#KotaBharu: on the Thai-Malay Border

Market in Kota Bahru, Malaysia

Market in Kota Bahru, Malaysia

June 2014

Crossing the border between Sungai Kolok in Thailand and Kota Bahru in Malaysia is no big deal, just walk across like they should all be, only problem is you’re still miles from the real city on the Malay side no problem just hop on the city bus, only real problem is that there are no forex facilities, so you’re sh*t out of luck, nothing in your hand but your rubber d*ck, if you don’t have a piece of magic plastic that burps out bucks at the punch of a bar code, numerical equivalent to happiness…

Once again a line in the sand makes all the difference in the world, like TJ or TG, shops closing here while opening in Thailand, sun down means desires up, that’s Thailand for you, but this is the conservative part of Malaysia, the Muslim-est part, that is traditional, hot curries without all the messy juices between the bed sheets; it’s a dry heat, I guess.

Thailand's Embattled South at Sungai Kolok

Thailand’s Embattled South at Sungai Kolok

Prices are now about equal between Malaysia and Thailand, what with Thailand’s entry into modern welfare statehood, or dying trying, one hand taking the poor by the hand the other healthy wealthy and wise but mostly wealthy still it takes more than money to make you wise and Malaysia is probably still a healthy step ahead of Thailand in the race to develop…

But Kota Bharu is pretty nice, really, despite any real night life, but that’s okay, since we’re past all that now, yeah right, this is backpacker central for some reason on the way to the Perhentian Islands or something such, most backpackers happy as long as they’ve got a liter of beer between their lips and their legs getting their kicks in other people’s bottles while Malays look on with nothing but cigarettes for entertainment, plenty of that like south Thailand lighting up all in and over your face, prohibitions meaningless…

'Ais Kacang' aka ABC in Malaysis

‘Ais Kacang’ aka ABC in Malaysia

This being one of the more traditional parts of Malaysia, it probably wouldn’t be a bad place to learn the local lingo, Bahasa Malaysia, almost identical to dialects in Indonesia and Brunei, easy enough language no tenses no inflections but not so easy when English is a second language Chinese a third and Tamil a fourth, likely answer you in English at whatever level unless your Bahasa is pretty good, not so many Chinese here, though, so maybe worth a try…

The fact that Farangs (Th: westerners) exist and do the things they do is a source of never-ending amazement to most Southeast Asians, and the Malays are no exception. Add to this a little language uncertainty, and you’ve got the potential for a real sit-com, or at least reality TV. This is the source of endless discussion in Thailand’s ex-pat circles, and probably here, too, to the extent that there are any. There part of the flummox is that many Thais don’t want to believe that you can really speak Thai, even when they hear the words coming out of your mouth. The pictures and the words just don’t match!

It's Chinatown, Jake...

It’s Chinatown, Jake…

So sometimes you just have to walk away. I’ve left many a vendor standing there bumfuggled open-mouthed or just reciting his Pidgin-English parody for whoever will hear it. It’s not much different in Malaysia, though I don’t speak fluent Malay, but at one time I was half-way conversational in the Indonesian dialect of the same language, and I wouldn’t mind getting it back.

Still the pictures invite parodies of the place and its people. Today some curry-stall vendors just couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that I was looking over their selection of goop. Well, where I come from there’s a distinction between laughing AT someone and laughing WITH someone, the former just ain’t polite, so of course to mock them I—after much hesitation—launched into my parody of masturbating monkeys, laughing and whacking off; well, that got the crowd going, let me tell you!

I’m not sure if they got the joke. I persevere. Actually my only problem is that it’s too bloody hot, that and the lack of money-changers. I think I’ll go to Kuala Terengganu down the road. If I pay with credit there, then my cash flow should work out about right. I don’t want to be left with a wad of Malaysian ringgit. But me, what I like is the general lack of obvious attractions, just good food good vibes and a bus station sitting smack in the middle of it all, cheap beds the order of the day, bring your own towel. Kuala Terengganu is supposed to even be a bit nicer than Kota Bharu.