Thursday, June 16, 2011


Well, once again it’s time for The Final Blog Entry. And yes, I realize I said that samr thing a year ago, and who knows—maybe I’ll be saying it agian a year from now. Life is funny--I would have never expected, when I was writing my First Final Blog Entry, that I’d be doing it again a year later.
My last month or so in Malyasia was “bucket list” time. I tried to do some of the things I’d meant to do while there, but just hadn’t gotten around to doing.
It was my intention to go to Krabi in Thailand, because I’d heard it was great, and not quite as wild as Phuket. I also wanted to go to Chang Mai and Vietnam. And this is the story of how those intentiuons played out.
So, at the beginning of May, while malaysia celebrated Labor Day, I went to Krabi for a 4 day weekend. My visit was nice, but I suffered from being alone. (Poor baby!) It would have been so nice to have Jessica with me—the room was, or at least could have been, romantic. But the resort was PERFECT for a couple, and there I was--all by myself. Rats! Still, I had a good time, and I’m glad I went.


The Krabi pennisula is completely cut off from the rest of the mainland by sheer cliffs that make boats the only way to get around. Everywhere you wanted to go, you went by the famous Thai “long tail” boat—including my resort. It was only accessible by boat. Kinda neat, but had I realized that, I might have booked a different place, just to have things be a little more convienient. But such a trifling detail wasn’t going to stop me from seeing the sights. I took the boat over to the main artea of the pennisula, and walked around looking at the amazing rock formations—stalactites hanging out over the sea—you don’t see that every day! It was fun to watch the rock climbers challenge themselves, climbing a mere 30 feet from the ocean. The sea was beautiful, and lots of people were playing in the water. I went into the little town of Ao Nang, and shopped a bit, buying giftds for the family. Mostly, I lay on the beach and read. It was idyllic, and restful. And then it was back to Melaka.





When I got back, SunPower said they wanted me to end my assignment early, on Friday, May the 13. Wow! That meant only 2 more weeks to go…..
On Friday the 6th I woke up to a pond full of dead fish…..again. Christ—I had one more week to go—couldn’t they have just lasted one more week? So I patiently worked on getting the water back to “normal.” And it looked pretty good by Saturday morning, and the remaining fish were doing pretty well. And since it was Saturday I went to KL and bought some new big koi. And by the next morning, they too were dead.
So, over the next couple of days I drained the pond and filled it 3 times, adding all the bacteria and anti-chlorine and black water (water additive) it needed each time. And I bought some small “test fish” from the local store. And finally, finally, they lived.
I was in a bit of a panic because I had arranged a BBQ for Thursday nite at my house, and wanted to show off the pond. And by the time Thursday came along, I had all new fish, and everything was fine.
The BBQ was fun. I cooked steaks and chicken--basically cleaned out my refrigerator and everyone had a good time. I had a small ceremony where I passed a t-shirt to Vincent. I told the story of how I had bought 3 identical shirts for myself, Wayne, and Rob during the 3a project last year, and how we were all supposed to wear them on the same day, and how Rob and Wayne forgot to wear theirs (of course!). The shirt does a good job of summing up a frustrating situation—it reads “Will the INSANITY never end?” Everyone got a good chuckle out of it, and it was perfect, as Vincent is basically inheriting the 3b factory, and all the problems that go along with it.
I also got in a couple of good bike rides over the last week. On one, I scaled 3 big hills that when I first attempted any single one of them--I couldn’t make it. This time I did all 3, non-stop. An excellent feeling! And on Friday the 13th, I did a bunch of climbs on Bukit Satu (First Hill), so named because it’s the first hill we get to out behind the site, and then joined a couple of other guys for a nice long ride along the Melaka River. Another good day, and a good way to end the whole Malaysia Mountain Biking Adventure.
Friday nite was quiet, and I got up at 2:30 in the morning Saturday, took a shower, and left for the airport in KL about 3:30 (ya, that’s a.m.!!). I got to the airport about 5:30 for a 7 o’clock flight to Chang Mai, and the next stage of my SE Asia exploration. Checked in, checked my bag, had a Starbucks, and went to get on the plane.
At Immigration I was told my visa had expired, and I said I had a new one, and the gal said that no I didn’t. When I’d been to Krabi a couple of weeks ago, I explained to the guy at Immigration that my visa was expiring, and asked if I could get a new visitor visa, and he indicated that yes, I could, and gave me some sort of little sticker-thing on my passport. So I thought all was well. Well, here I am ready to go, and they are saying I can’t leave. What?! The Immigration gal sent me to her supervisor, who reiterated that couldn’t leave because my visa was expired. I asked him wasn’t there anything he could do, and he said no. So I asked what I needed to do and he said go to Immigration in Melaka (Melaka?—the flight is in an hour and its 2 hours away! And besides--it’s Saturday!). And that was that. He told me were to go to retrieve my bag, and off I went. At the counter where I could get my bag, I asked about my trip—could I get a refund? I was told no, as the problem was not Air Asia’s fault. Rats!!
Well, that was good news, as I was worried I was out almost $630!! Meanwhile, I had called my driver (who luckily wasn’t too far down the road), and I got the bag, and off we went, back to Melaka. And had to wait until Monday to get my visa issues straightened out.
And Monday was quite a day! I needed to get a new visa to get out of Malaysia (why do I always think of a “get-out-of-jail free” card from Monopoly?). I met Myla, from SunPower, at the Immigration Office about 9:45. She talked, and explained, and we gave them my passport and a copy of my Vietnam itinerary and they made copies and filled out form after form. Finally, about 11, it looked like they were ok with giving me a new visa. Cool. I would have to pay for it, and pay a fine for letting the old one lapse. No problem. “Whatever it takes to get me going.” Ok, then they decided there would be no fine, just the visa fee. Better yet! And finally, they need the approval of “The Officer.” Except The Officer is in a meeting. He “may” be free about 2—we can come back. So home I go, empty handed, but with high hopes.
2 rolls around, then 2:30. I am starting to get nervous when Myla sends me a text saying we’re good to go meet The Officer. Cool! We go, and of course we never even see The Officer. But he gives his approval, and that’s the important thing. The ladies start filling in forms on the computer, and then ask for a copy of a letter that was sent over 2 years ago by another government entity, that explained who I was, why I was working in Malaysia, and what my position was. It’s now after 4, and this place closes at 5, and as we all know, bureaucrats don’t work any later than is absolutely required. . Myla calls SunPower, and the gal who helps at that end is less familiar with the files, and has to root around to find the letter. The clock keeps ticking. I’m thinking “God, if I have to stay until Wednesday, that would just suck.” It’s Monday, but Tuesday is a public holiday—if I don’t the get visa today, I’ll have to wait until Wednesday. I’m beginning to get antsy. The clock keeps ticking. I’m nervous, and totally powerless. The gal at SunPower calls and has found the letter, but can’t find the fax number. Ok, we clear that up. And we wait. Its 7 minutes until 5 and the fax shows up. Hooray! Now, can they process everything in 7 minutes? I’m watching the woman from Immigration enter information in her computer—hunting and pecking for keys. Oh god! Ok, now pay the 100 Ringgit. Ok. 5 o’clock comes and goes, but everyone is staying on task. Finally, at about 20 minutes after 5, I walk out with a “Special Permit.” Essentially a one week visa. Perfect!
But talk about long anxious minutes stretching to nervous hours!





So on Tuesday I booked a couple of nites in Kuala Lumpur, and fly out to Vietnam Thursday morning at 6:30. Off to KL I go. On the road at last!
Now, the only open issue is what happens with regard to my flight and hotel in Thailand? Is it just forfeit? I called and emailed Air Asia everyday, and they are “reviewing” it. Worst case—I’m out $630 US. Best case, I can take the flight, and even have the room, after I get back from Vietnam. That would mean re-ticketing my flight home, but at least I’d get to go, and wouldn’t be out the money. I wouldn’t find out until after I got back to the US—the ticket was forfeit, but I will get a refund on the nites I didn’t stay in Chang Mai. Not bad…..
My first nite in KL I hooked up with my friend Dave, and we went out for coffee, and then went to Petaling Street (knock-off center) where I bought a couple of pens for my boss in Portland. Then we went to Changkat Street—restaurants jammed elbow-to-elbow and excellent people watching--and had a great steak at a little bistro.
The second nite, Dave and I hooked up with Nancy and Bill and we hade another enjoyable meal. Nice way to say goodbye to my Malaysian friends!

The next morning, it was off to Vietnam.







After the first nite in Hanoi, walking all over and shopping for the family, and getting my cell phone stolen by a pick-pocket (bummer!), it was nice to just kick back and relax on Halong Bay. The bay is beautiful, and bizarre. And big—much bigger than I expected. They say there are nearly 2000 islands that all jut out of the water abruptly, shear-sided and rather surreal. The first day we drove the nearly 3 hours just to get to the bay, stopping at some tourist-trap for a break along the way. It was interesting seeing the countryside, and the houses. Vietnam has a tradition, borne of the size of tax lots that the French imposed long ago, of building very tall, very narrow, houses. These things are maybe 12 feet wide, and often 4 to 6 stories tall. They seem unnecessarily tall and thin, and almost silly looking. And they are covered on the street facades with a gaudy “frosting” of European-looking ornamentation—looking like French townhomes, or even Swiss chalets. Truly weird. Once on the boat, we had an incredible seafood lunch, and then visited a floating city (village). These people live on the water full time, and have dogs and cats and TVs powered by generators. The homes look like regular little (very little!) houses, floating on blue plastic drums, and some are garishly painted. It just adds to the unreality of the scene, with the shear cliffs of the islands forming the background.
I was joined by a couple from Wales, and a couple from New York, and a Greek couple from Sweden (ya—interesting—Greek doctors from Sweden). After a delightful BBQ dinner on the deck, we lingered over coffee, and talked about how other nations view the US. The simple answer seems to be that we “supersize” everything: meals, houses, problems, what have you. It wasn’t necessarily negative, but I tried to express that what they see is a media stereotype, and not the way that most of us lived. But it was interesting, and of course the conversation turned to politics, and especially our recent role in the Middle East. The folks from New York seemed to believe that our role as “the world’s policeman” was basically legitimate, but I continually returned to the fact that most of our actions are, and have been, motivated by big money, big greed, and especially big oil. I truly believe that US foreign policy under both Bush administrations was dictated by oil companies, and their interests. Oil is power. Ever since the countries in the Middle East nationalized their oil, and gave to boot to concerns like Aramco, our entire focus has been on regaining, and controlling, the oil—and therefore the money, and the power. We also talked about the housing crisis, which was essentially a crisis of deregulation in the banking industry. The movie “Inside Job” won and Academy Award for best documentary last year, and does a chilling job of exposing what went wrong, what is still wrong, and embarrassing lack of accountability by our government regarding the individuals and institutions that brought about a financial crisis that very nearly caused another depression. I watched it again on the flight home, and it made more sense, and scared me even more, than the first time I saw it.
Still, it was a lovely evening chatting on the deck with some really interesting people. The next day saw some of the folks leave, as they had only signed on for only a one night excursion, and the folks from Wales and I transferred to another boat, and went to an island and hiked up to a viewpoint. (Whew—what a climb in the heat and humidity!). We then went to an area and did some swimming and then kayaked thru a cave into a “bay” completely surrounded by island hilltops, that was only accessible thru that cave. From there we went to yet another smaller bay, and it too was only accessible by kayak and only thru a cave. Very cool. I was a hot day, and I even got a touch sunburned. The downside was that, while taking a shower that evening, the smell of diesel fuel was inescapable. Halong Bay is pristine, beautiful, and a Unesco World Heritage Site. But it is also a shipping port, and there are quite a few of these cruises that ply the waters. The net effect is water that looks calm and cool and sea green and pure, but is fouled by the ships that make their way thru it. Kinda yucky.

But it is picturesque, and I most have taken a couple of hundred pictures.


That evening we rendezvoused back with the big boat, and were joined by a Philippina woman from Germany. Her life story was fascinating—born in the Philippines, she attend a conference in Thailand in the early 1970’s, and volunteered to chair a committee. She did such a good job that the organization hosting the conference asked her to join them, and from there she went to work for the UN. She was actually in Vietnam when the US abandoned their (futile and ridiculous) efforts there. She married a man from Germany, moved to India, and spent quite a bit of time there, before ending up in Germany, where she lives to this day. She was in Vietnam presenting to a management seminar for Germans working in Vietnam. What a long journey from the streets of Manila! She is nearing retirement, and I couldn’t help but encourage her to write her story—what an inspiration to young Philippina women!
The last day we visited a cave that a first seemed a little ho-hum, but as we walked further and further in, each chamber opened up presenting bigger and bigger caverns—it was amazing. Really fascinating forms in the rocks, and the stalactites and stalagmites were beautiful, and the lighting they used to accent them was quite nice too. Then it was back to the dock, and the long drive back to Hanoi. Once there, I again set out in search of gifts and goodies, and I enjoyed walking the streets, and sweating my pants off! The humidity made it almost unbearable, and I finally resigned myself to just being wet. Then it finally got to be too much, and the sky itself became super-saturated, and it rained cats and dogs!




The next morning was a fairly early wake-up call, and off to the airport, and back to KL. My driver picked me up and we were off to Melaka. I got my things, wedged it all into a van, and took off for Singapore, and the flight home early the next morning. There was kind of a sense of closure to this last car trip—Fahrul, Rob’s driver, had picked me up in Singapore in February 2009, when I first arrived, and was now ferrying me back to leave. I had come full-circle. And, as luck would have it, he was also picking up my friend Wayne at the airport, so once I got my stuff out of the car, and got organized for the next morning, I met Wayne and we had dinner at Clark Quay. We hadn’t seen it other much lately—he’d been working in the Philippines—so it was nice to get caught up, talk about where we thought things were headed with the SunPower project, and say a final goodbye.
Then, after about 3 hours sleep (on top of the limited sleep and uncomfortable night before in Hanoi) it was off to Portland. I watched movies and read until we got to Tokyo, and slept like a dead man from Tokyo to Portland.

Home—at last!

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