Thursday, February 4, 2016

We Will Take Action

This afternoon a couple of friends and I took the short taxi ride into the town of Port Dickson to do some light shopping and to have a coffee at the local Starbucks.....It is a small simple town and a big American coffee shop really stands out.  At the time we went in for coffee and snacks it wasn't very busy.

After spending several lazy hours discussing everything that was significantly unimportant, we left and then went to a local super market where one of my friends bought some bananas.

I was interested in the signs on some of the carts outside in the market.

In my eyes there was nothing to see, nor was I interested in holding any of the items.  Now I am not even sure if I even noticed what was on the cart.

The next sign had this very serious message. It started me thinking a little bit more about security and safety in what appears to be a very safe country.  

We took a taxi back to the hotel. As always, when you enter the grounds you are greeted by hotel security.  They, like all the staff, greet you by taking their right hands and touching their own hearts. Always a smile and a hello.

I hadn't real thought much about the vigilant guards up until then. Though you can't help but notice them as they wander about the grounds night and day in their rather smart uniforms.  
They are all Gurkha's which means they come from Nepal.  The Gurkha's are famous for being professional soldiers, starting with the early colonial days when they worked for the British army.  They were famous for their bravery and discipline.

 Out on the end of the pier I decided to talk to one of them who looked more than a little bored and lonely.  This man's name is Shyam.  He spells it very carefully because at first I cannot understand his thick accent.

At first we talk about the fish trap hanging off the end of the pier.  It is a simple wire basket, which by my best guess is used to catch crabs.  But there is no bait in it, and it is not clear who watches over it.

Shyam tells me that he has been working here at the hotel now for only 3 weeks.  This is just the beginning of a long stay.  He will not go home for 3 years, that is unless he pays his own way which is very very expensive. Whatever he earns it is not very much.  When I asked, he averted his eyes embarrassed. 

He tells me he works 12 hours a day from 7a.m. to 7 p.m.. This is 7 days a week.  He has short breaks for meals and using the bathroom.  Every month his schedule shifts from the day to night and so on.  By his side he carries a stick which he tells me he has never used.  He also wears a walkie talkie to call if he needs help. 

The only problems Shyam has had in the few weeks that he has worked is small boats coming too close to the hotel to fish.  He has to yell at them to go away.  Other than that he just keeps watch. 

Shyam tells me that when he came the security agency he works for spent 4 hours training him.  Though I might have it wrong.  Perhaps it is 4 days.   He lives in a compound close by.  Overall he seemed happy to talk to me as he doesn't have much real interaction with anyone all day during his shift.

Being from Nepal I asked him about the earthquake that happened there a few years ago.  He said his village is 3 hours from Katmandu and nearly everything in his village came tumbling down.  25 people from his small community were killed.  His wife and son survived.

When he talks about home his face grows dark.  I have made him sad.

 He says until the time of the earthquake he had been a school teacher of young children in his village.  

His life in the last few years has changed dramatically.  How it came to pass that he changed from being a school teacher in a small village to being a security guard in Port Dickson Malaysia cannot be learned in a short conversation on a clean bright pier. 

Each questions that I asked seemed to bring more sadness to his eyes.  I realized that I was being a little too curious about the life of a lonely man far from home.  

He calls his wife when he can which isn't often.  He must be luckier than most of those in his village who are still trying to rebuild even now after 3 years. 
 I could not help but feel how lucky I am.  I sleep in a fancy hotel room while Shyam and a lot of other lonely Nepalese men watches out for me and a hotel full of guests. 

Every day standing guard at the end of the pier, and all along the paths that lead to this hotel. Soon I will return home but they will not.

Out And Up

I kicked myself in the pants today and decided to go on a local photo safari.  Keeping in mind there is always something to see if you look hard enough
 This little food stand is just up the block and I stopped to take a picture because I was puzzled by the sign

Down the block is and almost abandoned building which I see every morning while running.

 In the darkness it is striking because there is hardly any light in any of the the windows. It is a big building and appears to been a nice place to live not too long ago.   Now it looks to be nearly abandoned.  
 I poke around a bit.   I wade through the tall grass and peak through some of the open windows.  A car pulls up to pick up some people then drives away... Not completely empty.  

 Clearly a busy place at one time, but maybe this was all long ago.

Now it just shows that it is falling apart.  Dark stains of mold cover it.  On the roof a tree is growing large and there are no cars or motorbikes parked in the yard, which looks more like a wild flower garden.
 Nearby is the beach which also may have seen better days and actual people who swam and spread themselves out on the sand.

You have to follow all the rules, though I am not sure anyone does that any more. 

 I come back to my hotel and go up to the 9th floor and look down at where I live.  At least for 13 days. 

A much different kind of world than what exists just steps away down the muddy path.

Day 3

It has been a kind of lazy day.  Though the morning started with a burst of athletics ( running, swimming) it felt like not much was happening.

Though come to think of it I snuck into the neighboring hotel and jumped in their pool to swim.  It is better and no one was around.   Of course I recognized a friend having breakfast there in the restaurant by the pool and helped myself too.......(best not incriminate)

In the afternoon I pulled myself up and decided to practice my golf swing on the beach near by.  The tide was low and as I was using wiffle balls they wouldn't go far

 The tide was coming in so the crabs were climbing into their holes and pulling the wet lumps up over the top. 

Not sure why they do that other than to be protected from the inrushing tide.

It is Sunday afternoon and there are lots of families about.  Kids and adults enjoying the busy activity about their feet.

 The derelict boat no longer moves at all.  But the wind makes a creaking sound to the loose bits of the cabin.

Some things that no longer move.

 Some boys, well perhaps somewhat elderly boys are playing ultimate frisbee on the beach.  They have marked a great rectangle in the flat wet sand.  It is hot and they get sweaty and tired quickly. 

One person has brought a water bottle that acts as the outer marker of their playing field.  Either tiredness or the tide will soon spoil their game.
 I go back to my room.  I have swung my club, and taken pictures.   A pretty good afternoon.  Tonight I will post them here and try and make a story about it all.

I take a selfie......something I don't usually do.  I am having a pretty good time.


The Way

 Late Afternoon Day 1 Port Dickson Malaysia

It is the time of day here now when the light quickly drains itself out of the sky.  My own energy evaporated some time ago, but I am continuing to press on nonetheless. 

I have swum, I have walked, I have purchased a mini bar full of drinks, and while I was out of the hotel, which I checked in about 7 hours ago, some invisible person came by and left 3 microscopic cookies and closed the drapes. 

I am seriously tempted to say that this is the horrible scene that I left behind me, but that would be untrue.  By Wednesday night when I left, the mighty snow mass had reduced dramatically (more than 2 feet Sunday morning).  

All roads were clear by then.  Revealing the uneven jigsaw of asphalt that makes up our roads all the rest of the year. 

Close to the end of a very fine Wednesday I left JFK and headed east into the night flying on Qatar airlines.  It would be Friday morning when I would at last reach my destination.

The arc of my path traced the Atlantic coast northwards.  Dipped in across New Brunswick and than clipped the top of Newfoundland as we made the long trek eastwards.  Ultimately to arrive half a world away.
Sleep came to me soon after we took off, though I seem to remember a blurry view of Scotland on the seat monitor in front of me.  My senses gathered once more as we descended into Doha.  Landing as the sky darkened now for the second time.
I watched no movies at any time along the way.  Instead I listened to my ipod through my large noise cancelling headphones.  Only from time to time did I pay attention to the seat back monitor glowing at me vibrantly bright and relentlessly tracking our path.

All it showed were the slowly shifting cartoon shapes of all the middle east countries that we crossed. Just images of the real worlds that were actually passing by 6 miles beneath our wings.

Places that now, according endless cycle of reports spewing out of news programs seem so filled with political trauma, human suffering, and petroleum woes.  Pick the order.  Which compared to my own almost frivolous journey made no sense.  All this seems so strangely ironic as I sip bottled water in the warm comfortable cocoon of my Boeing 777.

 After 11 hours my Qatar flight took me here to Doha.  A place of sheikhs and migrant workers and everyone else in the rainbow realm living and breathing in between.  

Built with what was once an endless supply of petro dollars, the airport is an architectural marvel.  One to easily match all the other glimmering airport oasis's throughout the Persian gulf.

 At the very center of the airport is this gigantic teddy bear lamp.  Were the bear just by itself it would be peculiarly amusing.   Its incongruous combination with a lamp makes it strangely utilitarian.  If I weren't so tired I might just laugh or be amused.  Instead I am just puzzled.  I wander around looking for a bathroom.

For now the steady throng of travelers mostly ignore the teddy bear lamp.  For all of scurrying around and through its innards, Doha is simply a hub for most, and not a destination.  There is still lots of dashing across Asian skies yet to come.

Now I board the 2nd and last plane.  It is smaller and feels instantly more crowded, if that is even possible.  I gulp and find my aisle seat next to a large Scandinavian couple.

The husband sits in the middle and tries his best to fold his thick arms across his chest.  A feat he can do whilst awake but not so when he drifts into sleep. A task that this time I find elusive.

I am drawing closer to the goal.....Just a little more than 7 hours more.  But this will prove to be the hardest and noisiest and most mindbogglingly crowded leg.  

I feel as though I am being jostled physically and mentally the entire time.  In anticipation of this I have taken a little blue pill that was supposed to chase away this clinging restlessness.  I remain painfully conscious, too aware of the ceaseless shifting activity and noise about me.  I wonder if I shouldn't have brought another. It will be a long night.
Throughout the night a chorus of toddlers give voice to their own anxiousness and discomfort.  There may be as many as 9 under the age of 6.  Mothers proudly parade the youngest in front of them.  They hold up their extended arms and watch delighted at the wobbly steps their children make up and down the aisles.  Women with aisle seats gawk and coo as they approach. 

The cabin lights dim above us all but the peace does not follow.  Tranquility has vanished even as the pink light fades.
A 2 year old wired on sugar

It is now my second night on a plane.  The logistics of international travel does that mysterious math for us when you travel to the otherside of the world.

More than 20 hours of air time and you will see.... and most likely hear it all if you are trapped behind, on the dark unfortunate side of the magic curtain.  The modest fabric that is a strangely impenetrable barrier between all of us poor schlubs back  in coach and the smiling sleeping Gods blissfully at rest on the other side.

A recent email sent to me by the airline has told me. that for just $1000 more I too could be one of them.  A price that now seems worth it, but when I was firmly planted on the earth made no sense at all.

By 9 a.m. the wheels come down for the last time.  I collect my bags my thoughts and debate if I want to go to the bother of taking off the long sweater underneath my hawaiian shirt.  Knowing it is a good idea because it has to be hot outside but simply too frazzled and lazy to do it.

Of course it is blazing hot and use some of my meager french....C'est la vie.

$25 gets me to Port Dickson and the good news is my room is ready I can get breakfast and I can resume the battle to stay awake in comfort.

A short walk turns into a long one.   There are very few store close by.  My sandals, now unaccustomed to my winter feet start to bite and chafe.  I am thinking the immediate necessity of finding and applying band-aids.

Heading out to the main road I spot a 7/11 that is open and has stacks of interesting exotic and familiar drinks.  But before I do this I want to excise the torture that continues to cling like a damp sweaty shirt.   Which is exactly what I am wearing.

Next door is a small massage parlor that is empty.  I have been in places just like this all across Asia.  It is just what is says it is.   5 worn couches and a heavyset lady on her cell phone.

"You want massage Mr?"   ......add Malaysian accent. 

I don't usually get the full treatment so this time is no different.  I say reflexology and point to my feet.   She asks, "One Hour?"......."Yes please."

Keep in mind the charge is 50 ringit which is approximately $12

She goes to a door and calls upstairs and a slightly younger heavy set girl comes smiling into the room.  Grabs a bottle of oil and some towels and proceeds to give me as much relaxation as I want..... and apparently as much pain as I need. 

Her fingers are of course calloused and hard but it is the fingernail of her right thumb that she digs into the fleshy top of my foot, and drags down towards my heel, that makes me twitch and squirm.  More than just a little.

Of course I am trying to man up.  My eyes are closed and I mostly drift into some vaguely familiar realm of contentment.  Feeling that this prodding and digging must be working towards my physical if not mental benefit.  I can tell she knows what she is doing when she hits a spot that needs that thumb nail. She pauses as I squirm and digs just a little harder.

At first I was thinking I would come regularly during my stay.  But when it was all done I knew it was great but....... maybe I would wait a few days more before I returned.  As the days have stretched out since than it just may turn out to be never.  But the rejuvenation is now really and truly fully in place.

I buy my beverages, snacks, and bandages for the chafing the sandals have made in my heels....not the thumbnail.  I march back to the hotel to enjoy the sun setting in Port Dickson for the first time for me.

Of course it is always picturesque to see a sun dipping into the sea any sea.  I will take a shower, look at my photos, and write this letter, and than wonder. Wonder why the sign above says Atlantic.