2005 Cruse part 4
Trip Start Mar 11, 2005
7Trip End Nov 08, 2005
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So, we peacefully made our way through the chains of islands, for a while. I never had a chance to take a picture of the islands, but during the brief respites from trying to fix uncooperative aircraft, I had glimpses of some of the most breath taking islands. I had been in these waters before on the Independence and the Kittyhawk. Both times I told myself I have to come back here one day and explore. I'm coming back armed to the teeth, but I'm coming back none the less. Generally, if you are planning on sailing these waters in anything other than a war ship, it's best to come in a flotilla. There is definitely safety in numbers.
Finally, we pulled pier side someplace near Klang. This is one of those ports that I wish each and every American could visit. A visit to Malaysia would stop a great bit of whining and crying about standards of living and poverty. Malaysia has thousands of years of history and culture to offer, but it is also a shocking contrast to the United States.
We stepped off of the ship, full of hope of adventure, despite the port briefs that told us the almost endless list of locations and activities we were not allowed to visit or participate in. The standard group of tourist crap kiosks lined the pier, which was a welcome respite from the tropical heat and the recent announcement that there was a problem with the transportation arrangements from the pier to Kuala Lumpur. Basically, it would be two hours until the first bus of hopefull sailors would leave for adventure. So, we half heartedly shopped, listened to 80's music and drank "Tiger Beer". If you have never had "Tiger Beer", you are in for an experience. First of all, Malayans generally don't refrigerate beer. Secondly, "Tiger Beer" can best be described as three year old "Pabst Blue Ribbon" with a touch of formaldehyde for flavor. One sip and you have an instant head ache and your stomach turns a little. However, by the sixth one, it tastes just fine.
So there we sat; listening to Michael Jackson, Iron Maiden, and the Beastie Boys, drinking beer and laughing in 90 degree humidity. Now let's do the math. There are approximately 5000 souls on a Nimitz class carrier. Of those, at least 1,000 had duty, leaving 4,000 sailors on the pier. There were ten busses that would hold 30 people each. That's 300 people in one shot who are on their way to see the sights. Of course, the officers all get to go first, if they don't already have a rental car. Apparently, a four year education makes you able to drive responsibly in any country, whereas lacking that education means you're lucky to tie your shoes and go to work every day. So, two hours after hitting the beach, the first group of buss's left, leaving the other 3, 700 of us to sit, drink beer, and eat what ever we could get our hands on.
To make a long story short, it takes an hour to go from the pier to Kuala Lumpur, so my group of friends and I sat on the pier drinking bad beer and listening to old music for almost five hours. Thank God we pulled in early in the morning. Finally, we get on the buss! Woo Hoo! We all have our little faces plastered to the windows in hopes of seeing something uniquely Malaysian. Well, boys and girls, we saw it all right. About twenty minutes in to our little journey, I saw something in the canal running beside the road that I had never seen before.
"Old Salt, was it a crocodile?!"
"Was it a big snake?"
Alas, no my young tadpoles.
There, floating like a buoy bobbing gently in the current, was the bloated, rotting body of some unfortunate human being with the persons clothes digging into the swollen flesh while and endless stream of traffic passed it by. There was no mistaking this as a water buffalo, or some animal. The button up shirt, shorts, and flip-flop sandal which was still pinched between two putrefying toes was a dead give away that this was the remains of a person. The part that I had a hard time wrapping my brain around was the fact that no one seemed to give a $%!& that a body was floating, in plane sight, less than 20 feet from a major highway. I suppose it is a common enough thing that no one cares. This caused me pause and reminded me that just because I don't pose a threat to anyone, the same is not true for the locals, and I should be on my guard.
It was shortly after this little bit of sight seeing hell that we realized why it took so long for the buss's to get back to us. It was a LONG drive from Klang to Kuala Lumpur. This fact was hammered home once the hours of drinking beer began to make its presence known among us passengers. I was a light drinker and only had five or six in the four hour period we sat on the pier. My mistake was not taking a potty break before getting on the buss from hell. I was not the only person who made this mistake. A buddy of mine calmly took his camera out of it's case, put the camera in his back pack and took a bag from one of the souvenirs he purchased to line the inside of his camera bag. The fact that this friend of mine is a marine should tell you that he was in the process of "improvising, adapting and overcoming" his full bladder. Unfortunately, most of it made its way into the bag lining the inside of the misfortunate camera case. No, I didn't watch the act, but I got to listen to it and feel a bit of envy because I had neither a camera bag nor a souvenir bag.
Finally, the buss makes it to Kuala Lumpur! There we sit with our legs crossed trying every trick we have ever used in an attempt not to urinate our selves, while the driver hits every pot hole and bump he can find. We stare wide eyed as the buss passes the clearly marked disembarkation point where the lead busses are already disgorging their passengers who are making a mad dash for the nearest facilities. Apparently, this was our drivers first time to this fine city and he wanted to see the sights. When he passed the buss stop for the third time I stood up, walked calmly to the front of the buss and offered the guy $50 U.S., to let me off of the (insert colorful expletive here) buss! His response, in broken English, told me three things. A: He wasn't allowed to take money from the passengers. B: He wasn't going to stop the buss anyplace but where he was supposed to. Finally, C: I was going to have to threaten him with extreme violence to get him to let me off of his merry-go-round. I took that option. After explaining, in graphic detail, his choices of either letting me and my fellow hostages off of his buss, or endure the great amounts of violence and anatomical manipulation myself and the others were willing to inflict upon his person, he quickly stopped and opened the door. I never thought I would be so happy to see a tiled hole in the floor in my life! I don't even remember the restaurant I, and 29 of my closest friends, used. I just remember exquisite relief.
I am proud to say that my shipmates paid me back for my efforts with a few free drinks.
Once we were all able to see straight again, my cohorts and I started checking out the city. The first order of business was a decent meal. I know it's not fun to go to a foreign country and eat the same food you can get at home. However, after two or three weeks of eating pineapple-upside-down-beans and spam soup, you want something that you know you will like. So we hit The Hard Rock Café. Now, I would think that in a country predominately populated by those of the Muslim faith, they would go light on the alcohol in mixed drinks. I was wrong. I had a great meal, and a "Jack and Coke" that I swear the bar tender merely waved the unopened Coke can over the poured drink. Needless to say, I only had one of those.
After a decent meal we hit the town, ready for adventure, and excited to experience all the Kuala Lumpur had to offer weary travelers. Guess what! Not much to do there if you're not local, and under restrictions set forth by the U.S. Government. As for seeing the sights, that took approximately twenty minutes. Yea, the twin towers are cool, and judging from all of the photo's my squadron mates gave me; you can see it from almost anywhere in Kuala Lumpur. It was the night of the first day that I decided I was going to take a tour offered by the ship, in the hopes of seeing something interesting. I had duty the second day, and took a tour the third day of port. We saw a beautiful government building, the front yard, but not the house, of the king, and went to a shopping district. Lots of cheaply made crap that you can find in any large corporate store that stocks its shelves with inexpensive items manufactured mostly in China. No real surprise.
However, we did stop at a nice little mom & pop restaurant for some authentic food. I have no idea what exactly I ate, but there was some sort of roasted meat and beans and rice. Very tasty. I think it was goat, but I'm not 100% sure. It may have been sheep. Very spicy and delicious. Oh, and be prepared to eat with your hands. That was rather cool, once the server understood our puzzled looks and we played a brief game of charades.
Old Salt tip of the day: That's not ketchup! If you are the typical American tourist and decide to hit the golden arches for lunch, rather than investing in the local culture, you will make a discovery. Yes, it's red, yes it is in a package just like a ketchup package back home, and yes they put it on their french-fries and hamburgers. However, it is not made from tomatoes. It's made from peppers. Now, if you're like me and love all things spicy you will be mildly surprised. If you have a tender mouth like many of my shipmates, you will toast your little tongue. I put this tasty sauce much lower than jalapeños, but higher up the scale than your average chili pepper. I suspect it's a relative or derivative of curry. Either way, I personally recommend it.
Look out for mopeds! They are everywhere!
Also, when you are out and about pack those little roles of travel toilet paper in your bag. Western style bathrooms are common in tourist areas; however the indigenous style of a tiled hole in the floor is the norm. The latter utilizes a water hose to clean yourself, and takes some practice... surprisingly enough. However, some locations do not have the water hose. So be prepared. Also, I recommend not being as drunk as an outhouse rat while trying to maintain your balance in a low squat over a stinking hole in the middle of the night. This was not my experience, but was relayed to me by a shipmate who had a peculiar odor at the end of the evening.
Kuala Lumpur is an interesting mix of old world values and new world technology. Some parts of the city seem to be taken straight out of "Modern Architecture Magazine", while others are cover pages for "Slumlord Monthly". Likewise, there is an interesting mix of Muslim and Hindu beliefs that are openly apparent. Additionally, the locals aren't very friendly, but that could just be my experience as a U.S. military member in a predominantly Muslim country. The most striking difference between what we Americans are used to, and the local culture, is the difference in sanitary standards. I don't fault anyone for this, it's just a difference. It's no more right or wrong than the difference between our use of ketchup and their use of pepper sauce. So, if you are one of those people who won't touch a doorknob without wiping it off first, this may not be the place for you to visit. OH! Don't set foot in any body of fresh water unless you would like a couple of pet leaches. Just a heads up.
All in all, Malaysia is a beautiful place with thousands of years of culture I wish I could have experienced, and I recommend visiting it on your own. I do not recommend visiting it with the U.S. Navy.
Our next stop, Bahrain UAE. (My 23rd visit to this location)
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