close to shore in a small dredged out channel. I talked to the owners and they said "Yes, there was a red sailboat here earlier but it just left about 30 minutes ago." They also explained that it was a small red sailboat and not anywhere near 35 feet. Darn!
I was on a goose chase. I decided it was time to rent a motorcycle. I returned by taxi to Thong Sala and found a nice large 4 stroke motor-cross bike. I was thinking that if I had to explore the island to find them I had best rent a bike that could handle all the roads. I got the bike and then got a bungee chord to strap my guitar to the back. I had to leave my passport in exchange for the bike. I was not very happy about that. I just went all the way down to Malaysia to get a new visa stamp and now I was leaving it with some motorcycle rental place. There was nothing else I could do as every place took passports for guarantees. I rode around Thong Sala for a minute checking all the piers and channels. I found nothing.
I roared up the main road through the island to the North Bay. There was also a pier up there that my father talked about going to. It only took about 20 minutes to get to the Northern bay. It was a beautiful place. It was approaching dusk and I wanted to move fast. I asked a fisherman on a boat at the pier how long they had been there and if they had seen a large red sailboat. They had been there two days and had seen no such thing. I asked how deep the pier was and found it was safe to tie up to at mid and high tides.
I roared back up the road and took the split heading west to Had Salad. I thought that maybe if they hadn’t sent me any e-mail they could still be anchored where we left her before. I rode down a steep washed out road to the bay and pulled up to the beach to see "My Baby" out in the bay, safe and sound. It was just after sunset and her mast light was on. Great! I let out a long sigh of relief and rode up to the back of Coral Beach Bungalows to find John walking out to greet me.
That, my friends is the end of Chapter 11. I will send other photos as I have yet to develop the film from that leg of my journey.
Much Love,
Captain Andy