Malaysia & Singapore

03rd August 2010

Apologies for the delay in providing an update. I've been... well, not exactly busy as such. You know how it is.

I wish I could claim to be lying in a hammock, sipping from a coconut, with native girls bringing me cocktails. I am actually in a Starbucks in the basement of a supermarket in Kota Kinabalu, Borneo. Shameful I know, but it's the only place that has decent coffee and Wifi. I am also eating a walnut muffin, thank you for asking.

Things are going well. I have continued to practice yoga, mainly because how bad I am makes me smile. Thus happiness enters my life every morning.

Yesterday I won another resounding victory in the ongoing war against my own body which began when I left London. The latest skirmish featured a hacksaw, some long-nosed pliers and my left thumb. It was a rout – the thumb won't be trying that again I can tell you.

In other news, I have bought a new camera – a second hand Canon 5D - in Hong Kong, along with some shiny new lenses. It was an expensive joke but as the Chinese saying goes, “buy the best - you only cry once.” I have a new macro lens, so expect close ups of insects and the like:

I converted my old 40D into an infrared-only camera by removing the hot mirror. Sadly, I only took about twenty pictures with the damn thing before it was stolen. Gutted.

Anyway, it’s a lovely sunny morning. Perfect for jogging on the beach. Or sitting in a dark basement typing on a computer. You know, either one.

The Drive Down
Long story short. It was raining and miserable in China, so I ditched the original plan, went back to Phnom Penh to rejoin the car and drove down to Malaysia, where the monsoon starts later. I’ll go back to China in October after I put the car on a ship to Buenos Aires.

The drive through Cambodia and Thailand was fairly short and uneventful. Highlights were Kampot in Cambodia and Krabi, where I spent a few days on Railay beach and did some more Thai boxing.

I also joined the backpacking hordes in Sihanoukville for a few days. The backpackers I meet are much the same as they were back in the day, but with a slightly greater sense of entitlement. Many of them, despite the obvious enviability of their lives, find it necessary to complain about things which shouldn’t be a cause for complaint at all, like insufficient water pressure in the hostel shower or the fact that poor people defecate in the street. It comes from being worshipped by their parents and taught that the universe revolves around them in accordance with modern parenting rules. Privilege is driving a smooth road and not even knowing it.

Peninsula Malaysia
  • Penang: I loved this place. This is multiculturalism at its best. Lot’s of beautiful buildings, fascinating history and great food. I would return tomorrow if I could, with bells on and a look of total contentment on my face.

  • Terengganu: Most travelers head straight over to the Perhentian islands but I had had enough of touristy beaches for a bit and wanted to get back off the main track. If you're looking to do nothing whatsoever, Terengganu will indulge your indolence. It’s a lovely low-key place with swaying palms and quiet little fishing villages.

  • Cameron Highlands: Alot of travelers are disappointed by the highlands, but I enjoyed my time there. For one thing, the temperature is marvelous. Also, the emerald tea plantations make a great photographic subject. I stayed in a delightful little guesthouse overlooking the plantations, whose name, like so many important things, escapes me.

  • Kuala Lumpur was nice enough. The food is fantastic. I must have taken a hundred photos of the Petronas Towers, which are dramatically lit at night and visible from anywhere in the city.

    I also enjoyed the national museum. They’ve clearly spent money on it and many of the exhibits have an entertaining interactive element. I managed to sneak into the very beautiful old museum library that is officially closed to visitors. I love old libraries. The smell of paper is perfume to me.

  • Rawa Island. There aren't many places like Rawa left in the world. A perfect white beach, crystal clear water and fantastic coral. Most similar islands have long since been bought by Aman or one of the other high-end resort companies. It is a rustic paradise. I spent three happy days there writing and doing tequila shots with the crown prince of Johor. Booya!

    Race in Malaysia
    Ethnic Malays are 60% of the population, the Chinese 26%, and Indians and indigenous peoples make up the rest. The general perception is that the Chinese control the economy while the Malays dominate politically. The Indians are at the bottom of the heap. Malaysia bills itself as a model of peaceful multiculturalism but when you pull aside the flimsy curtain of unity and tolerance, the real stage is a blood-soaked battlefield.

    In 1971, the New Economic Policy was introduced to restructure society and give Malaysians a "fairer" share of the economy. The NEP gives Malaysians with "Bumi" racial status cheaper houses, lower interest rate loans, priority when applying to university and so on. Because being Malay is closely equated with being a Muslim, a first generation Indonesian can buy a house at a 7% discount while a tenth generation Chinese pays full price.

    Originally intended to last 20 years, the NEP has since been extended indefinitely because, according to the government, the target of 30% Malay ownership of the economy has not been achieved. Officially, it now stands at 18%, but the government uses par equity value (rather than market value) to grossly underestimate the Malay share. When a researcher came up with a figure of 45% based on current stock prices, there was a huge outcry and the paper was suppressed.

    It is well past time to phase this structure out, but the subsidy mindset and powerful vested interests prevent it. During rallies, local politicians brandish Kris, traditional Malay swords, and chant "Long live Malays". Having been spoon-fed for decades, the Malay population sees what was once a privilege as an entitlement.

    As always, affirmative action comes at a cost. You hear alot about the laziness of the Malays, but they are no more naturally lazy than anyone else. The system is at fault. People will do the minimum if they are allowed to. The civil service is irredeemably corrupt and the government-subsidised oligarchies, run by parasitic family clans, are hugely inefficient and would be totally unable to survive in the face of a free market. The inequalities in the Malaysian education system benefit Singapore, which is where many of the most gifted non-Malays end up. The Malaysian government criticises Singapore for poaching talent but the problem is of their making.

    People everywhere whine about other races in their country, it's normal. Whites in England moan about the Poles and Pakistanis, the French moan about the Algerians. The fact remains that the Chinese are unpopular everywhere in south-east Asia. They are industrious and successful, and do not really integrate into local culture, preferring to set up little Chinatowns, where they speak Chinese and eat Chinese food.

    Several Malays told me "they are just visitors in our country". Ok, but if they're going to claim a racially inherited right to own the place then there is a double standard at work. The "true" and original inhabitants of Malaysian Borneo are the Penans, Dayaks and Orang Ulu, who have been abused and marginalised and have none of the rights accorded Malays. Virtually all of the wealth created by the vast palm oil and logging operations in Borneo is funneled back to the peninsula.

    Sadly, these problems cannot be solved, only managed. I say this as a first generation immigrant myself, raised in the Austrian motherland by bears and fed on a diet of chocolate and frankfurters.

    Singapore was much as I expected – neat & tidy, with logically numbered buildings and lots of glass and concrete. The food is fantastic. It's the one place in the world where you can eat south Indian food secure in the knowledge that you won't die of a perforated bowel ten hours later.

    I disagree with the old "Singapore is boring and has no culture" line often trotted out by travelers. It boils down to the idea that for a place to be authentic there needs to be endless filth and poverty. If the trains run on time and the locals don’t look miserable enough, then the place is obviously "lacking culture".

    How dare you wear a suit. Get back in the gutter so I can take gritty pictures of you.

    A high point was sneaking into Istana Woodneuk, which was the residence of the Sultans of Johor. It has been abandoned for almost a hundred years and makes for a great photographic location. It is closed to the public because of the danger of the whole thing falling down, but you can break in by climbing over a wall and walking through the jungle for twenty minutes.

    The government has a far from perfect record where human rights is concerned. The media are tightly controlled, internet access is regulated and private ownership of satellite dishes is forbidden. On the other hand, Singapore's reputation as a repressive society is overplayed. Government initiatives urging Singaporeans to have more babies and be courteous are amusing rather than authoritarian, floggings for offences like littering are extremely rare and capital punishment is used almost exclusively for drug trafficking offences. I wouldn't necessarily want to live there but the place seems to work just fine.

    Malaysian Borneo
    I left the car in KL and headed over to Kuching in Sarawak, still officially part of Malaysia, but a world away from the bickering cities of the peninsula. Kuching is an agreeably relaxed little place, with incredible tropical sunsets and a trendy little bar scene. There aren’t many tourists, but you still have to contend with locals constantly trying to sell you dubiously aged “antiques”.

    Borneo is an island of extremes – it has the biggest flower in the world, the Rafflesia, the Kinabalu red leech, which is bigger than your foot and the Gunung Sarawak chamber, the world’s biggest cave. Despite the best efforts of the Malaysians to get rid of the forest, nature is constantly asserting itself here.

    Travelling in Borneo is fun if you have sufficient time. Away from the coast it’s mostly river travel, and you can enjoy shaking the wobbly rope bridges when other travellers are inching across.

    I did two homestays in Dayak longhouses, which were very worthwhile. A surprising number of people still live in these communal dwellings. You get a nice feel for a totally different style of living in which anything anyone does is automatically everyone else’s business. The food is not bad, but I should warn you that the mattresses are paper thin and the toilets are ... well... I would advise holding it in until you get back to your hotel.

    Especially interesting to me were the Penan, a group of nomadic jungle dwellers who the government is now trying to settle. These are the same people that until recently were in the habit of shrinking heads, presumably so they don't take up as much space in the living room.

    Old school Penan (not my photo):

    A modern Penan I met:

    I went to a local Dayak event that was all tribal drums, traditional dancing, tattoos and moonshine. I haven’t the faintest idea what it was all about. One guy told me it was a harvest festival. Another said it was just a party. Never mind, I thought, just revel in the grubby anarchy of it all. This is how the missionaries must have felt when they came to bring Jesus and small pox to the locals.

  • Bako National Park: One of the best National Parks I have visited. A tremendous variety of terrains, lots of wildlife and few visitors. I have to say that I find monkeys pretty sinister, especially macaques. In Bako I saw a woman robbed of her sandwiches and camera by macaques. They are evil little bastards and I would have no problem kicking one in the face if it tried that shit with me.

  • Sipadan: I spent a few blissful days on the island of Mabul, enjoying some of the world’s best diving.

    I wanted to buy a waterproof housing for my camera, but it was $1500. It ended up being much cheaper just to rent an underwater camera.

    People complain about the island because the place is tiny and has two Bajau villages on it. These sea gypsies come in for plenty of criticism for leaving rubbish around the place, shark fishing and so on, but they don’t have a lot of options – they lack Malaysian identity cards and therefore can’t go to the mainland. Personally, I found their ramshackle villages less unsightly than the identikit resorts with their fake Balinese furniture.

    Orang Utans
    There is an excellent orang utan reserve at Semeggoh near Kuching, which is much less visited than Sepilok in Sabah. It was a great experience. A mother and baby came right up to me, and I got to see Richie, the resident alpha male, who normally stays out in the remote forest.

    Richie is 140 kilos with a 7ft arm span and a grip that can leave an imprint on a tire iron. Dominance is a universal language in the animal kingdom and, as with human beings, it is communicated through body language. He doesn't move around much, but his body language says unmistakably: “Do not mess with me or I will pull your head off”. We were warned not to point at him, laugh or use flash. To emphasise the point, it was mentioned that Richie recently bit an entire hand off another male orang utan in a fight.

    With my blue belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, I knew I could easily take him.

    MT Kinabalu
    One of the supposed must-dos in Borneo is climbing to the top of Mount Kinabalu, a massive rocky uplift that rises out of the plain in the east of the island. I decided to attempt it despite being warned off by several other travelers.

    A day in the life II - Climbing Mount Kinabalu:

    I arrive at the park headquarters at 8am. The complex commands a spectacular view of the granite fortress of Kinabalu, which is sitting in the morning sun looking every inch the highest point in south-east Asia.

    I have only decided to do the climb a couple of days previously, and it soon becomes apparent that my “equipment” is rather inadequate. Due to circumstances well within my control, I have been reduced to borrowing some ultra-wide, hip hop style khaki pants and a pair of low-grade fake adidas trainers. Everyone else seems to have arctic clothing, hunting rifles, a Fortnum’s picnic hamper and an army of native bearers. “You can borrow a jacket, gloves and a hat at base camp” says my guide. “Oh, good.”

    I scan the rest of the day’s climbers – a group of twenty English schoolgirls, some elderly Japanese in Prada tracksuits and a selection of Dutch, Germans and Italians. The guides are selected randomly and I see an ancient Malay who looks like a subway wino put out his hand to a Dutch tourist. The Dutchman reacts like a vampire faced with the sign of the cross, then finally musters the courage to grab his grimy hand.

    I have also paid for a guide, but there is all kinds of dawdling going on, so I decide to ditch the others and head off. Excellent idea. I have the mountain to myself.

    The first section is along a rocky path in low scrubland, which soon leads into a cool green realm in the shade of huge strangling figs and chestnut trees. Their trunks are swathed in a delicate drapery of fronds and creepers, which gives the forest a straggly beauty.

    Each group of species has its own limits of altitude and temperature, so that as you get higher you pass imperceptably from one zone to another. The brochure lists a vast array of amazing animals that supposedly inhabit the park, but the only wildlife anyone ever sees on the climb are squirrels and rats.

    The main problem with Kinabalu is that it just goes up and up. There are no flat sections, no up and down. Imagine walking up an endless green stairwell. I am not exactly in the best physical condition right now and after about an hour I’m practically sweating spinal fluid. It's worth mentioning that the locals who bring supplies up to Laban Rata make up to three trips per day and they’re carrying 30 kilos. Somehow my legs started to hurt less when I heard that.

    I arrive at base camp in a frankly average time just as it starts raining. I have a nap and by the time I wake up forty minutes later, the others have arrived. The only heated area is the dining room, which is immediately crammed with climbers. I hover in the doorway trying to decide whether it is nobler in the mind to suffer the inane chat and smell of outrageous Frenchmen or by opposing talk to the Dutch girls.

    My mind is made up when I spot one of the Frenchies. I had seen him that morning at the park headquarters, voicing his worthless opinion on the death of Michael Jackson in an endless stream of huge volume but miniscule substance.

    And in that dark hour shone forth a wan beacon in the gloom - “Anyone for a beer?”. Despite the huge prices, I order a bowl of instant noodles and a Heineken, which blunts the edge of misery a bit.

    The Dutch girls & a young Malay

    “It’s a bit like Wales.” says an Italian, looking out at the pouring rain. Contrary to all common sense, he goes to Wales on holiday every year. Despite this blatant cry for help, his family have not seen fit to put him in an institution. “Dear Lord, I wouldn’t go that far.” I say, but it really is almost that bad. I lower my dejected lips to the can of beer.

    I ask one of the guides about borrowing gear. “It’s right over there” says he. Jesus Christ. The “gear” is stuff that has been left behind by other climbers, mostly in the seventies. How bad? It will give you some idea when I tell you that the absolute best I could find was: a pair of white gardening gloves, a ladies anorak (extra small) and a kind of hideous beige dinner jacket.

    Drinking properly at Laban Rata is prohibitively expensive and in any case inadvisable, so everyone soon goes to bed. We are all woken up at 1am by a German couple having a blazing row in the room next door. Unfortunately I understand German so it is impossible not to listen to the whole thing.

    “You couldn’t take care of even that one tiny thing?! Can’t you take responsibility for anything in your life? God you’re useless!” etc etc. Shouting. Sound of something being thrown. More shouting. Hang on... they've stopped. They're either having sex, or she's dead.

    I finally get back to sleep until I am roused by a tendril of coffee aroma that escapes from the kitchen downstairs and coils through the air to my nose. Time to get up. Without a coffee in the morning I can’t complete the most basic life tasks, like losing my car keys, never mind scaling a mountain.

    Breakfast is cake and eggs (?) and I take an executive decision to delay starting. I know that the ascent takes nowhere near four hours, plus it gives me time to get into my mountaineering equipment without an audience. Khaki lowriders? Check. Fake adidas? Check. Gardening gloves? Check. Dinner jacket? Check. T-shirt tied round head? Done, done and DONE!

    I head outside. The resident squirrel welcomes me with a loud salvo of chirrups. I accept its enthusiasm guardedly and start up the mountain, my stomach heavy with cake and apprehension.

    The lie-in proved to be a good idea. Apparently there was an almighty traffic jam at three when most people left. By the time I caught up, the group was spread out and it was far easier to overtake those going slowly.

    The last two hours involves a non-stop scramble up bare rock while clinging to a wet rope with your frozen fingers. It’s hard to overstate the level of histrionics that accompanied this final ascent. The altitude was a problem for a lot of people. I saw all kinds of stuff – people lying on the ground crying, people throwing up, and several people giving up altogether and heading back.

    One American lady was refusing to budge at all, up or down. “Just leave me. Leave me to die!” She shrieked, her face smeared with tears of self pity. The guide, facing up the mountain diplomatically, did not turn around but his back radiated disdain. Her poor Italian husband tried to cheer her up but didn’t seem to understand that she wanted to stay upset. Pointing out that her tantrum was futile merely made her more determined to have a crisis.

    You know things are messed up when you find yourself feeling pity for an Italian.

    The schoolgirls were amazingly unsympathetic to each other. A poor girl who was vomiting from altitude sickness was told by her friend: “For fuck’s sake get moving Natalie, you’re holding up the whole group”. I imagine that this is largely what military service is like - a clinically insane drill sergeant launching into foul-mouthed tirades and harassing you to wade across freezing rivers.

    There is an unwritten rule that you share all of your food with other hikers on this kind of junket. I had handed out most of what I had the day before, but shamefully hid some chocolate biscuits for myself in my camera bag. I ate them on the last leg up. I couldn’t seem to get rid of the chocolate stains no matter how often I wiped my guilty fingers on the khakis. I felt like Lady Macbeth.

    Dawn's left eye was open by the time I finally reached Low’s peak, a half-eaten biscuit clutched in my traitorous hand. Most of the others had been there for an hour, huddled miserably in the dark. We had endured the harshest elements, strove and strained every sinew in pursuit of glory, and achieved it. History will not award us the accolades we deserve. Has it ever been otherwise?

    The summit is a narrow spike which can accommodate no more than 10 people at a time. A sign warns visitors not to climb to the edge of the cliff that falls away to the south, effectively guaranteeing that every tourist will do just that.

    “Anyone else on their way up?” asks one of the teachers. I point down and feel the hated DJ cut into my armpit. You could see a line of lights snaking up from below, where the traipsing laggards were still making their way up the side of the mountain.

    The top of the mountain is bare granite, folded in a grand sweep of broad corrugations. The four main peaks rise out of this sloping shelf and are scored by a pattern of transverse gulleys. Above the low-lying cloud, the sky stretched out to the east in an infinite perspective of palpitating blue light.

    I took the DJ off in this picture for the sake of my remaining dignity.

    When you’re not moving you quickly get cold, so everyone pretty soon started back down. Because it’s so steep, the descent is nearly as tough as going up. Every step jars your knees painfully and the scrambling is twice as dangerous. Don’t roll your eyes at me - if the stench of burning martyr gets too much for you, you can go back to reading the Onion.

    Arriving back at the park headquarters, weak limbed with fatigue and with a fragile grip on my sanity, I am immediately cornered by a well-meaning local who wants feedback on my experience.

    “Was food good?” He enquires.
    “Adequate dear boy, adequate.”
    “Was there any extra help you require?”
    “Actually yes, for the sake of mercy, inflict some kind of blunt trauma on my skull so I can forget.”
    “Erm, excuse me?”
    “And another thing. People who use alpine walking poles should be gassed like badgers. Carry on.”

    I hope this report comes across as a recommendation, because I am sort of glad that I did it. This is the kind of experience that is hell on earth while you're doing it. Four days later it becomes "worth it". A year later it’s the highlight of the entire trip.

  • Climbing time: 10 hours
  • Sleeping time: 5 hours
  • Resting time: 1 hour
  • Apparent time: 80 years

    Environmental Issues
    Deforestation is the key environmental issue in Malaysia. On paper Malaysia, has excellent protective legislation, but it isn't enforced and the rampant corruption in the government allows illegal logging to continue on a large scale. Attempts by the indigenous population to stop logging in their traditional homeland are ruthlessly put down by the government and no Malaysian court has ever ruled in favour of native peoples displaced by destruction of the rainforest. The elected mafiosi that pass for government officials in Asia will always side with development over conservation because it lines their pockets.

    When the Malay or Indonesian governments are told that they must stop cutting down the rainforest, they retort - "you already cut down all of your own forests and now you want us to forego revenues that we desperately need". Fair point. Conservation is a global issue and I would have no problem with some of my tax money going towards helping Malaysia develop alternative industries.

    Flying over Borneo, it's pretty depressing to see the vast areas of lowland forest that have been felled and burned to make way for palm oil plantations. Worse, the recent dramatic increase in global demand for palm oil stems from the push into biofuels. Having invested in this sector on and off for years, I am firmly convinced that the policy is a total disaster - politically motivated and hugely detrimental to its stated goals.

    Many areas of primary forest such as the lower Kinabatangan floodplain have been reduced to scattered pieces. This habitat fragmentation is a major problem for endangered animals like rhinos and forest elephants, which are forced to move through plantations to get from one patch to another, often causing considerable damage. I was told by one plantation owner - "They should just put the animals in some small forest zones and put fences around them. That way there will be no damage and the tourists can easily see the animals."

    Why stop there? If you want to go commercial, why not just launch the remaining rhinos into the air with giant catapults for tourists to blast with anti-aircraft guns?

    The Abode of Tedium
    I wasn’t going to visit Brunei, but I found a $20 ticket with Air Asia from Kota Kinabalu so I went.

    The country is vastly wealthy due to easy revenues from it's only asset - oil. It is a totally autocratic state, governed in extreme secrecy by the sultan, who has absolute power. There is no representative parliament and virtually no-one outside the royal family holds important positions in the government. Bruneians call it "The Abode of Peace".

    The government employs 80% of the working population, who spend their lives shuttling between the cubicle farms in government offices and huge megamalls where they shop aimlessly and eat at franchise restaurants. The idea seems to be to keep them suckling contentedly at the teat of acquisitiveness so that they won't bother about politics. All the real work is done by foreigners - some 100,000 of them work as doctors, engineers, construction workers and maids.

    The Bruneians spend their time putting on parades and shows for the sultan. Stuff like this:

    On paper, the quality of life is incredibly high. The government provides free education and medical care, there is no income tax and every household has a modern car. Of course, a statistical analysis of living standards misses everything of importance. God, give me five years in Rio followed by a bullet in a favela mugging than a hundred years in Brunei any day.

    I grant you there is little poverty or hunger, and I guess they are less likely to die from cholera, but the place is totally dead. Alcohol is illegal, as is holding hands in public and being caught engaging in homosexual acts will get you 10 years in prison. So boring is it that the locals all leave Brunei on public holidays to "party" in Kota Kinabalu or Miri. That these vacuums of excitement seem cool to Bruneians tells you everything. As usual the rules don't apply to the ruling elite. Just like their Saudi equivalents, Bruneian princelings spend their time snorting coke and partying with Russian hookers in London.

    The godawful place is partly rescued by its gentle and unassuming inhabitants, who are unfailingly polite and welcoming to visitors. Unfortunately, they are so infected by brainless consumerism that meeting their friends in a shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon is their definition of a good time. I want a 60 inch plasma TV and a pair of Tsubi jeans as much as the next idiot but there has to be a limit.

    It's all a bit sad, like the postman who wins the lottery and then spends a few years miserably watching daytime TV before finally going back to his old job.

    The story of the infamous Prince Jefri is illustrative. Given control of country's entire budget by his brother Sultan Bolkiah, he did what any spoilt child would do. He bought 2000 cars, Asprey's, and a megayacht he named "Tits". It is estimated that he spent $14.8 billion on personal expenses during his twelve years as head of the Brunei Investment authority. In his place, I imagine any of his pampered subjects would have done much the same thing.

    To paraphrase Friends, Brunei is so far off the bottom of the list of my favourite countries that it can't even see the list. The list is a dot from where Brunei is standing. Awful place. Or more accurately, not for me.

    Quote from something I’m reading:
    Description of Singapore: "3 million overfed zombies ruled by a deranged dynasty, surrounded by 300 million starving, loincloth-clad Muslims waiting patiently for the day when they pour out of the jungle and descend on the arrogant Chinese enclave to finish it off with their poison darts and machetes, leaving nothing but electronic road pricing equipment standing." Hemlock’s Diary

    Worst Moments
  • Discovering how little the Kinabalu porters get paid. Some of the travelers were outraged, but I didn’t see any of them reaching into their own pockets. “It's modern slavery” says one genius. I made myself unpopular by suggesting that they probably weren’t being forced into it at all, but rather were doing it because of a lack of alternatives and because the money seemed good enough to them. It's a simple fact that the supply of unskilled labour is far greater than that of educated labour. Thus, the less training you have, the less money you get. Any able-bodied person can carry sacks up a hill, therefore they get paid a pittance. If you believe in a free market, then what is fundamentally unfair about the system is uneven access to education.

  • Swine flu: It appears that the world is infested with sneezing pigs and we are all going to die. This has led to all kinds of irritating new border regulations and means that people look at me funny when I don't smear sterile fluid over myself before eating.

  • People who like Glee should be killed.

  • The hideous anthem “Malaysia - Truly Asia” is at the forefront of the Malaysian tourist board's expansion plans. This monstrosity is a classic example of what happens when advertising people are put in charge. When it came on in the tourist office, a lady noticed me scribbling some notes.

    “Malayyysiaaa truly Aasiaa” She croons. “What do you think of it?”
    “Fabulous. May the angels be singing it when they come for me”.

    Best/Worst Food
  • Malaysian food = carbs. Penang has the best food I have had anywhere on the trip. No contest. The Tamil curries are superb and I had better dim-sum there than I had in China. Absolutely amazing. I’d like to see Kobayashi try to take me on at eating dim-sum. The food elsewhere on the peninsula is also excellent.

  • The food in Borneo is substantially worse than on the mainland. The taxi driver who picked me up from the airport tried to get me to taste some steaming foulness that he was slurping straight out of a styrofoam carton. It appeared to be some kind of diced beef curry that was an insult to dice, beef and India. I wouldn't eat that filth if Rocio Diaz was spooning it into my mouth out of my favourite Spiderman bowl.

    Overall, I would describe the Malaysians as polite rather than friendly, at least by south-east Asian standards, but I found the country very interesting.

    My plans are a bit up in the air. I am contemplating the application of quantum physics to my life - the more exactly I know where I am, the less I have any idea where I'm going. At this time of year I would normally be over-tipping waiters in Monte Carlo.

    For the next month I will probably be bloating on a beach somewhere in Bali. The aim is to get good at surfing before South America. Not much else to report. I am finally throwing out some deck shoes that I have been wearing into the ground since Tunisia. A truly poignant moment.

    I have had only friendly emails recently. Hate mail has been pretty thin on the ground. I suspect that this entry will change that. Go right ahead people - a true friend stabs you in the front.

    That's it. I hope you're all well. Off to watch episode eleven of Glee.