Monday, October 23, 2006


It seems everyone is having a festival lately. The Indian's just ended Deepavali, the Malay's are having Hari Raya Puasa and the Chinese are celebrating Jiu Wang Ye. Colored lights are being displayed and fireworks are going off constantly.

Deepavali is the Hindu festival of lights which symbolises the victory of good over evil, and lamps are lit as a sign of celebration and hope for mankind.

Hari Raya Puasa marks the end of Ramadan. Ramadan is the name of the one-month fasting period when Muslims fast from dawn till sunset. During the period of fasting, apart from eating and drinking, Muslims are also forbidden from smoking and having sexual relations.

Jiu Wang Ye or loosely translated as the arrival of the Nine Heavenly Kings. It's a annual Buddhist event that takes place around this time of year, and those who follow it observe a vegetarian diet for slightly over a week.

On Saturday my Indian taxi driver invited me to his home for an open-house dinner. He lives near by so Kelly and I rode our bikes over and enjoyed some good spicy Indian food, beer and fun company.

Kelly's mom removed everything non-veggie from the fridge. They have all this veggie food that looks and tastes very similar to non-veggie food. Mushrooms that appear to be meat for example. I actually like the veggie food better than the normal food. They have a separate table for eating non-veggie stuff. They even wash the non-veggie dishes in a separate sink. Gotta keep it separated!

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Night Rider

Blog entries like this should be written shortly after the experience. If I wait a couple of weeks, all of the good details fade from memory so I decided to make this blog entry as soon as possible. Of course all of those little details makes the entry a lot longer. This entry has 12 pics for you to enjoy.

I wanted to ride my bicycle around Penang island at night because there would be less cars. I chose to go on a night when the moon when be full so I could see the road better. Unfortunately the next full moon fell on a Friday and a Holiday so the traffic was really dense late into the night with party people.

Kelly's family does not approve of my adventures. In that past when I've informed them of my plans they advise me not to go and tell me how dangerous it is. I usually do what I want regardless of the families concerns except for a couple of times.

One time I rented a car and I wanted to take Kelly up to this mountain top Thai restaurant with a fantastic view. The family thought the road up to the restaurant was too dangerous at night and they literally said we could not go.

Another time I asked Kelly to help me retrieve my bicycle from a cliff where I had left it the day before. The family said it was too dangerous so I was forced to go alone and roll my bike down the cliff which caused about $100 in damage.

I wanted to ride my bike around Penang island a week before our wedding. The family advised me that this is not their way and that I should avoid doing anything risky weeks before the wedding. I decided to respect their ways that time.

The family seems intent on making me respect their ways but shows no interest in respecting my ways. I'm independent and used to do things my way. I'm not used to others telling me how run my life. It's been a big adjustment. At night the house is locked up and I don't have a key to get in or out. It feels like a prison but I've adjust and dealt with it. It's only temporary althoug it has been a year an a few months so far.

So this time we didn't tell anyone and we still haven't told anyone where I went. The family is wrapped up in preparations for Kelly's sister's wedding in 2 days so they weren't paying much attention when I rode off into the night. Nobody noticed I was gone when they locked up for the night. I returned before anyone awoke the next morning and Kelly let me in and I slipped in unnoticed.

I had ridden around Penang before in about 10 hours but this time I wanted to take it slow and just enjoy the ride making lots of stops. I was shooting for a 12 hour ride leaving at 8 pm and return at 8 am just in time to see the sun rise.

Normally this is the view out the bathroom window.

Fires in Indonesia made the air thick with smoke so I could barely see the hills in the distance.

So the air quality was very low so anyone with allergies or asthma should not do anything physical. Lucky for me, I don't suffer from any lung problems so I braved the smoky air. During the first five minutes of my ride my eyes stung from the smoke. I thought that if it gets any worse, I would be forced to turn back but I got used to the smoke and it stopped bothering me.

In the past I had always ridden around the island clockwise but this time I was doing it counter-clockwise which meant doing the flat-city first then the hilly-villages.

I came across this sign showing the cities that were ahead of me. The time was about 1 am.

Batu Ferringhi - aka The North Shore. The shore-line is dotted with 5-star hotels. This area is mostly inhabited by rich travelers and foreign party goers. I arrived about 1 am. The name reminds me of the alien race of Star Trek, the Ferengi. Could it be this city is where the name came from?

Teluk Bahang - when you finally escape the tourist area you reach this area inhabited by locals. Life is much slower here. I arrived about 2 am.

Balik Pulau - my favorite city in Penang. Inhabited mostly by Malays. The Chinese and Indian population are very sparse in these parts. It's very flat and more than half of its surface is used for rice crops. Life here is even slower than in Teluk Bahang. It is very isolated. The only way in or out is over some big scary mountains. I arrived about 4 am.

Here is a pic of the southern tip of Penang island that I took from air when returning from Bangkok Thailand. The curved bay area is where I live. Teluk means Bay so Teluk Kumar means Kumbar Bay. You can see the airport we are headed to. The planes fly out over the ocean and make a 180 degree turn then head back to the island for a landing. I'm guessing they take this route to reduce noise pollution on the island.

As I approached the famous North Shore of the Pearl of the Orient (Penang) it suddenly started to down pour really hard. It was perfect timing since I found shelter under a large tree. After 15 minutes the rain stopped and I continued. The air had now been cleared of all of the smoke but I still could not see the moon or stars because the rain clouds had replaced the smoke haze.

About 30 minutes later the rain returned and this time I got stuck at a Happy Mart for one hour.

I could have ridden in the rain but I decided to stay dry and see if it was a short rain. No reason to get wet unless it was going to last a few hours. I was in no hurry.

I finally left the tourist area behind and got into the area mostly inhabited locals and I came across this 24 hour (24 jam as they in Malaysia) Indian open-air restaurant in Teluk Bahang. The time was about 2 am.

A Malaysian would ask "why are you emphasizing open-air?" In Penang about 99% of the restaurants are open-air and that is not exaggeration. In the USA it seems the opposite is true where 1% are open-air.

It is so hot in the tropics so I wonder why anyone would want to eat outside when it's 95F (35C) and 90% humidity but I think there are many reasons. Cost. It's cheaper to build an open-air restaurant and cheaper to run since you don't have to pay for air-conditioning. It's also tradition. People are just used to it. They are used to the heat. If you're going to build a new restaurant you are going to copy what is working for others. Malaysians like to copy what others are doing. I noticed they love to follow trends and fads the same way Americans do.

One trend or fad for women is to color their hair brown or red or even blonde. I guess it makes sense. By nature they all have the same color black hair but now they can stand out and be more individual. Personally I like the jet black hair the best. In the US most people have brown hair and it's actually rare to see someone with jet black hair.

These type of Indian restaurants are called Nasi Kandar and my favorite food is the Roti Canai. The cost was 0.60 Ringgits which is about 15 cents! It's amazing how cheap you can eat. A few days ago I had dinner at a local Malaysian stand for 3.5 Ringgits which is about 92 cents. Dinner for less than a dollar! Kelly complains about the cost of eating out but she has no idea. It's not even customary to leave a tip in Malaysia thus saving even more money.

Roti Canai is a bread that you tear pieces off then dip in a curry. Here the cook is flipping the dough similar to how pizza dough is flipped.

Here is a close-up of my roti canai.

I then left the Nasi Kandar and headed for the dam. The dam looked awesome looking up from its based. I rode to the top and took this picture of the wall separating the water from the city.

If this wall ever broke, thousands would die. I wonder how the people feel living below this dam knowing that a single engineering mistake could wipe them out.

This area had no street lights and as I rode into the darkness I realized that my tiny light was not enough. Luckily I had brought along another flash-flight so I used my extra t-shirt shirt to tie it to my handle-bars.

The fog was really dense. This sign says it all. Winding hills to follow.

A police car stopped me and three Malay police officers questioned me. The advised me not ride up thru the mountain pass at night alone because there were no lights so I may not see things like fallen branches, big pot-holes or wash-outs in the road. I showed them head-light system but then they warned me about getting mugged. I asked if muggings happens often and they said no. I said that I would take my chances and off I went.

Unfortunately their words did spook me. I had looked forward to this part of the ride more than any other because it was the most isolated. Late at night you might see one car every hour. There are no lights so I was hoping to see the full moon and the stars if the clouds every cleared.

But now I was scared of being mugged so I decided to ride up over the hill without stopping since stopping sounded dangerous. I also rode down the center of the road keeping my distance from the edges where a bad guy could leap out any second. I also kept my speed up going up the hill going about as fast as the typical person runs. The idea was that if anyone started to chase me, I would be going fast enough to out-run them.

The sky started to clear and the moon and stars began to show but I could not stop. I passed beautiful waterfalls but I could not stop. I passed many great views of the valley below but still I could not stop. About 3/4 of the way to the top I got very thirsty but still I could not stop. My legs started to burn but I could not stop. I was probably pushing 80% of my max-heart rate for at least 45 minutes.

This was supposed to be slow enjoyable ride but here I was acting like I was trying to keep the lead in the Tour de France. There was some flex in the t-shirt holding the flash-light so I could point it left, right, up and down which I did to keep a look out for any unfriendly people as well as any debris fallen from trees.

As I neared the bottom of the hill I approached the city of Balik Pulau and they had street lights so I turned off my head-lights. I finally felt safe so I stopped, drank some water, ate some food and enjoyed the view of the moon and stars since the clouds had cleared.

The time was about 4 am and I was impressed by the number of 24 jam (hour) restaurants. They used these color lights to indicate they were open all night.

I stopped at the 7-11 and got some coffee then laid on the side-walk and took a nap for about 20 minutes to gather my strength. I was quite exhausted at this point and I had one more big hill to climb as well as a scary dangerous downhill to descend.

At first I tried going up the hill in my lowest gear but after 5 minutes I was too tired and had to get off and rest. I decided to just walk up the hill which felt great. My pedaling muscles were spent but my walking muscles still had some life in them. Unfortunately I didn't have a different heart to use so my one heart kept telling me that I needed to stop and rest often which was fine with me since the moon and stars were quite amazing.

It took me about an 1.5 hours to walk to the top then I needed to plan how to safely ride down. The morning traffic was starting to increase. It was about 5:30 am and I noticed that 90% of the traffic was going down the hill which meant I could ride down the hill in the oncoming traffic lane. I just had to watch out for oncoming traffic which was easy. The plan worked great and in a short time I was at the bottom.

As I approached my home in Teluk Kumbar I noticed the moon was setting on the horizon. The haze from Indonesia was returning which gave it a nice yellow orange hew. It looked very large and beautiful. I've seen a lot of sunsets but this was the first time I had ever seen a moonset. And just like a sunset you can actually perceive the moon moving in relationship to the horizon.

It's amazing how fast its actually moving. Or are we moving? Lets see, the Earth rotates and the Moon revolves around the Earth. Hmm … in the same direction? I wonder what sets faster? The sun or the moon? Questions … questions …

As I was pondering these questions, the sounds of screaming chickens got my attention. I looked over and saw two men killing chickens. One man would remove a chicken from a cage and hang it upside down by its legs. The other man would grab its head then slit its throat. I suppose he was cutting the juggler veins on both side of the neck so it would quickly lose consciousness and bleed to death. The man holding the chicken's legs would then toss it into a large barrel of dying chickens. The barrel was shaking around and steam was rising from it, I'm guessing from all of the warm blood being spilled. The air was still cool from the recent rain.

Once the chicken's neck was cut it stopped screaming but I'm guessing that's because its wind passage to its vocal cords was severed. The chicken probably passed out 20 seconds later from lack of oxygen to the brain then bled out.

I've probably eaten these chickens before for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It seemed what they were doing was cruel but I don't know. They are raised for food and someone has to do the dirty work. But I can't help empathize with the chicken and put myself in his place and think about how it feels to have your neck slit then tossed in a barrel with other dying chickens that are thrashing about. It must be terrifying if only for a short time but still terrifying.

If you wanted to spare the chicken any fear you would kill it instantly and without warning. In the wild, death is often filled with fear and terror as animals kill each other so perhaps this is only natural. At least their terror is short lived.

I sent an sms (text message) to Kelly and she woke up and let me in around 5:45 am. The sun had not risen you and it was still dark but by the time I climbed into bed at around 6:15 am (after a nice shower) the sun had risen. I worse a pair of blinders to shield me from the light but still could not fall asleep for another hour. I was just too exhausted to sleep if that makes any sense.

I slept until 1 pm when Kelly awoke me for lunch. I looked out the bathroom window and saw that the smoke haze from Indonesia was back exactly as yesterday. I could barely see the hills in the distance once again. It was now time to make this blog entry.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Thailand Coup

Thailand's military coup d'etat against the government of Thaksin Shinawatra happened on September 19, 2006 just 9 days before I was planning to fly to Bangkok. People were asking me if I was still planning to go. I had been following the headlines and it seemed peaceful enough. Plus my friends in Bangkok said it was safe. We are staying at Kelly's aunt's house in Bangkok and if she didn't think it was safe, I'm sure Kelly family would have stepped in and said something. Some of my friends were advising me to stay away.

The first thing I wanted to do after we got to Bangkok was go see some tanks and soldiers. There were many people standing around taking pictures and the soldiers seemed to like the attention and were even taking pictures with tourist. They allowed a small boy to cross the line and take a picture next to the tank.

Later they started their engines and took off down the street, tearing it up in places where they turned.

The military owns the TV and radio and each day they take over for a broadcast of every channel and every station.

The people clearly love their King. They say he is not like recent kings who only cared about wealth. This King, they say, works hard for their people and really cares. The King endorses the coup. Everyone seems to believe this will lead to a better Thailand.

All over Bangkok I saw pictures of the King like this huge picture at the mall.

Speaking of the King, Kelly and I saw the movie World Trade Center. Before the film started they showed a short documentary about the King. Everyone in the audience stood up like it was the pledge of allegiance. I spoke to someone later about age 50 and he said that they've been doing that for as long as he can remember. He also said that for foreigners its optional. I stood up out of fear really. Fear of what someone might say or do if we didn't stand up.

Getting back to the coup ... everywhere we went we saw soldiers, Tanks, Humvees, etc. but at no time did I feel threatened or in danger. I read that this coup is the most peaceful coup in the history of Thailand. I also read it is the sixth coup they've had.

Bread and Butter

If you tried to sell bread and butter in the US people would laugh at you but in Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore, bread and butter products are popular. The one I'm eating here is quite tasty since it is sprinkled with sugar.

Censored Asia

Censorship. The US has it for prime-time TV. If they show an R-rated on television they will cut out the sex, nudity, profanity and even some of the gore and violence.

But if you are watching a pay movie in the US whether it be in the theater or on TV for example on HBO or Cinemax there is no censorship.

But in Malaysia and Thailand, pay movies are censored. I was watching Thai TV and they were showing the movie "Catch me if you can" dubbed in Thai. Obscene language was replaced with silence and apparently they can't show cigarettes on TV because anytime someone was smoking, their cigarette was blurred out.

Recently in Malaysia I saw the movie Miami Vice and the F-Bomb was dropped repeatedly. Instead of silence they actually cut it out. There was lots of sex and nudity and that was cut out. Extreme violence was cut out. It almost felt like half a movie.

I was eating lunch in Malaysia and flipping thru a National Geographic because I knew there was nudity in some of the issues and I was curious to see if they would allow it since porn is not allowed. The nipples on the woman were struck out with a marker.

A few days later I'm watching the National Geographic TV channel and they were showing some tribe in Africa and the women were topless and they showed their breasts so I'm confused. I've never seen topless women on TV on public television in the US and yet they allow it here in Malaysia where all nudity seems to be banned.

Bangkok Taxi

I just returned from my first rip to Bangkok and I was impressed by the multi-colored taxis.

Click to see larger version.

Half of the vehicles on the road were these brightly colored taxies so it felt like watching NASCAR. I'm only showing 16 variations in color but I'm guessing there were about 25 different colors. Many were a variation on the solid colors for example combining pink on top with orange on bottom (bottom left) or purple and with orange stripe (bottom).

Taxis were cheap so we took them everywhere. Finding a taxi couldn't be easier. They were all air-conditioned and metered unlike in Malaysia where the goverment says all taxis must be metered but the taxi drivers ignore it and charge whatever they want.

We took a taxi to the airport which was about a one hour trip and it cost us about $20. The trip in the US would cost about $100.

The drivers didn't speak English very well so the trick was to find a friend or family who would do the talking for us and tell them where to go. We carried the address in Thai with us so we could show them where to go when it was time to go home.