Do Malaysia make sense as a country?
How do I, as a Malaysian, answer that question? Of course it does to me! I’m a Malaysian!
But the question was posed by an English boy who majored in American History at University of Edinburgh on a sweltering Monday night in Bangkok after what must be his third or fourth Tiger beer.
That question disturbed me. I still hear his London accent repeating that question again and again days later.
China made sense as a country. Its people and its land are one, said the Brit. There is no doubt to the Chinese that China is them, and they are China. 5000 years of history ensured that.
Thailand made perfect sense to me, too. The Thais do not even learn English; they are so self-sufficient they have their own language and their own dates and a pride in their land, culture and customs. The paddy fields and the wats and the monks and the food embodied a sense of originality, of being as old as age itself in Siam.
Aerial view of paddy fields outside Bangkok
It’s a hodge-podge of immigrants and colonization and a short-short history and a botched job trying to preserve whatever historical relics we have left and rapid modernization with lots of leakages and bocor-ness and a fragile unity (when it is convenient, and an exclusive Bangsa Malaysia when it is convenient too) between the races and a crappy Malaysia Boleh! spirit that inspired the biggest ketupat on the planet and patriotism agenda…and a love for my country whose love for us is conditional at best and doubtful at worst. Of feeling misled and cheated, a realization of how blinded and how brain-washed we were during our school days.
How do I even begin to explain this, while maintaining that Malaysia is where I was born in, where I grew up in; and my love for her will burn eternally, for I am a Malaysian. I know we could do better than this, though. That our government should be less short-sighted and truly learn from our neighbours instead.
I couldn’t express myself.
For once, I, Pui Yee, felt abashed. I was so ashamed by the sheer knowledge of these people. I felt embarrassed finding out that I know nothing, really. Put me beside a fellow journalism student from, say, England or China, and I’ll be the ignoramus country bumpkin. It disturbed me to know what we learn in university…is in reality, not much. Today after returning to campus I saw written on the white board, “tailoring an education for students that fulfill the demands of the job market”.
Yes, true. I will vouch that 90% of us will graduate with enough skills to find decent jobs. But beyond that, really, what else do we know? Why were we in university? Did we receive an education for knowledge’s sake, or was it so that we can get a degree (which I know now must be a whole lot easier to obtain) to get a job?
The limitations are frustrating.
“You know, in England it’s rare for anyone to study journalism for their first degree. It’s usually a general degree like English or Archeology or History. They’d do something specific for their MA, perhaps,” added Edward the English boy.
He then continued to tell me he was a student journalist and is now pondering should he go to law school.
Intrigued, I asked him, do USA make sense as a country to him then. His answer was pretty long and detailed and if I were to put it here it’ll probably take a lot of words, but needless to say, I was charmed. By his intellect, intelligence and analytical skills.
I explained a little about the origins of Malacca and the three races and the British colony and Malaysia as it is today, but the more I explain the more I realize I really don’t know much.
I gagged for guys like that to walk into my life in Malaysia, but…well. Not to be. I guess. It’s just refreshing and mentally a turn-on to be the less knowledgeable one and be on the listening end and then question their logic and opinions. I’m starving for more.
Next thing I know, I followed him and an American into the streets of Sukhumvit at 3am (STUPID, STUPID, stupid behavior on my part) where we sat at one of the roadside food stalls, them smoking and drinking more beer sold illegally (in Thailand they can’t sell alcohol after 1am) and me just sitting observing the infamous prostitutes doing their job and the farangs who love them.
Would you ever pay a male hooker?
Edward popped that question very unexpectedly. I guess it was the beer talking.
What if it’s the best sex of your life? Would you do it for the experience?
Nope, I said. He looked at me as though I’ve lost my mind.
They discussed a lot more about the prostitution and the sex trade and the guys who’d pay three hookers (what do they do with them? Do one and get the other two to watch?!) and at this point, I must say I’m rather disgusted, well, okay, maybe disgust is a strong word, but I definitely begun to feel a lot disenchanted and disappointed with men. I mean, is that all there is to it? Just doll up, dress up and wear some thongs and sit provocatively? Just being skinny is good enough?
I’m not saying I am comparing myself to girls who depend on their bodies to make their living, but it was there and then that I concluded men are just animals.
Anyway I must thank you for your patience if you reach this stage of my post.
I was in Bangkok the past week, with Gianne on a backpacking trip. And as per joked, I vowed to do this when I blog about it.
What I’ve learnt in Bangkok:
1. Nong roi!!! (said in a drunken British accent)
It actually meant 100, as in 100 baht (RM10) and it’s the going price of about everything in Khao San Road – from a bottle of fruity alcohol to souvenirs to whatever. It was being repeated again and again by a drunk Sean, who’s with a huge group of Brit students on gap year.
We met about 5 of them on a street next to Khao San when I realized the hostel I booked, called Shanti Lodge, is not as near to the road (therefore not within walking distance) as they’ve led me to believe and we followed them to an Israeli-ran noisy, stuffy, dodgy motel on top of an Israeli restaurant and after nay-ing a smelly, musty airconditioned room, we settled for a double room with fan next to windows facing Khao San road for 350 baht a night. Big mistake. Big, big, BIG mistake.
Khao San Road
It was helluva stuffy, I really need to give it to Bangkok, it’s just a hella lot more humid and warm and stuffy there in May and best of all, the music did not stop blaring and people did not stop laughing/yelling/talking down in the streets til 6am. There was a brief respite before the morning traffic begun. Oh Gawd.
I woke up at 7.30am or something after some fitful sleep (well there was a funny episode of me asking what’s underneath us – in reference to the non-existent mattress – and Gianne jumped cos she thought I said what’s underneath the bed). We dashed out of there, dumping the Brit gap year students and ran to Shanti Lodge to discover that it is a beautiful Thai place with woven mats and woods and open air showers and toilets.
The pros: It cost us 400 baht for a double room (RM 20 per person per night) in a clean, air-conditioned, quiet, beautiful room. Thai massage was available for 200 baht for a one-hour session and I made use of it.
The cons: It’s a distance from everything else and the most convenient way to reach the city and BTS station is via its Chao Phraya Express boats (13 baht each time for any destination)
We stayed a night there and I looked forward to the day we move to Sukhumvit, and I was pretty convinced by then that Sukhumvit will be a lot better than Khao San will ever be.
The weekend market, only a short walk away from Mo Chit BTS, definitely put me in awe. That place is just so fucking HUGE. But apart from that, considering both of us did not bring money to shop, it’s just a labyrinth of stalls upon stalls selling similar things – of which you can obtain in KL anyway.
Clothes, bags, souvenirs, food, pets, woodwork, and of course, penis replicas. I love me some Thai products when it comes to penile decors.
We did buy huge backpacks (now I can officially say I’m a backpacker!) for 1150 baht each.
2. Ping-pong show
We were offered repetitively, even grabbed and stopped by Thai men with small pieces of papers asking us if we want to watch ping-pong or Tiger shows. Now, I’ve heard of ping-ping shows, but I do not know the specifics. After some explanations from the Brits, I admit I’m curious enough to watch some action, but they aren’t free and I don’t fancy spending money looking at any va-jay-jays. If only it’s free…I don’t mind learning a thing of two about pelvic muscles at all.
On another note though, I felt surprisingly safe in Bangkok, I was pretty careful about holding onto my pouch for dear life, but there was never one time when I felt threatened or scared of the Thai, even in the middle of the night in the streets. The ping-pong show men did grab my arms which annoyed me but that was minor.
The thing is: Bangkok is safe. All those unwarranted and preconceived fear and paranoia after the military coup and New Year bombing was silly. We even get advice like "Don't go to areas with white people!" from well-meaning relatives (there's no way to avoid the throngs of visitors in Bangkok). Their public toilets are surprisingly clean. Or have I gotten used to the disgusting state of Malaysian toilets?
But, the cabbies and tuk-tuk drivers and people coming up to us supposedly helpfully tell us which wat (what wat?!) to go to and what time the palace is open irritated me to no end. Its like a horrific world of scam men and liars and price hikers and dishonest people and it reflected really badly on Thai people because they are the first people most travellers encounter, really.
Sleeping Buddha in Wat Pho. We walked into it pretty accidentally while trying to look for the entrance to the Grand Palace.
The palace. My souvenir from the palace: Sunburn.
Pui Yee is a happy eater in Thailand. Practically every stall on the streets sells some form of pork or another. Bangkok is very, very pork-happy. That makes Pui Yee very, very happy. True, we get pork in Malaysia, but just not like in Bangkok. We went to quite a few supermarkets (there was a 24-hour one across from our third – and favourite – hostel, Suk 11) and pork was sold openly everywhere. Lay’s Korean Pork Bulgogi chips! Pork spaghetti sauce! Pork strips! Pork chops! Pork tenderloins! Fried pork! Just. Pork. EVERYWHERE!
We walked every food shelve with me chanting “Pork! Pork! Pork!” and throwing pork-related food items into my basket happily on our last day. I even evilly told Gianne I’ll put a pack of pork-flavoured chips on top of my backpack and if the customs officer were to inspect my bag, I’d relish telling him, “Encik, lebih baik jika encik tak sentuh benda itu *Insert evil laughter*”.
Mai sai phuong churot
Nah, it’s not a dirty phrase telling a guy to come hither. It really meant “No need to put MSG”. The flip side of Bangkok eating is the amount of MSG they put into your food. Which translates to: Scary.
Every place we go to, even restaurants and food courts and the corner satay place, I’d vehemently say “mai sai churot!” while gesturing and shaking my head wildly. I didn’t the first night and the pad thai made my mouth go fuzzy like I’m sucking on dry cotton and I rushed to the 7-11 in Khao San couple times to get drinks.
However, the best noodles I ever eaten there must be the pork instant noodles we had in Kanchanaburi. Served with pork balls, ribs and fried lard, that thing was just portioned enough for me to want more after I finished and honest enough to taste the simplicity of it.
Plus, I love their fruits. It’s pretty amazing how their durians don’t stink for miles around where they’re sold. Its just pretty odourless. My fav gotta be their coconuts. Sold for 15-20 baht each, they’re so damned cold and sweet and refreshing after all the sweating and sunburn I subjected myself to.
4. “At least in KL, you get lost you can read the road signs. Here, all the road signs curly-curly one!”
As far as I remember, I said that in the taxi on the way back to Sukhumvit in Bangkok after arriving at an unfamiliar bus station from Kanchanaburi. Most Thais don’t speak English, which is not a problem because in main tourist areas of Bangkok there are signboards and roadsigns in English. BUT, once you’re away from city center and try to find your way around, it could be frustrating.
Thai baby on board the bus to Kanchanaburi
All the roadsigns are in Thai and although we boarded the bus to Kanchanaburi in Mo Chit station, we ended up in Southern Bus Station when we come back to Bangkok.
Mo Chit Bus Station
We were so lost (think we were somewhere in Silom) and tired, we just decided to get a metered cab to take us to Sukhumvit. Problem is, he could be bringing us anywhere (even sell us to the meat market) cos the roads were all in Thai and we have no idea where he’s headed to. At all.
For RM25 a night, Sukhumvit is great though. Being right in the heart of the city, the location is ideal for us to travel anywhere in Bangkok and in front of our hostel Suk 11 is the Ambassador Hotel where we sneaked in one day to swim. BTS Nana is only one street away.
5. Sawadee ka and Kap koon ka
Say “Kap koon kaaa!” to any Thai and you’re guaranteed a sweet, amused smile. It’s Thai for thank you (feminine form) and we say it to most cashiers and officer and vendor. I like the Thais (at least the ones involved with tourism). The guy at Suk 11 was so tall and cute and adorable and shy that everytime I look at him and he notices, he go “mmph!” and turn away. Sooo CUTE. It’s like teasing a little shy boy. It’s a good reason to go back there, just to look at him and watch him glance away. And the bartender in the pub next door (called Pickled Liver, by the way) named Lak looked all rough and tough but he’s soft spoken and shy and funny as well.
Kap koon ka to all the people I’ve met on my trip.
6. AirAsia and kiasuism
AirAsia is amazing. With it, now everyone can fly! That include businessmen and students and ordinary men on the street and..well..unsavoury characters. True it’s a mere bus in the skies that’ll bring you from Point A to Point B and thou shalt expect nothing more from it, but I find the free-seating policy annoying. People shove and run and rush huff and puff to the plane (not that I didn’t, I love my window seats too) but it is pretty awful to know that with this policy, he who is more kiasu, wins. I did talk about this point with some travellers and they said they were amazed how polite-looking people suddenly “rawrrrrrr!” the moment they announce you can queue up for boarding.
7. Kanchanaburi, buses and BTS
On Monday we went over to Kanchanaburi on a public bus departing from Mo Chit bus station. We took the BTS to the end station and took a cab to the bus station. BTS Skyway is our equivalent of monorail, I suppose, and it is a lot wider and more comfortable than our monorail and Star and Putra LRT. Their ticketing system is done in such a way that fares are standard for 6 zones and they label each station with a number so that you press on it to pay with 10 baht coins. You can change the coins from the counters but they do not sell tickets. I find traveling by BTS an expensive affair as the fares vary between 20 baht and 40 baht. If I can complain about RM 1.80 fares in KL, you can bet I’ll whine about RM 4 fares in Bangkok.
Their buses however, are cheap. Public buses to say, Siam Square is only about RM 0.70 and for a 3-hour ride to Kanchanaburi, it cost us just a shade under RM 10. There we bargain (not very successfully) for a trishaw ride to the JEATH Museum of War, a memorial cemetery and of course, the Bridge over River Kwai.
View of Kanchanaburi town on top a trishaw
It was a pretty profound moment when we stood there, knowing more than half a century ago, countless men suffered and died for their country, and the fight for peace. Many armed men perish during the building of the bridge, but even survivors and their next-of-kin questioned about the tribute given to civilians – many Malayans of various races – who suffered in worst conditions and whose deaths went unrecorded and unnoticed.
Bridge over River Kwai
I rationalize with Gianne that it would be easy to know which soldiers died during the building of the bridges as they had proper records and dog tags on them, but the civilians had nothing on them. Even as I take in the terrible weight of it, I felt the injustice for those who died unnoticed.
At the memorial cemetery, rows upon rows of stones bear names of soldiers who died during the war. Messages like “deeply missed by mom, dad and sister” or “loving husband, father and son” moved me but one made me damn near cry.
It said, “Til we meet again.”
8. Chao Phraya
During the boat rides on the river, we passed by houses, shops, piers and wats. The water looked muddy and dirty and full of vegetation (and fishes) and it’s nowhere you wanna be in if you want to swim. But I wasn’t prepared for the breathtaking sheer size of the river. I was in awe.
Trewet pier near Shanti Lodge
This river is where Ayutthaya and Bangkok and many other cities had its roots and civilization begun right here, right at that spot, centuries ago. I just can’t wrap my head or grasp the history and I just couldn’t stop imagining how centuries ago kings and queens and Thai people must’ve lived their life on this very same river, traveling on it, surviving on it. I was in awe.
Suddenly I realize how inadequate and small I felt and there are greatness in the world that I can only see by traveling outside Malaysia and my comfort zone and I want to embrace it all and see it for myself, that no words on a screen can justify and how much more you actually learn about yourself and your country by looking at another country.
I am humbled.
On the plane home, we saw more of Chao Phraya where it snaked languidly over Bangkok city (the sight is breathtaking too) and I know I’ll be back to do a proper backpacking trip.
Chao Phraya on a rainy evening
A week in Bangkok, heat rash, horrid sunburn and smelly sweaty days didn’t do it for me.
Gianne’s mysterious welts. Theories: Heat rash, allergies, bed bugs, scabies?
I’m always leaving a trip wanting more it seems. Sigh.
But what’s a trip for two Malaysian girls without some camwhoring?
Cheers, Bangkok, and kap koon ka!
(Gianne if I could get away with selling you for 10 baht, I WILL XD)