selamat pagi ke KL

may 27, 2002

selamat pagi, amigos—

sorry for the long silence. i was just letting some of you catch up on my perhaps over-frequent verbosity. that and the fact of coming back to such a modern, sophisticated, and contentious city like kuala lumpur – with it's bright neons and everything-for-sale mentality - after the adventurous and provincial out-country eco-tourism i was doing in sabah, has been sort of a major reality check. the first day i ventured into merdeka square in the city center, i almost passed out from the fumes. and i guess after sharing my tediously slow start of getting established in kota kinabalu, i thought i'd spare you the hum-drum weeks of securing the proper visa & work permit, renting a new proton wira, and finding a new three bedroom townhouse – complete with pool and gym for the junior miss. the rest of our time has been spent in countless hours and hundreds of kilometers of getting hopelessly lost in this tangle of interlocking highways – that even this ex-new yawk cabbie & seasoned driver of the megalopolises of paris, LA, mexico city, and saigon finds daunting .

so… here we are – KL – this cosmopolitan mix of east and west. where most of the mini-skirted, skinny asian babes have long since scrapped their traditional but outdated tudongs. where the armani-attired power players congregate around their multi-national bank-named skyscrapers and pose with their singapore-bought rolexes and silicon implanted wives at the opening of the malaysian philharmonic at KLCC - just as well – or better - as their vacuous hollywood & madison avenue mentors. where prime minister mahathir can boast of his own sparkling & spectacularly-spired twin towers, the tallest in the world, bearing the name of, and financed by, petronas, the country's own ruthless and philanthropic oil baron. where there are as many burger kings, kentucky frieds, siemsen & nokia phone shops, mcdonald's, citibanks, hyatts, marriots, and mega-malls – per cubic foot – as anywhere on the planet. appropriately named, the first and original megamall is called "sungai wong", roughly translated – "river of money" in malay, or "river of gold" in one hungry chinese dialect.

me? i haven't worked in a month. what with the end of one semester in sabah and the beginning of another here, i'm constantly reminded that one must always keep one's patience and perspective in the east - remembering that the colonialists did bring the rubber tree here – perhaps that being ultimately responsible for the ever-changing and always flexible concept of time. but once again, it'll be a whole new crap shoot. i think most of my students will be muslim again, although i'm told many more will speak english. this ethnic skew, with a majority of the girls still in tudongs and arabic prayer broadcast from the on-campus mosque five times a day, in a country that is always boasting of its multi-cultural diversity, apparently occurs when you've been placed in a school run by the government. private colleges, i'm told, have many more chinese and indians, so the students, they say, speak better english, show up on time, and are many times more ambitious and goal-oriented.

*in addition to working at the university*, i'm also supposed to be working with professional actors in the city of KL proper – teaching solo and improv workshops. there is a pretty active art scene here – replete with trendy and talented painters, actors, film & theater critics, film & theater directors, producers, entrepreneurs. it's pretty impressive. each week reveals another layer of creativity, ambition, and well-attended activity. two nights ago we saw oscar wilde's "importance of being earnest" with an all male cast! dark skinned indians in drag playing british dowagers, brown skinned malays in drag grinning through duplicitous courtships, and light-skinned chinese in drag pronouncing all their "v"s as "w"s, as in "i don't think that was wery kind, wictoria!" it was pretty out there.

i may even have the opportunity to screen my film and to do some performance poetry readings as well. and whereas in sabah, i felt pretty cautious about my public expression and ornery criticism of both american and islamic custom and policy, i'm feeling pretty damn tame here, when i see and hear the satire, parody, and outright artistic lament about senor mahathir, his cronyism and machiavellian machinations, the state of over-westernized malay society, its goggle-eyed materialism, its government's bureaucratic myopia, its racial politics and hypocrisy, etc. etc. i think here in KL, one can see no better example of the dichotomy of american and western influence on the east and third world in general, having in a sense motivated and turned this place into a country that intends to be fully "developed" by the year 2020, but not without all the eyesores, "successes", and concomitant benefits and ills that that word entails.

wati and i did already make two great escapes from the big city. the first to the batu caves, just north of KL. famed for being the religious site of worship of the annual hindu "thaipusam" festival where devotees pass sharp, hook or needle-like "vels" through their tongues, cheeks, backs, or shoulders in devotion and "obeyance" to lord shanmuka (much like the native american indians in the their annual sun dance ritual in the black hills of the dakotas), when wati and i ventured up the hundreds of steps into the carved stalactite limestone caves, we were pursued by a fierce tribe of macaque monkeys who were so starved for absolutely anything to eat, that they would actually grab absolutely anything you had hanging from your hands or body (eg. shoulder bag, water bottle, tourist brochure) - in an amazingly aggressive display of darwinian survival -- which simultaneously was amazingly uncontrolled by either the hindu devotees or the tourist police. wati was not the only wide-eyed tourist to retreat in abject terror.

for our second foray, we drove to" bukit fraser", or fraser's hill, one of the well known and relaxing "hill stations" not far from KL central. this one in particular is renowned for its quiet and provincial flower gardens, its victorian stone chateau-bungalows, and its nothing-to-do peace and quiet. it was founded by an eccentric british tin industrialist who somehow got lost in the cool-aired forest at the turn of the last century. a few years later, a man of the cloth, on his way to converting as many malays to christianity as possible, went in search of the lost mr. fraser. failing in this endeavor, he instead discovered only the charms of the tin-rich hills and refreshing airs, and like a premonition of the future, he decided to "develop" and exploit the area into a ringit-producing hill station. as homage to his inspiration, he named the place "bukit fraser".

in a sense, i feel like my mom and dad in the 50s – living out in the burbs and commuting to the big city. not exactly ozzie and harriet of course, what with a young indonesian girl constantly at my side; but watching myself commute to work daily, commute to the city daily, swim at the pool daily, play a little badminton daily, turn on the air con, hand phone, and laptop daily, i guess when it comes down to it, i am ultimately and sadly -- just another -- bobo in paradise.

th-tha-that's all for now...

hoping you're all alive and well,

your pal

no longer borneo bill