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Saturday, March 31, 2007


As if to make me wrong…

I have been to the movies a few times since I’ve been here in KL. I find that if I go in the morning I get the theatre almost to myself. I’ve seen ‘Water’ a very powerful Indian movie that I highly recommend and I saw ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. When I was involved with children’s literature, Katherine Paterson was one of my favourite writers. It is good to see that one of her most popular books has been made into a film and one that I find completely satisfying. Don’t worry that it’s a kid’s story; see it anyway.

One of my friends here in KL asked if I’d seen any Malaysian movies. I hadn’t because they all appear to be rather weird horror stories. Not my cup of tea. My friend recommended ‘Mukhsin’. I was assured it would have English subtitles so the day after I wrote my previous blog I went off to the cinema to see it.

This time there were about 30 people in the theatre. I’d say about 90% of them were women and all but one of them were wearing headscarves. I found myself sitting next to a middle-aged woman who was sitting next to a younger woman, perhaps her daughter. After I’d made myself comfortable the woman turned to me and commented that she was surprised to see a westerner watching a Malaysian movie. I told her that it had been recommended by a friend. We chatted for a while pleasantly. She didn’t have a daughter visiting Australia and I didn’t get an invitation to meet anyone or play cards. I am pleased to acknowledge that not all women in Malaysia are like the ones I wrote about in that previous blog.

The movie was not particularly sophisticated. It told a simple story of a friendship between a boy and girl, just old enough to show some tentative interest in the opposite sex; not all that different a story to the one in ‘Bridge to Terabithia’. Perhaps the acting and the storytelling was not up to what we in the west expect, however it was quite charming and at the end I felt satisfied.

I’m told this is the third film written and directed by Yasmin Ahmad and apparently the others are in some way linked. I look forward to seeing them if I get the opportunity.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007


Travellers' ripoffs 2 – 'my sister's visiting your country'

This is my third visit to Malaysia. Altogether I've spent about seven months or so here. I've had ample time to observe the way Malaysians behave differently from people in other South-east Asian countries. One example is that Malaysian women do not initiate conversation with strange men.

In Thailand or Cambodia if I happen to find myself sitting on a bus next to a woman I've never met before, it is quite common for a conversation to ensue. In Malaysia, even men don't usually chat under these circumstances.

It is therefore memorable when one, two or three women initiate a conversation. This has now happened to me three times, always in KL. And three times, after some friendly chit-chat, a story was told of a sister visiting my country and of a mother worried about her safety and would I mind meeting the mother and reassuring her that the sister is safe.

I'm aware that this is a scam. It's documented in the Lonely Planet guidebook. I'm aware that, should I try to help, I'll probably be invited to join in a friendly card game, be given a spiked drink and end up losing a considerable sum of money. Obviously, I don't take up the offer.

The fact that this has now happened to me three times in a total of no more than two weeks in KL suggests a number of things: this practice must be happening fairly regularly and it must often be successful; otherwise why would it continue?

This can't be giving Malaysian tourism a very positive image.

The question I have to ask is: why haven't the police stamped out this scam? I assume it's illegal or believe it should be. And if I can find these women so easily (or they me) why can't the Malaysian police?

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Nee's update

If you read my story on Nee, here is an update.

The producer of the show Nee works on has been fired as he had been leaving Nee to do almost all of the work. Nee has been made producer and now has an assistant to do the leg work. She's still working very hard (she probably always will) and is planning to introduce a live-to-air new broadcast.


Saturday, March 24, 2007


Travellers' ripoffs – onward tickets

It seems that the majority of travellers are on a short-term trip with definite plans. They know where they're going and when they'll return home. Their bookings are made before they leave their home country.

A small percentage of us are long-term travellers. We often have vague or indefinite plans. We like having the freedom to change our minds.

Those who make the rules make them for the majority. Rules are not always flexible enough to cope with free-spirited travellers. But the world is changing – slowly.

Most countries have rules that require travellers entering by plane to have either a return or onward ticket. This does not acccommodate the needs of those who arrive by air and leave by land. As I said, the world is changing, despite the rules, immigration officers can be flexible. In four years of travelling in South-east Asia, I do not remember being asked by an immigration officer to show my onward or return ticket. If only the airlines realized this...

Whenever I fly into a country on a one-way ticket, the airline invariably insists that I have a return or onward ticket. They are apparently concerned that I will be rejected by immigration and they'll have to return me to my home country at their cost. But the reality is that I am never rejected, which makes me wonder how often it happens.

I accept that the airlines need to cover themselves for the odd time it does happen. But why should I pay for ticket that I have no intention of using – which is my way of handling the problem? I'd be happy to pay a reasonable insurance premium that would cover me in the unlikely event that I am rejected. Unfortunately, the airlines have me over a barrel and I'm obliged to fork out for the cheapest air ticket I can find out of the country. And I keep asking why???

The immigration officials have changed. When are the airlines going to catch up?

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Thursday, March 22, 2007


Joys of Asia

One of the joys of being in Asia is the way my life is enriched by the many people I meet.

Back in KL for the first time in almost two years, this morning I returned for breakfast to the rice porridge bar just off Petaling Street. While I was eating my chicken rice porridge a man of about my age asked if he might share my table. He told me this place serves the best rice porridge in Malaysia and when he is in KL he chooses to stay at a hotel nearby for this reason. He suggested that next time I try the raw fish porridge that he was having. He has it with an extra plate of raw fish that he adds later. 'It's not really raw,' he said.

'No, I can see that it is cooked by the heat of the porridge.'

'And if you are worried about parasites, just take a shot of straight whisky or brandy when you get back to your room. It'll kill any parasites.'

My acquaintance introduced himself as Mr Sheu. He is a retired police inspector from Kota Kinabalu. He didn't tell me stories about his life as a policeman. Instead he spoke enthusiastically about his new career as a forestry consultant. He talked about the monocultural practice of growing oil palms. I know this is widespread in Malaysia. Look out the plane window as you fly over the country and you'll see these plantations almost endlessly.

Sheu wants to change all this. He talks enthusiastically about introducing other species into the plantations to create a more balanced environment. This will benefit the land, the global warming situation and, he hopes to convince the farmers, it can also be financially beneficial to them too.

More power to you my friend. I wish you well in your new career.

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