Who wants to time travel? You? You, my little friend? Well, ok, sure - let's go. We'll go backwards from the past few hours to last night and all the way to last week and this humble writer's experiences in another "exotic" liberty port - Malaysia.
Everyday the ship tests these 3 alarms to make sure they work - a general, chemical, and collision alarm. The first is a solid tone; the second is set of 3 short tones followed by a pause; the third is a single tone followed by a pause. And these babies are loud - super loud. Like you know how your alarm clock sounds pretty loud, well turn it up past the loudest setting and that's about where these suckers are. That really loud, hurts-your-ears-kind of loud. Usually it's actually not too bad because they switch from one to the other to the other just long enough to make sure they turn on. Just long enough for me to say "Oww, turn that crap off" and it's over. Well that didn't exactly happen this morning. For reasons which shall most likely always remain clouded in mystery to me, the first one turned on and didn't turn off. It just kept going and going and going. Not for 10 seconds, but for 10 minutes. This is the sound that crazy people hear in their heads that makes them crazy. And now it's in my head. For a brief moment I though I had gone nuts as well - I just tried to go back to sleep so I wouldn't hear that sound anymore - ever tried going to sleep at a rock concert? No? Didn't think so - it's just not possible. My roommate above me let me know I wasn't going crazy when he jumped out of bed and yelled "We're under attack!!! AAAAHHHHH!!!" That was his war cry - or cry of agony, I couldn't tell which - but I could tell that this sound was no longer in my head - it was in all of our heads. His war cry was followed by some pounding on the wall where he was trying to dislodge the sound from the speaker somehow - to no avail. Then there was a sharper, more direct thud of a sound which when I peered outside I surmised was my roommate taking the chair to the speaker. I guess it really did make him go crazy. Crazy or not, he managed to unplug it and the sound died enough that we could actually carry on a conversation by yelling at each other now.
Me: "WHAT ARE YOU DOING, MAN?!"
Dude: "I'M TURNING OFF THE SPEAKER"
ME: "BUT THERE ISN'T AN OFF SWITCH ON IT"
Dude: "WHY DO YOU THINK I'M HOLDING A CHAIR?"
Good point. The sound continued for the rest of the 10 minutes and with the speaker disabled in our room, it was now probably the quietest place on the ship and we still had to shout at each other - you see this warning is there to serve every part of the ship, so it is carried over the 1MC to every nook and cranny so that even the bed bugs (more on that later) downstairs know of the impending doom of either a collision, a chemical attack, or a general "you guys are screwed" warning. The only good thing about it going everywhere is that wherever the ship CO was, I knew he heard it too and he was probably upset by getting his morning tea interrupted by such a prolonged disturbance.
So what's going on over here? Bed bugs apparently - not where I sleep, but 3 floors down in troop berthing - apparently some of the guys down there forgot to wash their sheets for the whole deployment and a whole bunch of beds ended up infested with half inch little bugs - hence the term, "bed bugs". They had to throw at least a dozen beds overboard - pretty gross. And now these guys don't have a place to sleep, so they brought them into the ready room where I work and turned out all of the lights - so I'm working in the dark. It's kind of cool - literally, it feels cooler in here which is actually pretty nice - and also kind of cool in the respect of building your own fort in the living room with pillows to get away from chores and your big sister. I'm just glad my mom and wife taught me to change out my sheets every once in a while - thank you, ladies.
Before the alarms and the bed bugs, there was Malaysia. Overall, the trip was pretty benign - take a guy and give him a wife and a couple of kids and pair him up with another guy with a wife and a kid or two, and you're not making a recipe for an out of control, frat party weekend. But I was not on the ship and that was probably the most important part. Except for the first couple of days - on the first day everybody is in a mad rush to get off of this ship and on dry land. I've found it rather relaxing to not fight the rush and just accept staying onboard the first night - no schedules, no bags, air conditioning, I can just stay in bed and read and sleep - and I had duty the next day anyways. The city was Kuala Lampur - legend has it that the two big towers there connected by a sky bridge were featured in the movie Entrapment starring some guy and some girl, but it hasn't been proven to me yet. Since my wife would probably find it interesting, the cleanliness scale is right in the middle of that part of the world. It was a lot cleaner than Thailand - smelled better, too - but from what other people who have been there, not as clean as Singapore. Apparently the only thing as clean as Singapore is my own house back in the states. While traveling there, I decided to take some notes about the country for the benefit of those who haven't been there I can sum up the experience for you and save you the trip - go to Ireland instead.
-Our CO described this port as "foreign" and "exotic." And if by "foreign" he meant not the US, and by "exotic" he meant as hot as Texas and as humid as Arkansas or Virginia backcountry, then he was spot on. It was not the US and it was exotically hot and humid.
-I saw a lot of clothes drying on lines outside – I wonder how long it takes or how well clothes can actually dry in a place with 95% humidity where it rains every afternoon.
-This was also the first time I’ve ever seen an advertisement for a 1 ½ story building – bigger than a single, but not quite 2 stories. I’m pretty sure in America they would call it “vaulted ceilings” or just say it’s “like a 2 story.” I guess they’re more honest with the advertisements – or maybe they know that a lot of Malaysians could fit in a half of a story, so it’s actually legitimate – dunno.
-The only more fertile soil I think I’ve seen was back in Arkansas. Stuff was growing everywhere – sides of the road, on walls, entire parts of trees through fences – everywhere. I’m pretty sure if I sneezed out a sunflower seed, you’d get a field of them.
-Traffic stinks in any country, no matter what side of the road you’re on.
-And speaking of that – you can tell yourself a million times from what direction cars will hit you first, but I just could not get my subconscious wrapped around the fact they drive on the other side of the street – and fast, too. I’d have to look both ways whenever crossing a street and I’d always feel confused seeing a car coming from the ‘wrong way.’
-I did go through a mall a couple of times - a couple of differences I noticed. There were almost no benches on any of the 6 stories and the ones I did see weren't being used. But more importantly than that, you were charged to use the bathroom. It wasn't much, but quite remarkable nonetheless. I'm pretty sure riots would ensue in the US if a mall or business actually charged you to use the facilities - regardless of being a paying customer or not, you pay extra for the opportunity. A public restroom is one of those "unalienable rights" mentioned in the Declaration of Independence.
-I had to check online to see if it was "unalienable" or "inalienable" - I didn't know there was such a controversy over it:
http://www.ushistory.org/declaration/unalienable.htm I went with "unalienable" since that's what's on the version printed by Dunlap Broadside under the order of Congress for mass dissemination - in my view, a final copy vice a handwritten draft. My dad brought me up right.
-The money conversion was pretty good - one US dollar for 3 and a half Malaysian dollars. The prices in restaurants ended up being less than in the states - even the nicer ones. And by less than, I don't mean cheap like Thailand cheap (5 bucks and you're done) - I mean the prices ended up being what I thought a dinner in a nice restaurant should cost - you can get an appetizer, dinner, couple of drinks, and a dessert for under 20 bucks American. That's what I would expect to pay in a sit down restaurant in the US, but it's always more like 40 or 50 per person and I end up doing a double take at the bill and we don't eat out all that often anyways.
-We ended up spending a good deal of time in Chinatown - mainly because there were not as many tourists venturing in there and it had the best food. The sweet rolls I had will forever rank in my list of best food ever - right there with my wife's fried chicken and my mom's shepherd's pie. We ate at this café - I guess it was a café - it was an huge room packed with tables - there wasn't an entrance doorway, the walls were just open to let air circulate through - you just walk in and sit down where you can find a seat - and you're usually sharing a table with somebody else. We ate with some Korean guys, some Malaysian guys, and a little old Chinese lady who kept her head buried in her soup bowl. The food was excellent - and not just the sweet rolls, although I could have survived off of those things for the week. I also found that I still know how to use chopsticks - it's just one of those things I picked up somewhere, sometime. I think the majority of the time my friend and I were the only Americans in the place - that's usually a good way to find authentic food. The Chili's in the mall was the exact opposite. (Yes, I did go there - and yes, I did eat a burger and have a Budweiser with it - in exotic Malaysia, 7,500 miles away from the last Chili's I went to - and yes, it was awesome)
-Chinatown also has lots of stuff for sale - your normal street markets and such - and your not-so-normal street markets. We walked down a side street which was the 'fresh meat' isle. There they had fresh fish - heads were sold separately and they were not cleaned / gutted - but the heads were cut off which was nice of them. They had fresh chicken - fresh in the way that the chickens were still in cages behind the counter - you pick the one you want - and they chop off its head and give it to you - fresh. Plucking and cleaning is extra - the killing is on the house. They also had an assortment of eels and other large and small fish - as well as some animal that we figured to be a cat. I didn't get any souvenirs from that street.
-I did pick up something for my wife from somewhere - but it shall remain a secret until I get home. I will say two things: 1 - it was not from the fresh meat market and 2 - it is something most guys wouldn't pick up for their wife
That's about how far back I can remember in this time traveling experiment so I shall sign off and rest my fingers for the next update.