Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Pirates of Penang (Part 2)

Tonight I paid a visit to the police station which is right across the street from the Tuesday night Malay market. I invited Kelly to join me but she declined, still feeling a bit scared about the rumors she heard about the pirate gangs that kill anyone who tries to stop them.

I was greeted by a friendly Malay police officer who spoke good English. This is the gist of our conversation:

Me: I'm curious why you allow people to sell pirated movies and software. Across the street is a Malay market and I can see the people from here. Is it illegal to sell to pirated movies and software?

Mohamad: Yes.

Me: So why don't you arrest them?

Mohamad: I would have to instruct an officer to arrest them and ... (then he mumbled something I didn't understand)

Me: I am from the US and I work in the movie and software industry and these people are stealing from me. I'm angry. I want it stopped. I earn less money because of them. They are taking my money. They are criminals and I want them arrested. I want this piracy stopped. I see ten stores in the Prangin mall selling pirated movies and software. I see ten stores at the Bukit Jambul mall selling pirated movies and software. Every market that I visit, I see people selling pirated movies and software. The market tonight across the street has 3 different stands selling pirated movies. You can see one right there (I pointed and he looked).

Mohamad: I know but there is nothing I can do. I will give you some numbers to call so you can ask about this. This is not my area of concern. I know that the government has an agency that handles this problem. They fight the problem daily and make many arrests.

I wrote down 3 phone numbers and a name of someone to talk to, then we spoke casually for awhile about where I come from and why I'm here, then I left ... and there was Kelly waiting for me. Once again she had followed me.

I wondered if maybe the local police were taking bribes. I hear the pirates make a lot of money and can afford to pay off the police so they're happy, the people who buy the pirated movies and DVDs are happy, the pirates are happy ... everyone's happy.

We strolled into the market and checked out the pirated DVD movies. They had all the latest movies. Muslim woman were selling them and I thought to myself, these are religious people who are aware that they are breaking the law. I wonder how they justify being criminals and being dishonest when they pray 5 times a day and cover their hair and wear clothes that mask their figure. To be a Muslim in Malaysia is very hard-core and yet they have no problem making and selling pirated DVDs.

Would these woman take out a contract to kill me if they knew I was trying to shut them down??? If I do succeed in stopping the sale of pirated movies and software in my this small fishing village of Teluk Kumbar, will I become a target?

It's a good thing I'm leaving Penang soon! The rumors might just be true.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Pirates of Penang (Part 1)

My wife wants me to change the title to Pirates of Malaysia but I like Pirates of Penang. It has a ring to it! Plus this is about my experience of pirates in Penang.

I cannot understand why I keep seeing articles in the newspaper about how Malaysia is cracking down on people who sell pirated movie DVDs, Music CDs and software and yet I see nothing changing. The Prangin Mall in Georgetown still has a dozen shops that sell pirated movies, music and software. It's been this way for the nearly 2 years I've been here. Nothing has changed.

I hear that shops get closed down and people get arrested and I've seen raids and yet a new store opens in its place.

Last week I went to the Malaysian market that pops up in my neighborhood every Tuesday and there are a few stands selling pirated movies and yet the police station is across the street. I was tempted to walk into the police station and point out the criminals breaking the law and see what would happen but it was only a thought ... until today.

After church today I was talking to someone and I asked how these pirates can operate in the malls and across the street from a police station. She said it's because there is a demand for the low cost pirate stuff. She did not think there was anything wrong. She said these people are making an "honest living" and besides, people in Hollywood are rich.

Reminds me of Robin Hood ... steal from the rich, give to the poor. So I pointed out that stealing is wrong even if it's a poor person stealing from a rich person. I also pointed out that she is a Christian and that when she buys pirated goods, she's breaking the law. She is a criminal and a sinner, I pointed out.

I also pointed out that if she knows that someone is committing a crime, it is her duty as a Christian to report them to the police.

I then said that this Tuesday during the Malaysian Market when all the pirates are selling their goods, I'm going to march into the police station and report their criminal activity.

She repeated herself saying that these poor people are struggling to make an honest living and asked if I would rather they rob people. I said that they are robbing people. They're robbing me. I consider the movie, music and software industries as my industries. I support my industries. They're stealing from me and I want it stopped now!

She got angry and left.

Kelly and I then went to the mall to watch the movie Torando then afterwards we met some of her friends at McDonald's. I wanted to know where security was so that I could report the pirates but her friends warned me against it. They said that the gangs will know that I reported them and they will kill me. They have lots of money and there's no way you can stop them because they bribe officials and the government is corrupt.

So now Kelly's freaking out and she's asking me not to report the pirates. I told her that if she's worried, I would go alone and call her after I'm done. They continued to try to talk me out of it but I said that I'm done talking ... goodbye.

After asking around I finally found the home base for security for the entire Prangin Mall ... a tiny hole in the wall office. The two people there didn't speak English so they called another person to come and speak to me. Kelly had followed me and was standing outside the office but at some point disappeared.

I pointed out that there are stores in the Prangin mall selling illegal movies, music and software. He said that he knows about it and that they try to close them down quite frequently but that the pirates have a lot of money and they are able to bribe the officials and stay open.

I asked him why he permits these stores to stay open. Can't he just walk up stairs and close them down? He said that he does not have the authority. I asked him who has the authority because I want to speak to them directly. He said the office name is "International Affairs".

So I thanked him for his time and left. I found Kelly and nobody tried to kill me. For Part 2 I will visit the police station Tuesday night across the street from the Malay Market to see what they have to say about the criminals across the street.

If I manage to contact and interview someone from International Affairs, that will be Part 3.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Phuket Thailand

We decided to visit Phuket Thailand which is one of the shooting locations of the movie The Beach. You can read about the difference between reality and the movie on my movie blog.

The actual "beach" is on Phi Phi island which is 45 minutes away by speedboat.

It takes 3 hours to reach Thailand then another 6 hours to reach Phuket then another hour to reach our hotel. The island is quite large.

I see a lot of examples of bad English in Thailand so here is my version of Engrish.com. This sign says "VIOLATORS WILL BE EINED".

This magazine rack says "PLEASE KEEP BACK". I'm confused. Do they want me to stand back away from the rack, keep the magazine or put it back?

I had some interesting toilet experiences on this trip. There was the uni-sex restroom with urinals out in the open so women were walking behind me while I was peeing.

At one stop along the way there were these outdoor urinals so everyone could see you.

At this one bus station they only had squat toilets. I honestly cannot squat without being in a lot of pain because of my poor flexibility and multiple knee injuries to both knees so squat toilets are nearly impossible for me. I have to sit on them like a "sit down toilet".

This one toilet had a basket that could not hold water but was obviously used to filter feces. I'm thinking that drug runners swallow bags of drugs then poop them out here.

It is cruel to have dogs in the tropics. It is way too hot for them. I always see them sleeping or lying about panting heavily.

Porn is not allowed in Malaysia although it is offered under the table. You have to ask for it but it is illegal. I don't know what the laws are in Thailand but I did see some very sexy magazines like this one.

We got a taxi from the bus station to our hotel and it was the crappiest taxi we had ever seen. The doors were nearly falling off. It stalled a few and had trouble going up hills. It died for about 10 minutes one time. The driver had to get out and fix it.

Our hotel was beautiful. The view was amazing. We stayed at the Baan Nern Sai hotel.

We stayed near Patong beach. Here is view of the beach from our hotel.

Each morning they served us breakfast next to the spectacular view and the breakfast was the best we've ever had at a hotel.

They also had a nice pool which we enjoyed. That's Kelly on the left. I use a program called AutoStitch to combine many images into one.

Here is a view of the pool area. It had a pool bar. The deep end was over Kelly's head but I could still keep my head above water which says a lot about our height difference.

The first night we went to a Thai boxing. We got front row seats with the action in our face at times. We were so close we were getting splashed with their sweat at times.

We walked around the party zone after dark.

We saw a lot of prostitutes including these two. We think the one on the right is a lady boy.

Phuket was hit by a Tsunami about 3 times in the past 50 years I'm told. The last time it hit about 4000 people died, I'm told. We kept seeing stands like this selling booklets and videos about the Tsunami.

Motorbike taxis are a cheap way to get around but we later calculated it would be cheaper to take a tuk tuk taxi instead of paying for two motorbike taxis.

I don't think this would be legal in the US.

This tuk-tuks are open with no seat belts and you're surrounded by metal bars. Very dangerous in an accident.

We rented a two-seater go-cart with two steering wheels so we can both steer!

We took turns although I did most of the steering. I had control over the gas and breaks. There was a kid on the track ahead of us but I managed to catch up to him and pass him and leave him far behind. As far as power to weight ratio goes, there is no way I should have been able to catch him but I happen to very good at go-carts as well as fearless.

The second night we saw a show named FantaSea. It was quite amazing combining Thailand's mythology with stunts you would see at a Cirque De Sole like people hanging from the ceiling above the audience performing acrobatic stunts, combined with circus with animals like a dozen elephants, goats, chickens, birds, laser effects, massive battle scenes, magic and a set that rains.

Kelly is imitating that kid behind her who is imitating the statue.

This sign is in 4 different languages: English, Thai, Chinese and Japanese.

This is where we ate dinner.

The food was great! I had roast beef, sushi, tomato soup and so many other yummy things I have not eaten since I came to Malaysia.

There was a pre-show before the show that was nice.

This character would not be politically correct in the US.

Behind Kelly is the where the show was.

When Kelly and I were planning this trip I said that I wanted to visit Phi Phi island but when we looked at Google Earth it looked too far away but when we got to Phuket we saw ads and brochures to visit Phi Phi everywhere.

We took a speedboat to Phi Phi island where they filmed most of the movie The Beach. There were people from all around on the boat with us. I would guess they were from Turkey, Great Britian, Australia and Africa.

We made a pit-stop at a tiny yet beautiful island.

After that we made a stop at the tourist center of Phi Phi where two lagoons meet on the map below. The beach where the movie was filmed is just above that.

We ate lunch and I had the most awesome red curry chicken dish with coconut milk.

Afterwards Kelly went searching for sea shells.

We saw many amazing sites around Phi Phi like this cliff.

It was low tide and the lagoon was filled with coral so the boat was unable to reach the beach so we had to snorkel out in the middle.

I was told there are no sharks to worry about. The movie The Beach lied.

We finally got to see "The Beach" and I took this first picture. Compare it to the second picture which is a scene from the movie The Beach.

Kelly got in the water with fins, snorkel and mask but when she looked down and saw it was about 20 feet deep it freaked her out a bit. She had never swam in water that deep before. It didn't matter that she was wearing a life preserver, had fins and a snorkel and I was there to help … she could not overcome her fears and climbed back into the boat.

Another problem was that this was the first time she had ever used fins, mask and a snorkel so it was just too many new things to learn. She wasn't using the snorkel right and sucking in water. I learned how to use these things in a shallow pool when I was a child, not in 20 feet deep water so I had a chance to gain some confidence and learn how these things work.

I decided to snorkel to the beach.

It was a long ways away and I was told by the guide that it was too far for me to swim. I set out to prove him wrong. He also mentioned that it gets too shallow and that I should not step on the coral which is everywhere. I should also watch out for poisonous sea urchins.

He was wrong about it being too far. I could have easily made it but he was right about it being too shallow. I found a patch of sand and I stood up and the water was about knee level but there were places where it was too shallow for me to swim and the coral is like sharp rocks.

I started to feel like I was in some kind of maze … left, right, straight, left, right … I had to keep looking for the deepest spots but it just got too shallow and there was no way to walk on this coral without damaging it and my feet and perhaps get stung or bitten by something.

I was about 100 feet from the beach but I was running out of time and had to get back to the boat. I wasn't sure if I could find my way out of the maze of coral but it finally started to get deeper. I did manage to scrape my leg against some coral. The scrape on my leg looked a little red in the water but once I got out of the water it was quite bloody.

Kelly has an underwater camera that we forgot to bring otherwise I would have taken some amazing underwater pictures. Some of the coral I saw were like huge balls 10 feet high and 30 feet wide. There were giant clams, like the kind you see in movies in bright purple. Many were embedded within the coral as if the coral had grown around them. I swam down and touched a few but then wondered if that was such a good idea since I might get my finger caught in one. They would clamp shut as soon as I touched them.

Kelly took this picture of the fish from the boat.

That night we found a cool restaurant that had trees holding up the roof. The trees were fake but it still gave this please an interesting atmosphere. The food was also very good and the service was exceptional. Kelly looked at the prices and thought it was very expensive but when we got our bill it was very cheap.

I also checked out of Thai comic books. They were extremely violent and graphic. Most seemed to have themes involving magic, zombies, ghosts, etc. I saw no superhero or scifi comics.

In Malaysia the STOP sign says BERNHENTI.

Here is a STOP sign in Thailand. Much shorter! I'm making the sign for "stop" in Malaysian sign language.

Sidewalks are for walking right? Apparently not. Each store on this sidewalk partitioned off their section of sidewalk forcing you to walk in the street!

Thailand convenience stores have slices of bread with various toppings like butter and sugar. Here is one with kaya.

Local bus on Phuket. Check out that rotating fan on the ceiling. We were sitting for about 20 minutes waiting for it to go. I got too hot and had to get off and find something cool to drink and sit in the shade.

I noticed that the convenience stores all covered the cigarette displays with curtains then I remember visiting Bangkok and seeing these horrible pictures of what cigarettes can do to your health on the boxes. It was quite gross! So I bought a pack just to post to my blog.

The funny thing about this pack is that the mouth opens and closes with the box lid. This goes way beyond the warning labels American cigarettes get. I think it is a lot more effective. Perhaps they cover up the cigarettes because it was lowering sales!

As we were leaving Phuket I stopped by the ATM to get some money and my ATM card was gone. My other card had expired a couple of days ago and my third card wasn't working in Thailand so suddenly we did not have enough money to get home. You can read about that experience on my Tekalicious blog.

We both agreed that this was our best vacation ever! My only regret is that Kelly was too scared of the deep water to join me snorkeling and she missed out on all that beauty. Her parents did not teach her to swim growing up. I consider that a crime but I guess with 9 siblings, they had other things to worry about like feeding and clothing everyone. But Kelly wants to learn and I hope someday she can snorkel the deep waters with me.