Monday, November 24, 2008

Could be Worse

Kibbas, Sabah, Malaysia

It has always pissed me off when people say that something is the worst thing in the world, or that things couldn’t be worse. Things could always be worse. If you think they couldn’t, then you suffer from an extreme lack of imagination.

How about this: You borrow a friend’s expensive car and you accidentally crash it into someone else’s even more expensive car. You find out your friend didn’t have insurance. It couldn’t be worse!

Yes it could. All of the above could be true, plus you get kicked in the balls.

And what could be worse than that? All of that, plus you have rectal cancer.

Worse than that? The accident, the ball-kicking, the cancer, plus someone at the police department decides to frame you for possession of child pornography, and you get crabs from a public toilet seat.

You get the idea.

Well, we were in Danum Valley doing some hiking. The Danum Valley is an area of primary growth lowland jungle. The lowlands happen to be where palm-oil palm trees flourish, and it also tends to be the part of the jungle that is easiest to log, so there isn’t a lot of old-growth lowland jungle left in Sabah. The Danum Valley is a completely protected area surrounded by a forestry reserve, where only selective logging is allowed. It’s a pretty special place. The jungle there is amazing.

There are about two problems with hiking in the jungle like that. The first is mud; the second is leeches.

The problem with the mud is that you get muddy and it's slippery, so sometimes you fall. I fell a couple of times. I chose to travel with lightweight boots instead of good boots, so my grips weren’t the best. Going downhill, it was tough to keep my feet under myself, and I fell, hurt my ass a bit and mildly wrenched one shoulder. I also got filthier, but we were pretty filthy with mud and sweat anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal. It could be worse.

The problem with leeches is that they like to suck your blood. You can try to protect yourself; for example, you can wear two pairs of socks and tuck your pants into your socks, but at best you’ll just reduce the number of leech bites you get. Given enough time, the leeches will burrow through both pairs of socks and even through your pants and they'll get your blood. If a leech gets your blood flowing, then it won’t clot for at least half an hour after you’ve pulled it off, and you’ll have blood streaming down your leg, or whatever part of you got bit. But it’s not like they’re poisonous or something. It could be worse.

To combat the leeches, we brought along five hearty Dusun — two rangers from the park, plus Linda and her two brothers. Actually, the rangers were park rangers and not really guides, so they weren’t interested in our leech battles, and Linda wasn’t particularly brave that way either, but Jerry Paul and Hillosky were leech warriors. They were better than anyone else at pulling leeches off and calmly depositing them on a nearby tree (rather than panicking and wildly flinging them into the bush like I did) and they kept a vigilant watch on our boots and pant legs for creeping invaders. So we had a lot of help fighting our leeches. It wasn't that bad.

I found that when we were descending muddy hills, I started to get more leeches on my upper body. One of them came when I fell while going downhill. I put my hand down to break my fall, and when I stood up, I had a leech stuck to the palm of my left hand. I pulled it off with my right hand, and then it bit my right hand. Then I pulled it off with my left hand, and it bit me there again, too. Finally, I managed to fling it in the bush. I also started getting leeches on my arms. I think it was because struggling to stay standing, I was grabbing onto trees and picking up leeches from the trees.

Then I felt something strange on my belly. I pulled up my t-shirt and found a leech sucking my blood an inch from my belly button. I don't know how the hell it got under my shirt, but there it was. I pulled at it, and it wouldn’t come off. It was a tiger leech, with an orange racing stripe — they’re tenacious little fellers. I pulled again and my belly fat pulled outward and it still wouldn’t let go. I must have been yelling, because Hillosky ran over to help and with his leech-pulling fingers he got a good grip near the leech’s head (if leeches have heads) and tugged him off.

But he was gone. It could have been worse. I told everyone that if the leech had actually been inside my bellybutton, I would have really freaked out. I didn’t know what I’d do. I can’t stand putting my own finger in my bellybutton, never mind have a foreign body penetrate it. It could easily have been worse.

Half an hour later, climbing another hill, I felt something strange on my belly again. This time it was worse. Was it a leech in my bellybutton? No! It was something worse! But what could be worse than a leech in your bellybutton?

Two leeches in your bellybutton!

I’m not even kidding. There was a tiger leech and one of the little reddish-brown ones tangled around each other, sucking the blood out of the indentation where I got my food and oxygen from back when I was gestating. I pulled at them, but they wouldn’t let go.

I must have screamed like a girl, because Hillosky ran up the hill to help me. He reached in there with his long, leech-pulling fingers and pulled them out, one at a time, together with a few of my belly-hairs.

But hey, it could have been worse. There could have been three.

Then we saw a bunch of stuff, did a bunch of driving, got back to Kibbas, went to a Dusun wedding and had a bunch of fun. Ho hum.

THURSDAY: We climb Kinabalu!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monkey Monkey Monkey

Lahad Datu

The attention we get when walking down the street strongly suggests that few tourists ever come to Lahad Datu. Erin was getting a little more attention than she wanted from the local men when she wore shorts the first time we went out for a walk. Malaysia is Muslim and it’s a little conservative, so we thought that maybe putting female knees on display in a backwater like Lahad Datu wasn’t kosher, (or halal) so she put on pants and a baggier t-shirt for our second sojourn. Then we noticed that the local Chinese women often go out in shorts, and that the men were still making eyes at Erin.

They’re not looking at her because her knobby knees are showing. They’re looking because she’s white. They don’t see a lot of us white folk. Several people have said “hello” and then covered their mouths and giggled.

I’m sure that Linda will be annoyed at my portraying her countrymen as a bunch of yokels, but that doesn’t stop it from being true — in Lahad Datu, anyway.

The 6500 sq. km of Lahad Datu district is home to about 160,000 people, according to Wikipedia. According to Ben, Lahad Datu is a somewhat scabby little town with a mystifying street layout and poor provisions for pedestrians.

There is no reason to come to Lahad Datu, unless you have a good reason to come to Lahad Datu. Our good reasons for coming are that it is a convenient place to break the drive, and that there is a good air conditioned hotel here, for my parents to recover their equilibrium for a day before we plunge back into the jungle.

My parents arrived in Borneo something like a week ago. I don’t have a very good feeling for time these days, and I don’t care to check, so we’ll call it a week. We hung around Kota Kinabalu for a few days, and then jumped into our rented van and drove across Sabah.

Our van is a beauty. It’s a Toyota Hiace that the rental agency says is only 4 months old. It already has 29,000 km on it, though, which on these roads would be hard to rack up in just 4 months. It is relatively new, though. It has loads of room for 5 Colis and 3 Jimis and all their luggage, and the 3-liter diesel could push the fully-loaded van up any hill in the world.

It’s a good thing it’s a good van, because the driving in rural Sabah can be a bit on the white-knuckled side of reasonable. Malaysia spent loads of money building freeways in peninsular Malaysia, where most of the people live. The one road that goes across Sabah is about as wide as two compact-only parking stalls, as windy as a python with scoliosis, and as pockmarked as a KFC staff group photo — which is to say that it is better than most roads in this part of the world, but still no treat to drive on.

I pulled the first shift of driving (my dad had to let me; it was my birthday) and took us the first 100 km up the side of Mount Kinabalu to Linda’s home town of Kibbas, where we picked up her brothers Hillosky and Jerry Paul. From there my dad took the wheel and took us back down the side of the mountain and across the coastal lowlands to the orangutan sanctuary at Sepilok.

Along the way, we got to see about 60 km of palm plantations. There is virtually no jungle left in East Sabah, except for the few pockets inside wildlife sanctuaries and forest reserves. People should stop wringing their hands and talking about saving the jungles of Borneo. If we were going to do that, we should have started twenty or thirty years ago. As near as I can tell, in Sabah everything that isn’t already protected has already been cut down. Except for our little stopover in the urban gem that is Lahad Datu, our itinerary has us hopping from one protected bit to another, and crossing hundreds of kilometers of palm plantations in between.

In Sepilok, I got mightily drunk with Erin and Linda and Hillosky and Jerry Paul. It was my birthday. It wasn’t particularly appropriate to drink a bunch of beer in the guesthouse restaurant, but I didn’t particularly care. It was my birthday. My parents, before they left, had us laughing so hard that Jerry Paul couldn’t pick his head up off the table; apparently he had never seen a 58 year-old woman imitating her father-in-law’s habit of flexing his buttocks. It was a fine birthday.

After my parents went to bed, Hillosky challenged me to a lehing-drinking contest. He tapped out early, claiming that the $5-bottle of sour lehing he had bought from the staff was giving him heartburn. Lehing is homemade rice wine and the stuff was pretty sour; I’m sure he really had heartburn and it wasn’t his fault for having to drop out of the drinking contest that he started. That didn’t matter to me, though; I crowed and made fun of him and generally acted like a poor winner. It was my birthday.

The next day we went and saw the orangutans being fed. They were pretty cool, but there were at least 80 tourists there, taking pictures and getting in each others’ way, and the experience was made much less cool in retrospect by what happened later.

We then drove to Sukau, which is a little village on the Kinabatangan river. The Kinabatangan runs through a series of wildlife reserves, and Sukau is a great place to get a boat to go and look at monkeys. So last night we looked at monkeys, and this morning we woke up at 6:00 to get in the boat and look at monkeys again.

Monkeys are very cool, and looking at them hanging from branches a few feet away from your boat is a lot cooler than looking at orangutans on a feeding platform 50 feet away from your crowded observation deck, in my opinion. I know that orangutans are supposed to be more special, being closer to us genetically and much more rare than the bunch of stupid monkeys we saw, but I liked the monkey experience better. I guess I preferred being outnumbered by the monkeys to outnumbering the orangutans.

And now we are in Lahad Datu, where there is wireless internet, a selection of restaurants, and a variety of scenic rancid storm sewer canals. Bright lights, big city!

If anyone's been wondering where the hell we are, check this out:

View Larger Map

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Rice Planting


I confess: I lied to you two posts ago. It was a lie of omission, but that doesn’t make it any more forgivable in this strictly factual web-log that will one day form a major part of the historical record on the subject of... whatever it is that we’re doing here.

I didn’t tell you about a very heavy part of my luggage in my luggage description. It was a gift to Linda’s brothers and sisters (who will hereafter be referred to as the Dusun People) and I wanted it to be a surprise. Well, it wasn’t just for them — Nate and I drank a fair bit of it, too. It was two 26ers of Alberta Springs good old-timey Canadian whisky.

It was an outrageously frivolous addition to my already overloaded and overweight backpack, even for just ten days of bumming around. The bottles weighed at least a kilogram apiece, and they were fragile and potentially messy to boot.

When we got to the Penang airport to fly to Kota Kinabalu, Air Asia let us know exactly overweight they considered our luggage to be, while simultaneously revealing how they make a profit selling tickets for as cheap as they do. Our two seats cost a total of 300 ringgit (C$100), and our excess baggage charge for going over their 15 kg per-person weight limit by 7 kg was 105 ringgit. That’s 300 ringgit for all the dozens of kilograms of our fat asses and our legitimate luggage, and 105 ringgit for the other 7 kg.

There’s only one thing to say about that: motherfuckers.

But this is a digression. I didn’t mean to spend my time bitching about airline policy. I meant to talk about the whisky.

Kibbas is a small Dusun village in Sabah, about 4 km down the road from Ranau. Linda did all of her growing up here, and at a farm 2 km down the road.

No joke: while I was midway through typing the last sentence, Linda’s dad came into the room with his grandfather’s grandfather’s headhunting sword. He reckons it’s a hundred years old. Linda’s dad says that headhunting stopped after his grandfather’s grandfather’s generation, but the sword was apparently well used in its day. The hilt of the sword used to be decorated with hair taken from its victims. Linda remembers seeing the hair, but they have been removed in recent years, I assume because Linda’s family converted to Christianity and moved to Kibbas.

Back to the story.

Kibbas is a beautiful village on the side of a large hill. Sabbah’s main highway cuts the town in half, and Linda’s family lives in lower Kibbas. Everything is green and well taken care of. The houses are built on stilts and chickens and dogs run around the yards. The chickens cluck, and the dogs bark and fuck, because this is their mating season.

The day we arrived, we found four-dozen beers in the fridge, and we had two bottles of whisky. Almost all the booze got drank, but it’s not because we’re alcoholics with super-powers. We had help: Linda has hundreds of brothers and sisters. Okay, not hundreds; she is seventh of twelve kids, whose lives have scattered them across Sabah, to peninsular Malaysia and in one case, to Canada. They weren’t all in Kibbas when we arrived, but the Dusun People are a thirsty people, and there were enough of them. We ate something delicious that Linda cooked, and we made a fire under the house and sat in hammocks and drank whisky. Some of Linda’s siblings speak excellent English, and others speak very little, but they all smiled enough for us to understand that we were welcome.

Erin and I stayed at the Jaini Lodge, a small hotel located about three minutes’ walk from Linda’s house. I have no idea why someone opened a hotel in Kibbas, but it was very convenient for us that they did. For the first two nights we were the only people staying there, and for the second two nights one other room was taken. The hotel isn’t exactly five-star, but it’s clean, quiet and has balconies on the downhill side that overlook the valley and offer amazing views of the black peaks of Mount Kinabalu, lurking in the clouds.

Mount Kinabalu is where Dusun people go when they die, according to their traditional beliefs. In Kibbas everyone is either Catholic or Protestant now and their souls now go somewhere much more abstract. The new afterlife has more haloes and harps, but the old one is much easier for the living to visit. I like the old version better.

The weather here is hot and sticky during the day, until mid-afternoon when the sun has scorched enough moisture out of the jungle to put together a convincing rainstorm, which then inundates the valley and cools everything down. By nighttime, it’s cool enough that Erin and I sleep under covers with the fan turned off. Then the sun rises and starts producing clouds again.

The only time Kinabalu is clearly visible is in the early morning. I haven’t been awake in the early morning yet, but Erin tells me it’s beautiful. For the rest of the day, you can only see glimpses of the mountain through the gathering clouds. Ominous spires of black rock peek through windows in the cloud, hinting at its overall form. It’s 4100 meters tall, which would tower over most of the Rockies, if only it could get close enough to them to tower over them.

And in a couple of weeks, we’re going to climb the motherfucker.

Update from the present moment: Linda is apparently surprised that her own family were headhunters. She knew the Dusun took heads, but she had no idea that her family had been involved.

My brother is living with the descendant of headhunters. Cool.

On our first full day in Kibbas, Linda took us to the house where she grew up. It is no more than 100 meters from the highway, but it took Linda at least twenty minutes to hack out a trail with a machete. Her family seldom visits to the house, but they still own the land and do occasionally come back to harvest fruit from their fruit trees.

Linda grew up in a three-room house. There was a kitchen, a bedroom partitioned off of the main room for her parents, and the everything-else room where she and her siblings slept. The house was abandoned when Linda was 14, when her family converted to Christianity and moved to Kibbas, so her ailing mother could be closer to the hospital.

Her mother is fine now. She’s 62, the veteran of 12 childbirths and 62 rice harvests. Linda has been trying (successfully, we think) to convince her to retire from rice farming after this season. Her husband has been out of commission with a bad knee this rice-planting season, and Linda’s mom has been working herself sick trying to get the rice planted, so her crop isn’t too far behind her neighbours’. Partly because we wanted to help her, and partly because we thought it would be awesome, we volunteered to go and plant rice for the last two days.

The farm is down in the valley bottom, about a 20-minute walk from Linda’s house. Rice farming, particularly terraced valley-bottom rice farming, is one of the most beautiful forms of agriculture in the world. The land is separated into fields by dykes, and water cascades from the upper fields to the lower ones. Young rice plants are a colour of green that you don’t see on our poor continent. Farmers squat in their fields and wave to us crazy whiteys who, for some reason, are walking through their rice farm in rubber boots and funny hats.

A month or so ago, Linda’s mother densely seeded a nursery field. Now the rice is sprouted and needs to be transplanted to the flooded fields, a few blades of grass at a time. Before this can be done, each of the fields must be cleared of weeds. Then the dykes are adjusted to flood the fields so the rice can be planted. It’s damn hard work, and Linda’s mom has been doing it six days a week, with the help of whichever of her kids happens to be available.

We planted for two days. Linda is twice as fast as I am, and Linda’s mom is probably twice as fast as she is, but I’d like to think that between the three of us whiteys, we did help a bit.

On the first day, we got started a little late and planted for about three hours before the rain started pissing down unusually early. We hid in the farm’s shade-hut and Linda cooked us something delicious, and then we lay down and napped on the floor while we waited for the rain to stop. It never did. We walked home and got wet.

On the second day, our luck was a little better and it stayed more-or-less dry all afternoon. We got in about six hours of work before our bodies gave out on us and we went home. I am very sore today, mostly my back and my legs.

Each day, Linda’s mom got to the farm before we did and stayed after we left. She is a tough old lady. She’s been doing this all her life. I think she’s now entitled to a rest.

My parents are flying into Kota Kinabalu in two days. I am excited to see them, and even more excited to see Borneo through their eyes. I can’t wait for them to meet Linda’s parents: Alberta oilman meets rice farmer. I know that in spite of their differences and in spite of the lack of a common language, my mom is going to love Linda’s mom, and probably vice-versa.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Revolution by Souvenir


Mere hours after I wrote a web-log post about my luggage because Erin and I weren’t having any adventures, we had an adventure. We did something that the government of Thailand hasn’t been able to do for six months — we visited Thailand’s parliament building.

Thailand is currently going through some political turbulence. I don’t have the time or the knowledge to explain it properly, but I can summarize it by saying that the former Prime Minister, Thaksin, has been sentenced to two years in prison and is hiding in Hong Kong while his protégé is still in charge of the country; most rural folk love Thaksin and most city folk think he’s a crook.

A new party called People’s Alliance for Democracy has formed, and in protest they have occupied a huge part of the government district of Bangkok, including the parliament building. They’ve made barricades out of sandbags, razor wire and old tires, and they’ve set up a big tent city. All over Bangkok, people are wearing yellow polo shirts in support of the protesters. The protesters have had a few scuffles with the police — several people have died, and many others lost limbs in a weird episode where the police used Chinese-made tear gas that apparently (and probably accidentally) contained some kind of explosive.

Meanwhile, a few kilometers away, Erin and myself and ten thousand other tourists were hanging out around Khao San Road, eating pad thai, getting our hair put into braids, getting regrettable tattoos and venereal diseases, and drinking strong Thai beer out of large bottles and wondering why we couldn’t walk straight after just two of them. Well, we weren’t all doing all of those things, but every one of those things was being done.

Following her journalistic instincts, Erin decided that she and I should go and have a look at the barricades. She thought that we could go down there and take some pictures from a distance, using her new telephoto lens. I told her I meant to keep my promise to her mom and stop her from doing anything stupid. She was warned.

The first sign we found of trouble was a police blockade to the north of parliament. They had a barrier set up, and a large number of police were milling about, looking unconcerned. We decided not to ask to go through the barrier, but see if we could find our way around it, which we easily did by cutting through an education ministry compound. This put us inside the police area, where nobody gave us a second look. It seemed like pretty much anyone was allowed inside the police area, in spite of the barrier. A lot of vendors had set up shop, selling the police food and cold drinks, and stuff like police boots and belts, and t-shirts with police logos on them. Thais are the world’s ultimate shopkeepers and they’ll go wherever they need to go to turn a profit.

We looked around, took some photos of cops, but were politely but firmly told to go the other way when we walked toward the protesters’ barricades. We had to catch our train to Malaysia in a few hours, so we considered just going back to the hotel, but we decided to walk around to another side of the occupied area and see if we could get a better look at the barricades from another angle.

We found ourselves approaching what seemed to be the main barricade at the bridge on Ratchadamnoen Nok. There was only one policeman nearby, a smiley fellow who told us we could go over to the barricades if we wanted to. We took a bunch of photos of the barricades and of each other posing in front of them, and then I suggested that we go home. Erin asked if we could go a bit closer and try to see over the barricade. The situation seemed quite peaceful, so we crept a bit closer, and a bit closer, and a bit closer still, when a very nice-looking Thai man who was manning the protesters’ checkpoint came over to us and waved us in.

So we went in, through the checkpoint and into the area they have been occupying for the last six months. And we saw how the middle class conducts a revolution.

The occupied area is as neat and orderly as anything in Thailand, and the protesters are incredibly well supplied. Only a movement supported by big business and several branches of the government bureaucracy could have put together an occupation like this. The camp was laid out very neatly, with actual tents, not hastily thrown-together tarps. They had huge stocks of bottled water, communal kitchens, porta-potties that were cleaned according to a regular schedule, and even trailers that contained showers. This was clearly a massively organized effort, with dozens of truckloads of materials and supplies brought in and a huge amount of organization.

At least one of the trucks that came to set up the camp must have been carrying nothing but souvenirs. There were dozens of stands selling t-shirts and these little hand-shaped plastic clappers that are apparently a symbol of the PAD.

We talked to several people on the way through the tent city, all of whom were friendly as only Thais are, and a couple of whom spoke English well enough to tell us what they were doing there. We got directions to the parliament building, where we found an elaborate stage set up on the front lawn, with rows of plastic chairs and hundreds of wooden pallets with mats spread over them. On stage, in front of two TV cameras, various speakers gave rousing speeches, which were punctuated by a rousing rattle from the plastic hand-shaped clappers the audience used.

Naturally, Erin and I didn’t understand a word of what was being said, but we dutifully and journalistically took pictures of the proceedings, smiled at and said hello to several dozen people, and then left in time to pack our bags and get on the train.

In the tuk-tuk back to the hotel, I told Erin that I couldn’t believe that people had been killed in that place. It didn’t have a feeling of militancy or hostility at all. It was more like a county fair that happened to have a telethon going on in the middle of it. Most of the people looked like they would be more at home in a bingo hall than a revolution.

I guess this is how the middle class takes over a country: by conducting telethons and selling souvenirs.

To Kathy (Erin’s mom): It was perfectly safe. Honest.

TODAY: Amazin’ curry in Penang!
TOMORROW: Correct the schedule in yesterday’s blog post!
SATURDAY: Fly to Borneo!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Travel Gear


Erin and I have just returned to Bangkok from our trip to Ko Samet, the island where we met five years ago. Our tour included such nostalgic stops as the bar where we first danced (I’ve danced on about two other occasions in the five years since) and the beach where Erin’s friend Bess received her eyeball scratch that was subsequently invaded by a parasite, causing her to go temporarily blind (her problems went on for months, but she’s now fine).

It was nice. Mostly, we ate. We went up and down the beach searching for the mystical journey you get from a really good spice high. I got mine from a bowl of tom yum-like noodle soup I had for breakfast one morning. It had me leaking four different fluids from my face, which is perfect, because the fifth fluid would have been blood. Erin got her mystical journey from a mixed-seafood red curry. It was awesome.

We didn’t have much in the way of adventures. We’re still not quite over our jetlag, so we’ve been going to bed at 10:00 PM and waking up at 6:00 or 7:00 in the morning. I feel like a farmer.

So, instead of relating to you our latest adventure, I’m going to answer a question I am frequently asked: “what do you bring with you on a 4 ½-month trip?”

Yes, I’m going to write a post about my luggage. Listen, I’m going to have adventures, but they haven’t started yet, and I need to write about something now, don’t I? People ain't going to check this web-log for nothin'.

Besides, some people are interested. They swear they are, and I’m too polite to doubt them. My parents are probably interested — right about now, they’re packing their bags so they can come to Asia and climb Mount Kinabalu with me and Nate and Erin and Linda and representatives of Linda’s enormous family.

(Did I mention in previous posts that we’re doing that? I’m terrible at exposition. We’re doing that, all of us. My parents are coming. It's going to be fun.)

A friend at home asked, “You aren’t old, but you aren’t really young — do you bring a suitcase or a backpack?”

Not young? Ouch. I’m 31. But I’ve already got a bad knee, and young people are starting to really piss me off, so I guess she had a point.

My age is irrelevant, however. The answer is and will always be, backpack. On this side of the world, even in the cities you seldom find a stretch of pavement smooth enough to roll the little wheels of roller suitcase over without it tipping over. They’ve started making backpacks that have wheels built into them and a handle that pulls up, so it can become a roller suitcase when you want it to be, but they just make your backpack heavier and less comfortable. Believe me, you’ll be pretty pissed off at yourself when you’re carrying that extra weight all over the world, walking down slippery planks onto riverboats in Borneo, or dodging cow shit on Indian streets with those fucking little wheels digging into your back.

What Erin and I have are 50-liter travel packs that zip all the way down the side so you can get at the stuff in the bottom. They have waist straps and nice, wide pack straps. 50-liters is pretty small, but these bags are damn heavy, for reasons I’ll get into in a bit. On top of this, both of us have a second piece of luggage — I have a shoulder bag with a laptop pouch in it, and Erin has a cool journalism backpack with a built-in camera case and a laptop pouch.

Now you’re asking, “You fucking idiots have two laptops with you?”


Traveling light is a matter of pride among most backpackers. Unlike most backpackers, we’ve got shit to do, man. On Ko Samet, while we were looking around for a hotel, a guy saw us and smirked and said, “you guys have a lot of stuff.”

And I was, like, “fuck you, man!” Only, I didn’t think of that comeback until we were way up the road, but it’s what I would have said if I’d thought of it in time.

We’ve got a lot of stuff. We don’t have a lot of clothes or personal comforts. We’re doing a great job of traveling light when it comes to that stuff. We do have two computers, a big SLR camera and two small libraries with us. I’m afraid to count, but I think we have close to 25 books with us. At least three aren’t shown in these two photos. Consequently, our shit is heavy. Fortunately, we are mighty, and not afraid of looking a little silly.

We each have an excuse for our extravagent luggage.

Erin is a journalist. She is journalizing. Many of the books she is carrying are reference works for magazine stories she is either hoping to write, or has already been hired to write. She needs a computer for writing, and she needs an awesome camera on the off chance that she’ll take an amazing photo and get it published alongside her story.

I, on the other hand, am a ridiculous twit. I can’t stand the idea of sitting around doing nothing while my girlfriend is writing brilliant things and making a name for herself in the magazine business, so I need my own three-kilogram computer so I can write things while she is writing stories that will actually be published (it’s a bit like installing a toy steering wheel in a child’s car seat). I am also a voracious and extremely picky reader, so I need loads of books that I have personally chosen because I’m much too much of a snob to just read the books that other travelers have left behind.

Apart from the library and the expensive electronics, we are packed very sensibly. We have a small amount of clothing. I have three pairs of shorts and about six t-shirts (two of which I bought here), so I am perpetually looking for somewhere to get my laundry done and I am always a little stinky. I have a small pair of boots for the mountain we’re going to climb, a reasonable little bag of toiletries, and all the little tools and toys you need when you’re traveling, such as a flashlight, swiss army knife, malaria pills, mosquito spray, emergency cash, passport, and my Indian backpack chain and padlock, so no one can walk off with my bag while I’m sleeping on a train.

I’ve never needed my Indian backpack chain. I’m not sure why I brought it, but they sell them outside of Indian train stations, which makes you wonder if you can dare to go without one.

Once you get past the idea that you need to bring a clean change of clothing for every day of your trip, it’s easy to pack for 4 ½ months. Just pack like you’d pack for a week, and bring money to pay for laundry, and to buy anything you forgot.

But if you have big feet (I don’t) bring all the shoes you need, and if you have a big ass (I do) bring all the shorts you want. In Southeast Asia, they don’t have big feet and there is a shortage of three-dimensional asses. My poor friend Tucker (a.k.a. Mooseass) can’t buy shoes or shorts in Southeast Asia. Shoes are the bigger problem, actually; if you can’t find shorts that fit you, you can just take your enormous ass over to the tailor’s (or in Tucker’s case, the tentmaker’s) and he’ll whip up a nice pair for cheap.

Tomorrow: night train to Penang.
Wednesday: US election news and curry-induced mystical journey.
Thursday: Fly to Borneo!