A Travellerspoint blog

Schizophrenia and fish

sunny 32 °C

Wildlife related crimes and punishments - cruelty to animals = RM200 fine and 6 months imprisonment.

Do fish count? If they do, I think I am in trouble. I thought I did all the right things; de-chlorinated the water, gave them food and a lovely plant to swim around. But not only did 10 of my 15 new friends sink to the bottom after only ONE DAY, the other 5 were so happy with their new owner that they jumped on the floor. I have come to the conclusion that they must have been suffering from schizophrenia, just like every other person I have met this week.

I won't go through all the orientation and my introduction to the psych ward and GP clinic, there will be plenty of that to come. But I will say English is useless here because none of the patients speak it. Actually I lie, there was one. But all she wanted to do was sell me her baby. She mistook me for someone with money. Only 5000 ringgit though! Cheap yes, but I don't think it would fit in my fish tank. So lets fast forward to the weekend and my new friend Chua, much more interesting.

Last week I actually searched this city for a sports bar so I could watch the Australian Open tennis final. After much searching, I used my new found white-man powers of persuasion to turn a bar with a TV into a sports bar. Luckily I was spared from the boredom of Federer winning by a very drunk man named Chua and his friend Wesley. The Chinese New Year is fast approaching and there are lots of end-of-year functions and drunk Chinese people around, and they gave me a magical bottomless beer. So of course they were now my friends too. We were all so drunk by the time we exchanged phone numbers, that I expected them to wake up and wonder why they had a Sam in their phone. So I was suprised when I got a phonecall a few days later. I didn't fully understand what was going on on the other end of the phone, so I just said yes. Yes to what? Yes to this....

PICT0174.jpg- door step pick up in a BMW 4WD (very, very expensive here)
- driven one hour to a jungle paradise in Kulai
- went on a run with the Hash House Harriers club. I still don't know what that is. All I know is that we had to run through the monsoon deluged jungle trying to follow bits of paper that were either washed away or hidden for 12KMS! 12KMS! It was dark by the time I got back.
- a shower at his house where he had a fish tank with Nemo and that blue forgetful fish too. They looked healthy and made me feel really bad. Also had a completely impractical Hummer in the driveway.
- a seat at a company annual dinner with a 10 course banquet
- a magical bottomless glass of Cordon Bleu cognac
- I acquired the affectionate name "guai low" which is actually cantonese for white ghost
PICT0178.jpg- they tried to get me drunk with a gambling dice game in the pub. Fortunately the game was brought here by Carlsberg and I was addicted to it when I was in Denmark. Suckers.

The story goes on, but you get the idea. I actually didn't realise until the next day that they were all driving around drunk which is obviously quite normal here. But they safely dropped me off at my doorstep with cobwebs in my wallet. I'm not sure why I have been gifted such a great introduction to the Malaysian Chinese New Year, but I will take it with both hands.

So, beside Chua and his cronies, I have made quite a few friends here already. Been playing soccer and unfortunately the study has started. With force. Seen about 20 patients already and I hear my Australian counterparts are spending orientation week on the beach! But there are benefits to be had here. My Malay is coming along nicely, and thanks to my new Chinese friends, I think learning some basic Mandarin is even a possibility in a year. And this place is pirate capital of the world. Not only can I buy top quality DVDs for $1.50 but I can get text books photocopied and bound at almost original quality for $10. And the food is really good. LRH cafeteria could learn a lot from this hospital.

I actually get a week off next week because the Chinese New Year is too big a holiday to ignore here. I will be bussing my way up the east coast for a week. I have been warned off it because it is so quiet and also the monsoon season. But I have been warned off everything fun here, so I have learned to ignore these very loud people who I call the safety brigade.

I have had a bit of trouble squeezing this blog in with all the annual dinners and stuff. Hope you enjoy it anyway and thanks for visiting. By the way, I actually gave someone my camera so I could be in that photo up the top. He got my hand in... putz.

Things are looking up, Guai Low.

Posted by The Doctor 23:01 Archived in Malaysia Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Saya suka ini, saya tak suka ini

Things I like, things I don't like

overcast 31 °C

"Flasher stuns Dutch tourist" - headline from Malay newspaper The Star. That's for you Beth.

Going on three weeks now, and people keep asking me what my impression of Malaysia is. So I have devised a list of likes and dislikes.

Lets start with the dislikes:

- Malaysian security guards - They are everywhere. They guard carparks, apartments, universities, shopping centres and handrails. I locked my bike to a supermarket handrail and returned to find a second huge big lock smacked on it. I thought some clever thief had decided to make me walk home so he could come back and stake his claim. Turns out the security didn't like my parking location (completely out of the way mind you) and this was their way of getting my attention. So I have to lock it in the dark dingy carpark, otherwise known as robber heaven. Next time I'm taking boltcutters and wearing an "I love George Bush" t-shirt.

- Malaysian parks - I rode one kilometer through a park the other day, only to find a 5m high locked gate at the other end. By which I mean "this gate hasn't been opened for so long it has vines growing on it" locked. Turns out, there is only one way in and one way out. Everybody runs around in circles and I followed the whole fence like a caged animal looking for another way out. No wonder the zoo next door only costs 65 cents to get in, the animals just walked in by accident.

- Malaysian road logic - I saw a bridge built for the sole purpose of doing a u-turn. That's right, so many Malaysians drive the wrong way that they can justify spending a few million ringgit just to turn around in the sky. I rest my case.

- Malaysian washing machine + my ipod - ok, so not strictly Malaysia's fault, in fact not at all. Sorry Megs, I'm sure it went down like the Titanic with the music still playing.

- Malaysian music - there are so many ways I don't like this. I can't really call prayer time music, but 5 times a day I have them singing to my balcony and the first one is 6AM!. Actually more like a howl. And they have karaoke booths here! You can pay money to get your own private booth to sing karaoke as loud as you want. Just like your car, only it doesn't go anywhere. They must be bad singers in there. Then last night at a market, I thought they were going to redeem themselves when a band got up with loads of cymbals, horns and exotic looking instruments. But judging by their musical ability, I think these are the people I will be seeing in the psych ward tomorrow. SO SO BAAAAD.large_PICT0167.jpg

SNC00099_1.jpg- Malaysian language teacher - I can't believe Elroy almost gave this guy my blog address! I don't think this needs any further explanation except to add one thing. When Elroy wanted a photo of us together, he explained that if you take a photo with only 3 people in it, then one of them must die. We thought he was just informing us of a Malaysian myth but he refused to get in the photo with us. Note security guard who clearly doesn't want to be (or need to be) in the photo. Crazy!

Ah, and now we have the much more importanst likes:

- Malaysian parking - people double park everywhere. If you park on the side of the road, someone will park behind you, guaranteed. If I get a car, this will end up in the dislike bin. Until then, it is highly amusing to see someone with their head on the horn, wailing out a long droning honk whilst the owner of the car behind them does their shopping. Very slowly no doubt.

- Malaysian scooters - I love them. Like bees swarming around the city and they are skilled riders. They can weave in and out of traffic, carry 4 people, talk on a mobile, smoke a cigarette even hold up an umbrella. All the doctors says I will die if I buy a scooter. But I don't think they feel safe unless they are behind 4 inches of Mercedes glass and steel. Besides, there are scooter riders everywhere, they can't all be dead.

- Malaysian weather - yes, it is hot and sticky. But I don't have to worry about the sun burning a hole in my skin. I don't have to look out the window to see if it is shorts weather or wonder if I should take a jacket. I don't have to light the fire. It is always just hot.

PICT0170.jpg- Malaysian public holidays - one great thing about the mixing pot of Chinese, Malay and Indian as that you get ALL their public holidays. Yesterday was some Hindi festival called Thaipusam. I didn't get to see the crazy people with spears in their cheeks, but they were pushing this contraption around last night. Even though they had a truck driving alongside with a generator, they still found it necessary to drag it around by hand. The people on board were just smoking bananas and stuff. I didn't really get it.

- Malaysian tourists - maybe Dr Iser will end up reading this, so I will put in a good word for him and his family. Had dinner with them a couple of times and it was great, especially when I was having so much trouble with the language and culture. You guys in Foster are going to have a good year. So if you can figure out how to "blog" Dr Iser, thanks again.

- Malaysian water - I thought I was iron-guts and drink what I like. I mean it comes out of the tap clear, there are no floaties and it tastes fine. Even out tank water at home has a lovely brown tinge and the odd bird-poo floaty. Alas, I think this is one occasion where I have to listen to the safety brigade. I have been sick twice already and have started to boil my water.

- Malaysian dutch things - some of my lesser educated family think that I try and seduce foreigners by talking to them in "Euro mode" (this is their stupid term for my unintentional dutch accent). Turns out I speak Malay with a dutch accent which I am told sounds nicer than the typical Australian "twang". So eat dirt Jamie! That still doesn't explain why the dutch are always associated with wierd stuff like courage from a bottle and incoherent mumbles, but it is the same in Malaysia. The actual word for a turkey is a dutch chook, a hampster is called a dutch rat and a tamarillo is a dutch eggplant. They claimed there was no such thing as a dutch oven, little do they know...

- Malaysian food, rice, noodles, curry, cod, food, iced tea, chicken, crab, daal, soup, frog, fruit, food, squid, juice, pancakes, tofu, prawns, food - I like the food.

Well, I think that is long enough for now. I had some more really funny toilet stories too but I got a complaint about them, so I will save them for later. I have been posting a fair rate of blogs since I left, it has almost become a daily diary but I don't imagine that will continue once I start my psychiatry rotation at uni tomorrow. Thanks for all the comments, they are very much appreciated.

Looking forward to taking care of the band, Sam.

Posted by The Doctor 13:32 Archived in Malaysia Tagged living_abroad Comments (6)

The Sultan is Dead

Bikes and salty water

sunny 33 °C

Malaysian Minor Offences Act 11(b): Any person who rides an elephant on a public road is subject to a fine of 50 ringgit. Lucky I bought a bike and not an elephant.

I have discovered why no-one else rides bicycles here though. One of our medical teachers once described the human body as a big sack of salty water, well 5 minutes on the bike and I am a salty water sprinkler. Nice image that one. On the bright side, riding at night is lovely. It does seem that car indicators are painted on here though and there is no allowance for bikes on the road.

I decided to ride home through a huge highway construction site last night (no lights yet) as it was safer than the road. The big excavator drivers just waved as I went flying past like Cadel Evans. Get shot for that in Australia. Then the half-finished road just fell away into the ocean, and if it wasn't for my bike getting stuck in the mud, I would have had made salty water splash at full speed. It was really dark and it was really close.

The Sultan of Johor died on Friday night. He don't think he really does much, a bit like the British royal family, but it is a big deal when he dies. On Saturday the city was bombed, at least that is what I thought. There were some huge explosions so loud I almost fell off my balcony in fright. Then there were sirens going off every where. I thought it was some mega catastrophe until I found out it was a cannon salute to the dead Sultan. The sirens were just police escorts for all the VIPs and not people being rushed to hospital from bomb injuries as I had suspected. But wow, cannons are LOUD.

All the shops were closed for the day and apparently risk fines if they open. The Johoreans have to wear a 3 inch black arm band on their left arm for 7 days in mourning and flags are at half mast. I am not sure how much trouble you would get into if the armband was not 3 inches, but they are very specific. My white head is happily exempt.

There are still quite a few things about this place that I will have to get used to. I get stared at ALL THE TIME. Even more so now that I am on a pushbike. I think I even got slightly duped when I bought the bike because to them my big sack of salty water is a big sack of cash. But today I was really upset by my language teacher. So much so that I just spent the last ten minutes in tears with my new friend - the balcony.

PICT0162.jpgWe were trying to read the Malaysian newspaper which had a story about Osama Bin Laden and I was quite suprised that he is seen here as a hero and a freedom fighter. I can in some ways understand that, I mean America's war crimes are in many ways just as horrific and beliefs are just that. That was fine. But in the discussion that followed my teacher went on to say that he believes the earthquakes and bushfires are God's way of taking revenge on the sinners of the world. For those not in the know, the black Saturday fires were only metres from our house. I don't consider the description "hell on earth" as an embellishment on what we saw that night, and to think that we somehow deserved that nightmare is unbearable. I'm not sure if it was the memory of the fires or that I was so deeply hurt by what he said, but I just had to bite my tongue and stop for lunch. Malaysia may consider themselves a progressive muslim nation but I hope that at age 62, my teacher is more of an exception.

On a brighter note, I am off for dinner. One of the highlights of my day. This photo is of the spread at one of Elroy's favourite places in Johore. Less than $50 for the whole table and drinks for 6 people, and that was buying the expensive stuff. Note the Thai coconuts, baby squid and frog legs at the bottom. Tonight I am actually eating with Dr Iser from Foster, who is visiting his daughter. Don't worry, he will be back to take care of all you South Gippy med students on Monday. Cincai.

Salamat patang, Sam.

Posted by The Doctor 19:07 Archived in Malaysia Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

Learning Bahasa Malayu

sunny 32 °C

Lesson 1: Umpana anjing makan muntahnya.
That means a stingy person. Actually the literal translation is much better; a dog that eats what it has vomited.
large_PICT0151.jpg
I said goodbye to my new friend Jayce, an Aussie who has been in KL for a year. He introduced me to some good Malay food, and we went out for a few beers. After paying $2 for meals and $3 for 15 minute cab fares, $15 for a jug of beer really hurts. I mean, I wouldn't eat my own vomit but I will definitely be changing my drinking habits.

So I finally left KL and for my new home in Johor Bahru. I was expecting a typical Malay bus with smoke billowing out, stuff falling from the roof and a crazy driver, but it was actually a very comfy big coach. Good thing too, because it was not a paticularly interesting 5 hour ride. Palm tree plantations are EVERYWHERE, and the Malays will not hesitate to let you know how good palm oil is for you. It seems to be their national treasure. I had barely walked off the bus when I was pounced on by very pushy hecklers trying to sell me tickets to KL! I just came from there but they somehow thought they would be able to convince me that I immediately needed to go back. Not a good omen for Johor Bahru.

PICT0145.jpgThe top photo from my new level 19 apartment at night and this one is the view to Singapore at sunset. Awesome view but a looong lift ride. I can actually see Singapore from my balcony, which is kind of cool but really frustrating at the same time. The amazingly inefficient Malaysian Immigration have decided they need my passport for 6 weeks to process the visa, so I can't travel the 2 kms into Singapore until they give it back. Worse for my study buddy Elroy who can't even visit his wife and kids in Singapore! He took me to an awesome Chinese eating house where they serve dear meet. It said that on the menu, dear meet. Luckily they cooked soooo much better than they spoke english. The deep fried buttered crayfish was good enough to ignore the dog-sized rat that ran under the table.

At the moment I am spending my days in a Bahasa Malayu class. I thought learning the anatomy of the body in English was a mission and now I am learning it in Malaysian, and that was the first day! Pretty heavy, but I am enjoying it. I never forget I am in a muslim country though. I get woken up by the muslim prayer time being blasted across the city through loud speakers and our uni building is right next to the islamic court house. I took a short cut through there today wearing thongs, a singlet and bright boardies. The security gaurds looked at me a little strange when I walked out and they were waiting for me when I came back again. "You can't walk here" they said in bad english. "Boleh, boleh" I replied in bad malay. It means "yes I can, yes I can" but the gaurd's face went instantly from a friendly smile to a death stare, so I left. At least my malay guru Mr Ghazali would have been proud.

Well, not much else to report yet. I am off to buy a pushy so I can get around this city a bit easier. Hopefully I will have some more interesting stories then. If anyone feels compelled to send me some vegemite here is my postal address:

19-05 Pangsapuri Sri Samudera
Jalan Mamodiah
80100 Johor Bahru
Johor Darul Takzim
Malaysia

Only two and a half weeks until my real stint in this 200 year old hospital starts. Oh no.

Selamat malam, Sam.

Posted by The Doctor 17:49 Archived in Malaysia Tagged living_abroad Comments (2)

Food, glorious food.

semi-overcast 29 °C

In 2009, a 47 year old Frenchman Alain "Spiderman" Robert, scaled the Petronas Twin Towers without using ropes or safety gear. He reached the pinnacle after 2 hours, unravelled a Malysian flag and waved to the crowd. He was arrested by police when he re-entered the building on level 88 and was fined RM2,000. It was his 3rd attempt.

PICT0109.jpgI bought a book of useless Malaysian facts. I thought that one was appropriate because I went and saw the towers yesterday. Yeah, yeah, I know, cliche tourist. Maybe it is just my engineering ways, but they are really impressive, no matter how cliche that sounds. So here is the obligatory photo, and if these are only 450m tall, that 800m skypiercer in Dubai must have some good reception.

In other news, the food here is AMAZING! I think half the population of Malaysia is making a living off feeding the other half. Two or three dollars will have you a feast, I kid you not. There is food everywhere. I have made a point of not eating at the typical western outlets, because there is of course maccas and KFC and all those other chains dotted around the place. Then there is a whole bunch of places spilling out on to the street with menus I can't read and photos that look nothing like the food on people's plates. I just point to something that looks OK and they always ask "are you sure?" Well no, of course I'm not sure, I have got no idea what I am ordering but it's only two bucks. Then they sit back laughing and watching because they know my mouth is about to be cremated. My stomach isn't rewarding me for my adventurous taste either. It has told me on more than one occassion "Sam, you have only 30 seconds to find the nearest toilet, your time starts... NOW." Thankfully there is no shortage of public toilets around here and I'm beginning to appreciate the bum cleaners.

Even the supermarket is an adventure. There are a lot of products on the shelves that I haven't seen since I left The Netherlands and the US influence is also obvious. Marmite must have pork in it, because they only have a sample jar on the shelf with a sign saying "available from the non-halal counter." The counter was tucked away in a dirty corner with a seperate register. It reminded me of that ad on tv, where the lady pushes her trolley through the pork aisle to be confronted by all these pigs squealing in their cages. I waited for some people to come through the counter expecting their shirts to be pulled over their heads so no-one could see their faces. Alas, they seemed quite happy with their pork.

I spent an hour in the supermarket and bought three things. I'm pretty sure the CCTV was following my romper stomper head as I would pick up every single item - read it, shake it, smell it - then put it back again. I bought some dried plums which looked safe, until I found out they put hot stuff on them too. And thankyou Victor for pointing out that you can buy dragonfruit at Safeway. You probably pop balloons on little kids at the show too... It tasted like air anyway, with the added benefit of seeds stuck in my teeth. At least it wasn't hot.

One thing I can't understand are the fashion outlets. EVERY single shop has photos of beautiful slim white western women. Given that just about everyone in the shop is Asian, I am not really sure why this is. Maybe it is because most of the girls here are already really skinny. I mean really skinny. I know some anatomy, and many of the girls here are missing some important anatomical features, like muscles. I'm not sure how they even walk, yet they appear otherwise completely healthy. I guess if the shops used photos of slim Asian women, they would have nothing to aspire to. At least now they can dream Michael Jackson style - "maybe if I wear Levi's denim, I will one day be white and blonde too." I don't get it, and I think it is sad.

Anyway, on a four hour bus ride to my new home in Johor Bahru tomorrow. I have seen some of the buses here. I am in for an interesting ride I think. Thanks for the comments, I'll try and post some more photos.

Selamat pagi, Sam.

Posted by The Doctor 09:58 Archived in Malaysia Tagged lodging Comments (3)

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