"Muslim Village" off of Phuket

Cranky? Paranoid? You be the Judge.

I’ve kept a journal, more or less faithfully, for years now. Here are my entries for the past two days. First…

Tuesday, 17 March
George Town, Malaysia
Ellie tried her best to kill me this day, arranging a walking tour, led by an unknown distant Malay relative of the Marquis de Sade. Tiny little thing. Seemed friendly enough. Wrong. Vicious to the core.

Is she into leather?

The day started with a breathless, interminable, climb of at least 900 feet vertical (seemed double that) in 90 degree, 90% humidity to a temple, Kek Lok Si (which, I think, translates to “house of the smiling new widow”), in the central highlands of George Town…

… then proceeded to two museums, each converted from the homes of their last residents, both Chinese, both owing their wealth to an admixture of speakable and unspeakable ventures in the last century.

Both patriarchs are certainly smiling now, each enjoying their respective glorious and final rewards, at the sight of busloads of tourists sweating in the unrelenting tropical climate, as tales of their business acumen and spectacular accomplishments are related… at… great… never ending… length.

Then…

Wednesday,18 March
Phuket, Thailand
Having been unsuccessful in arranging for my demise yesterday in George Town Malaysia, Ellie redoubled her efforts today.

Response to a weather report, optimistically pegged at 94 degrees, 90% relative humidity?

Says Ellie, “Great, let’s take an open-to-the-elements boat trip, bound for sights that would have been spectacular, but for the unfavorable tides… and then go walkabout” on a couple of islands whose most memorable features may just have been the souvenir vendors, all in row (at “James Bond Island”) or in a rabbit warren of stalls (in the floating “Muslim Village”), who, in their torpor, did not even mount an honest effort at peddling their wares.

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Next most memorable thing? The tour director emphasizing each opportunity to use a toilet.

A closing observation: it’s interesting how, as one advances beyond the flowering of youth, just how much effort you expend, given hours on a small craft crammed with near contemporaries clad in shorts and tees, trying to find favorable points of comparison between one’s physique and those of shipmates.

Post Post Confession: the history was actually rather interesting on day one, and the scenery spectacular on day two, and I enjoyed both in the end, (much as aficionados of S&M must enjoy their special pleasures).

Finally, I was able to confirm to my great relief that, despite suspicions to the contrary, Ellie has NOT taken out a large life insurance policy on me.

The Lion City

I just finished reading Saint Jack by Paul Theroux, the first in a series of novels I selected based on their settings — each of the ports of call on the extended sea journey we are about to undertake. Tomorrow we embark from here, Singapore, eventually to reach Athens, 34 days from now. With ample time between stops, I thought a well-considered reading list might provide perspective, and a narrative thread for our travels.

The protagonist of Theroux’s piece, Jack Fiori (Flowers in the story), is a classic American anti-hero, of the type regularly conjured up in the sixties. A Kerouac from the north side of Boston who, after a minor scrape with the law, heads west, but right on past California, coming to rest and going to ground in Singapore, after a time as a merchant seaman.

Theroux paints a picture of this place, late fifties through early Vietnam days, via Jack’s eyes, memories, and stalled drifter’s sensibilities. The city was still decades away from becoming the globalized hub of today. It was gritty, open, and an end-of-land sort of place, with a bit of Casablanca’s magnetic appeal for souls set adrift for one reason or another from their homes.

Madams and pimps (Jack’s evening profession) and their ladies are prominent, as are ships’ chandlers (provisioners), cops, GIs on leave, local gangsters, and varieties of ex pats caught up and slowed down by the local heat and dead end aspect of this island nation. There’s a death, a kidnapping, and a plot that could have provided Jack with his long dreamed of path to riches — which he aborts in keeping with an ethos of American big heartedness.

So, so far, my plan is working. During this opening chapter of my journey’s story, I’m seeing right past the international business and tourist sets, reflexively checking their mobiles, to the film noir past of this special place… and I’m happy.

Next stop is what the locals call KL, just up and around the coast a bit. Inspector Singh will be showing me the way…

Check back here from time to time over the coming month or so, and you can come along. If you’re into visuals, here’s the place.

In the Lobby Lounge, Shangri-La Hotel