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    Malaysian Travel Journal: Cobra in the Kitchen

    Not my kitchen. If it had been my kitchen, I would have hightailed it right back to the city. As it is, I have been assured that, although a colleague found a "small" (4 to 5 foot) cobra in her kitchen, since I live on the third floor of a cement block building, snakes can't crawl up into my kitchen. Roaches, yes. Ants, definitely. Rats, possibly. Snakes, no. 

    So, I guess I can deal. But so ends my love affair with all things in the natural, jungle-y world. I still love the monkeys though!

    Other than almost crying when I heard the story about a cobra in the kitchen, Malaysia has been pretty good to me. I work hard--much harder than I did in Jakarta, which was more like a year-long vacation with a part-time job thrown in. But the work is incredibly rewarding and when I'm not working, I am surrounded by an incredible amount of natural beauty, not to mention some of the loveliest people I've ever met.

    But there are some strange things here as well. 

    The government is a bit strange. I can't figure it out. I think it's a democracy, but if government workers, including teachers, are critical of the government, they get transferred to Borneo, where they have to take a boat to work through some serious jungle. And there's a king, but the king-ship rotates between the sultans of Malaysia's nine states. I haven't figured out what the king's responsibilities are yet. The sultan of my state is not the king at the moment (at least I don't think he is). His picture is everywhere. He's looks to be in his 80s. His wife looks to be in her 30s. Gross, right? 

    A lot of things here are owned by the government (gasp-socialism!). But for the most part, the government seems to use the revenue to make its citizens' lives better. Or at least it's Malay/Muslim citizens. The Chinese and Indian citizens don't get much help.

    It's also really, super, freaking hot here. And I have to wear a lot of clothes--but not as many as the Muslim women, who are covered from head to toe, except for their face. I don't get it. I mean, of course I get it. But in other places where it's hot, the cultures have moved toward wearing as little as possible. Here, girls in gym class wear track pants, long sleeved cotton shirts with collars, and a head covering. How are they not passing out all over the place? 

    One more thing in the weirdness column: I'm pretty sure polygamy is legal. 

    Overall though, I'm currently even happier than I was in Jakarta, which is quite an achievement since I walked around all last year in a haze of joy. I still read the blogs and political news and sometimes my blood pressure even goes up a notch. With so many beaches to see, however, it all seems so silly.

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    We think it's a democracy here, too.

    Hey O! Listen, a word on the politics. Don't go there. Really. At 19, I ended up called onto the carpet by then Minister (later PM) Mahathir, personally, for a tongue-lashing. (A weird day.) My sin? I mentioned to some reporters that in Canada, the farmers owned and ran the coops, not the government.

    The whole political system is run for the Malays, who believe the Chinese and 
    Indians have no place in the country. In 1969, the Malays killed 2000, likely more (official numbers much lower) similarly to Indonesia earlier. Blamed it on the Commies, but it was racial. The Bumiputra thing got a big lift from that, and the DAP and company got hammered.

    But most magazines etc. from that time have been deleted (e.g. Time.) I sat through a number of vary stressful conversations were the Malays would deny this, until at one point, one of the more rural guys flew into a rage, and started shouting - in Malay, which he forgot we could understand - about how if the Chinese and Indian kids in our group didn't shut up, it could happen again, that "I will kill you" - and him shaking his hand in front of them. Scary shit. 

    So basically, a bit of suppressed fear and potential violence. With lots of economic ways to transfer funds from the Chinese and Indian businesses to the Malays. Just or unjust, there's a basis in violence that supports the transfers that's pretty nasty. What with Barisan and UMNO and the kings and the cops and the little mullahs (far worse and more dangerous stories than meeting Mahathir) there's a heaviness to the male Malay conservative authority types that apparently isn't as bad in Indonesia. 

    Other than those guys though, I loved the place, and loved the people. Just avoid the authority figures. And I know how well you do with them. But don't smart mouth 'em. Really. They hurt people. 

    Anyway, you know all this, and times have likely changed. But... two cents worth, on the politics and all.

    Yeah, the people are absolutely lovely here, but then you start to hear little tidbits of stories that don't seem possible in today's world in a country not run by a dictatorship. And of course, you hear stories about what happens to women in certain communities. Those things are surprising, but, as you point out, there's no real evidence--it's just rumors and gossip because if it's true, the evidence has been buried.

    So, I just keep my head down, enjoy my individual interactions, and plan to say nothing publicly about politics or policy! 

    Lovely pic. Almost looks cool in the shade.

    I keep telling people that Malaysia reminds me sometimes of northern Michigan, especially when I'm driving. The roads are similarly lined with trees and thick vegetation and you have to watch out for all kinds of wildlife on the side of the road.

    But then you get out of the air-conditioned car and the comparison ends. It is definitely NOT cool in the shade!

    Nice pic. We are holding the dag retreat at O's place, right?

    Come on over! The picture is this amazing little beach resort. It's a 2 1/2 hour drive and it's empty for 10 months of the year. It's about $25 a night for a hut just steps from the beach and that's the view! 

    Like I said, I love my life.

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