Well here we are again, arriving late in a new country, one in which I had done little research on. It was 11:45 PM, there were no ATMs at the airport exit, and we knew we would need some cash. So I brought out a folded hundred-dollar bill to be changed, and the money changer would not do it. Too risky or some such thing, well that is an issue. Good thing there were numerous money changers at the exit who had no problem with my money. We hired a cab, but there was a strange smell in the air that rekindled our prehistoric instincts, causing our salivary glands to kick into high gear, and our stomachs grumble with an ache of emptiness. We walked out of the airport and had to shield our eyes from a sight that we had not seen in months, American Fast Food chains. Their bright neon lights and corporate logos blinded us, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, KFC, they were all there. All of sudden I realized I have been neglecting my needs, and they no longer could be denied. So we quickly shot into McD’s, surrounded by the greasy, unhealthy smells of frying oil, and ordered two meals to go. This was really the first time in months we had seen these, and we knew it was a half hour to the hotel at least. The greasy double cheeseburgers congealed goodness melted in my mouth. I try not to eat fast food at home, but damn it sometimes just hits the spot.
With my belly full, I let out a large belch, and noticed something else strange, no one was bugging us. Taxi drivers were around, but there was not a crowd of people surrounding us calling out “my friend”, and harassing us for our business. We went to the pick up spot near Starbucks, handed over our prepaid ticket, showed the taxi driver our hotel address, and put our luggage in the trunk and left, that easy. Why in hell do other airports allow such chaos. Oh it can be fun at first, you know, not knowing if you are going to your airport or to some alley to be robbed and raped, but after ten or twelve times it just seems like stress I could do with out. The airport is the one place where they can license all the drivers and make sure their guests get where they are going. It’s good for tourism, it’s good for people, and it’s good for my ass to not worry about being raped. Just saying.
Another thing we quickly noticed even at night was how modern everything was in Malaysia. The highways are huge, with big clear signs, most of the neighborhoods seemed like cookie cutter houses of suburbia, and there were plenty of fast food restaurants at the exits. We pull into a rather large complex set amidst golf courses and rolling hills and nothing else. The hotel is mammoth, probably ten stories or more, with a lobby several stories high with a massive staircase going down two flights of stairs to an open dining area. The entire back wall is all windows floor to ceiling, looking out over a manicured English garden with fountains. To say we looked out of place would be an understatement. At this point my hair has grown quite a bit into a shaggy mane, and we had been traveling all day to get there; buses, boats, and planes. Our back packs were filled to overflowing and our day packs were filled with souvenirs that we were hoping Air Mark would deliver for Xmas. We really did not want to draw attention to ourselves so I told Yvonne to follow my lead and act like we belonged. We walked straight in, past reception, to a hallway in the back to the elevator bank, and straight in to the elevator. I pushed the floor number and nothing happened, uggghh stupid key card technology, we needed a fab. We dumped our bags near the elevators and I wandered into the lobby till I found some phone banks. You see when you are planning on crashing in someone’s hotel room, you really don’t want to announce it to the staff that you are not really a guest, it just does not work that well. Mark answered right away and said he was on his way down.
Mark and I go way back, best friends from fifth grade on, which puts it at twenty seven-years. Damn we are old. Marks always been a bit of a straight-laced guy, so a fair amount of trouble that he got into when he was young was probably my fault. I think I drove his mom a bit nuts, cause we were always getting into something. Nothing really bad, but stupid things, messing around after school, not coming back at a proper time because we were stick fighting on a log over a creek which means when he did get home he was soaked and covered in mud. As we got older it would be chasing after chicks and drinking beers. We almost got sent back home from New Mexico because we were hitch hiking to town to look for girls in the Boy Scouts. Of course the van that pulled over was our scout leader. Even when we moved to different states for college and beyond we kept our friendship up, doing most the same thing we did when we were younger, partying, chasing chicks, and having a damn good time. He joined me on an epic trip to meet up with George Hogan in Japan, where due to his extreme height, he managed to hit his head practically in all the subway stations in Tokyo. We even ran a ten-mile race together, which shocks me because as I pointed out with the stick fighting, he’s never been that co-ordinated. But he’s certainly proven me wrong in that department, running two marathons. More recently he has moved to North Carolina with his lovely wife who is nearly as tall as he is. They have a beautiful young daughter who I am sure will become a professional basketball player. For a career he has decided to torture mice as any good mad scientist will do in his search for the causes of cancer. Decades later though I am sure I can still get him in trouble.
As in letting us crash on his floor in his super fancy hotel in the middle of Malaysia. I already felt a little bad arriving so late, but what can you do. The elevator opened and a very sleepy looking, six-foot tall, skinny, bearded professor looking man comes out with a big smile on his face. First thing out of his mouth he is ripping on my hair and complementing my girl friend in the same breath. Always the charmer.
Well we were all exhausted, Mark was getting over jet leg and an exhausting schedule being the guest speaker for a university, and we just had a crazy day. So after some pleasantries Yvonne and I made a nice little sleeping nook in the corner and Mark went to sleep. I was out in minutes, and sound asleep, when I hear my name being called out. Half asleep, Mark is yelling at me. I’m like “what.” “Your snoring is killing me! Roll over and shut up!” Hmmph, I don’t snore. But then I was very aware of him trying to sleep, and not. Kicking, snorting, thrashing, rolling, all kinds of sounds coming from that bed. So I couldn’t fall back asleep because I was worried about screwing up his sleep when I knew he had a big day ahead of him. But then Yvonne starts snoring, so I had to elbow her and shh her at same time. It would have been funny if I wasn’t feeling bad waking him up and her. Well, Yvonne rolled over and I stayed on snore patrol. He probably only got a few hours sleep if that cause he was out of bed at six. He kept blaming me, but we all know the truth.
After he left though we slept like babies for hours, it was really nice. And did I mention they had cable TV, wow, luxuries that had been unheard of for us. So while he had a busy schedule of inspecting labs, doing speeches, wining and dining; we had a busy schedule of utilizing all the hotel had to offer, a huge amazing pool with waterfalls, hot tubs, a bath tub in the room, and a shower that I need to rip out and put in my own house. Hell screw the shower, the whole bathroom. It was great. Yvonne had caught a nasty bug, so she spent most of the three days recuperating, gaining her energy back. She did enjoy the amenities, but at a slower pace. That first morning we went down to get the breakfast, but we were not sure how it worked. We were worried they might charge us sixty bucks for the food, so I skipped it and let her eat. The next day we went with Mark and figured out the system, and let me tell you, it was the most amazing breakfast buffet ever. They had like ten different stations; egg, pancake, fruit, smoothie, Indonesian food, noodle soup station, cheese, and I could go on. Best breakfast ever. So we would do breakfast with Mark, and then dinner or drinks at night. The rest of the day was enjoying the hotel.
The second night there we got drinks at the hotel bar. The only thing this hotel lacked was a decent bar, but it was nice to hang out. Yvonne let me Mark and I catch up. You could see how much more unstressed Mark was, as the jet leg started to wear off and all his major speeches were done, every day he was walking a little lighter. Somehow he even managed to get one of the bartenders to bring in some home-made moonshine, Montoku or Langkau, that all the locals make. It was sweet and potent, and the guy pored us a huge glass each. We didn’t want to insult him but the stuff was not too good. Mark was worried bout a hangover so I finished his when the guy wasn’t looking. Wow! I had a bit of a headache after that, and we did not drink much of anything.
Well everything went smashing for science and Mark practically bounced in so we took a cab into Kuala Lumpur (KL) to celebrate a new milestone for science.Yvonne was feeling better so she was game for a wild night. The cab ride was like forty minutes, and I could not believe how modern KL was. It’s a massive cosmopolitan city with a bit for everyone. Our first stop was the insanity of China Town, which was four city blocks divided into neat squares, and that is about the only thing neat about it. The streets leading into the center are all pedestrian walkways, lined with shopping stalls, on top of shopping stall, and vendors in the middle, side, and hell above. It’s chaos, you can barely squeeze through the throngs. We bought a can of tiger beer from a man rolling around a cooler, which we negotiated down a few cents. Negotiation is key to China Town, so very necessary for everything you buy, because no matter how good of a deal you think you got, they are making money and it will break ten minutes later. So as we push through the crowd of venders, just soaking it in, clutching our wallets and beers, trying not to get lasers shot in the eyes or hit by a flying toy shooting in the air.
Well after absorbing enough atmosphere and a few more beers, it was high time to listen to the rumblings in our stomachs, and choose a food option. The rain had started to fall in a steady drizzle that transitioned to an all out thunderstorm. We spotted a food cart with a million different kebabs on it, and tables with umbrellas and plastic chairs on the street. Bingo, winner, winner, chicken dinner! There were skewers of chicken breast, legs, thighs, hearts, feet, pork cuts, trotters, bacon, beef chunks, fish chunks, squid, octopus, and on and on. Then there were vegetables, greens, onions, peppers, and more. So we ordered about a dozen and sat at the table, ordered some big beers, and waited under the umbrella for our feast to begin. There was a gas tank under the table that would heat water/oil that we mistakenly thought you would dip your kebabs in, but actually when boiling you would parboil the veggies. It was a veritable feast, every bite a sizzling explosion of flavor. The baby octopuses were so tender, the chicken hearts a bit chewy but yummy, and the tiger prawn succulent. As far as the chicken hearts, I was the only fan of them, Yvonne’s still a little sore at me for not telling her what they were. But all and all, a huge success for twenty bucks for all of us.
It was time for a change, so we hopped into a cab and went to the Bintang section of town. This area is very different then China Town, a long avenue with a few trees and swanky cafes and bars. We enjoyed a few drinks at Cafe Havana, a super swanky outdoor joint with expensive beers but nice atmosphere, but in the end too swanky for this hodgepodge group. So we wandered down the street till a tangy, sweet yet moldy smell assailed our senses. What could this be, something rotting in the street? The only thing we could find was a food cart filled with a large football sized, green, spiky fruit. There was no mistaking it, we had found the source so the smell, Durian. Love it or hate it, South East Asia loves it. There are signs throughout the city banning it on buses, cabs, and hotels.
Well, it seems like this was the time for us. Yes, you Mark Hoenerhoff, Yvonne Nolan, and I, to taste this. Well they were more than happy to video tape me, but not game for trying it, so I had to use every power of persuasion I had to convince them. But I had to take the leap first. So the vendor took his machete, and quickly sliced it in half. The smell that came forth was ten fold worse than before, like rotting meat. Once cut in half there are pockets in the fruit with a yellow-green mucussy mess with large seeds in it. I reached in and scooped the putrid mess in my hand, feeling like tendrils of snot, and shoveled it in my mouth. The whole time I smiled well trying to not puke, it was as bad as it smelled. My stomach kept retching, my eyes bugging out, as I kept the dialogue going for the video. A little too late for me Yvonne noticed most people used plastic bags on their hands so they would not have stinky durian hands. Yvonne was a champ, and took a small piece with her gloved hand. Mark not wanting to be shown up, took a big chunk and gobbled a piece. Now it was my time to enjoy the looks on their faces, and laugh I did. Now we all smelled awful, and even worse, our breaths were just foul. We found a dive bar that we were pretty sure was a front for a whore house, seeing how there were a few scantily clad girls playing pool, but no customers. We did not care, we sucked down a beer like we were frat boys to rid ourselves of the taste. Well that was fitting end to a great night, so we grabbed a cab and headed back. Apparently, Mark and I were a bit gassy, as Yvonne puts it, and we burped the whole way back. We created a durian hot box. Yvonne said it was the most disgusting ride she had ever been in, and was surprised the cab driver did not kick us out. One last thing on durian, the after taste is worse than the first bite, and I was not able to get the taste out of my mouth for the rest of the night, horrible. The video which we had of it died, so all evidence of that night is gone sadly except this small clip. Here is a link to my comic strip on durian. A Love Affair With Durian
Next day we woke up and enjoyed another fabulous breakfast. Mark finally got to enjoy the hotels pool, hot tub, and sauna. While we were chilling at the pool, a three-foot long monitor lizard did a plunge into the pool, swimming across to the other side, that is, till he saw me waiting for him. Yep, I’m like a little kid when I see an animal, so I sprinted around the pool. Well he quickly turned tail, and swam to the other side. Later on we saw another, smaller monitor, that walked casually around the pool. Seemed like a nice send off from the fabulous hotel complex. Later on Mark left to catch his plane, and we caught a cab to KL. It was sad to see my friend off, but I was thrilled that for a short time he was able to share some of this wonderful adventure with me.