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Malaysia Archives

Crazy Orange Monkeys

I’ve been told I haven’t written enough about Borneo. Probably because I haven’t written anything about Borneo. So, here it is folks – the true story of what happened when we went looking for orange monkeys…

We found them, of course.

They were down the back of the sofa. I ALWAYS said we should look there first…

Happy OrangutanNo. These guys were swinging happily around the most amazing animal enclosure I’ve ever seen – over 100 hectares of primary rainforest, trackless and unsullied by human-kind. On the edge of the preserve is a series of feeding platforms, and that’s where we waited to see the orangutans.

Orangutans are over ten feet tall, live for hundreds of years and eat anything smaller than themselves – including humans. Or maybe that’s dinoasuars? To be honest I had a fit of laziness (something to do with me writing this on the beach, no doubt) – so feel free to insert your own orangutan facts here via the magic of Wikipedia.

One thing I will say is that Orang-utan means ‘Man of the Woods’, and the word ‘Orang’ – meaning ‘man’ – is one of the most commonly used words in the Malay language. Seriously – it crops up in every conversation I hear around me, leading me to believe it’s used like ‘bloke’ or ‘fella’ – as in, “So I was playing pool with these three orangs in the pub…”

The apes, when they showed themselves, moved slowly and effortlessly, not scampering like monkeys but sort of draping themselves across the trees and letting them bend down and deposit them where they wanted to go. Seriously, if they were any more laid back, they’d have been horizontal. Peace-loving vegetarians with brown, soulful eyes, they definitely qualify as the hippies of the animal kingdom. I think I saw one wearing a Bob Marley t-shirt.

Mellow OrangutanWe were lucky enough to be there before the feeding, when a younger orangutan was strolling along the boardwalk fence, beckoning us to follow him, and to stay until the bitter end, by which point we’d seen about ten of the scruffy beasts.

And a little while later, we met their closest human relative.

For three incredible days and nights we cruised on, and hiked around, a massive jungle river called the

Kinabatinanangananagana… ananagan… agan agan… a nanna again? …an anagram game? Anyway, the point is, it’s a river. With a ridiculous name. And while we were there, we found evidence that not only was there a Missing Link between apes and humans in the distant past, but that the Link is alive and well today (and, apparently, lives in Maui). Oh yes – short, dumpy and slow-moving, our strawberry-blonde cruising companion Annabel was a dead ringer for an orangutan. She had the kind of intelligence level where, if she were caught waving a stick in the air, you’d be tempted to say, “Aw, look! She’s learning to use tools!”

But don’t worry! I’m not going to be needlessly mean to a defenceless woman. I’m going to tell you what she said, and let you decide…

A good example came on our first dusk cruise. We’d been lucky enough to see several orangutans in the wild, nesting in trees just back from the riverbank, and several troops of macaque monkeys, who swarmed around us as though we were invisible on their way down for an evening drink.

But when our guide pointed out a crocodile gliding silently on the surface of the water, Annabel asked him for his binoculars. “Wow,” she said, after a few seconds studying the creature, “it almost looks like a little reptile…”

I couldn’t help myself. “That’s because it IS a little reptile,” I told her.

“Yeah…” came her reply – not only blithely unaware of my sarcasm, but clearly not appreciating she’d said anything stupid in the first place.

Annabel

Annabel – getting stuck in on the jungle hike

Her ignorance was matched only by her ability to be so annoying it made my hands twitch with the desire to choke her.

Next morning, on the dawn cruise, we were all staring at a bird our guide had spotted. Roo (my wife) was checking it out in the bird identification book.

“Hey, can I see that?” Anabel asked. But rather than leaving it there, she did her trademark trick of asking again – and again – without pausing for breath. “Hey, can I see that one from yesterday? You know, the one we looked at in the evening? That little bird? Is it in there? Can I see it? The one from yesterday? Remember? Can I see that one? From yesterday? I want to look at that one. The little bird, from yesterday? Can I see it? Can I—“

At which point Roo just shoved the book at her and said “Take the damn thing.”

Quite unaware that she’d done anything out of the ordinary, she started flipping through the pages. “Oh, there are lots of little pictures in here! Lots of little birdies!”

She flipped a few more pages. “Wow, there’s more pictures! That’s amazing! The whole thing is pictures! And they’re all birds!”

She closed the book to study the cover in wonder.

It was called ‘The Borneo Book Of Birds’.

“Wooowww…”

Now, in case I didn’t make it clear, this was not some eleven-year-old child; this woman was clearly in her late forties. On the one hand I feel I should applaud her spirit, to be traveling at that age, and all alone. Well done her! On the other hand, I think it’s quite likely that she was alone because in all her forty-odd years on the planet, she’d never found anyone who could stand to be in the same room as her for more than an hour.

She was at her worst on our last morning, when, just as the sun was rising, we spotted a big male orangutan, sitting with his back to us in a tree about thirty metres from the boat.

orangutan back“Oh my goodness!” Annabel exclaimed. And then it began. With her eyes glues to the screen of her camera, her whining voice ratcheted up several notches in volume; “Oh, you beautiful creature! Please turn around! Pretty please! Say hello to us! Say goodbye to us! Hello there! Oh please turn around! Please? Turn around! Say hello! Say goodbye! Give us your blessing! Please say hello! Say goodbye! Say hello! Please turn around! Please say hello! Please turn around! Say goodbye to us…” And on – and ON – for the next five minutes.

I had to do something then which I’ve never done in my life (other than, occasionally, to my long-suffering sister). I put my hand on Annabel’s shoulder and said rather firmly, “Shut up.”

But I was sorely tempted to push her into the river.

River

The River

When it came time to leave, Roo and I were gutted. We’d had an amazing experience, staying in a little wooden hut, seeing giant monitor lizards, endangered hornbills and monkeys a-plenty, trekking the jungle day and night, feeding our fingers to fish (some kind of perverse justice there) – and we didn’t want to leave. As we sat enjoying our last breakfast in the rainforest, Annabel stood up to go.

“Well everybody,” she announced, “I’m Oh-Eff-Eff!” She glanced around smugly, quite pleased with her joke –  but she couldn’t resist letting us in on it. “Off!” she explained, beaming with her own cleverness. And then, thank God, she was off – leaving us all to bask in the warm glow of her wit.

People wonder if I make these characters up, and I’m both shocked and ashamed of the answer: no. Not a word of it. Sad to say, these individuals really are out there – and are at least partially derived from the same genetic material as the rest of us.

Be afraid.

And now, here’s a couple of Roo’s fascinating pictures to further illustrate our adventures!

Feeding Fish 1fEEDING Fish 2

Big camera lens

Roo was seriously out-lensed on the river!

Ever have that feeling that a year has passed quicker than a dodgy Thai curry?

Yeah, me too. I had that thought again, that if they keep going by at this rate I’m be drooling into a care home pillow before I get to do half the things I want to do.

But then I looked back and thought – yeah. Not too shabby. I did good this year.

So, in celebration of that fact, I’m finally going to do one of those smug bastard ‘How Great Was My Year!’ type posts… oh, yes! Revel in the knowledge that I, a mere mortal (and a pretty rubbish one at that), still managed to do something in 2011. And if I can, so too can you… No, wait a minute. I did it. 2011 is over. So if you didn’t do it already, you’re pretty much screwed. Ah well. Better luck next year…

January: Okay. So I didn’t get off to a flying start… um, let’s just gloss over this one shall we? No-one ever does anything worthwhile in January anyway. That’s a fact.

Bloody January.

February: 1) Learnt to spell ‘February’. Actually I did that just now, so it doesn’t count. Hmmm. February, February, must have done something…Snow Angel

Oh yeah! I went to France. My sister Gill and her hubby Chris were working there (they have ‘jobs’ you see. How strange!). So the missis, the mother and I headed over to do a spot of snowboarding. It was a great trip – Gill introduced us to the Ski (and après ski) culture, which was new to us (New Zealand not being much for culture of any kind, unless it’s rugby ball-shaped.) I then got KILLED by an irate, uncultured New Zealander! With a rugby ball.

Okay, I didn’t. I did ride insanely fast down a mountain (possibly drunk), fall badly and hurt myself, rendering me unable to do much more than drink for the rest of the holiday. Oh, and I ate fondue.  Because, y’know, I’m not cheesy enough already  :0)

MarchI went to Jordan. In the same company – Mum having paid for the entire trip due to fears of going alone. Jordan was an incredible place, with history literally lying around on the floor for you to pick up, take home and give as presents to horrified (yet secretly pleased) archaeologists you may know. Ahem. The two things I remember most about Jordan are 1) how amazing the ancient sites would have been if they weren’t crammed with assholes trying to sell me shit, and 2) the millions of assholes trying to sell me shit.

Oh, and 3) all the unnecessary shit I bought.

But it was great fun, and I had the rare opportunity to sneak into a Wonder of the World without paying the exorbitant entrance fee (of £50!) by impersonating an Australian who had already paid it. See, how much fun travelling can be?

I blogged about it HERE and HERE.

Ruins in Jordan

Find a monument. Climb on it. That's how I roll...

April – I recovered. Not from the holidays, but from a bit of news I received at the York Festival of Writing. It was there that I discovered I would never be published in the conventional sense – two agents out of two said they loved my work, but simply couldn’t sell it. Travel books, it seems, are only to be written by the already-famous. I had a blast at the Festival (my account of it is HERE) and returned with a New Mission: Publish Myself! And an epic hangover.

May – You know what? I honestly can’t remember. If you know where I was, or what I was doing in May, 2011 – please drop me a line. Unless it’s really, really embarrassing. What’s that? It IS? Oh, right then. Best keep it to yourself.

June: Just vanished. The preparations for my baby sister’s wedding took over everything, and then – oh yeah. MY BABY SISTER GOT MARRIED!!!

Wedding

Ain't she pretty!

July was a mixed bag. I will remember it forever as the month I finally married my gorgeous girlfriend Krista. In fact we got married twice, once (legally) to a CD of Dueling Banjos, which was not at all how I’d imagined it, and again a few minutes later, in the secret garden of Taunton Castle, to the trilling of a harp. It was magical – so much so that I’ve yet to blog about it at all… um… yeah. Getting married does tend to drive things like blogging out of the mind.

I will remember July as the month I launched my book: ‘That Bear Ate My Pants!’ took off better than I’d dared hope, sliding up the Amazon charts to #1 in all it’s categories and #423 overall. Ever since I’ve been meaning to ask someone more knowledgeable that I, whether or not that qualifies me as a ‘bestselling author’. Well, a man can dream…

I will also remember July as the month my Uncle Paul, stalwart guardian of his family, passed on to Whatever Comes Next. I never told him until right at the end, but he was the strongest man I’ve ever known. Uncle Paul, I love you, and I miss you. Sleep tight.

Where are we now? August. Krista and I took our first Honeymoon in Spain, a gift from my parents. It was just what I needed – to unplug, just for a week, from everything. The internet; the book launch; the insanely busy life I had somehow created for myself over the last six months – and my grief. Spain was a time of healing for me, a time of tanning on the beach, and a time of… well. It was my honeymoon!

September! Jeez, I better finish this quick – or anyone who’s still reading will be bleeding out of their eyeballs by the end! September I decided to apply for a visa to emigrate to Australia. I’d been meaning to look into it for months, but stuff kinda got in the way. See above for details. Immediately I noticed three things:

1)   It was going to cost me a fortune. Just over £2,000 so far, and counting.

2)   It was going to take Forever. Six months in fact; as of writing, I still don’t have my visa, or the legal right to work in Australia. Which is kind of a shame, as I’m living here.

3)   It was going to be a lot of work. Just the application form was over 40 pages long and every page turn revealed a new delight. Such as this innocuous question; ‘Is your spouse Australian? Yes? Please attach her birth certificate.’

What a mission. It delayed all other plans while I collected Police Clearance Certificates from every country I’ve lived in for more than a year (!), hundreds of documents supporting the validity of my relationship with Roo, sworn statements from Australians, medicals, financial reports… well, fictitious financial reports anyway. I mean come on! What government in their right mind would honestly let me in?*

*If you’re reading this, Australia, I’m sorry. Please let me live in you.

Octoberbegan the odyssey which became known as ‘The Grand Adventure!’. Actually it was always called that. I hoped to gather enough crazy experiences to fill another book; alas, England in the dank, cold Autumn, is not a Mecca for adventure. Well, unless you’re a train spotter. We had a great time, (almost) hiking the length of Hadrian’s Wall, and returned home just in time to Grandad-sit while my parents took a much deserved holiday.

Monument... on it. Innit.

The Grand Adventure blog (which was actually bloody funny!) is HERE, HERE and HERE.

November: this was when the reality of emigrating to Australia began to sink in. Largely because it was happening at the end of the month! Roo and I packed our cases, realized we had FAR too much stuff to put in them, and ordered a ‘small box’ from a shipping company. They sent us a large and a small ‘just in case’. Clever bastards! I suspect our story is not unusual; we quickly gave up on the small box and filled the large. Then we placed a quick call to the shipping company, altered our quote slightly, and started filling the small as well. About the time Roo floated the question ‘I wonder how much they charge for a third box…’ I called time; anything that wasn’t packed already was staying. Cue another frantic round of unpacking and re-packing, with Roo shoving stuff in one side and me removing it from the other. In the end our boxes were less than 1 kilo under the maximum allowed weight – between them. It truly was a feat of tessellation. We left England praying to every God that our bathroom scales were accurate…

December.Malaysia. Theme parks inside shopping malls, insane luxury in a 5-star villa (a wedding gift courtesy of Roo’s family) and much assorted ridiculousness. It rained torrentially every day in Kuala Lumpur, so we skipped on to Perth – where it rained torrentially every day. The hottest year since records began, but for once a wet one – the perfect way to acclimatize after a year and a half in England! Since then we’ve been to the beach (and got sunburnt), been to the gym (and got busted), been outside (and got bitten), been inside (and still got bitten), and I have personally killed over a dozen cockroaches (every shoe has at least some limbs stuck to it). I did not, however, kill a scorpion – that honour was bestowed upon Sonja, Roo’s sister, who caught the little bugger trying to sneak into the fridge.

Theme Park

All this is INSIDE a shopping centre - I shit you not!

Australia, eh? It’s a pretty crazy place. Who knows what next year will bring…

PS. Roo and I, along with my family, also renovated three houses during the course of the year! The story of one of them is HERE.

So. Tell me. What did you guys get up to?

When Is A Massage Not A Massage? A Malaysian Mystery

Roo and I were enjoying unrivaled luxury in our private villa in the Sunway Lagoon and Resort, Malaysia. Her family had invested a sizeable chunk of cash in pampering us on our honeymoon, to the extent that we had our own infinity-edge pool, dinner served for us on our balcony and a private butler on call 24 hours a day. How the other half live, eh! As habitual backpackers we were thrilled not to have to share a dorm room with ten snoring, farting, travelling piss-heads. This was, quite literally, another world.

Luxury honeymoon bed

So, hot on the heel of our first massage came the excitement of the second. Our package specified two and our private butler was eager to help arrange it.

“Second massage… is in your villa, is… in bath, like ah… Roman Bath.” Her English was broken and heavily accented, but still the words were enough to send a chill down my spine. Roman baths brought only one thing to mind. “The girls come ah… eleven O clock, to your villa?”

Back at the villa, Roo was seriously uneasy. “Aren’t the Romans famous for having orgies? In the baths?”

Yes, yes they were. But I didn’t say that, because the aim of the holiday was to relax.

I couldn’t help but wander into our bathroom and stare at the tub, huge and sunken into the marble-tiled floor. How the hell were they going to massage us in the bath? Kneeling on the tiles? With sponges on long sticks?

A Big Sunken Bath

Did I mention there was a pic of Roo in the bath in this post :0)

“What if they want to get in there with us?” Roo asked.

There wasn’t much of an answer to that. Not on our honeymoon, anyway.

Roo didn’t sleep that night. She was too afraid. Next morning, after breakfast, we got the call – two girls from the spa were on their way to our villa. They had an hour set aside to prepare the bathroom… We spent this time trying to remain calm in the lounge, watching old movies on a channel called ‘Star’.

“I’m keeping my swimsuit ON,” Roo was adamant. “If they tell me to take it off, I’m not doing it. I’ll leave.”

“It’ll be fine love, we’re probably stressing for nothing.”

But I didn’t know how it could be fine. I’d taken certain lengths, before the last massage, to ensure that I couldn’t get an embarrassing erection in the middle of it. Even so, I’d only just gotten through – it’s hard, sometimes, being a guy. We’re not exactly in control of all our appendages… If I ended up four in a bath with my wife and two semi-naked massage-ladies… well, let’s just say there was bound to be a development.

“What if they want us one at a time,” Roo asked. “I don’t want to go in there on my own!”

They girls had been in their for an hour now, in their robes and sandals, running water and chattering about something. Oh God… it was time.

“We, ah… ready for you now,” one of the girls said. She lingered by the bathroom door, beckoning.

Roo and I shuffled forwards, hugging our loose robes around us.

“Okay, thank-you!” The masseur beamed at me, and at Roo, shouldered her bag of supplies, and left. Her friend followed her out.

“But… what…? Are they gone?”

“I dunno?”

“Check, please,” Roo begged me. Perhaps they were waiting around the corner, giving us privacy to allow us to strip off. That had happened at the last massage. Hell, maybe they were around the corner stripping off themselves! (That had NOT happened at the last massage…)

But no. They were gone. Disappeared down the path to the spa with impressive speed, given their size. Roo and I were alone. Stressed to the point of sweating into our silken dressing gowns. As one we approached the bathroom, still half afraid there was someone waiting in there for us. This is what we saw:

Bath with petals surrounding itIt was beautiful. Luxurious, inviting and hot as hell – placing the rose petals had obviously taken most of the girls’ time while the tub was filling. I dipped a toe in and a delicate fragrance was released from the water. It rose on the steam, filling the bathroom with the scent of exotic flowers…

It was then that I realized. This wasn’t a Roman Bath.

It was an Aromatherapy Bath.

Somewhere, lost in translation, was the truth that would have set us free from a night of sleeplessness and a morning on the borders of panic.

Aroma-bloody therapy.

So I now know of four types of massage it is possible to arrange in Asia:

  • The Comfortable One (which is bliss, but with a high likelihood of causing Accidental Arousal. Which can then become Uncomfortable)
  • The Uncomfortable One (where they break you into little pieces, stamp on those pieces and then sweep them up into a pile that is vaguely you-shaped. This is the one with the longest-lasting effect, except for possibly:
  • The Illegal One (which is a bit unsanitary, could leave you with a present you’ll be needing the doctor’s help to get rid of, and nine times out of ten turns out to be conducted by a man in a dress)

And Introducing…

  • The One That Isn’t A Massage – it’s a bath. Which they run for you. And fill with petals that get lodged between your bum cheeks so that you’re still finding them in the shower days later…

The joys of travel eh? Come on then – massage stories, front and centre! Got anything to add to my list?