3-in-1, part 1: Sarawak,Borneo, Malaysia…

img_0746…is something of a revelation, really, and I can’t help but think some backpackers are missing the boat here, literally. Malaysia was always cleaner and neater than its neighboring Third World countries, and now it’s as cheap as Thai and Nepal, probably cheaper than Burma or Laos. So where are they all? They’re not here, that’s for sure. Outside of the resto-pub centers of Kuching, and probably Kota Kinabulu, too, there just aren’t any. I haven’t seen a white face in a week!!

Maybe it’s because Malaysia is a Muslim country, but these people in Borneo are mostly Christians, and you know what that means: party! Yes, you’ll have no problem finding a brew here, though coffee may be a different story. I’m accustomed to the local ‘kopi’ tasting great, but having no kick, so tend to compensate with the local Red Bull rip-offs, which have some vitamins, too, so a couple birds in the hen-house with only one buck (I do so hate to kill the local birds)…

img_0757In fact your main problem may be getting to sleep, since Muslims from drinkless f*ckless Brunei come here to get their rocks off, and the local timber workers have needs, too. The Chinese just do business, and eat eat eat. I’ve never seen people eat so much in my life! It seems like every meal has a dozen Chinese people around the table and the dishes just keep piling up—figure the tab later…

And if you’re the ‘English only’ type, then this is a real dialect of the language, not just the pidgin poop that passes for pahsah farang so many other places. But lingo is my Pokemon Go, my game of chance, though lingo should ideally be no game, but communication seeking its highest level, and this is not the best place for that, though better than the peninsula…

At one point I was functioning at a low, but conversational level in Indonesia’s similar dialect, but just gave up on the Malay peninsula. You know: you speak Malay to them, and they speak English back—brilliant. Chinese in this country usually speak three or four languages, and Malay is not their favorite, though they all have to learn it. I don’t often duel with dual lingos any more, since somehow they’re all connected, and I have bigger fish to fry now, like saving the species—no biggie…

Warning: Window-less Rooms…

img_0756I don’t know where Malaysia, and the Philippines, and Mexico, and maybe a few others, got the idea that rooms without windows are acceptable—but they’re not. On Expedia, they’re generally specified that way (no doubt from cruel experience), but hostel-booking sites may forego the detail. That’s too bad, because I’m a hostel guy and now their WiFi isn’t even reliable—and that’s the reason I became a hostel guy in the first place! Not to mention the issue of fire escapes and proper egress, a technical term…

So the first time it happened, I let it slide, foregoing the request to change. After three days of that I needed therapy, and arguably still do. Remember ‘sensory deprivation’ from the 60’s? It’s like that—or prison. This may prepare you for a bleak future, but I doubt it. They’re air-conditioned, though, if that’s your thing, so that’s the trade-off. I’ll pass. So I quit booking hostels here, and stuck to Expedia. Boo hoo. Of course, the problem with windows is noise from below, so pick your poison…

The food is good, though—some of the best, but with some differences from Indonesia and other parts of Malaysia. Nasi lemak is a full-fledge dish in Sarawak, with full-size plate and special options for a higher price, while in Penang and KL it comes in banana-leaf packets for a quickie breakfast on the go, one of my favorites, spicy rice in the morning…

And nasi campur, ‘mixed rice’, is a specific dish in Indonesia, but a category in Malaysia, similar to the ‘nasi Padang‘ stalls in Indonesia, but not limited to spicy curries. In this they more resemble the kaow gaeng ‘curry stalls’ of Thailand, which is again a misnomer, because they have much more, specifically—vegetables, just like Malaysia. The trick is getting the right price, since they are seldom marked and open to much local interpretation, vis a vis portion size, etc…

img_0829Some will even let you serve yourself, so here it gets really tricky, since you’ll have no standard of reference. But they do, and they’ll charge accordingly. Then there’s the drink, etc. so much room for price variation. To be honest (pun), I can’t say that I’ve ever been cheated, but there is plenty of room for questions. Prices will generally run $1-2 USD for a plate, so no biggie, just find a place you like…

Malay servings are small in general, but Sarawak’s are much bigger than Penang. In Malaysia’s Chinatowns, especially Kuching, a restaurant is frequently 5-6 food carts rounded up into one space, each with its specialty. Did Chinese invent food courts? They did now. The local coffee tastes great, but doesn’t have any caffeine to speak of, so you better look for a Starbuck’s or such for that, probably doable in Kuching or KK…

to be continued…

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