1 Month in Malaysia: PART I

1 Month in Malaysia: PART I

I’ve got this new journaling routine I started on December 25th, 2013, also known as Christmas. My goal is to write down everything I do that seems significant. I have a few different reasons for starting it but mainly I’m trying to become a better writer. I’ve uttered only a handful of words that are truly pure from the second they flashed into my mind until the time I got them down on paper. It kills me. I have such a good thoughts. But when I write them down they just don’t feel true.

If I write every day, if I record my life every day, then I have no choice but to see the truth on paper. There will be no more debate with myself over who I am or how important my life is. I won’t be able to tell myself stories like I’m too busy with work or I don’t have the energy to work on things I love when I look back over the course of a week and see that I watched 6 tv shows, scoured Facebook for 14 hours, and didn’t start a single goddamn project that had been mentally weighing me down. You see, I’m not into making excuses or being a victim – my life isn’t anyone else’s responsibility but my own.

We’re going on a little adventure, you and me. For the next 10 min or so I’m going to take you to a magic place where it’s always 88 degrees and your crotch is usually rotting. The driving will likely make you throw up but if you can stomach the chaos you’ll see it’s actually quite beautiful. Please watch your step on the sidewalks, I’ve seen more than a few sharp metal objects sticking out, not to mention all the faulty wiring hanging from the neon signs overhead. It’s good for you though, brings excitement back into your life. Oh, and keep your bags close, usually this is a peaceful country but lately there have been some muggings. I guess they cut the strap off your purse and take off with it. Don’t let those fuckers get anything from you. Stand strong and be alert, you’re not some helpless goddamn tourist.

This is a place where most people have very little in terms of material, but they are rich in culture. And if I’m keeping score, culture wins every time.

On January 2nd, I said goodbye to my friends and hopped in a car with Greg and Mijon to LAX. We picked up another trainer, Justin, in Del Mar along the way.

I was partly freaking out over the thought of being in a foreign country with relative strangers. I knew Mijon from my yoga classes and her husband Greg from a few lunches, but I had never met Justin and god knows things can go to shit quickly when you’re taken out of your element. Fortunately, I scored some Percosets in case I had to mediate an anxiety attack.

I needed to test their character early on so I made a series of racist, yet incredibly smart comments, knowing it would quickly divide the field and give me the necessary info I would need to decide how many pills I was going to have to take.

Fortunately, all 3 of them turned out to be quality people after laughing at one of my best jokes – although Justin tried to hide his smile in fear of encouraging me, but it was too late, I saw the joy in his eyes.

These people got me. And not like in a tolerable sense, but like they thought I was cool. And that made me love them, in a big way. They were good people, smart, funny, and doing cool shit with their lives. The next 25 days were a fucking riot. Well, until I got the flu at the end and thought I shit my pants in the mall.

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Greg, Mijon, and Justin travel a shitload for the trainings they run, so their airline status was insane. I get excited when I take 1 trip to NYC, in a year, so my airline status is a joke. But the good thing about tagging along with high class people is high class living by association.

All this time, I thought airports were just places where you get the flu or aids, or have to stare at people with horrible acne in chairs that were retrofitted from your dead grandma’s house, but it turns out, airports are where high class people go to recharge their iPhones in comfort.

That is, if you know about the Star Lounge.

Now, I’ve never taken a shower in an airport before. I didn’t know airports had a “Fourth Floor.” I thought that shit was just construction. But it’s not. It’s like heaven, only all the food is free.

Personal showers, beds, electrical outlets for days, open bar, food buffet with salads and fruit, it was something of a dream. And I found myself wishing I knew what other secrets the world had been keeping from me.

I showered for about 40 minutes letting the waterfall shower run down my body like a Nautica commercial. And then I beat it, because how often do you get a chance like that?

It was the same story during our layover in Taipei. “Star Lounge please,” I said to an airport staff member in a deep voice. He didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about because I think he was a janitor but it felt good to say. And I found myself looking down on all the people sitting in those awful chairs in the main waiting areas. Main waiting area, even saying it felt cheap.

We were over the East China Sea, about 2 hours shy of KL (Kuala Lumpur) and it was a grueling few hours of strategically farting underneath my airline blanket. I had just eaten dog food breakfast – some scrambled food that was in the egg family but not like any real egg I’d ever tasted. I kind of loved it though. And some hash browns, which were as money at 35,000 feet as they were in the high school cafeteria. To bring it home, there was a warm piece of meat folded up in the corner of the tray. Could have been ham but also tasted a bit like turkey, probably an airline hybrid.

It took me all flight, but I finally established control of the armrest over the guy next to me. He made the first move early on and held position for a while until he slipped up and reached out to comfort his girlfriend. That’s when I moved in.

24 hours of traveling and 4 airplane movies later, we arrived in Malaysia, at the KLIA.

Let me tell you, time travel is not easy. You see some things in the future that you’re not prepared for. Your mom’s birthday, Martin Luther King day, IPO’s, a lot of information comes through your pipeline and you have to be brave and mature enough to handle it properly.

Now, there were no flying cars in the future, but there were incredibly tall buildings made almost entirely of steel.

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After an hour drive from the airport, we pulled up on these beauties. The twin towers of Kuala Lumpur. I thought they were the most gorgeous buildings I’ve ever seen. They were so shiny and metal-y, and Muslim-y. I’ve never seen anything like them, buildings that will never age because there is no precedent for their style. They were designed to resemble motifs found in Islamic art. Petronas Oil, the 12th most profitable company in the world according to Fortune, and owned entirely by the Malaysian government, operates their offices out of the top 40 or so floors.

After starring up the sides for a while I took some time to explain the concept of my “Star Gazer” invention to G, M, & J.

You see, the Star Gazer is a fashion piece that makes looking at the moon with your significant other a timeless affair. With beautifully crafted shoulder handles and a spring-loaded apparatus to wrap around your occipital ridge, the Star Gazer gives you endless support in your search for the stars.

Star Gazer from kale & cigarettes on Vimeo.

As you can see, I have a working prototype model drawing. Now I’m just waiting on the call back from Shark Tank.

Our first check in was at the Park Royal hotel. I took a hotel mirror selfie and a few shots out the window, because it was pouring rain and I thought it was an incredible way to experience a new city from 30 floors up.

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I realize it might look like a 3rd world country, and it might also feel like one, but the colors and the smells were unforgettable.

After a shower we all met up in the hotel lobby, it was foot rub time.

One of the main reasons I agreed to doing this work in the first place was the mentioning of these $10 massages in Malaysia. It’s pretty well known in my personal circle that a large portion of my income goes straight to Chinese foot rubs. And I pay US prices without thinking twice. I’ve been known to skip meals in order to get rubs. And this was all before I learned about the “4 Hander” a few weeks ago, information that changed my life for good. 2 people, 4 hands, 1 smiling me.

We approached our Malaysian foot rub schedule with such precision you would have thought we were Seals and our feet were Bin Laden.

The nicest place in KL was a little gem called Tropical Day Spa. I only learned the name after connecting to the wifi. Easy to read signage doesn’t exist in Malaysia. I never would have found it without Greg’s hardwired GPS head. He used to live in KL and knew the city inside and out, which is something special because it appeared as though they tied a bunch of buildings and streets to an atomic bomb and let it explode and then called it the city planning committee.

We walked for about 20 minutes and I tried to take as many iPhone photos as possible without being a dead tourist giveaway, because nobody wants to be the dorky white bitch in a backpack and Birkenstocks.

I had no idea the city was so big, 8 million people. Parts of it looked like Times Square, and then I noticed those parts were actually called Times Square, just as the large buildings were called the Twin Towers. The neon signs and mega billboards were fun to see and gave me the sense that shit was happening in this place. The store fronts were massive, just like the Santa Monica Promenade or Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. The drivers were fucking nuts. It made me so nostalgic of my time living in Taiwan. Not an inch of space unoccupied. If a car hesitated for 1 second 7 others would cut him off and leave him for dead. In between all that madness were the scooter troops that filled space like spackle. And the pedestrians, god they were brave souls.

We walked by so many food stalls with 7 year old girls manning the register while their dads prepared skinned duck heads, squid balls, or fresh fruit juices. Parts of town were so nice and others looks like the slums. The steering wheels were on the right side of the cars and the drivers in the left lane.

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After we got through a Chinatown that was fully under construction I tallied my hooker count at 17, in 3 short blocks. I’m pretty sure 9 of them were men but Greg said definitely 15.

I knew we had reached the land of opportunity when I saw the big green foot.

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The four of us were all put in the upstairs room where our fleet of Asian women prepared to work us over. I got a 1 hour Thai massage and I think my lady was angry. She smiled every time I groaned from pain and after a while I had to act like I liked it in order for her to back down. But the warm upstairs room with mood lighting and old steel fans blowing made it all so painfully obvious that I was in a totally foreign land with people I barely knew getting rubbed by a lady that was just eating fish eyes with her bare hands (this isn’t racist, this is a factual report of what she was eating when we walked in), and I was overcome with a sincere smile.

At one point I thought I fell asleep when I was startled by the sound of fireworks. While others were enjoying the cultural moment, I spent a good portion of time contemplating what I would do if it was a terrorist attack. I could have easily survived on my own, leaving the others to fend for themselves, but then who would I have gotten foot rubs with? The first move would have been to sedate Mijon, because she would have panicked and was small enough to carry. Then we would have had to make our way out of the top story window and scale the side of the building. I would have stayed back by the window, waiting for a terrorist to poke his head out so I could have incapacitated him and taken his weapon. Then I would have dragged him around the corner and tied him to a chimney. We would then cut a straight line away from the battle to get the others to safety before I would have returned to fight the bad guys until eventually taking my own life after being captured by 30 of their best men.

And then the fireworks stopped and there were no screams so I went back to my boring massage, wondering if the moment was going to come when she tried to tug on my crank.

When we got back to the hotel we went separately to our rooms. I think they were going to bed because they were tired from flying for 24 hours and being 16 hours ahead of where they were when they were Americans. I, on the other hand, couldn’t let an opportunity in a new city be wasted by sleeping to preserve my vital energy. Plus it was raining, and there’s no keeping me from the rain.

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I got an umbrella from the hotel reception and walked out of the glass sliding doors into the city of 8 million. It sprung a heavy amount of life into my lungs and I was smiling pretty good I imagine. All the faces were blowing my mind. People still driving their scooters, only now the drivers were wearing ponchos. Poor passengers, they had to pull what was left of the poncho tail over their head and they looked like the butt of a Chinese dragon costume.

After a little walking I got hit with a pretty large wave of exhaustion. I went back to the hotel and fiddled with all the buttons that controlled the lights and TV in my room before passing out in my underwear.

Sunday 1/5/14

I woke up at 6:45am and went directly to the hotel gym (after a quick deuce) and ran my brains out on the treadmill. I did some yoga and then swam some laps in the pool. I’m in an awkward swimming phase; I’m not a bad swimmer but I also don’t really know how to swim so it looks like I’m close to being somebody but ultimately just a hack in the water.

I met Greg, Mijon, and Justin in the hotel lobby at 8am and we took a van to the school, Sri Emas, for staff training day. This is where things got serious for me. I didn’t have much info on what Seeds Training did as an organization or what I was going to be doing on the trip. I knew I was going to be taking photographs and filming a few videos, but there was also talk about being a Team Leader and working with the kids directly because apparently they thought I liked that kind of thing. I imagine it had something to do with the fact that I started a non-profit that works with kids.

It’s funny, so many people say they want to “work with kids.” And then you actually work with them and it’s incredibly uncomfortable. They ask you real questions and only respond to your instructions if they respect you. To be respected you have to respect yourself and believe in your work. What I learned in the first 10 minutes of the staff training was that I previously felt insecure teaching kids. I wanted them to like me and that was potentially more important than the curriculum. And often times there was no curriculum because I didn’t take the time to properly set up lesson plans. I winged it because i was talented and charismatic enough to do so.

What I quickly learned was that in order to make a difference in the world you have to be organized and you have to stand for something. And there is no bullshitting kids. But there is also nothing more rewarding than giving a young person the tools that you never had growing up. Just a little bit of insight that might save them some unnecessary suffering or make them think a little bigger.

I could tell Greg had some pretty substantial depth. To map out programs and be in a position to train other people in their implementation is not something most people are cut out for. It takes almost psychotic focus and drive. It’s everyone’s dream to create something of consequence, but how many people put down enough sweat to make it happen? Not many. He did though, and I respected him immensely for that. He was a great speaker; smart, clear, funny, sarcastic, and direct. No bullshit, not even with people much younger than him. I understood him.

Justin was a little softer (in a compassionate sense), more emotionally bonded with his audience. His spirit was a little more youthful. They complimented each other well. I gravitated more towards Greg because of similarities but I really liked that Justin offered something that I missed out on growing up.

We finished training and the 4 of us cabbed home in some hot little shit box of a cab. I was committed to ball sweat for the next 4 weeks, nothing I could do but embrace it. Greg was telling a story about the first camp he ever ran in Malaysia. It was in the jungle and it was ridden with giant snakes and kids were floating away in the river during a crossing. We were all laughing pretty hard.

We had dinner in the basement of a large shopping building. There were probably 20 vendors dishing out food. It looked like a food court with no government regulation. There were skinned chickens hanging from the ceiling, thai beef rice, frog soup, pork dumplings, and an old man squeezing oranges.

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I had rice and orange juice. Justin was having some issues early on because he was a vegan and that’s not a good thing in Asia.

After dinner I went on the hunt for eye glasses and contacts because they didn’t require me to pay for an exam. Unfortunately, my head was too big for Asia and I walked away empty handed.

Eventually, the 4 of us found our way happily back to the Tropical Day Spa for 90 minute foot rubs. We were served lemon ginger tea and tried to relax. I got the female version of the Incredible Hulk as a masseuse and she made me cross eyed. I was still too proud to tell them it hurt because I thought maybe I was a pussy and it didn’t actually hurt. I needed to prove that I had a high tolerance for pain so I just cried to myself, internally.

Greg and Mijon turned in because Greg seemed to have the flu and I mentioned that I wanted to explore some more. Justin said he would be down for some activity.

We walked around for a while completely lost without our tour guide Greg and eventually stumbled into the whitest place in town, an Irish bar playing sports on the TV’s. I had a Guinness and Justin ordered some lager, but sadly for him they served it in an oversized champagne flute so he looked super feminine and everyone thought we were dating. It was no big deal though, we couldn’t understand anything people were saying about us anyway.



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