Daily Meander: Faulty maps and Chinese things

Due to inadequate maps, from google and the many, incomplete and sometimes inaccurate tourist maps Mike and I have, while we will try to set out in a general direction, we’re probably going to spend a lot of time wandering Georgetown. This isn’t a bad thing, since history is everywhere in Georgetown. For every documented restaurant, shop, or historical building, there are two down the street and three around the corner.

Anyway, here’s a brief recap of the day, after a late start and a late breakfast at Jaya:

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Saw this street art, commissioned by the city, and made it a mission to read and document any we came across today. The one above is about Chinese amahs.

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Got to this fountain and the Victoria Clocktower, and then failed to find the post office, as indicated on the map provided by our hostel.

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Saw this crowd of people. Mike said it was an immigration building.

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Saw this crow trap near the post office truck. The crows seemed quite upset, so maybe they had just fallen in. After some investigation, we saw that they was no way opening large enough to fly or walk out of, but there was an opening at the top of the middle dip of the cage from which they could hop in to get the bread. Once in though, they would be too low to hop out and the opening is too small for them to fly out. I would say it’s a way to trap and kill crows, but the tub of water in the corner indicates someone wants the crows to live. Maybe we’ll visit this again later. Also, apparently I am more interested the the plight of crows than people outside an immigration office. But I guess the crows seem more helpless. Also, they made more noise.

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Finally found the post office south of Downing Street, not north of it, and mailed off two more thank you notes. 2 MYR to the U.S., but only 1.4 MYR to Taiwan, if anyone wants to know. Also notice the Western Union.

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I was pretty hungry by then, and saw and smelled Subway. Is it cheating to eat at Subway when they have their local special? We still decided against it though, because it was too pricy.

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In the end, we found Sri Weld Food Court, at the end of Lebuh Bishop on Lebuh Pantai, which I suspect will become a lunch staple. We just got drinks though (notice the comparably cheap beer). I didn’t feel like eating anything too spicy, and most of the shops were cleaning up (it was around 4 pm). Mike and I saw how thoroughly a steamer was cleaned and decided that it was definitely safe to eat the baozhi/pao there. I’ not sure why they were packing up. Maybe a different set of vendors set up for dinner.

We also found Little India, after failing to find it on Wednesday, due to same map. Mike calls it the Disneyland of India, considering there are no limbless beggars. It’s filled with sari and jewelry shops, Indian restaurants and hawker stalls, the sound of music, and the smell of incense. The map puts it north of Lebuh Cina, but it’s mainly on Lebuh Pasar. I didn’t take any pictures, but it is, coincidentally enough, behind the famous Hindu Mahamariamman Temple:

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Right across Lebuh Chulia we saw the Teochew Temple, another pseudo-destination. It’s the cleanest Chinese temple Mike and I have ever been to. No ash darkens its ceilings.

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We tried to press onward, to some other art galleries I wanted to visit, though it was getting late and starting to sprinkle, but someone started burning plastic, and the smoke was pretty thick downwind. On our way back to the hostel, we saw this sign:

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and decided to stop. Considering all I had had that day was a banana roti, milk tea, and some almond milk, I was pretty hungry. Yeap Noodle seems like a fairly famous family-run noodle shop, and reasonably priced. I found my dumpling soup noodles surprisingly flavorful. Mike found his fried noodles surprisingly bland, but the was soy sauce on the table. Juices were only 1.8 MYR, when they are usually 3 at other places, so I think this place may become a staple as well.

I guess I miss soup noodles in general, but Chinese food in particular. I haven’t for awhile, not in Taiwan and not in the U.S., where I ironically ate a lot of Southeast Asian food.

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Muntri House and Muntri Mews: historical cousins

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I booked Muntri House for the heritage. The pictures online were gorgeous, and they did not lie.

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After a smooth ferry ride from Langkawi to Georgetown, I made the mistake of taking a cab that charged us 20 MYR to take us a mile to our hostel, but hey, I was tired and carrying a heavy backpack, and hadn’t looked up where the hostel was in relation to the ferry dock. Also, the guy spoke Chinese. I don’t know why that should matter.

The staff at Muntri House were very accommodating. A guy came up to help us with our bags as soon as the cab pulled up, and the old man of the family explained to Mike that it was going to rain, while Mike and I debated whether the small, swooping winged things were bats or swallows (swallows).

Because the old man’s English was limited, because Mike is obviously White, and because I wasn’t sure if they could understand Mandarin, I spoke English to the young man of the family. He checked us in and took me to see the room. Tis included a journey up the stairs, where shoes were not allowed, though they adorn the wall along the stairs.

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The room, like AB Motel, was windowless and modest in size. The walls were thin and the door was difficult to open and close. It lacked the attached bathroom, refrigerator, and powerstrip of our room at AB Motel. But it was clean and well decorated and I felt more at home in it immediately. Mike liked it too.

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And that was before we discovered that the Internet actually worked and was accessible from our own room. Of course, our noisy neighbors and having to go down the hall to use the shared bathroom dampened our comfort somewhat. Especially since leaving our shoes downstairs made it difficult to shower with shoes and one or both sinks were take up by those doing laundry.

The Muntri House is very well maintained. Someone was always sweeping or wiping in the lobby, which featured tables for breakfast and socializing in general, as well as a fountain, fish, and a caged bird.

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A tour came by at one point to show off the house, sometimes referred to the Heritage House.

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The surrounding shophouses seem just as historical though, and the sidewalks of Jalan Muntri are paved with beautiful tile.

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The real appeal of the place are the shared spaces, sans the bathroom. I went around just taking pictures. The old man seemed proud, asking me if the house was, “Beautiful?”

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It sure is. Too bad they were all booked up with Chinese tourists and we had to move the next day.

It was late by the time we went out to search for dinner, and it did, indeed start to rain, so we walked I across the street to Muntri Mews Cafe. There’s no relation, besides being on and taking the name of the street. Food was pricier than we were used to, about 20 MYR a dish, but neither of us had had a proper lunch, so we splurged on pricy drinks as well.

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Notice the napkin? Muntri Mews is 馬車房 (mǎ chē fáng), or literally “horse car room,” a stable or garage, I guess. I thought Muntri might just be the phonetic translation of mǎ chē, or the Cantonese equivalent, but it is actually someone’s name. So I guess mǎ chē fáng means mews. The road certainly seems to be filled with Chinese history.

I finally tried beehun soup, and didn’t like it any better than I usually liked vermicelli, though the soup was nice.

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Mike got Nasi goring, forgetting it was fried rice, but his dish turned out to have lots of extra goodies.

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Well, traveling wears out of willpower because of all the decisions we have to make, so I think we can be excused. Besides, the atmosphere was nice.

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W & O Cafe, Oriental Hostel: the grandfather of backpacker hostels

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Look at all that natural light. After our crepuscular rooms at the AB Motel and even Muntri House, it should do a lot of good towards resetting our circadian clocks. If only I hadn’t stayed up until nearly 4 am last night, until the dawn light was filtering in.

We moved from Muntri House down the block to the Oriental Hostel yesterday. It is not on booking.com, though it seems to be associated with Star Lodge, which is on Tripadvisor. It was also obscured by its cafe, the Western and Oriental, a clever play on the famous Eastern and Oriental Hotel (it was such that, when I googled the Western and Oriental to see if they had an attached hostel, google autocorrected for the Eastern and Oriental instead). But there is, indeed, a hostel attached to the cafe, and it seems just as historical as Muntri House, if less decorated.

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Of course, to see what period the house was built, I’ll have to check the facade, like so:

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It’s also cheaper (50 MYR/night), but that is because there is no air conditioning. Hostels do seem a bit more expensive here. It’s difficult to find one with an attached bathroom, much less a refrigerator, but all hostels an arrange for bus tickets and phone cards for you, though possibly at an inflated price. The W & O cafe is pretty pricy, relatively speaking. The only thing that is a good deal is the beer. It’s the cheapest Mike’s found so far (6 MYR), though still much more expensive than in duty-free Langkawi.

The manager told Mike the reason the beer is cheaper than at other places is that they smuggled it from duty-free Langkawi. He’s friendly and speaks good English. A lot of the boarders at the Oriental, he claims, are regulars who design websites (hence reliable wifi and desktop computers available for 2 MYR an hour) and/or are doing visa runs. In any case, there are more Western expatriates than mainland Chinese tourists. I guess that explains why they don’t feel they need to have an online presence. Also, why he has available rooms when booking.com says it’s busy in Georgetown. Also, why he let us have a triple room for the price of a double. Also, why he offers a lower rate if you stay a whole month.

It’s tempting.

Edit, Sept. 9th:

We left the Oriental hostel today. Our fellow guests were a bit too loud and the bathrooms were a bit inconvenient. Also, we’d been there nearly a week, so I didn’t mind moving so much. I liked Muntri Street, but I think it’s time to explore more of the other side of Pitt Street, even if it’s only half a mile away.

Pros: (you) can be loud, it has history (before there were hostels, in the 60s, hippies would cMp out on the floor for 50 cents), The manager is friendly and informative, the maid works hard, there is cheap beer, there is a nice common room/cafe (though besides the beer, I wouldn’t recommend anything), and things are flexible. That was the kicker. I don’t know if we would have stayed so long if hadn’t been upgraded to a triple and had to stay in an actual double.

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Cons: (other guests) can be loud, including sitar and didgeridoo players, only one shower, open roof bathroom, and otherwise in need of maintenance

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But I’d like to end on an optimistic note. I guess the hostel, which has been a hostel since before there were hostels, is like a creaky grandfather, set in his ways. But he has personality.

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Anti-Travel Post #2: Saying Goodbye to Langkawi

Originally posted to The Shorty Method as “Anti-Travel Post #2: Heisenberg In Langkawi”

Thursday, September 05, 2013
W & O Hostel, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

Although Langkawi had some charms, I wasn’t sad to leave it and head for our next stop, the historic city of Georgetown in Penang.

To be fair to Langkawi, it was the first stop on our trip and we arrived there after a grueling 30-plus hours of travel, most of which was in the air (which I hate—more on that later). We were tired and jet-lagged, not to mention that we had yet to adapt to the nomadic way of life (for example, our packs were, and still are, woefully over packed). The whole process of planning (thanks Lucy), packing, tying up loose ends in the U.S. (many still dangling loosely in the breeze), saying goodbyes (“but you just got home!”), and actually doing the traveling was very stressful, which probably clouded my view of the first place we ended up somewhat.

In fact, at least for me, the stress of travel was piled on top of the stress I’d gone through in preparing to leave Taiwan, where I’d been living for over a decade (talk about loose ends!), and the stress of getting married (I’m ecstatic to be married, but the actual process of a wedding is a logistic nightmare. I was lucky in that Lucy handled almost all of the planning and organization. Even so, it was no walk in the park for me). So when I finally crashed into my bed at the Bon Ton Temple Tree Resort in Langkawi, Malaysia, I was on the verge of mental collapse. In fact, it has taken me a couple of weeks to start winding down and to realize that, at least for the next few months, I don’t have to live by a clock—or even by a calendar.

So, I’m sorry Langkawi. As Tyler Durden said to Marla Singer at the end of Fight Club, “You met me at a very strange time in my life.” Still, I have to be honest that as a place you are your own worst enemy, or at least the people that live on you are. I guess the same could be said about the whole planet, for that matter.

I could probably fit this in to my general “anti-travel” theme, but instead of laying it at the feet of the travelers, I’m going to take aim more at the locals. Langkawi is a jewel. If one could visit there before the government turned it into a duty-free zone and began to develop it as a tourist destination, it would be a paradise (aside from the insects, crocodiles, snakes, impossibility of getting from one place to another, and likelihood of contracting water, food, or insect borne disease). It has beautiful beaches with warm, green water from the Andaman Sea. The lush flora covers all but the steepest cliffs of its stunning mountain formations. There are a number of breathtaking waterfalls to see, as well as to swim in. The sunsets are awesome. The fauna is exotic and varied, from birds to fish, reptiles to mammals (who doesn’t love monkeys—I mean, other than people who actually live in proximity to them?). Sure it is a little bit on the warm side, but that is what the beaches and waterfalls are for, right?

All of this natural beauty is still there, but the problem is that no-one can make money from it, or at least not enough people can make enough, and not directly from nature. So what do the local people do? Well, the first thing they do is drop the plow and get behind the wheel of a taxi, or, if they’ve got more capital, open a hotel, restaurant, or mini-mart. Or more likely, they stand there with their mouths open in shock and wonder while other Malaysians flock to their island and start those businesses (then they probably go to work for those off-islanders). Either way, one can’t blame a farmer for preferring driving a cab (or doing whatever other service-based job) to staring at the backside of a water buffalo all day while slogging through the muck. They probably make a lot more money with what is certainly a lot less physical effort. This is all good, and part of the economic development of the place. But the problem is that the pie is only so large, and the slices start to get pretty thin as more and more people try to get their piece.

There is only so much room for drivers to take arriving tourists to their hotels (just as one example, another might be that there are only so many meals that tourists can consume), so locals have to come up with new ways to compete for the tourist dollars. So you end up with those banana boats, jet skis, parachute sailing (or whatever it is called) and various other activities that people will shell out for because sitting on a gorgeous tropical beach thousands of miles from the normal stresses of life is just not enough. There probably isn’t a tourist-destination beach in the world that doesn’t have all of that stuff. I don’t deny that it might be fun, but is it really necessary?

Then there are all the tours and attractions that spring up. A good example in Langkawi are the crocodile “farms.” Crocodiles used to live naturally in the mangroves, but the government put a bounty on them and now they only live in captivity, mostly at places that show them off to tourists, and then slaughter them for their hides and meat. Naturally tourists want to see crocodiles. Who doesn’t? But the problem is that it is difficult to observe them in nature, as well as time-consuming and costly. Solution? Round ‘em up and put on a show!

You can still go on a boat tour of the island and the mangroves. It is pretty interesting by itself, but just to make sure the tourists get what they paid for, the boat operators toss food into the water to get the birds to swoop down for dramatic effect. They also toss food to the monkeys to attract them to the shoreline so people can take their pictures. The result is that the monkeys lose their ability (or will) to forage for natural food and instead become pests that are dependent on scraps from humans. Probably the worst thing I saw was a “fish farm” where local fishermen bring not only typical food fish, but more exotic varieties that they catch (barracudas, rays, giant angelfish, sharks, and so on). These fish are kept in tiny underwater pens and are pulled up repeatedly all day to show the tourists. They can’t survive long like that. Finally there was the zoo, or “Wildlife Park” as it is billed. It’s not the worst zoo I’ve seen (that distinction belongs to the Hsinchu Zoo in Taiwan), but it was pretty bad. A lot of the animals there aren’t even native to Langkawi, so it isn’t even really an informative experience to go there, and the conditions are pretty bad for the animals. Still, it is one of the major attractions.

The list could go on, but I think I’ve given enough examples to make my point. Looking at something, particularly a fragile natural system, changes it. This is true even in the least intrusive cases where people actually trek far into the wilderness to observe nature. In the case of tourist destinations, it is really devastating to the natural systems. On one hand you can’t really blame the locals; they are just trying to make a living. Tourists should know better (if you can afford to got to a tourist destination, you should be able to afford an education), but I think what happens is that many people arrive at a place like Langkawi, have a swim, look at a sunset, and then wake up the next morning and say, “What do you want to do today?”

Given a more eco-friendly option, a lot of people would probably take it. Without such options, people will do whatever is available. I don’t know why people feel driven to do anything while on vacation, after all doing nothing is what vacations are for. What seems to happen, though, is that locals see tourists as a source of cash, and so they invent things for them to do, and human nature seems to impel people to do whatever activity there is available to do, even if they never would have thought of doing it on their own.

So what ends up happening is that the very thing that makes a place like Langkawi attractive in the first place, its natural beauty, becomes degraded to the point where it eventually ceases to be a feature of the place and is soon replaced by luxury hotels, theme parks (a major one is under construction in Langkawi at the moment), and banana boats. The locals, in the natural desire to make a good living, try to make nature unnaturally accessible, and try to come up with all kinds of other activities and enticements that have nothing to do with the original character of the place (duty-free shops and theme parks, for example). All of this, coupled with the generally dilapidated condition of much of the Langkawi infrastructure (there are many partially constructed buildings, things that are falling apart, and places in serious need of maintenance) lead to lot of disappointing experiences for anyone who is looking for more than rest and relaxation on a beautiful beach.

Lucky for me, that’s all I really want from a gorgeous tropical island.

Looking back on Langkawi

I told Mike tonight that I prefer websites over blogs. In websites everything has a place for a reason. It has some sort of logical, categorical order, laid out like a table of contents.

Blogs may be searchable by tags and categories, but mostly they are at the mercy of chronology. That’s the point though. I think blogs were intended to be like journals (I was inspired to start blogging when I read of how a writer developed his craft by blogging every day in a personal blog no one else had access to), but have somehow turned into the new newspaper. Newspapers are also subject to the passage of time, sometimes mercifully so. I remember attending a talk given by a journalist that my dad took me to when I was in high school (I was guilty of being on the school newspaper). She seemed wary of an audience member’s suggestion that newspaper works be bound up and saved in the form of a book. Her reply insisted that journalists liked the transience of their own work, how it was all here today and gone tomorrow.

That’s right. A book or a website may be polished. Blogs, no matter how polished each post may be,are rawer. It is only with journalistic integrity that they may be edited (I generally don’t have this fastidiousness).

The truth is, I wasn’t happy with the quality of my posts while in Langkawi, even as I was writing them. I didn’t feel like writing then,but felt somehow obliged to. I could go back and edit,and probably will, but for the most part I will let them stand as they are as testament to how I was back then. I was cranky, due to hormones and jet lag and being new to the wear and tear of travel–frustrated by Langkawi, and very frustrated by the poor Internet connection.

Overall, I like Georgetown much better. It’s still unrelentingly touristy, but not vacations, as Mike said. It’s walkable. The hostels are cleaner and the Internet works (obviously). I am also reading better literature. (For some reason I decided to slough through The Dragonriders of Pern while on Langkawi. While preparing to leave the island, I started Howard’s End instead. Come to think of it, the first few good days on Langkawi, I was reading The Fault in Our Stars.) Good literature makes me thoughtfully inspired. Rather, my criteria for what good literature is, is that it makes me thoughtfully inspired.

Anyway, I still intend to document life on Langkawi, but it will be chronologically dis-synchronous.

Anti-Travel Post #1: Communication Breakdown

This is only the first of my “anti-travel” posts in which I will attempt to explain what I consider to be one of the biggest marketing schemes to have been foisted on the developed world since the automobile and commercial television. I realize that many people, and especially young people, think of world travel as almost a religion, and no one likes for his or her religious beliefs to be called into question. I expect some negative responses (if indeed anyone ever actually reads these posts). However, I hope that anyone who does read them will stop for a moment before condemning me and ask themselves why they really “like” to travel, or feel that “travel is SO broadening.”

After living in Taiwan for a decade (as well as after suffering some hearing loss from playing in a band for ten years), I’m used to not catching what people say, but I also developed a sort-of Taiwan-specific sense of peoples’ meanings even when I don’t actually understand the words they used. This does not carry over well to other places, particularly ones where the speech patterns are completely different from Mandarin Chinese. I also developed the habit of avoiding the necessity of communicating with people as much as possible. This works okay when you live in a place for an extended period of time. Just think about your daily life and how you can get through most things with simple pointing and grunts—for example going to the grocery store: you put your stuff on the little conveyor belt, the cashier rings you up, tells you the total, you pay, say thank you, and that’s it. On a weekend day that might be the extent of your interaction with other people if you live alone (as I have done for much of my adult life). This habit doesn’t work well while traveling, however, as you are continuously having to make reservations, arrange transportation, check in and out of lodgings, order meals, and so on.

While staying in Langkawi, communication has been a problem in general, which is to be expected when visiting a foreign country. Some examples: we were eating at a nice and fairly expensive restaurant (Sunset Boulevard) the other night. After ordering, I realized that I was short on cash, so I went up to the counter and asked the fellow if they accepted Visa. He said yes, and then gestured toward our table and said something I didn’t quite catch.

After we had a nice meal, I went to pay, but when I took out my credit card the same fellow I’d asked about the Visa earlier apologetically said that they only took cash. It turns out that he thought I had said something about a pizza, rather than Visa. He was very embarrassed, and I was rather annoyed but remained gracious and told him that it was at least as much my fault as his, and I suppose it was since I didn’t ask for clarification. I then had to scurry out and down to the nearest bank (luckily not too far away) and withdraw money, then scurry back to the restaurant.

Another example was when Lucy and I stopped at the place next to the defunct internet café (with all of its “open” signs still in place) and asked if they had WiFi. The young man who greeted us said yes, so we decided to eat there. No sooner had we sat down and Lucy opened her iPad than we found out that, no, they didn’t have WiFi. We were tired and hot, so we decided to stay anyway. We ordered some beverages and I ordered fried noodles, but the noodles never came, so apparently the young man didn’t understand when I pointed to the noodles in the menu and said I wanted them, even though he repeated my order and nodded his head in understanding.

Some misunderstandings seem more intentional, such as when we hired a taxi to take us to the Langkawi Wildlife Park (actually just a sad zoo—sadder than most zoos I’ve been to, but not the saddest). The posted price was thirty Ringits (all destinations have posted prices to prevent drivers from gouging tourists). However, it is always a good idea to confirm with the driver before you leave. Our driver said “Thirty-five,” to which we replied in unison, “Thirty.” He repeated thirty-five, and I told him that we checked the posted price and it was supposed to be thirty. He said, “Okay,” but didn’t actually confirm that he agreed to that price. I wanted to hear him say “thirty,” but he wouldn’t do it. Then he offered to take us there and back for seventy, which (if I’m doing the math correctly) is twice thirty-five. He said that there were no taxis there to take us back, but there were actually a half dozen cabs sitting right there in the driveway of the zoo. We said that wouldn’t be necessary and as we bailed out of the cab I jabbed thirty Ringits at him and quickly scampered into the zoo. When we came out, there he was waiting for us and all the other drivers gave him first shot at us as we were clearly “his” passengers. He then proceeded to overcharge us to take us to the main town, Kuah. Unfortunately there were no taxi prices posted at the zoo, so we couldn’t check. In the end, he got his extra and I felt cheap and foolish for troubling over about four U.S. dollars.

I hate to complain about people not understanding me when I’m the one that is the foreigner (except when the misunderstanding is intentional, in which case I feel fully justified), but this is a one hundred percent tourist location, so I don’t think it is too much to expect the people in restaurants and shops to understand very basic questions and requests. Or if they’re not sure they understand, to follow up and confirm meaning. On the other hand, this is just one more inconvenience that goes along with travel. It could just as easily happen if I was visiting some place in Mississippi or Maine instead of Malaysia, as the accents of people in those places, as well as the subtleties of their cultures, are different enough from mine to obscure meaning.

In my way of thinking, this is just one more of the unnecessary inconveniences that people put themselves through in the pursuit of what is really just a marketing scheme called “world travel.”

The moral of the story? Stay home and misunderstand the people in your own hometown.

Rumah Holistic: A Whole-Hearted Welcome to Langkawi

Mike and I went on our Rumah Holistic Serenity Tour after a week on Langkawi, but I would suggest that you do this first, before anything else. Rumah Holistic is promoted mainly as a massage service, but Eric’s retreats are the way to go. It includes a spa treatment, and Eric takes you around all day as a chaffeur/tour guide/photographer. He differs from a normal tour guide in that he is informative, but is not trying to sell you anything else. This was very different from the other day, when we hired a taxi to take us around for 8 hours.

Eric picked us up from our Motel at 8am, and took us to a nice sandy beach nearby for Tai Chi Qi Gong. He obviously practices himself, but the video he had on his laptop to keep time for our breathing was a bit distracting. He did, however, have some information about the history of Tai Chi Qi Gong and the list of exercises we had gone through. There was time for pictures afterwards.

Then we went to the Red Tomato for breakfast. We both had the Eggs Benedict. Very tasty. Then it was back to his place. Eric gave a tour of his home. It’s out in the jungle, so be sure to apply bugspray beforehand! Eric introduced us to his cats, Lada (paper) and Halia (ginger) and his dogs, Shushi and Muchi. All four were adopted from Lassie, near Bon Ton. The cats were only 3 months old. Lada did crazy things like climb up a pole he couldn’t get down and allow the dogs to drag him around by the head. Halia, Eric said, was more adventurous and liked to go off by himself. Eric had just come back from a 7 week tour of Europe, so his pets were very happy to see him, following him everywhere. This may also be normal behavior. Eric is a pesca vegetarian, but at the end of the day he bought chicken feet for his dogs and fish balls for his cats.

One of the reasons Eric is a great guide is that he can give you insights into Malaysian culture and current events in Langkawi. He also has a great appreciation for plants and nature, which is the reason he moved to Langkawi in the first place. He can point out different native plants to you inside and outside his house, and tell you if they have any medicinal or culinary uses. He will also take you to the stream behind his property for fish feet cleaning. It’s not really long enough for a proper fish cleaning, but it’s nice to see the stream and get a photo taken.

You’ll then get real foot pampering from Eric’s assistants while he explains the massage process. The setting is in Eric’s home, so it’s nothing fancy, but it’s nice to have the explanation of the spa in English. Mike opted for a Thai massage, and Eric suggested that a two hour session might be too much it he wasn’t used to it. Mike ended up getting an herb massage. I opted for Tropical Paradise, which included a facial.

There’s lunch, which featured both local and western salad. Eric explained the different types of Malay herbs to us. Then there was delicious, if overcooked chicken curry. This is somewhat understandable as Eric doesn’t eat chicken himself. The fish in my fish stew was very tender. At this point, Eric puts the cat into a room and ties up his dogs so they can’t get to your food. I felt bad for the dogs, but I consider it impolite to feed other people’s dogs. I’m pretty sure they got our leftovers though. The lunch was very filling, probably because he hadn’t had much activity between breakfast and lunch.

After lunch, we were going to visit a nice beach and waterfall located in the remote Northwest. However, Mike and I had just visited them the day prior (this is why I suggest taking the retreat first). Eric instead took us to the more famous 7 wells waterfall, then a beach in the north part of the island, an easy distance from the mangrove tour we were going to go on.

The tour was beautiful, and Eric was able to be our English guide and point out/take pictures for us. The tour guide did feed the macaques we saw. He didn’t feed the burmyni kites, but we benefited from another boat who did. Eric explained to us that Langkawi meant “Eagle Rock,” and that there were so many eagles around before, the government had trouble building their airport. Someone had the idea of feeding the eagles in the mangrove swamp, and the eagles have tended to congregate there ever since. Luckily, the area is also a Geopark and is protected from development.

I have mixed feelings about feeding the animals. I know it’s not good for them and that they will lose their instincts to search for food, but it seems a bit fruitless when everyone else is doing it. I can abstain myself, but just by being a tourist I’m somehow implicated.

The mangrove tour is two hours, and features a visit to a bat cave, where we disturb the bats with flashlights, and a fish farm. We then go to the nearby beach to meditate and take pictures of the sunset. At this point, our bellies were a bit empty. Luckily, Eric asked us if we wanted to stop by the Cenang night market, which happened to be going on that night (Thursday). He recommended some glutinous rice triangles with dry curry, and we also bought egg rolls and samosas for cheaper than we could find them in any restaurant in Cenang. We also got chicken roti, which unfortunately did not travel well, besides being too sweet for our tastes.

The great thing about Eric is, though he has a lot of information about what to do in Cenang, such as go to Privilege restaurant, not to eat the curry at open 24 hours Nasi Tomato, the cable car and cooking classes with Shuk, he doesn’t press any of it. Even though I got the feeling he was talking up his homestay over AB Motel, it didn’t feel invasive. He genuinely enjoys sharing his experiences on Langkawi with others.

Not that the experience couldn’t be improved. Eric is not a commercial professional, so he doesn’t have ads, only his WordPress website and Tripadvisor reviews. He doesn’t take credit card, just cash or Paypal. His spa could be a bit fancier, and I think the timing of some things could be different. The mangrove tour has to be in the late afternoon due to that being the low tides, but I feel like the more adventurous activities, visiting the beach and waterfall, for example, should take place in the morning so that you can get hungry. This might be difficult since he has to cook it himself though. Also, it would be nice if the tour included some kind of snack, if not dinner, since between 12 and 8 pm you can get pretty hungry. Overall, he’s informative, flexible, and enthusiastic.