Monday, September 5, 2016
Thursday, September 1, 2016
The gardens are often more interesting than the buildings. They are always meticuously landscaped, often working with huge moss-covered spaces and raked gravel ornaments. They are maintained with more care and attention than any English golf lawn; I have seen women with white gloves carefully picking clean moss gardens.
Wednesday, August 31, 2016
On my first day I was visiting the temples on the east side of town, across the river, that are lined up on the hills like pearls on a string. There is usually a large gate building on massive wooden pillars, and a number of bright orange or red pagodas with multiple roofs. The path to walk is carefully signed, the occasional ugly construction fences carry signs with profuse apologies, and crowds of tourists carrying selfie sticks and making V signs snap pictures of everything. But the temples are also still places of worship; people kneel and pray, sound gongs, and follow ancient ceremonies. Prayers and wishes are written on wooden tablets or small pieces of cloth, and tied to racks or handrails. In most temples, photos are not allowed.
Many women, including some western visitors, wear traditional geisha costumes with something that looks like a small backpack or a large bow on the back. Men in costumes are rare. Outside the temples is usually a souvenir and food market. I found that green tea ice cream is really good.
Monday, August 29, 2016
Restaurants often have plastic simulacra of all dishes out in the window. Amazingly, the food is then exactly as large and carefully prepared as the display version. Compare the beautifully photographed hamburgers on US burger chain menus and the sad, wilted mush you'll actually find on your plate. Many restaurants have call buttons that you can press to have a waiter at your table within seconds. I have had the pleasure to eat pizza with chopsticks (although I was probably the only one). When I have the choice I'll always go for Japanese cuisine of course, it's one of the best of the world. You haven't eaten sushi unless you have eaten sushi in Japan.
The Japanese are incredibly disciplined. On escalators you stand on the right and walk on the left, and it does. not. happen. that someone violates that rule. I have seen traffic lights where pedestrians form an orderly double line to wait for a green light. Everyone is in a hurry yet everyone is very polite and eager to help. I suppose they are used to foreigners staring at Chinese characters in subway stations the size of Belgium. There's enough English to get by though, at least downtown.
Monday, March 14, 2016
Sunday, March 13, 2016
Saturday, March 12, 2016
Otherwise it's another tropical island paradise. They run long-tail boats to all the neighboring islands, with good places for snorkeling or just exploring the jungle interiors. Ko Kradan has a so-so coral reef, but so many fish that one gets rear-ended all the time.
Ko Mook has a long cave with a very low ceiling one can swim through at low tide. It opens up to a kind of cenote, a small beach and some trees completely surrounded by towering vertical cliffs. Very impressive. The screaming boatloads of school children they drag through the place takes away from the wonder a little.
Thursday, March 10, 2016
So I had to go the long way around, first from the east coast of Malaysia to Alor Setar and Kangar on the west coast, and from there across a safe border checkpoint to Thailand, and from there to Hat Yai. Several more connections brought me to Ko Mook, a small island in the Andaman Sea, sufficiently far south of Phuket and the other tourist epicenters to be quiet and peaceful. All the connections worked perfectly, not because someone had worked out the timetables to perfection, but because everyone in this part of the world is so friendly, helpful, and intent on making things work.
BTW, the Malaysian restaurant photo below is perfect. It ticks all the boxes. Open to the street, tiled floor, corrugated metal roof, cold and much too bright fluorescent lamps, colorful plastic chairs, fans, TV sets (imaging sugary Thai pop music videos), and some counters where the menu is negotiated.
Tuesday, March 8, 2016
Kota Bharu is an old Malay town on the northeastern tip of mainland Malaysia. It's not a major tourist destination and never will be. It's museums and Malay row houses are nice enough, but putting a huge monolithic 23-floor hotel, the bottom 10 of which are a parking garage, was not a very bright idea. Right next to it is another huge parking garage, and then the promenade ends. Clearly parking is an overriding concern in this city.
Monday, March 7, 2016
This is my diving day. The first site, called T3, is on the opposite side of the island. Unfortunately the sea was rather choppy there and one of the divers described the underwater visibility as "vodka with milk". The second site, just off the beach, was much better.
One nice thing about diving is that there is always lots of time between dives to sit together, chat, have lunch and dinner together, compare notes on where we have been and which dive sites we like most, and generally having a good time. In fact, our dive computers keep track of our blood nitrogen levels and have very clear opinions on when one can go diving and when one can't. And the island is just made for relaxing.