Thursday, January 18, 2007

its a mighty fine thing to be / a mighty fine thing to be

I like being a tourist. I like to leave behind the chaos and disorganisation that is the Republic of Indonesia from time to time and, within an hour or two, arrive in a country like Malaysia – a country that in every way is still recognisably South East Asian, but has, shall we say, more of a sense of orderly statehood. Things work….they don’t lose aircraft for almost two weeks, and those running the place perhaps do so with a sense that they have some sort responsibility towards those they govern rather than simply a perceived notion that they do nothing unless it has a financial benefit to themselves.

Like the Indonesian ridiculous and slightly obscene Fiskal Exit Tax. It can have no possible benefit beyond keeping the poor at home, uninformed and proving a ready source of folding cash which partially disappears somewhere into the grey area of outstretched palms and private pockets that is Indonesian bureaucracy.

But, hey, enough grumbling. I'm seeing the world.

I really do like being a tourist. I like the sights. Not all of them though…the extended family heading back to Perth, grossly overweight, swearing, and pushing through to Garuda check-in, was not pleasant. That’s what happens when you build a city in a place where common sense indicates one was really not such a good idea; and they start inbreeding.

Whenever I think of Perth that banjo song from Deliverance starts going through my head…..they, and the rest of their check-in queue, were not pretty.

But the sweeping freeways from KL airport though the endless the Palm oil plantations are, and the massive stainless steel rise of the twin towers is far more majestic in real life than any photograph can possibly suggest.

And we ate. An eight course Chinese lunch, including Yee Sang, a local seafood salad mixed by the participants for good luck before Chinese New Year, and a rendang for breakfast, were not the least of it.

And we drank. We ended up on the first night in the VIP seating of the 34th floor rooftop bar, Luna with cigars, Pinot Noir and a wonderful American Malay called Tom, a school friend of our host, who had drunk most of a bottle of Black Label but remained absolutely lucid and regaled us with stories of parties throughout South East Asia before we reluctantly got a lift home at three with him in his Volvo….yes I know…I was pleased to see the hotel doors.

My body was glad to leave KL, although Brigid was bemused (amused?) to point out that KL airport, after you’ve passed all searches and machines, has a small shop which sells, amongst other things, scissors and nail files for your flight. Tell that to Homeland Security. Then, I feel far more secure anywhere in Asia than in the United States or the UK. You are safer in a dark street here than almost anywhere in the west, including New Zealand. And the ongoing threat to aviation comes not from a lunatic with a file, but the airline owners.

Bangkok, as I write is its usual incredible visual feast. If KL represents a happy midpoint between Singapore and Bangkok….Singapore with some soul left intact; then Bangkok is the half way point between Singapore and Jakarta….the commerce and modernity of Singapore, with the chaos, size and intensity of Indonesia’s capitol.

Of course, in Bangkok too, you eat. I love the Rang Mahal on the 26th floor of The Rembrandt Hotel. Named, by some, as one of the world’s great Indian Restaurants (yes I come to Thailand and eat Indian…sad, I know), it truly is. The food, the service and the vista are all quite incredible…

Tempered this time by the English two (shall I use the zild-ese of Poms?...maybe not) on the table next to us, he with his yellow beer logo T shirt and she, of rather generous proportions, with a large cocktail served in a porcelain replica of a Tuk-Tuk. As she drank and ate she took the opportunity to call back to Scunthorpe, or Peckham on her cellphone, and had a very loud conversation with daughter Doreen. She told our Dor” to be sure to pay the rent and to remind Kevin to pay their share. She revisited this several times, just to be sure. She asked if the builders had finished the new landing and if the door was ready, asking to speak to the builder (he was gone we discovered)….all the time slurping from the tuk-tuk. That you for that…..

Bangkok never fails to intrigue. You turn any corner and another endless mass of hurrying humanity, shops, stalls and a maze of alleyways appears in front. It amazes me how much commerce a city like this can sustain…..

Last time we were here, Brigid walked into an elephant, literally…two more nights to go, there is still time. You never know. There are always the a New Zealander I have funny reaction to seeing these things on the footpath

But what I do know is I love Asia and especially big big Asian cities, complete with the dirt, mayhem and traffic; and to be honest can’t really imagine ever settling happily back into the slightly unreal quiet of somewhere like Auckland.