Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Settling in

I haven't had a shower in two days. The gas at the apartment complex ran out late Saturday, no one would deliver on Sunday, and they told us we'd have some today, but it's approaching dinnertime and there is still no hot water. Since I am no longer in the tropics, an unheated shower doesn't really sound too pleasant.

Otherwise, things here are going well. We met some good people the other day (my friend Amanda is from Oklahoma and there is another Oklahoman in town, go figure) and hung out with them Saturday night. Other than that, I've just been hanging out around the apartment and reading, writing, relaxing, and watching football. (And drinking, but just a little. I've also made friends with some good folks called Guinness, Smithwick's, Beamish, Jameson, Black Bush, etc...)

I'll be starting work in the near future, hopefully, but not for a few days at least. I may go check out a local cave.

Now I need to go cook some potatoes. This is Ireland, after all.

Friday, June 25, 2010

At last in the land of leprechauns

I've made it to Ireland, finally, after an entire day on a bus, an entire day on a plane, and some other minor misadventures in between.

The place I am staying is very nice: it's two bedrooms, not a studio like I had initially been informed. So plenty of room. It's in a beautiful location. But in the middle of nowhere. The towns in either direction are two hours away by foot, so I should be in pretty good shape by the time I leave.

There seems to be a lot to see in the very near vicinity, so I should have enough activities to occupy myself, and I'll probably also take a trip into Dublin to see the Guinness and Jameson factories.

I'll be here about a month, and then it's back across the Atlantic and home again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Leaving Asia

You roll through the Malaysian mountains and your eyes try to take in every crevice, every hollow and dip in the cliffs. The mountains are nothing like the mountains in Alaska, but nonetheless they remind you of that place you once called home. You had talked about those mountains the other day with a friend, had remembered how every day the view as you came down from the hill where you lived took your breath away, and asked if the ocean still did the same for him day after day, and he said it did.

The father of another friend had asked about your travels, about the places that most amazed you, if there was a place where you said to yourself, "This is the place; this is it." And you thought about it, you tried to find an answer.

You had said no, had said that if you felt that way, you would still be in that place, wherever it was.

But here you are again, on the move. You've put one woman onto a boat heading north when you were heading south, the same woman who knew where she was going but also told you don't follow. You've said goodbye to your friends and said I'll see you again. And you believe it, really you do, because, well, you sort of need to.

And those hills rolling past, they are beautiful, truly, and you know there's so much more to see out there, and you know you will keep moving, because that's also something that you sort of need to do.

The world is probably the same as it was a week ago. You were younger then, slightly, still lingering in the end of your third decade. The world's the same now but maybe you feel a little different, feel like you need a plan, right, something concrete. But all you can really think about is what next? You've haven't always been the greatest at moving on, but you're getting better, because that too is something that needs to be done. And the road keeps opening up in front of you.

And that what next is waiting somewhere down that road, a road that, to you, is as much a real road as a metaphor, and you'll deal with that when the need arises. And for today, at least, the road ends with a night's sleep, but you also know that when you lay your head to rest the next night, your world will have completely changed again. But you are ready.


I'm in a little guest house in Kuala Lumpur called the Bird Nest. They've named all of the rooms after birds. It's not the greatest place in the world, but it's cheap and will do for the five hours of sleep I'm going to try to get tonight before heading to the airport. I've spent all day on buses and trains, and tomorrow I'll be in the air all day, but hopefully there is a delicious Guinness waiting for me at the end.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Meeting the neighbors

One of the neighborhood monitor lizards. One of them is almost as big as me (seriously) and scares the living shit out of me every time I see it.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The shack

I haven't put up many photos on the blog lately, but here's a link to some of the few I've taken on the island. And here's what $7 a night can get you on the island.It looks okay in the photo, and let me assure you that it's worth every penny. (But not much more.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Can I get the snack pack of friendship, please?

I stayed up past 4am last night watching the US-England soccer match. There weren't many Americans in attendance; the crowd was definitely pro-England. Actually, I haven't met many Americans on my travels--a weirdly small amount given the ratio of the American population to other countries. I've met far more Canadians and Irish than Americans, for example.

As I was talking to a friend from the dive shop (he's Austrian-Serbian, but was favoring England in the match), the guy in front of me turned around and said, "Is that an American accent I'm hearing?" When I answered affirmatively, he gave a loud "Right on!" and clenched my hand firmly. He and his friends were Irish; they were rooting for America more out of their dislike of England than any affinity for America.

We chatted awhile and they poured me a shot of Jameson they had acquired at the duty-free. Partway through the night, I was reminded of a scene from Fight Club where the protagonist meets a man on a plane and brings up his idea of "single-serving friends," people you interact with amiably for a short period of time and then never see again.

This happens a lot when traveling. I haven't really gotten used to it; but it is something some travelers are good at and thoroughly enjoy.

The game ended in the early hours of the morning with the score tied. The crowd was weirdly silent and dispersed quickly. (An article I read about the game interviewed an English bartender who said that when England wins, people keep drinking. When they lose, people keep drinking. When they tie, people just go home.) I went back to my room to catch some sleep for the next day, which would offer up more soccer and possibly the next serving of transitory friendship.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

The cup runneth over with excitement

As you may be aware, the World Cup has just started. Apparently, this is a very big deal outside of America. The dive shop installed satellite TV yesterday basically for the purpose of watching the football (soccer) games.

Several of the employees have already given in to the fact that they won't be sleeping much for the next month. The main problem: because of time differences, some of the games start very late. I'll be watching the US/England match tonight, and it starts at 2:30am.

I've been doing my best to get up to speed on the whole concept. (Slate has some decent coverage for us ignorant Americans. Of course, ESPN is also a great source.)

Even if America fails to go far, I've decided to root for Spain. My reasoning: 1) They are one of the favorites in the tournament; and, 2) I've actually seen some of the players live, when I watched FC Barcelona in Spain.

So even though I'm on the opposite side of the world, I'll be rooting for America to score some GOOOOOAAAAALLLLLSSSSS!!!!!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Certifiably capable

I finished the dive course today, so now I'm a certified scuba diver. I'm still not the most graceful creature underwater, but I feel like I'm getting quite a bit better.(I'm on the left; my instructor is on the right. And here's a link to the shop where I took the course.)

I've decided my budget can handle about five more fun dives (single dives that aren't part of a course), so I'll spread those out over the next ten days. I won't have an instructor watching my every move anymore, but hopefully I'll be alright.

Now I'm off to get dinner and a beer with my instructor. I got 100% on all the tests, so hopefully this equals a free drink. But then I'll buy him a drink for being a good instructor, so it all evens out, I guess. But I've had enough of salt water for one day, so another beverage will be good. Selamat minum (happy drinking) for me, and hopefully for you, wherever you are.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Making a splash

I'm currently in the midst of a scuba diving course. I figured it would help fill the large amounts of free time I have right now. And since I'm not spending money on much else, why not? (Even though there are no ATMs on the island, I can pay for the course with my credit card, so it's not dipping into my limited cash supply.)

The course is going well. It's just me one-on-one with an instructor, and he's a good guy and a good teacher. I'm doing okay on the skills I'm learning, but I'm pretty bad at swimming underwater with the fins and gear. This bothers me slightly, since I'm used to just being instantly great at everything. But hopefully I'll get better with practice.

The dive shop is right next to where I'm living, so I've spent some time hanging out and getting to know the people who work there. This should make the time pass a little more smoothly when my roommate, Rob, leaves for a week, and I'm left with no one I actually knew when I arrived.

In exactly two weeks I head to Ireland. Interestingly, tonight I'm about to visit to a going-away party for two Irish people I've met at the dive shop. Unfortunately, we can't celebrate the Irish way with good beer and mountains of potatoes (and pots o' gold and rainbows), but I do have some of my high-quality imported Thai rum/whiskey with me, so we can do a wee bit o' celebratin'. (Because of the high cost of alcohol here, the only drinks I've had in Malaysia were the one night when Rob and I drank the other bottle I brought with me from Thailand.)

And then in the morning I get to do some swimming endurance tests for the scuba course. Excellent.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Finally there

I made it to the island in one piece. The "fast boat" was exactly that; the front of the boat jumped about five feet when we hit some of the waves. The Malay girl across from me looked alternately like she was going to cry or vomit. Her boyfriend laughed at her, but he was the only person on the boat wearing a life jacket. The Indonesians and Malaysians (and Asians in general, I guess) are notoriously bad swimmers, despite living near the ocean. Go figure. (I've linked to this article before, but it's good enough to repeat.)

I met a friend on the island, and we are sharing a dingy little bungalow. My half of the cost is $3.50 a night. I figure I can try to save as much money as possible; I have about $500 in cash and there are no ATMs on the island. Cash advances cost 10% plus the $10 and foreign transaction fees from my credit card company. So budget living it is.

Now if you'll excuse me, I am going to go swimming in the cerulean blue water.

Traveling non-adventures

I’ve spent the last couple of days doing some marathon traveling. I had about five hours on a boat, then another hour-and-a-half on a bus. This put the time at about 4:30 pm. I then had to wait until 2 am for my train. The wait was fairly uneventful, but I did get to try wild boar stir fry. The meat was flavorful and not too chewy, but the chef decided to include many chunks of skin and fat, which detracted from the experience a little.

I also saw an old man walk doubled over like a hunchback past all of the people waiting for the trains, asking for money as he went along. But as soon as he was about twenty meters past everyone, he stood up and walked away completely fine.

My train was quite late, so I didn’t end up leaving the train station until almost 4 am. I caught a few hours of sleep, but it was the most unstable train I’ve ever been on and on several occasions I actually feared that the car might tip over. The train took about ten hours, then I hopped on a motorcycle for the last kilometer to Malaysia. Security ran all of my stuff through an x-ray, but they said nothing about the two bottles of whiskey I was carrying. I couple I met later had picked up a kitten somewhere on their travels, and when they got to the x-ray the guy just said, “Um, I have a cat in my hand,” and security just waved them through. (Moral of the story: Hide your illegal things inside your kittens.)

Once through passport control, I took two separate slow and un-air-conditioned buses to the pier.

Because my train was late, I missed the last boat to the island. I got a room on the mainland that is really, really cheap ($6), but while I’m writing this I get to hear the guy in the next room try to cough up all his bodily organs and it sounds like he is actually in the bed next to me. The walls may actually be built out of several layers of construction paper.

So tomorrow I take a short boat ride and I will finish a trip that began almost exactly 48 hours previous. Hopefully I can find reasonable (quality and price) accommodations over there, and unless I get really bored I’ll stay on the island for my entire time in Malaysia.

Lastly, I no longer have a camera, but I might borrow my friend's so I can get up some photos of the island.