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  • Writer's pictureGregory T. Wilkins

Malaysia & Singapore (2016)

February 26 to March 1, 2016 I woke at 3:00 a.m. and made it to the airport with time to kill in Auckland, New Zealand. The Skybus picked me up on Queen Street. I could have slept in, but if my body was waking me every 30 minutes or so, I decided to go with the flow and start my day. Why let time torture me with sleep depravation.

I have never flown Quantas before internationally, but I would definitely fly them again. The service was excellent, the plane comfortable, the food tasty, and overall great experience. We flew into Singapore and had a 3.5 hour wait before heading to Malaysia. It is a nice airport. Duty free gives me a headache--especially when trying to get through the perfume area. Egads! ********************************* Kuala Lumpur is a city of approximately 2 million people and hosts a variety of races, ethnicities, and religions. It began in 1857 with the establishment of tin mining. I like seeing churches intermixed with mosques and temples. Each religious group has its place, and no one seems to mind the other. I wish folks in the USA could learn from our world neighbors and to live more in harmony with one another than allowing pervasive fear catapult us into finger pointing and wall building. For ex., in Chinatown there is a large Hindu temple and literally right across the street there is a Chinese temple. Bells clang, prayers are muttered, incense burnt, blessings given, and peace prevails. ********************************* I have come to expect the internet. It is a saving grace to have the comfort and the ability to use it whenever I want it. It is not necessarily something I need, but I have to expect it on demand. I write this because yesterday the internet that I had was at first fine and then it went out unexpectedly. This morning it continues to not work. A first I thought it was me but no...First World problems. ********************************* Happy massage, happy massage is the mantra on the late night sidewalks and streets. Young men and women smile with prices flashing as they hold reflevology cards in their hands. Happy massage is more than what the unsuspecting tourist might expect. It costs approximately $1Ringgit/minute for most services with a "happy ending" if you get at least 90 minutes of body massage work done. I smile and politely decline as I walk past. Most of these workers are in the sex trade and not Malay. They come from other countries to find work and send money back home. At some point however I think I will get some foot reflexology done as I have walked more than I had originally imagined, and to add the Malaysian heat on top of it, a nice foot massage in a/c will be a treat. $30 ringgits is equal to approximately $7.50. I am going to see if I can find a place away from the tourist madness and for a "better" price. I know I saw some places for one hour equals to $35 ringgit versus $50 in tourist hell. If I am real lucky, I might be able to find the blind masseur salon, but today have been unsuccessful in the street and building maze. ********************************** Most people who come to KL rush off first thing to see Petronas Towers. I on the other hand run in the other direction to Chinatown and the National Mosque. The purple line runs through part of the city and is free. Instead of riding public transportation, I tend t get a lay of the land first by seeing landmarks in case I get lost. It always proves to be helpful. Once I get my bearings I take the bus or train, unless of course things are too far away and i have to take them.

Oscar Guest House is a hop and skip from the main attractions--bars, restaurants and massage parlors on one end and in the near distance Sentral market, National mosque, Islamic Arts Museum, forest, Chinatown and temples. Leaving early in the morning from the guest house I am able to beat the heat and crowds as well as most shops even before they open. I walk through Chinatown to get a vibe for the place and get a quick bite to eat for breakfast. Oscar's provides breakfast, but it doesn't hit the spot for me. It is merely toast with jam; beggars can't be choosers and currently I am no beggar. So I eat my fill of carbs and eggs before exploring the Chinese and Hindu temple.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the most colorful of Hindu temples in KL. The shrine dates back to 1873. It is sandwiched between other cement buildings, and its colorful entrance begs you to enter to see what's beyond. Gods and goddesses are tucked into crevices for the devote to visit, say their prayers, and receive a blessing from a priest. The side streets are strewn with flower and fruit vendors with garlands strung in festive petals and tasty edibles for the gods. Colorful and rich smells linger in the air lulling you into a trance-like state as you listen to the priest mantras. Incense hovers around the central courtyard. I sit and breathe it all in knowing that this to shall pass. Across the street is the Chinese Taoist temple, Sze Ya. It began being built in 1864. Rich reds and vibrant gold colors hang from lanterns, painted walls and ceilings, and richly patterned surfaces. Prayers from local community members are said as they raise the incense to their forehead, reverently bow their head and calmly rock. What I enjoy about people of faith is how much they enjoy ritual. It does not matter the faith--Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. Each has a routine that is passed from generation to generation. Their is reverence in it all, no matter the prophet. Each too requires a homage and exchange of money as a tithe, offering, or blessing. I have come to value the richness of each--one not more important than another. I began this revelation when I was in Turkey in 2000. We are all more alike than we are different.

Malay Words Learned: keluar = exit masuk = entrance selamat datang = welcome bilik mandi = bathroom tandas = toilet rakan = friend gembira = happy urut = massage sakit kepala = headache

$120 NZ to MYR at $2.63 = $315.60MYR $300 USD to MYR at 3.88 = $1,164.00MYR

NZ $ Spent: $6.30 – breakfast at airport MYR $ Spent: $75.10 – budget taxi from International airport to Oscar Guest House $275.00 - Oscar Guesthouse for 5 nights $22.00 – breakfast buffet at Swiss Inn in China Town $60.00 – pedicure and foot spa with salt scrub $14.85 – caramel frappachino $26.90 - lunch (Tai rice with prawns and salad with 2 drinks) $12.70 - Islamic Art Museum admission $3.10 - monorail from Bontang to ton Sambathan $2.80 - monorail from KL Sentral to Hang Tuah $1.60 - monorail from Hang tuah to Bintang $25.00 - Kenanga Wholesale City - ring for Muslim head scarf $2.85 - cold drink $7.20 - Coke and 2 Regalo chocolate bars (fruit & nut, almond) $2.45 - lemon cookies $53.70 - white pleated shirt from Parkson's $2.85 - cold drink $6.90 - Pad Thai for lunch $2.80 - monorail - Raja Chulan to KL Sentral $2.60 - monorail - KL Sentral to Batu Caves $2.60 - monrail - Batu Caves to KL Sentral $1.50 - waterelon slice at street market $14.50 - snack at The Loaf (4 pastries--carmel cream puff, egg roll puff, blueberry petite, citronpetite) $13.90 - lunch daily deal at Wongkok Char Chan Teng at the Pavilion KL (included drink, soup, fruit appetizer, and main course) $3.00 - 2 softdrinks (special, usually one is $3, gave the other one to hustler on the street) March 2 - 6, 2016 - Melaka Melaka is approximately 2 hour drive from KL. The bus I took had seen better days. the shocks were worn out and squeaked me to sleep. For $10 ringgit I can barely complain even if the a/c did not 100% and the seat did not lean back correctly as the latch was broken. The blessing was the window curtain worked perfectly and kept me shaded from the intense Malaysian sun. Besides, there is not much to see from the road. A devote Muslim woman sat next to me, and she moved back to another seat for modesty. Touching a women is forbidden; men are not to even shake a woman's hand unless it is offered. Even on the monorail and subway,  there are two train cars earmarked for women (car #3 and #4). Not all trains have enough cars but when they do you need to observe what car you aare getting on or be issued a tiket. Soon enough the bus made its way into Melaka Sentral Terminal. Taxis waited outside to whisk us away. It is wise to use them as there are signs warning people to avoid the taxi tout drivers as they are illegal and may even rip you off. For $20 ringgit I was to be taken into the city which is about a 20 minute drive from the bus station. What I was not anticipating was the road closure through the historical portion of the city. There was a large bike race with riders throughout the region competing. My taxi driver tried and tried to find a side street to get me as close to my hotel as possible, but luck was not on our side. He drove to a side area, apologizing the entire time, and told me I would have to walk through the center of town to find my accommodations. Now I am not one to complain, but this was the peak of the day and the sun was scorching. It was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit and no mercy in sight. But alas what was I to do? I paid my driver, and I strapped my backpack on and was off. I was informed that my hotel was relatively close. But knowing where you are going only adds to the frustration as you are fighting back sweat in your eyes and thirst on your palette. Around the corner, through the park, around another bend, and over several more blocks I found my hotel. The soft green from the online pictures matched perfectly. It was going to be good to get settled, shower and rest. ************************** Melaka is a UNESCO city. There are several world heritage buildings from the Dutch, Portuguese and English that once prevailed here. Some of my most interesting for me are within Chinatown. The city held one of the earliest Malay Sultans, but it was left when the Portuguese conquered in 1511. (Today, they have a governor versus a sultan.) It has seen its fair share of power mongers pass through these city streets.The Japanese in 1753, British in 1645, Japanese occupation in 1942 during the war, Accession in 1948 and federation status in 1957. Like all history that is good and bad. A sad piece of Malaka's was in April 1511, when Alfonso d Albuquerque set sail from Goa to Malacca with a force of 1200 men and eighteen ships. They conquered the city in August 1511. After seizing the city, he spared the Hindu, Chinese and Burmese inhabitants but had the Muslim inhabitants massacred or sold into slavery. Less than 1 million people live in the surrounding area. It is relatively flat land with a river that cuts through the city. Torn between old and new, the city is caught between its World Heritage status and vision of what it wants to become in the future. I trust that they can find a happy medium to relish in its important past and UNESCO status while balancing growth, industry and tourism. ************** I went to see "London fan n Has Fallen" at the movie theatre. The film cost $13 ringgit. When going, you have to purchase your ticket from the box office and select the actual seat you will sit just as if you were going to a theatrical production. There were not many in the house, maybe 30 people. I did not know what the film was about when I went; I was told at the box office it was an action film. I am not huge action fan, but it beats getting out of the Melaka heat for a couple of hours during the peak of the day. They do not sell salted popcorn at the concession stand; instead, it is sweet caramel corn. For lest than twenty-five U.S. cents you can upgrade from a regular to a large. And yes, I got some and devoured it. The kernels are not as large (probably not GMO) but just as tasty. It was disturbing to sit in a movie theatre with this film playing as I sat with Muslims around me. It was not the fact that I was sittting with Muslim but the fact that the film was disturbing with actions of violence toward them. The film, if you hadn't seen it, is about the USA military that shoots a leading Muslim terrorist via a drone strike on his home and kills many in his family during his daughter's wedding who then takes revenge on the west by killing many of the world's leaders with the U.S. President on the run. In the end the USA wins by slaughtering Muslim terrorists for the next hour as well as the main leader. The film left me squirmish as the lights were raised and we made out way out of the theatre. I was the only Westerner at the film. And to add insult to injury, in real life Trump was spewing hate-filled vitriolic filth on the nightly television and on Youtube. Good thing many know that not all Americans are like Trump. The conversations I have had with people the that three months has been truth-telling. I can only hope that Americans will do the right thing and not vote this hate monger into office. As an American who is traveling abroad in developing nations, Trump does not make me feel safer. Many people here think the USA is a dangerous place with guns on the streets and a billionaire mad man trying to get elected into the most powerful role on Earth. They speak of probable war and a potential downward economy while filling his pockets with treasure. ************** There are things that I don’t question in the US A. For ex., when I turn on the shower that the water will be hot automatically, I can drink from the tap, the toilet paper will be soft and readily available, that there will be sit down toilet, etc. While traveling in developing countries you never know what to expect and what happy surprise is around the corner. Here in Malaysia I have come to learn to turn on the hot water switch and sometimes inform the front desk to turn on the water booster, that there will be a spray hose nozzle to act as a bidet to clean you butt hole, and the toilet paper will be in a  metal container to keep it from getting wet as most bathroom are wet rooms, that there will be a faucet to clean your feet for prayer and if you are provided a bath towel it will be crisp from drying in the afternoon sun. You learn to accept that which is standard in the country you are residing. For example, in Australia it is acceptable to go with bare feet to the grocery store and shopping mall. No one will turn their nose or kick you out of the establishment. Ringgit $ Spent: $2.80 - Raja Chulan to KL Sentral $2.40 - KL to TBS bus station $10.00 - bus to Melaka Sentral bus station $20.00 - taxi from Melaka Sentral bus station to ND Hotel $1.00 - ice cream cone $79.00 - 3 polo shirts $11.90 - 2 piece chicken dinner with drink, roll, slaw and potato $1.00 - ice cream cone $10.35 - 2 packs of cookies and a cold drink $5.00 - lunch, fried rice with shrimp and veggie $1.00 - ice cream cone $7.60 - cold drink and bag of Toblerone mini candies $12.00 - Muslim prayer beads $7.90 - dinner - rice with drink $1.00 - ice cream cone $12.70 - dinner - soup, Thai rice with pineapple, Thai tea, ice cream $1.00 - ice cream cone $16.00 - USB cable for camera $1348.00 - laptop computer and external hard drive case $13.00 - movie at theatre London Has Fallen $1.00 - ice cream cone $38.00 - cable for computer $14.00 - movie at theatre Gods of Egypt $7.60 - large popcorn at film $9.45 - halal burger, fries and drink with refill $13.00 - 6 piece sushi variety $3.20 - ice cream cone and apple pie $13.10 - sandwich, drink and 3 cookies

$1.90 - bottle of water

$10.90 - rice, cubed beef with sauce, slaw and cucumber bites

$6.00 - 2 scoops of gelato - mint and cappucino walnut USA $ Spent: $113.71 - 5 nights at ND Hotel -- a/c, hot water, double bed Malay words & phrases: sedap sekali - thank you ayam - chicken mee - noodles nasi - rice maaf - excuse me minta maaf - forgive me good morning - selamat pagi good afternoon - selamant petang good evening - selamat malam tidak - no pantai - beach masuk - entrance bahaya - danger March 8 - 14, 2016

The bus from Malaysia to Singapore from Malaka took 4 hours which included the border crossing. Going through customs you would think be easy enough but it is a bit confusing if you have can not done it before here. The best thing you can do is to follow the crowd.

The challenge is the bus you arrived on will not wait for you. And, they won’t look to see if you are the bus. So you have to be quick like a rabbit, get through customs, go to the toilet and search for your bus in record time or suffer the consequences.

It is not over though once you get that far. You will get back on the bus and go further for the next customs stop for the next country. And you had better be quick again, this also carrying your luggage and going through x-rays.

I was paranoid that the driver would leave without me. The trick is when you unload your bag from the bus for customs chat it up with the driver and let him know that this is the first time you have done it--play the stupid card and it will come to your aid. I found that the driver will keep an eye for you. Good thing too I did it because my customs line took longer than the others, and they were all waiting for me impatiently. The driver though was pleasant and made sure I caught his eye.

I asked another tourist who was frantic to get through the process as to what happens if you are left behind and was told you have to get a train to get into the city--and pay more money for the ticket. What a mess, especially if you are new to the entire process. Egads! I would have thought that Singapore would be more “modern” as it boasts to be. My first impression was not so good.

Little India and Chinatown are bustling with vendors, shops, cafes, restaurants, temples …and of course tourists. The colorful clothes and jewelry draw you in, but I will wait for Bangladesh to make any major purchases. I am crossing my fingers that Bangladesh will meet, if not exceed, expectations with traditional clothes, slippers, embroidered shaws, and jewelry.

I wrote about it earlier in another entry about how much I like seeing religious groups working and living together. On the same street you will see a temple, mosque, and church. Muslim prayer is being recited as worshipers in the Hindu temple are giving offerings to the priests. Rich and colorful sounds and smells bring you to contemplation.

Further down the street are churches—quiet and demur and a lot less colorful. If I were Malay, I would be tempted by the vibrancy of the temples and mosques versus the quite plain and unspectacular Christian places of worship. The churches might be tall and grand though unimpressive once behind the walls. It’s not only about a deity, but also the wow factor.

Republic of Singapore, and often referred to as the Lion City, the Garden City, and the Red Dot,isthe world's only island city-state. It is a very new country only being a little over 50 years old. Income inequality is high, 90% of citizens own their homes, and the country has one of the highest per capita incomes with low taxes.

Singapore is a country of 63 islands and is very hot. The humidity will make you melt just thinking about it. Don’t worry about sweating because everyone is perspiring. Throw in another 15 million annual tourists and it’s a pool of moistness all around.

The cosmopolitan nation is home to 5.5 million residents, 38% of whom are permanent residents and other foreign nationals. Singaporeans are mostly bilingual, with English as their common language and a second mother-tongue language with Tamil and Mandarin also spoken. Throughout the city you will the blending of language on signs, the subway, buses and restaurant menus. It is quite exciting.

The reason why so many own their own place is because employees automatically take out 20% of their salary for a future home and employers put in 16% for healthcare costs. When the country became a nation under their own rule versus the British, it was an opportunity for new ideas. Public housing was one of them. There are large housing apartment complexes that span the city. The old ones needs some TLC, but the news are very impressive—close to MRT, shopping centers, parks, etc. I can only imagine how amazing it would be if U.S. had 90% home ownership.

Singapore’s public transportation is excellent with subway (MRT) , ferry, buses, and affordable taxis. As Singapore is a small island with a high population density, the number of private cars on the road is restricted which results in lesser pollution and congestion. Car buyers must pay for duties one-and-a-half times the vehicle's market value, and bid for a Singaporean Certificate of Entitlement (COE), which allows the car to run on the road for a decade. The cost of the Singaporean certificate of entitlement alone would buy a Porsche Boxster in the United States. How in the world can an ordinary person even afford to buy a car?

Egads…the place that I am staying is putting up the contestants for a cooking reality TV show. There are contestants, camera crew, lighting crew, etc. crawling all over the hostel. Good thing I leave tomorrow morning.

Singapore weather for the day = Hot, damn hot, and then…Holy Mother of God this is $#%&ing HOT! ************************************************************************************

I had a good time volunteering at Buddhist Monastery. I took the MRT and got off at Bishan and then took bus #410w to the campus. The place is quite expensive with places for the monks and priests to live as well as temples, crematorium, and dining. I planted veggie crops and pulled weeds. I was easy enough work, but the temperature outside made me melt. If I were to do this for a longer stint, I would get up at the crack of dawn before the sun scorched the ground and made working absolutely miserable. There were some thing I also learned. In Buddhism you can be buried or cremated. Your family can pay the priest a small fee to say prayers for the dearly departed at the temple and the family also usually brings an offering of fake money, fruit, incense and other edibles. You are not to bring alcohol or meat of any kind.

If you want to be in the prayer hall, you may purchase a totem for 2, 4, or 6 people. You pay for the totem and a 60 year lease to hold a spot within the hall. After your 60 years is done, you can renew for another 60 years. If your family does not respond, the monks will remove your totem from the hall but not destroy it. The family has 20 more years to decide if they want return back into the prayer hall. The sky opened and bust into rain, not a simple sprinkle but rather a monsoon-like rapture that swept people off their feet and scurrying under cover. Sitting calmly in the bus, I said a simple prayer that it would be over by the time I got to KL. The mantra was heard by the gods, but my backpack was soaked as water seeped from the cracks from under the bus and swelled the belly of the gallows. This only added more weight to my bag as I left a trail of tears from the station all the way to downtown KL and my hostel. Hansel and Gretel have nothing on me…giggle.

************************************************************************************ $1.38 Singapore to $1 USD exchanged $210 ringgit to $70.00 Singapore $4.09 ringgit to $1 USD Exchanged $300 USD to $1277.00 Ringgit Exchanged $11.00 Singapore and AUS to Ringgit (rate $2.96) = $32.60 Singapore $ spent: $6.60 - taxi from Queen Street bus to Hangout@Mt.Emily $12.00 - MRT card for subway ($5 for card, $7 fare) own $15.00 - Singapore Art Museum admission (student rate) $55.00 - Violet Oon restaurant, fancy lunch with tip (atchara, pong tong soup, satay, meatless meatballs, rice bowl $5.20 - cold drink and sandwich $3.60 - cold drink, cookies, and Malaysian chocolate $14.00 - added MTR fare to card $10.00 – laundry (wash and dry) $0.80 – ice cream cone $1.60 – chocolate croissant $103.58 – lunch with beverage GST and tip at Pollen, Gardens by the Bay $28.00 – Gardens by the Bay admission for 2 conservatories $7.70 - refunded from MRT subway card $5.70 – lunch, sandwich and 2 cranberry drinks $1.65 – Malaysian chocolate $12.40 – taxi from hostel to Golden Mile Complex bust station $27.00 – bus ticket from Singapore to KL Ringgit to USD: $4.00 – Coke at bus station $2.80 - Slurpee $5.00 – sandwich at bus station $13.90 – dinner – drink, fruit, main course, GST and tip $2.80 – cold drink

March 15 - 18, 2016

I arrived last night to KL via Singapore. It took approximately 6 hours including immigration and a 30 minute lunch break. This was good considering the bus was late by 30 minutes and the torrential downpour with flooded roads and overflowing storm drains. I was expecting to stay in the same room I had the last time I was at Oscar’s Guesthouse. There appeared to a problem however when checking in and was given the back room (#11) by the shared bathroom. I was told my other space had a “rust smell”, and they were cleaning it out. However last night it came to me; it’s not rust. It’s the smell of a dead rat! I can smell it all the way to the back of my room. Awful! He is probably lodged in the wall and wafting through the cement? Whatever it is, it’s is ghastly. A dead rat or rats is better than a live rat. It may rank but at least I know their extermination works and won’t expect any bed buddies.

I chatted it up with the security guy at the Oscar Guesthouse desk. I wanted information on the most affordable way to get to the airport (KLIA) on the 16th because my flight leaves at 7:00 a.m. and the subway does not open until 6. I was advised to be there 2 hours in advance which makes it 5:00 a.m. If I left at 4:30 a.m., there should not be traffic and everything should be okay with my arrival. He told me that b/c it is after midnight and before 7 a.m. I would have to pay a late night fee percentage. He said that the going rate at that time would be $200 ringgit ($50!). He said if I went on the street and haggled maybe I could find a bargain. You see, I came from the airport for $80 ringgit, so you might understand my dismay at $200.

I hiked down to the corner and bargaining I went. Knowing that $200 was the going rate, at least I knew if I got anything below that I was doing well. So back and fourth I went like a bull fighter--price, counter price, pretend to walk away, counter again. This went on for 15 minutes before the driver and I settled at $130 ringgit ($32.50). It is still a lot better than $200. Now I am hoping the guy will show up as promised. Then again, taxi drivers like the smell of money so I am sure he will deliver on our gentleman’s handshake.

************************************************************* The average person who lives in KL does not get paid well. For example, the manager of a computer store gets paid $2600 a month and works 6 days a week, 12 hour days. That is equal to $650 a week or roughly $108/day which is $9 ringgit a day salary. Converted to USD that is $2.25/day not including commission sales. If you work in a restaurant it is even lower--servers $1800, and dishwashers $1600--per month. I always wonder what goes through the Malay heads when some tourists spend $300USD/night for a room, more than 2 weeks of their salary.

I received an email from Capitol One that they suspected fraudulent activity on my credit card. And sure enough, there it was when I checked my account. Some sucker tried to purchase a washing machine and electronics. The nerve! (Good thing the sale did not go through.)

I tried to resolve it via on-line chat with Capitol One, but they were unable to assist me because of security measures. I walked all over Kuching trying to find a pay telephone, and there are none. New technology has taken over. The problem is I am not traveling with a cellphone, a smartphone or other device—only a computer. I ended up going to a family that I loathe for assistance, the Hiltons. That’s right the Hilton Hotel.

I went to the concierge (Mr. Petrus Boson) and explained my situation. He made a call to his supervisor and was told that it would cost me $3.95 USD to make the collect call. He asked if I was willing to pay it. I told him no. I said the call would not cost the hotel anything as the call would be paid by the bank. He said he was going to see what he could do.

A few minutes later, he asked how long would the call last. I told a few minutes. (I stood there with a desperate look of anxiety in my eye as the CCTV zoomed in on me.) Returning and with a smile, he said he would place the call for FREE!

Now the collect call took longer than I had anticipated. The few minutes went I promised went on for at least 5 to 8 minutes...maybe even 10. The bank had to confirm my identity, passcode, security code in back of the card, last four of my social, etc., etc. (Because this was taking longer than thought, I emphasized to the bank that the hotel was doing me a service and made sure the concierge heard how appreciative I was for the help.) Then the bank asked some questions that only I would know—my former home address in Miami, color of my Audi TT, etc. I informed the bank of my address in Kuching, how to spell the Malaysian words, and that the new temporary card would need to be sent over night special delivery. I emphasized I was leaving in 2 days before heading into the Borneo rainforest. Let’s see how this develops.

The bank will issue me a 30 temporary card with the official card to be sent to my home in Minnesota. Now, let’s see if it all comes together with First World magic. I let the Kuching hostel know so they would keep an eye open for me, and I gave them the old card and watched them destroy it.

Leaving the Hilton, I gushed with joy over Petrus and how thankful I was of his service. I asked that he provide me his full name and the name of the General Manager (Mr. Jon Warmington) so I could write a personal thank you letter to the GM expressing my gratitude for Mr. Boson. Let’s see if I can get him a few more ringgits added to his paycheck.

Today, I spoke with undergraduates that want to go into city planning and focus on tourism. Earlier in the week we developed a survey instrument to talk with locals and tourists about their experience in Kuching and Sarawak placing our intention along the river area. The students were great! They spent the day today collecting feedback from respondents and then putting it into categories. Their lecturer was a delight to work with as well and was inspired. They plan to use the data to present to the city council and tourism advisory board. It is always a pleasure to collaborate with inquiring minds that want to make things better.

It is against the law to be LGBT in Malaysia. They are not openly persecuted, but drawing attention to one’s orientation in a conservative nation is frowned upon. This is a Muslim nation, and Sharia law forbids it too (plus cross-dressing) which makes it even more challenging for LGBT Muslims. Those men that are particularly effeminate are often times cast out from their families, live on the street and support themselves through prostitution and massage parlors. Lesbians are harder to identify as they remain mostly hidden from view.

Despite this, the growing presence of LGBT rights is strong. There are gay bars and bathhouses. This may have to do with the growing tourism scene as well as Singapore and Thailand as neighbors. Even so, discretion is recommended. (It is far easier for women to hold hands than men, unless you are Indian.)

The noteworthy case of Anwar Ibrahim is interesting. He was the Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia from 1991 to 1998. He is married to a woman, but allegedly was involved in a gay relationship and charged for sodomy. He lost his position and was jailed—serving a 5 year prison sentence and was supposedly released in 2015. Through all of this, his wife stood by his side and playing an active political role in the country as well as his eldest daughter.

Some say this was all politically motivated because he did not see eye to eye with other government leaders as well as banks during the economic crisis. (He felt banks should not be bailed out by the government.)His trial and conviction were widely discredited by the international community. Amnesty International stated that the trial proceedings "exposed a pattern of political manipulation of key state institutions including the police, public prosecutor’s office and the judiciary" and declared Anwar a prisoner of conscience, stating that he had been arrested in order to silence him as a political opponent.

His conviction was overturned by the Malaysian Supreme Court and Anwar was finally released from solitary confinement on September 2, 2004. In July 2008, he was arrested over allegations he sodomized one of his male aides, but was acquitted of the charge in January 2012.  The presiding judge ruled that DNA evidence used in the case had been compromised. However, on March 7, 2014 the appeal court over-ruled the high Court reinstating the conviction. The decision came as Anwar was preparing to contest a by-election on March 23, 2014 which he was expected to win. The conviction prevented him from standing (you have to wait for 5 years before running again according to Malay law). Human Rights Watch was critical of the decision, saying it was politically motivated.

Today, I was to work with orangutans at a rehabilitation center called Semenoggh. They work with animals that have been orphaned, caged or abused—orangutans, monkeys, honey bears, etc. The downpour of rain altered those plans which is very disappointing. At least I was able to get across the river to see the Malay village and former British fort (Fort Margherita) yesterday between the raindrops. Even before I leave Sarawak I need to return as my time here has not been enough. There is so much more to see—Bako National, Santubong, Sabah, longhouses and traditional villages, Tanjung Datu National Park, etc.

I have been thinking about indigenous people and their relationship to earth—not earth as in dirt and something to abuse but rather Mother Earth, sacred and blessed. What I like about Mother Earth as sacred is that one loves their mother. They respect her, take care of her, nurture her. Earth as mother is to be celebrated and revered, but how often do we truly love and care for her? Too often I think we step on her, poison her, trash her, rape her. Would we do this to our own biological mother? No. We have been taught by modern society that we are mightier than she. She is to be conquered, controlled—the same way we treat many human women with our laws, expectations, and declarations. We rarely listen to her, casting off her warnings as mere gossip and news spin. I am listening, and I am fiercely concerned. When mom finally tires of us, she will be strong handed in her punishment and bear little sympathy for our foolishness.

Malay words & phrases learned: Raya = party or celebration Bungaraya = hibiscus Rakan = friend Kuluar = exit Keamanan = peace Salamat pagi – good morning Salamat malam – good night Terima kasih – thank you Iban words & phrases: Day = hari Night = malam Eat = Makai Drink = ngirup Today = saharitu Tomorrow = pegilah How are you = Gerai nuan I’m sorry = aku minta ampun What’s your name = sapa nama nuan Rinngit $ Spent: $110 - 2 nights at Oscar Guest House $16.30 - lunch sandwich (steak & cheese) with drink and 2 cookies $9.45 - hair conditioner and shoe inner soles (2 for 1) $273.00 – 3 nights, Singgahsana Lodge, private room with a/c and breakfast $ ? - forgot cost of taxi to lodge in Kuching :( $80.00 – 2 hand-beaded necklaces $1.20 – ice cream cone $5.80 – lunch, rice with chicken and veg $4.20 – dinner, friend noodle with veg $3.00 – honey popcorn $35.00 – cow horn and horse hair brush $8.50 – Malaysia chocolate and Pringles $3.10 – Slurpee $5.80 – lunch—rice, chicken and veggie $4.50 – mocha Magnum ice cream bar $3.00 - 3 whirligigs $8.60 - lunch--beef, potatoes, drink $ Exchanged: 100 USD to ringgit 411 5 AUS to ringgit 13.70 100 USD to ringgit 400 March 23 - 26, 2016

I lost a week of journal entries from Miri. I am so freaking mad right now!!!!!!

I have no idea what is wrong with my computer, but there is definitely a problem. I could not get on the internet earlier and decided to reinstall my computer after multiple attempts thinking this might be the best solution. I thought it might have to do with the fact that when I was in Miri at Treetops I had to change the connection of the service provider. Who knows exactly as technology is not my strong suit. Now, I cannot open my Word file or read my journal entry. And my blog is all messed-up with line spacing.  

Worse even is that almost 2 weeks of journal entries were not saved for some reason which makes me quite delirious, if not out right angry. If this is what One Drive is all about I call it shit. I though I had plenty of storage up there in the cloud but apparently not? There goes pages and pages of thoughts

and observations.

This one is now in Word Trial (or something called that); I am about fedup with these first world problems. I thought going electronic was going to simply my life versus the traditional paper and pen journal, but I am finding that on this journey it has been more of a curse than a blessing. One more month before I head home and hopefully IT at MSU, Mankato can resolve my issues.


Today, I went on the Stone Horse adventure cave. It was FANTASTIC!  It was 10 times better than the Racer Cave yesterday. Some of the traverse extensions were challenging as I was scaling rock

surfaces that were hundreds of thousands years old with canyons below that fell into the abyss with me

hanging on for dear life. Yes, we were on safety ropes but the feeling of being on the brink of death makes my

heart and mind race. One misstep and away I would go hoping that the safety mechanisms would

all work. Fortunately for me, I had a few slips but nothing major.

Deep valleys and peaks extend from the ground to the ceiling, some as high as an 8 story building. Someof the surfaces felt and looked like dinosaur vertebrae with shards of bones beneath my feet

that went on as far as the eye could see. Other spaces reminded me of giant balls of cotton candy or caulking for

drywall that is left in heaps to dry and is gnarled and twisted. And there were other giant spaces that

were smooth as a baby bottom twisting hypnotically in color as it went.

It was truly amazing! Words cannot express their magnitude. It was inspiring and mind boggling. I felt like I was hiking through a science fiction movie expecting a giant serpent, dragon or spider to

come creeping through one of the many holes or crevices serving me as the entree.

The caves deep within are unworldly. Turning off my headlamp, I cannot even see my hand in front of

my face. It is darker than pitch black. It  makes me ponder the life of the blind who will not see and

makes me highly regard their skills in maneuvering through life without blemish. Truthfully, I don’t

think I would be able to get through this cave without my light. I wonder if any blind person has g

one through this caving system?

In the dark it was nearly impossible to capture a picture on camera. Even a flash does not do it

justice.The image is dark and unimpressive leaving the viewer questioning what they are looking at in the first place. Friends will just have to venture here to truly witness the Mulu caves in person or see it on

film by a professional photographer.

I have been thinking a lot about bats and people’s misconception of them. It stems from childhood with vampire movies with blood thirsty creatures flying in the night or getting them caught in long hair or

even worse the case for getting rabies. But like all myths, these are far from accurate. Yes, some

bats have rabies but it is less than 1/2 of 1%. And yes, there are some that drink blood (3 of the 1,100 bat

varieties). And no, they do not get caught in people’s hair because they know where they are flying

because of the echo-location.


Cut, bruised, blistered and beaten I was brought to exhaustion and back. I qualified two days ago in the intermediate Racer Cave to traverse through the advanced Clearwater Connection. When testing our ability, 2/3 of the group did not make the cut. They were clearly upset as they had high hopes of

going through the connection. I was tickled that I made the cut and delighted because this adventure was the one major goal I had for this excursion to Borneo. Those that did not make the cut would still be

able to see the Clearwater as well as Lang and Deer Cave, the difference is that they would not be able to climb,scale and traverse through them.

I was proud to have been certified for Clearwater Connection. Starting the day at 9 a.m., we made

our way to the jetty for our trip up the river. Squatting in the longboat was somewhat uncomfortable

with my knees pulled to my chest and gathered close by my arms. My chested was constricted

tightly by the life jacket as I breathed short breathes -- inhale 1, 2, 3, 4 --hold- exhale, 1, 2, 3. The trip would take a thirty minutes before coming to our starting point.

Making our way through the water, Bergawan families gathered along the banks for their morning

bath, and the occasional bird would flutter through the thick and densely covered trees from roots totip top branches. The boat would tilt against the rocks as the captain would adjust his motor’s speed with

the co-captain setting his staff into the murky water and pulling us through the turbulence. Trees lush with

foliage and hosting dozens of other plants (ferns, orchids, seedlings, etc) dripped over head. I

looked for snakes and bird varieties only to be unimpressed. The jungle is fickle and shy--heard but not seen.

The Clearwater System is believed to be the largest interconnected cave system in the world by volume and the 8th longest cave in the world at 207 km. The system lies mainly under the western margins of Gunung Api between the Melinau Gorge and Cave of the Winds. The excursion would last the day. I had no idea how demanding it was until I came out the other end 7 hours later. Wiped out yet triumphant I had accomplished what I had hoped. Clearwater Connection is not for the faint of heart. After experiencing its demands on me physically and mentally, I know understand why the guides are so close to observe us at the intermediate caves. This experience was no walk in the park. It was grueling. The true challenge for me was when I was five hours into the cave. By this time I had accomplished what I had wanted saw some amazing rock formations, experienced bats up close and traversing across narrow ledges and multiple surfaces. The journey was far from over. Calling it a day is not so easy when you are far beneath the earth inside the belly of a mountain with gushing water in the near distance. I turned off my helmet headlight, ate a few handful of nuts and drank from my water bottle filled with lemonade. It was good to contemplate. I closed my eyes and thanked the creator for the ability to do this--travel, use of my legs and eyes, opportunity to experience new people and cultures. I lied back on the rocky surface and closed my eyes as I listened to the bats calling out to their young and knowing I could get to the end. My guide asked how I was feeling. With a half lie I told him I was great hoping that my words might even convince me. I was not burdened or in any pain, I was just ready to call it a day. Remembering deep inside my backpack I had small bites I chocolate, I fished for them in the darkness. The wrinkle of the wrapper felt good against my finger tips. My mouth began to salivate knowing what was in store for me. Peeling back the wrapper I put on slice in my mouth and felt it slowly dissolve on my palate. This was joy. I crept for another a piece as this was my inspiration to get to the end. And then the mantra of the Little End That Could began to singing in my head-- “I think I can; I think I can”. Brushing myself off, pulling my backpack on my shoulders, adjusting my helmet light and putting it on, we were off for the next half. It was a good thing the lunch break happened when it did because the last half was just as challenging as the first, if not even more so than the first. The reason it is called Clearwater Connection is that the cave connects as expected it should. What they don’t tell you though is what the water had to go through to connect them. As it is common knowledge, water finds its path of least resistance, and often times that is in the form of a hole. The same is true for this cave, a hole was what was going to get us from one end of the system to the next. The hole is not some ordinary poke in the ground. It is covered in rock on all sides, and you have to slip yourself through it ever so carefully as the rocks around the lip will cut you like a knife (and they did on the back of my pants). (There went my nice Kruhl pants. I am going to hope that the laundry staff might be able to stitch them back into place without too much of a blemish.) It’s a good thing I am thin because if I was large (height or width) there would no way to get your body inside the hole. And if I was a woman with a large chest, furgettaboutit. If I was a football athlete, guess again. Sometimes being right sized is a good thing. The hole was so small, I could not get through it with my backpack on my back. Stripping it off, I climbed in first and like an animal burrowed in the ground, I pulled my prize possession in from the top as I blindly tried to find a foot hold. I felt like a yogi pretzeled inside reminding myself to breathe and relax. (While snakes were in other caves, we would be too far in for any to get here.) I cracked a joke to keep the air light because I could feel everyone thinking too hard. Miraculously, I found the other end wandering how on Earth the original discovers even found this crack in the first place. I later found out from the guide that they call this part of the trek “The Squeeze”.  In another 1.5 hours we would be at the water element. Before getting there we bouldered up and down the interior chambers. Rocks would come loose and echo in the distance as they crashed to the floor below. My legs and arms were tired. Ropes had burned my arms and was thankful that I brought my hand gloves from the States. My hands would have been butchered without them. It’s a good thing we had a guide too because it would have been nearly impossible to find your way out. I was glad that they had two guides-- one carried us forward and the other took up the back end of the line. Safety was a priority--people, helmets, lights, first aid kit. There were several times I was in the back of the group, and it felt lonely. Headlamps moved forward, and I was left in the dark. The lead guide would twist into a crevice and disappear before my eyes or turn a corner and his light would fall into nothingness. Feeling for something to catch my foot in the dark or a handhold to keep me on the rock surface, it was good to have someone talking it through--either inside my head or the back-up guide to check in how things were going. I too took the responsibility to cheer on the women when I could feel their energy move to fear or they would slip and fall clinging on to anything for inspiration. This was definitely a group experience and something not to be done alone. We recalled the Chilean miners stuck in their hole for days on end. We had it easy. We only had one day to manage versus weeks turning into over a month. We spoke about their diligence to keep each other alive--encouraging, prayer, caring for one another. Our experience was but one day and these qualities held true for us too. You could hear the water in the cave before seeing it. The chamber walls were smooth and clear after thousands of years of water gushing and forming their surface. The air was fresh and the current below swift and bountiful. A slight breeze resonated through the chamber leaving me to know that the end was near. We traversed from one side to the next, eventually getting into the water. First it was our feet, later up to our knees, and soon after up to our chest with our backpacks on our heads with one hand balancing it and the other on the rope inching you forward hoping not to have a misstep and catastrophe. The water felt good on my tired feet and legs, refreshingly cool. I wanted to linger in it longer but chose to move ahead knowing that sunshine and glistening rivers would be our ending resolve. ************************************************************* Deer Cave, Lang Cave and the Garden of Eden with the Adam and Eve Falls was going to be my adventure cave experience today. The group entailed three women, one other man, our guide and myself. The four other cavers were all from Denmark and did not know each other before arriving to Mulu. Two of the women were best friends since they were six years old and the other was a couple that met online and got engaged during their world adventure (she was Persian and first generation Danish and he was a military officer who is planning to go back to school to become an engineer). Our guide, Jasper, was a young Malay who had boundless energy. He was fun and engaging. Deer Cave was surveyed for the first time in 1978, producing measurements of 174 m (571 ft) wide and 122 m (400 ft) high in one section that passed through the mountain for a distance of 1 km (0.62 mi). The next survey increased the acknowledged passage length to 4.1 km (2.5 mi) and connected Lang Cave, another show cave within the park, to the Deer Cave System. This survey, made in 2009 by the Hoffman Institute at Western Kentucky University, revealed the maximum cross-sectional area to be in the large southern passage. This was documented at 169 m wide with a ceiling height of 125 m (410 ft). The northern passage registered the greatest ceiling height at 148 m (486 ft) with a cross-sectional width of 142 m (466 ft). The main entrance of Deer Cave was measured at 146 m (479 ft). It is called Deer Cave because of the deer that come here to link the salt from the stalagmites as the water drips from above. Deer Cave was known as the largest cave passage in the world until the discovery of Sơn Đoòng cave in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park in Vietnam. The Clearwater cave, with approximately 60 km (37 mi) of known passages, is considered the longest cave system in Southeast Asia. It is recognized for its clear underground stream, popular with tourists. The Wind cave is located on the same trail leading to Clearwater cave, and is known for its blowing wind. It contains a chamber dubbed King’s Room, a cavern containing huge columns of stone on both the ceiling and the floor. The Lang cave is the smallest of the caves open to the public. However, its size allows up-close opportunities to see some of the common cave inhabitants such as bats and swiftlets. Not surprisingly, Deer Cave is home to 12 species of bats. Between 5 and 7pm, if the weather is fine, visitors may be treated to the spectacular sight of a black cloud of free-tailed bats emerging from the entrance of the cave to go in search of food. Originally, this cloud was thought to contain hundreds of thousands of bats but a recent study that the figure is well over several million. And guano I can't forget about the bat poop--heaps of it that are mountains high fill the cave! Add the critters feasting on the rich content, the pile moves with life pulsating from it. What do expect with 4 million bats in a cave? After leaving Deer Cave we hiked up the mountain pass into the jungle and headed toward the Garden of Eden. It was a steep and steady climb that made your leg ache. Catching your breathe while holding onto tree vines, I switch my lemonade savoring every moment knowing that I had a ways to go before lunch. The staff at the park had packed us a lunch, and I was ready for it. Tree roots cut into the pass acting as steps for us to climb. Down one side and up the next we cheerfully made our way through. Far below you could hear the gushing river with whitewater and waterfalls.Images of splendor was the catalyst that kept us going knowing too that our reward at the end was food and a refreshing plunge. In time we got to our location. The waterfalls looked amazing. Rather than jump in, I made my way to a large rock along the sides of the bank with trees that cast a nice shadow of shade. I set my backpack down and unbuckled my Nalgene from around my waist. The spray of the water lingered in the air and put droplets into my tightly bound hair. I was ready to devour the feast before me. Lunch consisted of lychee to drink, watermelon, a fried chicken wing and rice. I slowly consumed each bite, and thanked the Creator for my many blessings. Afterward I placed my food container and trash back into my pack and slowly managed to find my way back to the water pool. We would have approximately 20 minutes to play before having to return back the way we came. Each of us jumped at the chance to capture this special moment--some with a kiss and others with a picture or two. The larger of the two waterfalls is Adam, proud and pounding with a fantastic pool of water surrounded by rocks. The smaller fall is Eve with a vast spray of water that plummets against many round boulders, but don’t let her size fool you as her volume will push you across the void and shove you down into the waters as she laughs at you trying to catch your breathe. I scaled her and sat against the rocks as the water pounded and massaged my aching back and shoulders. Not staying long, I delicately made my way to the main rock only to lose my footing and slid don to reality while managing to keep my head above water without crushing my skull. Giggles and bright eyed my grin spanned across from one ear to the next. Oh, the best things in life are free! And yes, my legs are chewed to bits by the damn jungle leeches. Damn blood suckers. My legs are literally caked in blood. I am feast for sore eyes. *****************************************************

I have come to be amazed by bats. Bats are the only mammals capable of true flight. With extremely elongated fingers and a wing membrane stretched between, the bat’s wing anatomically resembles the human hand. Almost 1,100 bat species can be found worldwide--40 different kinds in the USA. In fact, bats make up a quarter of all mammal species on earth! 70% of bats consume insects, sharing a large part of natural pest control. There are also fruit-eating bats; nectar-eating bats; carnivorous bats that prey on small mammals, birds, lizards and frogs; fish-eating bats, and perhaps most famously, the blood-sucking vampire bats of South America. Most folks think about the vampire bats but only 3 varieties suck blood which is little when you compare the lare 1,100 types. Bats can eat up to 1,200 mosquitoes in an hour and often consume their body weight in insects every night!​ For their size, bats are the slowest reproducing mammals on Earth. At birth, a baby (pup) weighs up to 25 percent of its mother’s body weight, which is like a human mother giving birth to a 31 pound baby! Offspring typically are cared for in maternity colonies, where females congregate to bear and raise the young. Male bats do not help to raise the pups and mothers can have only one a year. Depending on the variety, bats live between 2 and 30 years. ********************************************************************* I had intentions of going on another adventure cave experience today, but when I check-in the guide at reception encouraged me to take a day to myself. I am glad I heeded the call, as I have been managing a cold for the last 3 days, and I can tell its getting worse than better. So I stayed close to home at park. I volunteered in the early a.m. to help clean the trails and spent t he late morning at the Paku waterfall. I took pics of flora and fauna, tried to catch up with my blog, took a nap, and chilled. It was good to keep close. That evening the two Danish best friends who went on the adventure cave the day before asked if I would want to join them on a sunset cruise down on the longboat. The tour required three people, and they wanted to go so they paid for three with only the two of them going. So, I took them up on their invitation. Most of the time on the river I went up versus down. This time, we went down and saw the other river systems join and merge. The color of the water would change from blue, green to brown as the rocks below created soft white water. Our captain managed the rivers well with no mishap or getting stranded against the rocks. Returning back and glancing into the sunset, you could see the stream of bats spiraling across the billowy clouds. The radiance of the sun, glassy river, and excellent company brought my last day at Mulu to a perfect end--even with a cold, running nose and me sneezing along the way. Ringgit $ Spent: $7.00 - 2 ice cream bars $19.00 - chicken satay and cold drink $20.00 - beef rendang $21.00 - sweet and sour chicken and cold drink $11.00 - paku garlic (sm) and cold drink $26.00 - laundry at Mulu Park plus repair pants March 27 - 31, 2016

I have been thinking about the conversation that Jasper and I had as we hiked through the caves and into the rainforest when we visited Deer Cave, Lang Cave and the Garden of Eden at Mulu Gunung National Park. Jasper was my guide and grew up in a rural village. He is in his 20s, full of energy and is a prankster. He grins from ear to ear when he smiles and has a laugh that is distinguishable.

He shared with me that his longhouse is Christian though his grandfather is a shaman for his village. His grandfather is an animist and blends his practices with Christianity. As an animist, they honor the souls of all things- people, animals, plants, all that is nature...even the universe itself. Many who celebrate animism don’t even have a word for it as it is everything; it is part of the mundane, the ordinary. It is not separate; it is all--seen and unseen.

Animism encompasses the beliefs that there is no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) world, and that souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in other animals, plants, rocks, geographic features such as mountains or rivers, or other entities of the natural environment, including thunder, wind, and shadows. They give the souls gender like American Indians have with Mother Earth, Father Sky.

Being a shaman is not passed from grandfather to father, father to son. Rather, the natural spirits chose you. His grandfather was chosen when he was a young man before he was married. He is able to communicate with the trees, flowers, mountains, and animals. He receives visions and wisdom from them and interprets what they are saying to his people. He is respected and revered in his community. Jasper shared that he fears that this grandfather might be the last shaman in his village as young people are moving away and giving up traditional ways.

He later told me too that spirits select a woman in the community to interpret dreams; it is always a woman and never a man. She is instructed how to make an elaborate apron from the spirit world. She creates this apron from memory as instructed. Only she can interpret dreams from the village. If she is an impostor and states she is an interpreter without the blessing of the spirits and creates an apron that is not divine, the spirits will kill her. He said that this happened in his longhouse.

I find it interesting when a culture blends two religious practices together. All of the Malay tribes historically were animists. Catholicism pushed the old ways aside, but many still practice traditional medicine and connection with the spirits. Longhouses have crucifixes in them, but people call out to the spirits for healing, natural signs and omens. They blur the lines between animism and Christianity. I find it interesting as time sits them on the crossroads of two cultures.

I have been fighting my cold the last week. I got a sniffle when I was at Mulu, and it has lingered longer than I would have hoped. Strange, in the USA I am as fit as a fiddle and when I travel I get ill. I don’t know if it is induced from stress or my many viruses I come in contact with on planes, trains, and automobile taxis. Regardless, I have been trying to keep a low profile these last few days in KL so that I can arrive to Dhaka in good spirits. I am ready for this to pass.

I love seeing so many Germans and Danes traveling here. They have a great energy about them, a love of wanting to learn from others different from themselves, and passion for exploration. I have met so many on my trip, and yet so few Americans. Proportionately they out number us. Yes, there are the occasional Americans that pass through, but they are few in number.

I also met my very first Aussie that I did not like. He was loud and obnoxious, demanding and uncaring. He was shouting at a local Malay woman that what he wanted she was not providing. He asked her again and again repeatedly, “Tell me what I said in English?” “Do you even understand the English language? It is obvious you don’t!”

She stood there with a smile on her face trying to please him. This went on for over 5 minutes. And each time she would return to a mouthful of profanity. He finally left in a huff, unsatisfied and angry.

My heart cringed for her. As he left, I went to console her saying she was great at her job, and he was an idiot. She thanked me and went on her way.


Originally my flight on Biman Bangladesh was to leave on April 1 at 4:05 PM from KL to Dhaka. I received an email that the flight time was changed to 3:20 PM for the same day. Later, I received another email that the time changed to 3:20 AM-- a 12 hour difference. And then then last night I got another email stating the flight was no longer leaving on April 1, but the day was changed to April 2 at the same time. What a comedy of errors.

This is ridiculous! How in the world can this airline conduct business this way? I can understand a change once but repeatedly? Another hour difference, than 12 hour difference, then a full day with flight departing on a different day? Reviewing their website it appears that their flight on March 31 was also also canceled. I hope I arrive alive! If not, this ought to make for a good story at the celebration service...Greg survives world adventures in remote locations only to killed by airline mismanagement and technical problems.

Amazing thing is I put on Facebook a post about the dilemma, and a former student of mine from Bangladesh who so happens to be visiting his family there saw the post and is going to reach out to IUBAT to inform them of the delay. That is pretty amazing!

Ringgit $ Spent:

$787.60 - flight on Malaysia Airlines-- Kuching to Miri, Miri to Mulu, Mulu to Miri and Miri to KL

$5.00 - Taxi, Mulu Park to Airport

$16.00 - sushi lunch plus cold drink at Miri airport

$6.50 - ice cream bar at Miri airport

$55.00 - subway to KL Sentral via airport

$2.80 - KL Sentral to Oscar’s Guesthouse

$12.60 - popcorn & drink at Pavilion Cinema

$22.50 - Batman v. Superman movie at the Pavilion

$3.20 - ice cream cone and apple pie

$14.55 - pharmacy (tiger balm, shoe insoles, disposable razors (3)

$3.81 - 2 pastries

$109.90 - 3 pair of shorts

$2.10 - postcard sent to elem school in the USA

.60 - international stamp

$16.15 - tuna sandwich, 6 fried wontans, lychee drink

$82.60 - international post to USA

$3.20 - apple pie and ice cream cone

$18.50 - wontons (6), cold drink

$3.80 - clear vinyl case, cotton handkerchief, drawstring pouches (4)

$22.25 - 2 Australian chocolate bars (L)

$12.50 - film, 13 Hours at The Pavilion

$47.70 - gyoza, satay, 2 chocolate lava drinks, mango & pancake with ice cream

$10.50 - film, Sisters at The Pavilion

$3.20 - pastry

$47.85 - lunch (wontans, spring rolls, tuna sandwich, grilled scallops, vanilla and rose petal drink with ice cream, passi0n fruit and lemon drink

$58.70USD - 5 nights at Oscar’s Guesthouse

convert $1600 ringgit to USD = $406.00 ***************************************************** April 1 - 3, 2016

I bought my airline ticket in November and can expect that some changes to the flight may occur. Originally, I was to leave at 4:05 pm from KLIA. I received word in February the flight time had changed to 3:20 pm. Two days before my departure, I looked at the airline website and saw that the time listed was not 3:20 pm but rather 3:20 am--a 12 hour difference. I notified the travel agent of this via on-line and was informed that no the flight was leaving at 3:20 pm. I insisted that she look again. She returned short after and said that yes the plane was leaving at 3:20 am. I asked why was there a 12 hour error, and I was not notified. She insisted that I was told via email. This was clearly not the case, and I was not going to argue with a chat icon. No sooner I had hung-up with her was I notified that the April 1 day was canceled and the flight was going to leave now on April 2. I looked at the airline website and noticed that Biman Bangladesh also canceled the March 31 flight. I got this sinking feeling that this airline is unreliable and can’t get its act together.

Swollen eyes greeted me with head bowed and crouched shoulders. She glanced up as I passed her. I nodded gently as if to say everything is going to be alright. It was she that greeted my experience at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).

I arrived early to KLIA because taxis, after the sun goes down, increase their fare by 50% or more. Often times they charge $200 ringgit ($50USD). I wasn’t about to throw away good money, and time was on my side. So, I packed my things before lunching at The Pavilion and afterward returned to the guesthouse and made my way to the subway. The Green Line (monorail for $2.80 ringgit) would get me to KL Sentral and from there I would take the purple line (KLIA Express, $55 ringgit). And with the savings, I would chill out at the airport and still have ringgit to burn.With the fiasco I had trying to get on the plane, there was no guarantee that it was even going to get me to Bangladesh as yesterday and the day before the plane was canceled.

I sat my main backpack and smaller one onto a luggage cart. They are free here; why spend the day like a pack mule if wheels are plenty? I was off to explore the airport and decided to wait at arrivals so I could keep an eye on the departures board. It was there that she sat, hunched and sad. Her long, dark hair rested in her face. Nothing was with her, no luggage or bag, merely a purse clutched tightly at her side. I sat on the faux leather bench with a seat between us. It was she who looked up in my direction and greeted me. Over 10 hours we spoke about her life in Indonesia, family expectations of her to be married, cultural norms, and the many challenges she faced back at home. She shared that she came to Malaysia for love. She had met a French man on-line, and they had been in correspondence the last 4 months. She said that he worked for Petronas, Malaysia’s leading oil company. She pulled out her phone and showed me his picture and the many texts that had spanned distance and time. Her name was Erny. She grew up in a small, rural village and was one of six children. Her father, a retired former police officer, was a hard man to know and love, yet she did everything she could for him to care for her. Sadly, he died in February 2015. She was the only child in her family to leave the village and go to Jakarta. Everyone told she was going to be a failure, return home pregnant, or beaten. None of this transpired. She paid her way to get an undergraduate degree in marketing and business, the first in her family to do so. She created her own business as well as worked for another company. She would travel 2 hours one way each day to attend college and made excellent grades despite the challenges. Regardless of her success, her family still viewed her as a failure. She shared that when her father died, no one in her family gave money for the funeral. Funerals are costly in Indonesia and the village also must be fed when someone passes away. She paid for everything, and the family regarded still as a failure as she was unmarried. So years old and labeled a hag. She had fallen in love two other times to foreigners--one Chinese man in Thailand, and another man from Saudi Arabia who lived in Turkey. None of them worked out as she often times found them stuck in a lie. All they wanted was her money. When she met the Frenchmen, she hoped that this was the one. Her mother’s curses of being old and never holding her baby would be cast aside. The French guy stated her needed millions of ringgit as he had run in financial difficulties. He asked if she would help him, and she requested a loan from her girlfriend ($1,500 USD). She sent the money to him electronically. Erny decided to then go to Malaysia to help him as she had fallen in love--mind you, she had never been out of the country before or a plane and made this journey alone. Long story short, he was not at the airport to meet her. She sent him many texts that she was at arrivals waiting for him. He told her he could not get away but another man was going to come meet her. I told her whatever transpired she was not to leave the airport. I explained that this Frenchman was probably a Malaysian guy impersonating a foreigner, had stolen her $1500, and was playing a game with her. I told I had met many women on the streets of Malaysia that were prostitutes that had been lured to the country by people who said that they would offer them a good job, salary and an apartment only to be kidnapped, their passports stolen, and they were beaten and became sex workers. Under no circumstances was she to leave the airport. And if anyone came looking for her for her, she was to inform the police or airport security immediately and if needed to scream and yell to scare the bad people away. She booked the next flight back to Indonesia. It was to leave at 7 a.m., and she was going to sleep in the airport close to security. I bought her food to sustain her, and I was off to catch my flight. I gave her my email with the hope that she will send me a note that all is well. Time will only tell if she will follow through on her promise. I got to the check-in counter as advised three hours before departure. The plane was to leave at 3:20 a.m. I arrived to the airport in the early afternoon and to the counter check-in at midnight. There was already a line of 40 some odd people, all men, waiting with luggage carts piled high of Saran wrapped blankets supported by string, cardboard boxes tightly held snug by rope, luggage of every size and shape imaginable and groceries. Yes, groceries. I was informed that wives expected foreign products as they were hard to come by in Bangladesh, and if she did not have an interest in whatever her husband or son brought back, she would sell it to her neighbor for a profit. There was no resemblance of a line so I remain huddled in this chaotic strewn mess trying to inch forward with the masses. Once the flood gates were opened it turned into a very slow moving mess with every sacred inch one luggage cart distance closer. We were all going in the same direction, but no one would budge or give an inch. It was every person for themselves. If you waived someone on, glares would shoot your poor decision down and a universal groan could be heard and felt through the crowd. And so I kept my space--wheel to neighbor’s heel. If even before leaving Malaysia the traffic was mind boggling I could only fantasize how tumultuous it would be once on Bangladeshi soil. Security was just as chaotic as trying to check-in. It felt as if every undesirable person had chosen to take my flight and no one had any sense of manners or proper etiquette. Trying to save me from the circus, the flight staff behind the counter put me forward on the plane, but said that most likely the plane was going to be full because of the two flights before were canceled. I appreciated the gesture and requested a window seat for the potential view and a place to rest my head. I was exhausted. I had been awake now for over 24 hours and was feeling sleep overcome me. Security was this long process of wait, go, wait, show your passport and travel documents, wait again, and do the same thing 2 more times for visa and getting into the lounge waiting room. It was a free-for-all once you got into the lounge with people spread across the furniture like wild animals, pushing to get to the gate, and no one showing any sign of care for anyone. I definitely was a fish out of water, and I was the only Westerner on the flight. The flight luckily left but was an hour late. Two days of flight delays and now this. Biman Bangladesh I can tell is poorly managed. It is an airline I would not want to consider flying again in my life time. It is a testament on how the larger country is run. I cannot imagine that it will remain in business for long. I tried to sleep on the flight, but the captain kept the lights for the duration--taxing, take-off, flight and landing. They did feed us a small meal of rice, juice and a slice of cake that had frosting that tasted like shaving cream. The one blessing is that they had in-flight entertainment but no headsets to listen to the content. The entire flight was a comedy of errors, and it felt like I was on “Candid Camera” waiting for Allan Funt to jump out from behind the curtain giggling at my misfortune.

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