Last week my friends and I rented a car and took a road trip into the eastern part of Chiang Mai province. It was a full day and a solid itinerary and after a day full of hiking, exploring and being chased by monkeys, we were exhausted.
There was engine trouble on the way to the coveted Perhentian Islands; our van was losing water so we had to pull over. The driver found a creek nearby and began running back and forth with a small bucket. The other tourists and I attempted to help but the driver smiled and waved us away. The ride out of Tanah Rata was long and rough, and in a way that set the stage for the last stretch of my Malaysia adventure.
I ran into serious debit card trouble while in Tanah Rata, leaving me stuck in town with almost no ringgit. Mack didn’t give me trouble about the rent, but he was not very uplifting either; “Call Donald Trump, he’ll help you.”
“We call this the green pharmacy,” he said while describing the various plants. Wild ginger, for aches and insect repellant. Another was made of the same stuff they put in Tiger Balm, and the natives used it for headache and muscle pains…
…There was a fat root that is boiled and drank by women post-pregnancy “to bring their parts back to normal size,” our guide explained. We all laughed at that and even more when he finished, “Men take this and you know what gonna happen?”
Giant moths, hidden snooker rooms, black and wrinkled Indian faces, Arabic script and Chinese logographs etched or printed onto the walls and banners like incantations. It all made for an exotic atmosphere. But there were plenty of elements in the place that reigned in the strangeness, moments of familiarity that were just as strange by the very fact of their familiarity.
Nine days remaining in Malaysia. How much of this trip was spent in transit? I measured it by degrees of madness.
I had to discover the deeper parts of the city to find out what people were doing. Men haunched over small fire pits counting money, women throwing out dirty water or sweeping up, people drinking local coffee and eating from a bowl of black liquid and flat noodles. The everyday Malacca is there, if one looks for it.
The city is digging its nails into the farmland and forests surrounding it, tilling instead a crop of hi-rise apartments and hotels and towering commercial buildings. I counted at least fifty cranes as we passed that skyline, and was later informed that the city was queued to raise well over 200 more skyscrapers by 2020. I’m most interested in what the heck they will put in them.
(Continued from The Visa Run and an Expat Informant) Having the rest of the day to do nothing, I explored the city. One of the more interesting spots was the night market by the Mekong.
Arriving in Laos for the second time, I confirmed that it feels as if something is sucking the country dry. You can sense it, like a sponge that swallows up water. My companion named the sponge; “It’s China. They’re pillaging this country.”