Thursday, May 28, 2009

Sickness and Cheap Meds....

My desire to post at least once a week was disrupted three weeks back when I became very sick for an entire week. It started on Sunday (10 May), following a Saturday night party for some of my students and fellow engineering lecturers.

(Right: Engineering students @ BBQ2009)

On Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, all I could do was lay on the bed (or floor), in the fetal position, and talk myself out of dying! I went to the clinic -via motorcycle and with great difficulty- on Monday morning for some cheap drugs (anti-histimine, pain reliever, anti-diarrheal, and an isotonic solution) and paid only RM25 (~US$7.14) for the visit and drugs. I tried to work on Wednesday, but simply sat in my cubicle and blew my nose all day long. I returned to the clinic for some stronger medicine (cough suppressant with codeine, RM30) and took Thursday off. Finally, I returned to work on Friday, and was able to do a little bit more than stare off into space. Basically, a variety of flu has been making its way around Kuantan, and some colleagues and I were hit hard. Finally, on the following weekend I began to come back to life, refinding my energy and interest in life!

This lesson shows, however, how cheap medical treatment is in Malaysia. A 10-minute visit with a doctor and three types of medicine, for US$7?! That is a pretty good deal.

Last year, I had a colonoscopy done for RM1,000, which was ~US$280 at the time. In chatting with my mother (V-O-I-P), she mentioned that her USA-based colonoscopy cost between US$2,500-3,000! So, if you want some surgery done, come on over and spend 2-3 weeks: 1 week for medical tourism, and 2 weeks for regular tourism!

The next two weeks will be filled with wedding kenduris and a short 3-day vacation. Look for some interesting photos (hopefully), as I plan on visiting Pulau Ular (Snake Island) in early June. Are there snakes? We'll see!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Neighborhood Wedding

Anyone living in Malaysia for more than a few months will be subject to multiple wedding invitations during The Wedding Season. The Wedding Season runs year-round, but does tend to pick up closer to the school holidays, which normally fall in late November and early December, and the May/June period. Of course it is not usually the actual wedding ceremony to which one gets invited as a colleague, neighbor, tea-stall buddy or otherwise, but rather one of the two kenduris put on by either the bride's family in her kampung, or the groom's family in his kampung.
(Right: Thursdays setup)

This weekend we had a neighborhood wedding kenduri for the daughter of one of my neighbors. The caterers hired to do the kenduri began setting up on Thursday for the Saturday affair, and put up five tents blocking half of the road leading to our house. As can be seen from the photos, these tents are quite elaborate in that they have built-in fans and lighting which makes for a more pleasant time for conversation with the other invitees.

This particular kenduri had five tents in a row, which blocked off the driveways for several houses (5-6 houses). This being Malaysia, however, no one gets upset as neighbors extend the "live-and-let live" attitude to each other. Someday they will host their own kenduri and the same neighborliness will be extended to them also.

(Left: Fans keep the wedding crowd cool)

Typical food served at kenduris are at least a couple of different types of rice dishes (plain white rice and minyak rice, a mixture of oil and fragrant spices), with both chicken and beef pieces and sauces. Side dishes include acar, a spicy mix of pickled carrots, cucumbers and pineapple, and spicy sauces for whomever NOTHING is spicy enough! The typical Wedding Drink is air mawar -literally rose water- which is a red rose-infused syrup mixed with water.

Typically gifts to the bride and groom are given only by their peers, i.e., fellow classmates, co-workers and friends who are of the same age group. Older people give a monetary gift to the father of the bride to help offset the expense. One simply presses money into the palm of the father as you greet him upon entry or exit.

(Right: The bride awaits her groom)

Inside the house, the bride and/or groom sit "in-state' in an elaborate wedding dais. If you arrive too early, the bride may be there alone, the groom and his family not having arrived yet. When they do arrive, it is often to the sound of a kumpulan kumpang, a group of men hired to provide a drum beat by which the visiting family marches in to the kampung. Still, these events are held over a 4-6 hour period, and guests come and go as they please. Altogether, not a bad way to spend some time chatting with the neighbors, and getting a free meal in the process!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Joke of the Month: Who cut down OUR cherry tree? Not George Washington!

Someone cut down our cherry tree.

Okay, we know who cut the tree down. It was the City maintenance department. One day at lunch I came home and found that they had cut most of the branches, leaving only the main stem (5-inch diameter) and a couple of top branches. Perhaps we had not kept it trimmed as we should have. I called my wife and told her not to be surprised when she got home.

When I got home, I was the one surprised to see the entire tree cut down. It wasn’t a fancy cherry tree, you know, Royal Anne or Bing or Black Cherry, but some tropical specie that provided birds and neighborhood children with a jolt of juice to ensweeten their days.

But why was our cherry tree cut down? I looked around the neighborhood: no one else was missing any trees or bushes, even those in similar situations as our cherry tree (near the drain, beside the road). Only a couple of trees had had branches trimmed off. Why us? I asked around.

(Right: We're stumped! Why was it cut?)

Most neighbors just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Yeah, MPK (city department) cut it down. Don’t know why.” But, finally, one neighbor whispered: “They only cut a tree down if someone complains.”

“But who would complain about our tree?” I asked. “It sits in front of our house, no one else’s.”

He used his eyes to point to our left; my neighbor to the left, he suggested.

"Oh that neighbor," I said, out loud.

Well, if anyone would complain, it would be that neighbor. Mr. Important. The guy who is always walking around outside with his cell phone stuck into his ear. The one who has friends visiting at all times of the day.

When I first enquired about the seemingly-abandoned house that was to become ours, Mr. Important –the owner of the Duplex adjoining- told me that the owner lived far away, and did not want to sell. In fact, if he was to sell, Mr. Important would buy. So, no need for me to bother. Thinking him a bit rude, I thanked him for his time and rode away.

Later, we saw a Realtor’s For Sale sign on the house. We enquired, made an offer, and followed through with the purchase.

Mr. Important has never been particularly UN-friendly, he usually waves at me as he drives his old beater car past me while I am walking. It is just that he has not been particularly friendly either. You know, in the I want to talk to you and get to know you a little bit kind of friendly.

In fact, he told the neighbors that we were going to sell the house to him because we were moving back to our home country. This came about when we took a six-week vacation last year. We never told him about the vacation; we never even talk to him on any basis. He keeps to himself, mostly, but apparently does have time to gossip about us when we are busy elsewhere.

But, we strongly suspect that he requested that the tree be cut. Why? Don’t know. It was not in front of his house.

(Left: As she looked two years ago.)

This episode points out the presence within Malay culture of one of the strongest aversions to confrontation that we have ever experienced anywhere. Malays do not confront. Malays, in fact, go way out of their way both to avoid confrontation and to solve problems in a round-about way.

Poison-pen letters are one way. Poison is another, albeit less likely these days. Poisoning the minds of others seem to be the more sure way. More on this later.


Once there was a little boy named George, who lived in the country. They had to use an outhouse, and the little boy hated it because it was hot in the summer and cold in the winter and stank all of the time.

The outhouse was sitting on the bank of a creek and the boy determined that one day he would push that outhouse into the creek.

One day after a spring rain, the creek was swollen so the little boy decided today was the day to push the outhouse into the creek. So he got a large pole and started pushing. Finally, the outhouse toppled into the creek and floated away.

That night his dad told him they were going to the woodshed after supper. Knowing that meant a spanking, the little boy asked why.

Dad replied, "Someone pushed the outhouse into the creek today. It was you, wasn't it son?"

The boy answered "Yes father." Then he thought a moment and said, "Dad, I read in school today that George Washington chopped down a cherry tree and didn't get into trouble because he told the truth."

The dad replied, "Well, son, George Washington's father wasn't in the cherry tree when it was chopped down."