Story of the two bears

My father, especially later in his life, took to collecting stuffed animals that did things. He had a pig that sang, a monkey that alternatively clapped cymbals and screeched, and a Dachshund that sequentially walked, yapped and wagged its tail. As the dog’s battery ran down its actions became random, giving it an eerie gift of choice.

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When people grow seriously old, giving them birthday presents creates difficulty and sometimes anguish for their families. Anything long term can be seen as a joke-in-a-box and anything short term, like food, can be taken as a measure of how long the old person is expected to live.

In my father’s case the choice was easy. I’d simply buy him another stuffed animal that did things – different things to those already in his collection.

That’s how I came to buy the bear. It was a neat size – about that of a leg of lamb – and it talked. Its conversation, however, was strictly reflective. It could do no more than repeat what was said to it, in the same voice as the speaker.

Being childish, I wanted to play with it before I gave it to Dad for his 88th birthday. I lifted it out of its box, being careful not to damage the tabs and wrapping so I could later return it to its packet looking pristine. It took two fat batteries up its rectum. They promised hearty volume and longevity.

I turned it on, looked into its button eyes, and said hello. It said hello back. I said “I love you” and it immediately responded that it felt the same way about me. I tried a couple of news headlines, which it repeated back to me, and then I discovered that it could speak French as badly as I could.

But I quickly became disillusioned with my purchase. My father would like it, I supposed, and he could show it off to his friends, but for me the bear lacked independence. Good stuffed toys that did things had to be in control of themselves. They had to do their thing without participation from onlookers.

I was about to return the disappointing bear to its box when an idea hit me. I needed a second bear.

I went back to the toy shop and luckily there was one left. They had been popular, the sales girl told me, because people loved hearing their own voices.

Back home, I took the second bear from its box and fitted its batteries. Then I sat the two bears facing each other on the dining room table. I turned them both on and positioned my mouth very close to bear number one’s mouth. Its shiny acrylic fur tickled my lips. In my best bear’s voice I said to it “get fucked”. When it repeated my insult the second bear, thinking it was being spoken to, became instantly offended and told the first one to get fucked too. I stepped away from the table as they went at it, telling each other to get fucked until the quality of sound deteriorated through exponential distortion and they were simply growling at each other – which was more suitable for bears anyway.

My father liked his single bear and I gave the other one to the child across the road. I felt as though I was in the sad part of a wildlife documentary as I separated the bears. They would never speak to each other again – or any other of their species, for that matter.

Away in Malaysia

Away in Malaysia

Fraser’s Malaysian Log 2015

Why Malaysia?

First, we hadn’t been there – and we like most things Asian. But more to the point, we were looking for The Land of Thin, that magical place where one goes to gain health and lose weight. We were all steamed up for a health spa in India when Michelle discovered that the place we’d selected was awash with straw-type floor matting. The proprietors offered to change the entire floor covering of the establishment if “dear madam will be our honoured guest for one month” adding that there was a very good hospital next door if Michelle was in danger of choking to death via anaphylactic shock. We decided to look further. Up popped Malaysia – in the garb of a health resort about an hour out of Kuala Lumpur.

This illustrates how we’ve come to trust the Internet. Communicating with this resort, also in The Land of Thin, became a little unnerving when it got our stay dates wrong, asked for no money, then suddenly asked for all the money without a secure credit card portal, and when we offered a deposit only, stamped its foot and went back to no money; pay on arrival. It is possible that this place does not exist, that somebody has picked a few images from the net of swimming pools, bedrooms, trees and smiling, uniformed people behind reception desks and combined them as an imagined health retreat. A management staff, comprising serious but smiling Asian doctors holding qualifications from unknown universities, could complete the picture.

A two-day stopover in Kuala Lumpur will get us ready by building up unhealthy fat tissue, which the retreat can triumphantly remove. We want the staff there to feel a sense of achievement as they measure our circumferences and attribute the upcoming losses to their program.

My first toaster report comes from Sydney Airport, Singapore Airlines business class lounge, where we went for a pre-flight breakfast. They hadn’t gone to any trouble, proving a rather domestic vertical four-holer that was browned off from a few bread fires. My score: two out of ten. Then we had a second breakfast on board, our first lunch before arriving in Singapore and another lunch on Silk Air on our way to KL. We were pleased to be doing all this for the benefit of the Malaysian resort.

Silk Air isn’t very silky, by the way. It specialises in bug-like A320 aeroplanes still with Austin A40 brown vinyl seats (lavished only on business class) for short hops around SE Asia. On our flight the English captain had given first officer Tong a go at the joystick. Tong liked working the throttle up and down to dodge clouds and landed with a shock that tested the suspension of the A320 to its limit.

We trained it into town at KL and found the Shangri-La.Michelle hypnotised the hotel manager and when he woke up he’d upgraded us from an ordinary room to a suite: excellent bed, two toilets, bidet, generous-rose shower and a lounge room that we immediately made homely by allowing our suitcases to vomit.

The joy of the next morning’s breakfast (held in a football field size dining room) was to conduct my first proper hotel toaster review – which provided a landmark in the rich history I am compiling about these machines. Here was a genuine toaster family. The large mother toaster was the belt driven variety where bread disappears into the hotslot and returns via an aircraft escape slide to a tray underneath. The toaster comes with impressive buttons and switches on the front and a dial to increase the intensity. A young Indian lady of most pleasing appearance put her cold bread in and was very quickly rewarded with a piece of warm bread. “My goodness,” she muttered, “it needs more heat.” She turned the dial from beige to red, and returned the bread to the machine.

I realised that the dial doesn’t increase the heat but slows down the belt.
Her bread now proceeded at bridal speed on the moving rack while she peered in as it turned black and started to smoulder. Just short of ignition it slid into the tray. She prodded the thin layer of charcoal and declared it inedible as she reached for another slice of bread and wound back the dial.

Next to the mother toaster was its offspring, an identical but smaller toaster. One day, the kid would be a big toaster like his mum but for now he was training on single slices. I gave him two small slices of sourdough, set its little dial and he performed beautifully. He has a bright future.

On the way back to our table the devil spoke to me as I passed a chocolate fountain. I’d gone weak at the knees. A chocolate fountain at breakfast? How ridiculous! “You may not pass this way again,” the devil whispered as I stopped to marvel at the molten chocolate cascading over the mountain. I cried out “Lord help me to be strong,” but the devil had won and I returned to the table with a small glass half full of liquid chocolate – which I drank in a trance and then felt bilious all day.

Tomorrow I will ask Michelle to select my breakfast while I sit staring at the table.

5 September 2015

What the hell? Let’s do KL

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Base jumper’s view of Kuala Lumpur.

Since I didn’t dare test my resolve in the presence of the chocolate fountain in the main dining room, I chose the club lounge for breakfast this morning. And what did I discover? The dining room’s toaster has a twin sister living upstairs in the club lounge. As far as I can see, she doesn’t have a kid with her. Maybe she’s single. She’s certainly hot. I discovered this after feeding in four pieces of sourdough this morning and retrieving them from the escape slide beautifully brown. She’s a pro.

Her toast provided sustenance for our visit to the Petronas Twin Towers. We had booked tickets online but all that did was put us into the queue to exchange those tickets for real tickets, which they immediately exchanged for tickets swung from the neck on a lanyard.

There are not many ‘have to see’ places in KL, but the Petronas towers are definitely on the list. You may have seen the brand on Formula One cars and I think Harry Porter yelled out ‘petronas!’ as he waved his wand to summon murky cyclones to thwart his enemies. Maybe he was sponsored by Petronas.

Anyway, these towers are really something. When they were built in 1996 they were the world’s tallest buildings. Now they have fallen to number three, but still hold number one position for the tallest twin towers at 452 metres.

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The towers are joined by an old railway carriage. True or false?

The owners paid out US$1.6 billion to have them built and are now recovering the money, one ringgit at a time, from tourists who want to go up and come down in a series of elevators. Taking the tour is a bit like a cattle yard routine: herded in here, sent over there and channelled thorough the souvenir shop where you can buy all manner of things Petronas, including some hideous clocks that hang between the towers.

Having said that, the ascent offers a sensational view from the walkway that joins the towers at about their waist level, and then even better from the top (88 floors up) where, if I stood on tip-toe, I could see Bondi Beach.

One bloke has base-jumped from the building while, in September 2009, a French urban climber called Alain “Spiderman” Robert, using only his bare hands and feet, and with no safety devices, scaled to the top of Tower Two in just under 2 hours after his two previous efforts had ended in arrest.

One strange sensation when you reach the top is the continual minuscule movement of the tower. It has to be a flexible structure, otherwise it would snap off and make a terrible mess. Some of it, in fact, might land on Bondi Beach.

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Welcome to the Central Market – as long as you don’t want to do anything.

As a city, KL is haphazardly laid out. It has huge buildings, many quite beautiful, and more on the way, but it seems as though they are simply plonked down where there is a space. Roads? Yeah, well, you have to have the damn things so that people in cars can learn the art of patience, inner calm and bladder control by not moving for long periods of time.

But there is something missing in KL. It has no soul. That may be because there are three distinct cultures/races/religions vying for supremacy. It presents as a collection of the unrelated. There are many stock standard marble, glass and chrome shopping malls occupied by designer brands, and some endearingly grotty markets, but they are international rather than distinctive. Prices are about the same as you’d pay in Sydney, incidentally.

In many respects, the way Malaysia handles its racial confluence will be a guide for the rest of the world.

Tomorrow we journey to The Land of Thin. What awaits us is far from certain. We may have to escape through the jungle and steal an elephant to get home.

 7 September 2015

Size and chickens do matter

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Look out girls, I’m a fast runner!

I had become so obsessed with the toaster intrigue at the Shangri-La that I was compelled to engage the toast captain in conversation at breakfast in the main dining room yesterday morning. “Mother and child?” I said, pointing to the duo standing there with their innards aglow. The captain, a young lady done up in a white sailor-type uniform, took a step back from her counter, thinking I was crazy. I explained I was joking (I wasn’t) because that’s what the pair of toasters looked like.

She smiled and stepped forward again. “The management order first the big one,” she said, “then find it not enough, so they place second order, but out of stock. Only small one available. They buy that.”

I am, of course, devastated. The idea of a toaster family is dashed. I should never have asked her.

The omelettetier rescued my depression with another masterpiece, but not until I had been tested by you-know-what. Translated from the original ancient Greek:

“The oarsmen lashed Fralysses to the mast, filled their ears with black bean paste and rowed towards the chocolate fountain. As they drew nigh Fralysses beat his breast and cried out, using foul language at times, as he beseeched them to untie him so he could dip his cup into the glorious brown cascade. But they heard him not, for the black bean paste was dense and glutinous in their ears, and they kept rowing until they had reached the safety of the cereal bench where they untied him and released him into the custody of his wife.”

It was not until we were halfway to Malacca that I felt fully recovered from the chocolate fountain trauma. We whizzed along a magnificent expressway that runs down the spine of Malaysia all the way to Singapore. This is where to test your Ferrari or kill yourself on a motorbike. There 110 speed signs were ignored by plenty of hot cars and bikes howling along. We later discovered that Malaysian speed cameras cannot register a vehicle travelling at more than 180 kph, which explains much of the road behaviour.

Since our people mover had the name of the resort painted on the side, the likelihood of it being real escalated. We passed little villages set in dense foliage until we entered the gates and the epicentre of The Land of Thin.

I can’t reveal the name of the resort in case they track down my comments, take offence, and kick us out – after we’ve paid, no doubt.

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This might be the world’s biggest chair

The lobby was huge, covered by leagues club-type carpet whose screaming pattern wants to digest you. On one side, the interior designer had placed some reception desks and then looked around to see how the hell to fill the rest of the half-acre. The answer was to go to very old French palaces and copy the furniture. The result is remarkable.

 

We sat in the biggest chairs and lounges I’d ever seen or imagined. The whole place is in the same style. The owner said she wanted to give people an environmental experience they wouldn’t have at home. She succeded!

Our room, actually a villa looking like granny’s cottage set in a beautiful tropical garden, is also outfitted with colossal rococo furniture, carved, gilded, buttoned, bejewelled and pumped up to near bursting. The bed should have Napoleon sleeping in it. There are chandeliers, wood mouldings, burgundy curtains from a 1920s theatre, huge urns with paper flowers rioting to get out and a faux timber floor that bounces like a trampoline when you walk across it. All this stuff is virtually new because the resort has only been operating for a few months and hasn’t yet reached critical mass or been mistreated by yobbos.

This is both good and bad for us. We were the only people in the dining room last night, as we hoed into soup (consommé of can’t-get-fat) grilled chicken, vegies, and fruit from the hundred acre orchard that is a feature of the place. There is another couple staying here, but they had made off into town in search of action. So this whole place is currently running for four guests. This results in an intensity of care that you’d expect for royalty. The dining room staff held their breath every time we opened our mouths, and as we chewed they continually asked how we liked it – in between exchanging geographical anecdotes about where they were from and where we were from.

Prior to dinner we were taken to the health assessment department. In room one a handsome, young Chinese man sat me in a padded chair, asked me to put headphones on; no reason given and no sound therefrom, then entered a computer program, which showed up on a big screen behind him. Next, he positioned opposite me on the desk a little silver cylinder with a blinking red light in it. A flash on the screen and we were away, taking a reading of the condition of my entire body, one organ and joint at a time. For instance, a pancreas would flash up, dots would appear all over it and they would go different colours and then my pancreas score would be posted at the side. The scores mostly showed that my body was hardly worth selling for scrap. I am just a little suspicious of this machine. How could the red light see past the desk and down to my legs?

Room number two had a beautiful Indian girl done up in a white dustcoat to make her look like a doctor. She is actually the official nutritionist. She weighed me, measured my body fat (which she said was off the dial) and informed me that, for my height, my ideal weight would be 66 kilos. I was that weight when I was about 12 – with no fat. Again I queried the findings but we’ll see how it works out.

She also instructs the kitchen on how to cook tasteless, boring, bland food. Michelle resolved to tackle her about it, and may well find herself the assistant cook.

The charming Chinese manager showed us over the rest of the resort. There are treatment rooms for a great many mysterious ailments. Lying naked in the salt room (us, not the manager) is supposed to cure complaints you didn’t know you had. There are exercise programs, orchard walks, a superb swimming pool, saunas and steam rooms.

This morning we were met by the gym trainer, Mr Muscles, and his languid Indian female assistant whose main claim to exercise instruction was that she used to be a good hockey player. These two took us on a 3K walk through the orchard and jungle. It was a hilly path, obliging me to go up slowly in first gear and stop often to point out interesting pieces of the scenery as an excuse for catching my breath.

We passed the poultry farm where our tasteless chicken comes from. It is very free range, with chooks and ducks wandering through the thickets. A white rooster, seeking to get his rocks off, chased two hens at a breakneck speed around the yard. I don’t know which one he caught but it was obvious that neither wanted to be raped. Some crowing from behind a shed signalled that he’d scored. I realised, for the first time in my life, that God had created roosters to run faster than hens otherwise there’d be no chickens.

8 September 2015

Almost alone in the Land of Thin

Land of Thin

At last, in The Land of Thin

Michelle is already feeling confined, and it’s only day four.

She is suggesting we go over the wall for a couple of days in Malacca township, which is about an hour’s drive away. She has good reason, of course, because a full day of activity here is like a week elsewhere.

I should break the disappointing news that there is no hotel toaster here. They don’t toast, ever. It is against the Constitution of The Land of Thin.

I should also mention that right now we are the only guests in this whole complex. This gives us a staff to guest ratio of about 40 to one. We are hoping for some more arrivals tomorrow so we can move about without being ‘helped’ in every move we make.

Let me take you through a typical day.

At seven o’clock Mr Muscles and the Languid One are waiting in a misty dawn for a trail walk – after taking our blood pressure and encouraging us to drink a glass of dark green good-for-you. The walk takes us through a mixture of orchards, animal enclosures, jungle and staff accommodation comprising randomly placed buildings buried in the trees. We stop often to discuss fruit.

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The best gym equipment ever

When we arrive back at home base we are ushered into the gym whereMr Muscles works me over on the latest torturous, high-tech machines. He tells me he’s trained some famous tennis players, including Steffi Graf, who gave him the racquet she used to win Wimbledon. As a mark of respect he has it restrung every year, although he doesn’t use it.

The Languid One tries to train Michelle – who knows more about the exercises than she does. Motivation is therefore very low but Michelle still battles through, glaring jealously at me. She wants Mr Muscles.

We tumble out of the gym with only enough energy to make it to breakfast, which initially comprised fruit, fruit, and more bloody fruit, until Michelle terrorised the chef with the news that fruit has high quantities of sugar – which is a no-no for us. Since then, all the meals improved. She had to convince him that we liked Asian cuisine.

After breakfast we lie naked in the heated salt room, a modest two-person space whose walls are made out of thick salt tiles heated from behind. Good for respiration and all other ailments you can name. We lurch out of there, sweating lightly, to enter the sauna to sweat heavily.

This facility comprises two little wooden dolls’ houses which each hold one person. They are as hot as buggery, falling just short of cremating the occupant. Loud, meditative piano music helps pass the high drip time. Twenty minutes later, as our skin is about to peel, they let us out.

On this particular day I have a lymphatic drainage treatment scheduled. I am wrapped in a hard plastic shroud, which acts like an all-over blood pressure machine cuff. It squeezes and lets go of various sections of the torso, sending all the retained fluid rushing in a frenzy out of my fat cells, seeking refuge in my bladder. This means I can enter the world’s longest peeing competition with a good chance of winning.

After a can’t-put-on-weight lunch the yoga lady awaits. I hate yoga. I tell her this. She smiles benignly out of a perfectly square Chinese face and reassures me that she will give us very gentle exercises. She stands with her back to us but facing a wall mirror in which I must confront my outrageous stomach and turkey: the loose skin that hangs beneath the chin and becomes worse as time passes. And if that isn’t bad enough, she tells me to place my left foot behind my right foot. I become confused because I can see her image in the mirror more clearly than I can see her, and her right foot in the mirror is where her left foot really is. When I follow the mirror and place my feet in the wrong position she gets cross and turns around to show this idiot which foot is which, but now the back of her feet are in the mirror and I start thinking that she’s got four feet, none of which corresponds to any of mine.

We sit down, she and Michelle cross-legged but I can’t cross my legs. Even sitting on the floor leads me to roll over backwards. She thinks I’m clowning around and gets cross again. After the session was over I think she grizzled to the management about me. Needless to say we’ve cancelled yoga for the duration.

In another fat fighting treatment I am laid on a bench face up while two diminutive Indian girls go at my stomach with what looks like a cattle prod on the end of an electrical cable. It makes a sound like a machine gun and is drawn over my stomach as through the operator is writing a letter. This machine is supposed to break up the fat cells that hitherto have lived in a close commune. After seven thousand shots I am released into the steam room where we commence a journey that could end up turning us into steamed fish were we not rescued after twenty minutes.

The Languid One meets us in the thermal swimming pool building and puts us through an aqua aerobics exercise routine. This is really quite good, except that the pool is too shallow (and at bath temperature) so that if I get low enough in the water to obey the Languid One’s instructions I capsize.

Fifty minutes of body massage follows. They are conducted in nicely appointed treatment rooms but one must wear long, very large, dark blue disposable shorts, lest a flash one’s genitals turns the masseuse into a pillar of salt.

After the fourth shower of the day we go into the vast dining room and eat dinner alone, apart from visits from the manager, the chef, the nutritionist, the waiter and the magical machine operator who all want to see if we are okay. Should we leave, this place will have nothing to do but sit, staring at itself in the mirror.

After dinner we visit the salt room again and then hobble to our spongy granny’s cottage. We’ve brought fifty DVDs to watch and we settle on the huge two-seater and select one from Mad Men. It won’t play. Why? Because the Asian DVD system is different to ours – and the rest of the US and Europe, it seems.

The management is now running around Malacca trying to scare up a ‘foreign’ DVD player. We couldn’t have sat up for long anyway. By nine o’clock we’re seriously exhausted and must ready ourselves for Mr Muscles and the Languid One at seven the next morning for another walk.

14 September 2015

The miracle of Vanquish and live theatre

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The stage is set for our debut in Chinese live theatre.

It is hard to believe we’ve been in boot camp for a week. It now feels a lot less bootish. Since we told the chef we really, really like Asian food, the meals have been superb. Our nutritionist has been keeping an eagle eye on the chef to make sure he doesn’t give us normal restaurant-size portions. Partial starvation is an important factor in weight loss.

Even though our intake is way down on usual, we don’t feel hungry between meals. We put this down to a total absence of processed sugar, which, the wise ones tell us, makes the victim feel hungry. Feeling hungry can lead to eating which leads to girth expansion, which leads to staff suicide here.

This place is all about heat. There is the cremo-sauna, the death by steam room, the outside air, the hydro pool, the Jacuzzi, chilli in the food, and now, our first two treatments by a machine called Vanquish. It’s the hottest of the lot. The treating doctor tells me that we are born with a set number of fat cells and they never increase. The buggers just get bigger. Their weakness is heat. They collapse at 42 degrees – never to return. The difficulty is targeting them and not body tissue that you don’t want to collapse and never return. Enter Vanquish, which gets stuck into the fat cells via microwave. A treatment (we need four) takes 45 minutes. A three-section plate is positioned over your stomach 1.5 cm from the skin and the machine is turned on, producing a menacing hum. You begin to feel pleasantly warm, then very warm, then definitely too warm, then so hot you’d swear your skin was on fire. The passive faced nurse, who is selected for her poor command of English, can’t convey to you how many minutes to go to switch-off. It is a case of ‘let pain be your friend’. You can, of course, scream and tell them to cease and desist, but there goes your chance of ever seeing your six-pack again.

The doctor says that I will get the full benefit of Vanquish over the two months after I get home when my trousers fall down and my belts do not have enough holes down the tightening end. She says that because we’ve annihilated a number of fat cells, and they won’t reproduce themselves, the ‘cure’ is permanent. Do I believe her? I want to. Michelle wants to but is skeptical. Praise the Lord!

After a brief flurry of arrivals and departures we’re back as the only guests – and being over indulged by the staff. They couldn’t be more charming, helpful and attentive; we appreciate that. But a few mates to spread the intensity would be welcome.

Last night, the manager invited us to dinner and a ‘show’ in Malacca, about an hour’s drive away. This is the major tourist town in Malaysia, having been attacked and occupied by at least five countries in the last 600 years. Today it is a mixture of leftover cultures that attracts foreign and local visitors in droves. We visited at night, making it hard to see the sights but the droves were certainly there. Jonker Street, boasting a famous night market, is like getting on to a Japanese train in rush hour. The offerings are the same stuff as you find in night markets all over the world: plastic novelties, dodgy sunglasses, watches, T-shirts, animated toys and local food.

But the real purpose of our invitation was to visit a new hotel, which is the three star, down-market sister to the one we’re staying in here. With 340 rooms, it loomed up into the hot night sky, its attractive black wrought iron balconies standing out from the white painted concrete of the walls. However these balconies can’t be used because they provide an ideal place (an afterthought, methinks) for the individual room air conditioners.

The third floor conference room had been converted into a kind of concert hall, not deep, but very wide, with a small stage in the middle, against the wall. The show was supposed to attract a paying audience, maybe from the hotel, but certainly from tourists who’d like know something of Malacca’s history and culture. The show started out as a serious piece of didactic doco, but attracted no patrons. So they threw in a funny man singer who does impersonations, unfortunately always in his own voice, along with barely referential costuming. But his energy, Asian type humour and passable singing voice just get him over the line. He was supported by an unattractive middle-aged woman done up in a traditional Chinese outfit who did a bit of forgettable singing and also tried to explain what was going on, but didn’t really succeed, because they’d combined a traditional Chinese wedding ceremony with unrelated appearances by Mr Funny. There was also a dance troop of four girls who twirled here and there for no particular reason. The show would be infinitely more popular if they took their clothes off.

Because the show is still in the process of being tested, the stage lighting was restricted to two severe overhead burners that lit the top of everybody’s head but left the faces and bodies in comparative darkness.

I’m going into detail here because, as VIPs, we were seated in the front row, right in the middle, within touching distance of the damn stage. This is not a good place to sit when you have a funny man on the rampage and a very small audience to work with. The minute he came out as Charlie Chaplin I knew I was a sitting duck. He pointed at me, sang to me, made me to sing to him, and then dealt me (and Michelle) into the show by compelling us to play elderly relatives in the wedding ceremony.

It was a great night – not.

 

16 September 2015

Training and peeing

 

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The Languid One and Dr Muscles

We’re getting to know our trainers, since we see them at dawn every day for scientific body beautification and later for aqua aerobics. I’ve had to upgrade Mr Muscles to Dr Muscles. Without doubt he is an exceptional personal trainer, but while I am working out he keeps me spellbound with stories of famous people he has trained and the qualifications he claims to hold.The stories are expanding to the point where I wonder how he could have fitted all that into his 43 years. And more to the point, why, with such vast experience, is he working in an elaborate, out-of-the-way start-up health retreat with hardly any guests to train: currently two?

He claims to have trained many world famous sportspeople, including Tiger Woods (pre being clobbered by Mrs Woods), a world champion Chinese table tennis player, the world champion female badminton player (resulting in another racket presented to Dr Muscles) while Maria Sharapova while training for Wimbledon, drew an unused service ball out of her knickers, signed it, and gave it to the Doc.I searched his name on the Internet but came up with no references.That seemed strange, since he claims to have occupied so many important positions in sports medicine. They include five university degrees, senior lecturer, professor, faculty dean and doctor of philosophy. Along the way he has been Asian Latin dancing champion (and leading instructor) a champion body builder, boxer and wrestler. He has had many successful bouts in mixed martial arts (cage fighting).

He tells some wonderful tales about combat in the cage. He went to Thailand to a championship (which, of course, he won) and came up against a Thai fighter who was carrying on about how tough he was, snarling and pulling aggressive faces at Dr Muscles during the introduction. “Usually, I take fighting as a sport and respect my opponent,” says Doctor Muscles, “but for this man, I took it personal! I decided to knock him out and then throw him out of the ring.”

And, of course, that is just what happened. I don’t know how he got the snarling one over the top of the cage, but over he went, landing on his head. That put him into a coma for a month. It pays not to snarl at Dr Muscles. But then the Thai police were called and they handcuffed Dr Muscles and charged him with assault. After five hours in the lockup the Doc was able to convince the sergeant that this was a sport and not a street brawl, whereupon Dr Muscles was released on a wave of apologies.

Dr Muscles has only been knocked out once, he tells me. He was beating the tripe out of a Chinese opponent when the bell went for the end of the round. Dr Muscles released his opponent from a deadly grip and turned around to go to his corner when the Chinaman belted him in the ear, producing 30 seconds of la-la land. “This was a gift,” says Dr Muscles nonchalantly. “I’d never been knocked out before and I needed to know how it felt.”

Later, when training a Saudi prince in mixed martial arts, he passed on the gift by knocking him out three times a week. Not good for the prince? On the contrary, the prince became a champion and always acknowledged the contribution of Dr Muscles in his victory speeches.

I know what you’re thinking but, in the end, it doesn’t really matter whether he is bullshitting or not. He knows all about personal training and he keeps up wonderfully entertaining chat.

Our other trainer, the Languid One, is turning out to be less languid and tells of a far more believable life than Dr Muscles. She has a sports training degree and has hit her straps as our aqua aerobics trainer. Being Muslim, she is given to covering up with layers of Lycra to nullify the female form, but that didn’t stop her from jumping into the pool with us to demonstrate how to do some of the exercises. I imagined the struggle she would have had later pulling off her wet gear. It would have been like peeling an onion.

Having said all that, she is a very likeable girl. Although not a beauty contest winner, she is intelligent, with a great sense of humour. Michelle is, of course, now looking for a husband for her.

Along with heat, another dominating force here is peeing. When the unwelcome fat cells collapse, the water they used to hold goes rushing off to the bladder where it joins the litres of water, herbal tea, fruit juice and detox drinks one is obliged to take by mouth. The result is a maximum bladder tolerance of about half an hour or less during the day. I make at least four visits to the water closet during the night. I often dream dangerously about peeing – but it hasn’t resulted in the dream crossing over to reality, yet.

Going anywhere out of toilet range is asking for trouble. However, serendipity can bring rewards when one is caught short. We went to a small town about fifteen minutes drive away last Sunday to visit a coin operated laundry. In case you haven’t noticed, hotel laundry is an outrageous rip-off. You can generally buy a new shirt for less than having your existing one hotel laundered. We went to Majid Tana to beat the system.

The bank of coin operated laundry machines sit in an open shop. It takes about 30 minutes for a wash and 25 more for a dry. The facilities comprise washing and drying machines, sorting tables and, unsurprisingly, no urinal.

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Not what I thought it was.

The dusty street, with its closed shops (being Sunday) offered no obvious solution. During the drying cycle I was becoming very interested in bladder release. A small park opposite with some strategically placed foliage looked more and more attractive as the pressure mounted. Finally I picked my way through the traffic and went bush. As I was standing there looking down with a benign smile on my face I found I was above a creek fed by a council drain. Swimming towards me down the drain was a Komodo dragon – the smaller Malaysian version of the Indonesian variety that chases people, view biting. Luckily, the Komodo junior is more chicken than dragon, but this fella was the size and shape of a medium crocodile with a lizard’s head, including darting blue tongue. It flopped out of the drain and into the creek, swam unhurriedly past me and vanished into the reeds.

Peeing, therefore, can bring unexpected sightseeing pleasures for the peeor as wells the peeee.

The fact that the resort is again down to 70 staff looking after two guests weighs heavily upon us. Take the dining room for example. It is serviced by two chefs, two waiters, along with a receptionist who assists us in choosing a table from an empty range of about forty. The chef who cooks the meal generally comes out to discuss his handiwork at length.

Last night the head chef offered to slaughter a goat and make a dish out of it. Trouble is, we’ve visited the goats and couldn’t bear to eat one of them. Michelle suggested she would prefer they milk the nanny and make cheese.

The number two chef, who is Chinese, made us a special dessert last night. It looked to be a delight as the waiter approached our table. Served in a cocktail glass it had the promise of a dark chocolate mousse with a syrup drizzle on top. Not. It was an almost black jelly made from reduced tea. I didn’t think anything could be more tasteless than water but this was. I guess that since we’ve asked the kitchen to go Asian for us we have to get the odd shocker.

 

20 September 2015

Dr Muscles, Dutch manners and budgies

 

Fraser and Mr Muscles on the trail.

Fraser (the fat one on the left) and Dr Muscles on the trail.

Dr Muscles took me walking yesterday morning. He picked the hardest hills, but I’m becoming fitter because I managed them without stopping and calling for oxygen. I was also distracted from my huffing and puffing by his ongoing revelations of qualifications and sporting highlights. In addition to everything I’ve listed so far, he now claims to be an expert rock climber and qualified scuba diving instructor. For his PhD thesis he didn’t write the usual bookworth of a hitherto unexplored subject. Not our Dr Muscles. Confounding his supervising professor, he wrote a remarkable manual for personal training, which has now become the chief reference for sports medicine institutions – certainly throughout Asia. It is, of course, a best seller.

There’s more. He modestly claims to be a mixed martial arts Asian champion, undefeated in the light heavyweight division. I asked him if there was a heavy lightweight division, but he didn’t see anything funny in that. He intends to defend his belt early next year when a worthy contender rises from the ranks. Oddly, Google has missed all this and has failed to list him.

Dr Muscles likes fighting tall men because they have longer legs on which to land debilitating kicks. He speaks of turning their legs purple with bruises, which is a bit unlikely, since it takes more than ten minutes for bruises to turn purple. He can also surprise tall opponents by leaping high enough to grab their heads and slam them into his iron thigh before he lands.

On his last title defence, Dr Muscles was going toe to toe with a tall fighter who had been skilful enough to open a cut above his eye. Blood clouded his vision so he switched to the very-difficult-to-master ‘fight by sound’ method, since his ears were still in good working order. He looked out of the cage to see his wife in tears nursing their recently arrived baby. This was a terrific spur to Dr Muscles and he immediately knocked out the tall fighter. On this occasion he didn’t throw his opponent out of the cage.

One probably genuine gruesome account was about his seven months working for the prince in Saudi Arabia. Weekends in the capital, Riyadh, comprise Thursday and Friday, with Friday being execution day. The city square attracts a big crowd to see criminals, found guilty of a variety of crimes, some unproven, have their heads cut off with a meat cleaver.

When it rains here it is like a huge bead curtain of water descending on the buildings, the orchard and the jungle. The same happens in KL. Before travelling to the Land of Thin we went to a highly recommended Chinese restaurant in KL whose serving staff treated us as though we weren’t there. The management clearly preferred locals. But the food made their indifference worthwhile. Towards the end of one of the best Chinese meals we’d ever eaten, there was a typical Malaysian downpour. Could they kindly call a taxi to take us to our hotel? Ah, not possible. No taxi. You wait long time. Better you walk to find taxi.

Outside, in the hammering rain, we dodged along, mostly under small shop verandahs, until we came to the Park Royal Hotel where a huddle had gathered outside the foyer waiting for taxis that normally stream up the ramp. Demand had soaked up the taxi supply, which exasperated the shuffling crowd. Heading one large group was a tall, fancy shirted Dutchman who wanted to establish his credentials by commandeering two taxis ahead of everybody else. He did this by towering over the young bellboy who was trying to sort out the queue, and ordering him to produce taxis. The bellboy couldn’t oblige, but instead explained to the Dutchman that he and his party had to wait their turn if, perchance, a taxi did appear. The Dutchman then turned on a tantrum, telling his followers, all small Asians, that bellboys were always trying to pull this old trick – whatever that was – and that he’d report this particular one to the hotel management. Still no taxis arrived. The Dutchman went into another tirade. Then, miraculously, the rain stopped. “We don’t need your antics or your taxis, you arsehole,” the Dutchman spat at the bellboy. “We’ll walk now”.

With that, Pied Piper like, he led the troupe of about ten people down the ramp and into the street.

“Not my fault,” the bellboy said, clearly upset. “No taxis.”

We didn’t have long to wait before a taxi arrived. As we got in, there was as clap of thunder and it began teeming again. I could almost see the Dutchman and followers in the steamy street, running for their sodden lives, having left behind one happy bellboy.

One wall of windows in the cavernous, empty dining room we visit three times a day looks into a very large aviary. It could be a great draw card, offering diners a variety of birds to watch while they consumed dollops of good health. Disappointingly, the whole aviary is given over to budgerigars. Okay, they’re cute enough and some of them might talk in isolation, but what about a substantial parrot or two, maybe a randy breeding pair of macaws, or a few horny billed Galargambone scrub turkeys? The aviary is screaming out for watchable birds. Even Indian Mynas would be more interesting because at least they continually fight. I’d really like to see them bring the white rooster and a few speedy hens into the cage for some great chase scenes.

As it is, I now know everything a budgerigar can possibly do. It is not very much.

Today is our halfway mark. We’re celebrating by going into Majid Tana to visit our favourite Malaysian coin laundry and, hopefully, see my Komodo dragon in the drain. We may even buy a shaving of dark chocolate just to remind us of the evil that still exists in the culinary world.

If we came home right now, nobody would see much change after two weeks of deprivation and intense therapies. It is over the next two weeks that we expect some results, but even then, it won’t be spectacular. The point of difference about this program is that, if we are to believe the hype, improvement builds for months after we get home. This is a handy philosophy for the resort too, because it is a long way for us to come back to exhibit our stubborn blubber if we want to complain.

25 September 2015

Lizards, pussycats, jimjams and weenie Wina

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Majid Tana market gave rise to a new business: Auspuss.

 

My Komodo Dragonette turned out not to be that at all. What I saw swimming down the drain in Majid Tana was an Asian Water Monitor. I had been misinformed by the locals – as often happens in this part of the world.

This lizard grows up to three metres long and is found in many parts of South East Asia. It eats fish, frogs, rodents, birds, crabs, and snakes. One of its specialities is knowing where people feed their cats and pinching the food.

It gets better. The Asian Water Monitor is the most intelligent reptile on earth. It can count snails, among other feats of brainpower, although my research didn’t uncover why snail counting is important. This practice might mark the prehistoric beginning of banking, since the lizard has been around for a very long time.

Still on reptiles, Dr Muscles took me on a privileged detour during one of our punishing walks to see the property’s crocodiles. I thought they lived in the man-made lake and were free to hunt anything in the huge orchard, including people. But not so. They live in an enclosure surrounded by a high concrete wall. The two of them are not much bigger than my Asian Water Monitor.

Dr Muscles tells me they are quite old and are religiously fed one chicken a day each. I imagine a cartoon where one is saying to the other, “Shit, not another bloody chicken!”

On our most recent visit to the coin laundry in Majid Tana we found watching clothes going around in a washing machine was not as engaging as walking around the night market next door. It was just setting up for its Sunday Sellathon. The ‘shops’ are foldable canvas tents with open fronts to take a counter. The butcher, a star attraction, has his sides of meat and various cuts therefrom on display on a bench at the front of his canvas shop or hanging from hooks attached to the tent frame. He doesn’t bother with refrigeration, or even a halfhearted piece of ice to keep the meat from going off or the flies from going on.

Walking along the roadway between the stands we came across a pet vendor. He had several rabbits and a cage holding three kittens. We fell in love with the one in the middle who gave us the ‘take me home’ look that kittens do so well. The price raised our eyebrows. They were asking more than two hundred dollars (our money) for each of these moggies. The Languid One later told us that was cheap because cats are highly prized in Malaysia. (I hope not to eat). Purebreds would cost huge dollars. Here’s a great potential business, and remember that you saw it here first: importing abandoned and stray cats from Australia. Our pounds are full of them. I’m sure you wouldn’t have to worry about vaccination or de-sexing. Auspuss ® is born.

Since I didn’t die of a heart attack on the first orchard trail walk, Dr Muscles has decided to see if he can subsequently induce one. He has designed a route especially for me. We begin by following an up-sloping wide road, which turns into a narrow paved road that goes past the helipad and then mercilessly climbs and twists into the orchard and jungle hills. You think you are about to reach the summit when it takes another turn and off it goes again. When you do reach a small plateau you find you’re at an intersection where you have the choice of a gentle down-slope or a horrible bitumen road climb that gets closer to vertical the further it goes. It actually leads to a half built house that looks out over the entire property. Using his thumb as an indicator, Dr Muscles chooses the climb for me.

Two middle aged Chinese women joined us yesterday and assured Dr Muscles they’d be able to handle the cardio challenge. I must say they did pretty well until we reached the intersection and got the thumb. When we reached the house at the top one of them had a throw into the shrubs while the other looked for a toilet.

Dr Muscles hopes that’s shaken them off, because today we were back on our own again and he made me go up the dreaded climb twice. When I didn’t fall down with exhaustion he announced that I would have to go up and down four times without a break before he’d be satisfied that I had worked hard enough.

Little knots of people drift in and out of here for short stays, but for most of the time, a staff of nearly 70 is deployed looking after just two of us. Intensity aside, I think we lucked out. This is a new, very well equipped health retreat at a very competitive rate. Its main problem is that of organisation. Rather than laying down a schedule for the various daily exercises and treatments, the manager tries to please everybody by moving the service time slots around. The system clogged immediately when the two Hong Kong ladies wanted their orchard trail walk at the same time we had arranged for our gym workout; requiring the same two staff members.

The Chinese lady manager, who is an absolute darling, frothed at the mouth trying to solve the jigsaw. I can’t imagine how the place could function with, say, even 20 people out its potential 80. It would lapse into chaos. Design problems would also surface. For instance, the male and female spa changing rooms have 20 lockers each but could only fit about four people to use them. The three beautifully tiled circular shower recesses in each offer a hand held showerhead and an overhead (my preference), which you can’t stand under because there is a marble and tile stool built just where the water lands.

This means you have to shower sitting down – not the best posture for washing the undercarriage. And the water pressure and temperature has a will of its own too.

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Our hero contemplating a swim in the vast, shallow pool.

The swimming pool is vast and wonderful, as long as you don’t mind a constant depth of 1.2 meters. Up one end is a roofed section where water pressure therapy is offered. You can arrange your body in front of various jet streams for massage. It would have cost a king’s ransom to build and it is an impressive feature. But, in truth, very few people would return after a bit of playing around in which they would experience unexpected forced water entry into all of their bodily orifices.

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The gym is equipped with Technogym machines, which are the best in the business and a delight to use. While you’re walking, pushing or pulling, you have a choice of watching a screen with Facebook, Internet, Twitter, and YouTube – you name it. You could jog your way through a major business deal.

In the spa there are three massage girls. I’ve chosen Wina as my regular. Wina by name and weenie by stature. She has the hands and feet of a six-year-old girl, but enough strength to crush a coconut. Javanese, she has huge, engaging brown eyes and continually smiles. But she speaks only in a whisper and then only utters necessary sentences like, “are you comfortable sir?” and, “is the pressure satisfactory sir?” If I ask a question I have to repeat it twice before I get a yes or no answer. She massages me every day to the point where I’m almost sick of it. I’m also a bit embarrassed by regularly presenting this rough and wrinkled bag known as my body to be kneaded and pummeled as though I will be cured of something

At our weigh-in and measure session yesterday we hadn’t yet achieved our goals – or even hopeful expectations. But we battle on with a sugar and fat free diet plus physical punishment.

Is it worth it?

Yes in every respect, as well as being a roll-the-dice experience that I relish.

29 September 2015

Hair to dye for and toasters make a comeback

In order to save you from a bad fright when next we meet, I have an admission to make. While scanning my body in the mirror, desperately trying to detect some signs of blubber-deflation, I arrived at my head and couldn’t help noticing that my hair had suffered from the tropical sun, steam, too many showers and the salty swimming pool water. Instead of the usual rampant russet, with which you would be familiar, it had become very pale, not quite white, but hovering around Richie Benaud beige.

This is what prompted me to buy a box of Bigen Speedy Hair Color Conditioner with Natural Herbs from a Malaccan pharmacy.

Not being familiar with hair dye, I pulled out the instructions written in ten languages, to which English seemed to have been reluctantly added. I put my faith into following the diagrams, which told me to squeeze from each of two tubes enough goop to fill the two channels in the plastic ‘comb through’ applicator. It was like an Araldite system, one being the colour and the other the developer. They needed to marry at the critical moment. Leave for ten minutes and wash off, it said. I squeezed, combed through and repeated the process until my head looked like a neatly ploughed hillside. The man in the mirror remained disbelieving and beige until the eighth minute when the chemical reaction struck like lightening. I rushed for the shower, but too late. Instead of an autumnal hue I had been rendered dark brown, bordering on black. I desperately shampooed but of no avail.

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The tragic brown-out

I hoped it might lighten when it dried, but it didn’t. I now look like a Choc-top on legs. My massage girl did a double take when she saw me, thinking that here was a new client. She managed to mutter that it made me look ‘more young’, but I knew what she and her colleagues were saying between laughter: ‘he look like the mutton dressed like the lamb’.

If we meet during the next three months you will probably find I will be wearing a beanie, both indoors and outdoors, whether the temperature is hot or cold. I will wear it playing tennis and at business meetings. You won’t see my hair again until it has returned to its natural state of rampant russet.

The owner of this health resort and her rich husband are hell-bent upon becoming hoteliers – among many other things. Last March they built and opened a 329 room hotel in the tourist heart of Malacca. That’s the one to which were invited to see not the greatest show on earth two weeks ago. This time their generosity extended to providing a car and driver to take us back to the hotel for a one or two night stay free of charge.

We thought a short break of one night with a day either side would be a real world contrast to the strictures of controlled food and hard exercise. Having now returned, I’d have to say that the Imperial Heritage is one of the most peculiar hotels I’ve ever stayed in.

It stands on a skinny piece of land that probably came at a very low price because nobody thought they could build a hotel on it. The resulting building resembles a huge wafer in that it is very wide and very long but only one room deep. The guest rooms are accessed by an external walkway, which means that in a severe rainstorm you will get wet trying to get into your room.

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The shower was built for small, thin people.

There are eighteen floors – but really there aren’t, because floors 4, 13 and 14 have been deleted so as not to offend superstitious Chinese guests who cannot abide the number 4.

Each room, plus the walkway, takes up the entire width of the building. Our room seemed okay at first look but then some design shortcomings surfaced. The bathroom had the narrowest shower I’ve ever seen. It was a like a crack in the tiled wall, with either a hand held shower head (which was about to fall out of the wall) or another shower head, higher up, that fired water at 45 degrees. At the end was a shower curtain that wanted to have a shower too.

The toilet was positioned right next to the door on the door opening side, meaning that you’d need to know your partner well if you blundered in at the wrong moment. And to finish it off, the ceiling was leaking water and bits of plaster on to the vanity bench.

Michelle and I spent a restless night and only discovered why in the morning. The room had been fitted with a short bed. The mattress was of good quality but when we lay down our feet hung over the end. It reminded me of my boyhood’s Laurel and Hardy comic strips where the two, wearing their hats, shared a double bed that was also too short and showed their boots hanging over the end. I think the hotel is trying to attract diminutive Asian guests, where anybody under five feet would find the bed quite satisfactory.

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The standard Asian bed leaves a bit to be desired – the bit at the end, actually

Ah breakfast, and a chance to do a toaster report. This was quite a bright spot in the hotel, but only after I had spooned out some baked beans on to my plate and when I went to eat them they were stone cold. They hadn’t turned on the heater. All the other hot dishes were likewise cold.

Back to the toaster. This unusual model stood on four spindly legs that made it look as though it was expecting to survive a flood. It presented itself side on because you put the toast in one end and it came out the other. Two passes and you had good brown toast. However, there was a mystery tray that ran underneath. I asked the toast captain about its purpose. He bent down condescendingly and when he straightened up he announced that it was part of the machine. Yes, I knew that. It could hardly have been part of some other machine. I asked again, and again he pursed his lips and bent theatrically from the waist for a prolonged examination. It is there to collect crumbs, he sniffed, and walked away to avoid this annoying Australian asking any more stupid questions. Nevertheless, I gave this toaster seven and a half out of ten.

Malacca is a mixed-up city, a potpourri of the architecture left behind by five conquerors, three races (Malay, Chinese and Indian), a number of religions (which Islam dominates) and a largely corrupt government. It suffers worse air pollution than Beijing because it is choked with cars and is overlaid by ash clouds that drift across from its close neighbor, Indonesia, as its burns off its crops and forest residue.

The city boasts an 80-meter high tower called Taming Sari that takes sightseers up and down in a revolving glass doughnut to look over the city and out to sea. Fancying such challenges I bought a ticket (Michelle pleaded heat distress and retired to the car) and up I went in the company of fifty squealing schoolkids. At the top, the pollution was so bad, even at that height, that I could only see a few kilometres, and certainly not out to sea or anywhere else worthwhile.

 

2 October 2015

Chez Chans, dress codes and Nonya no-no

Malacca has a few historical places we felt obliged to visit.One was the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum that occupies three adjoining houses in a very narrow street in the old part of town where many Chinese had lived nearly two centuries ago. These houses have been preserved more or less in their original state since the Chan family (no, one wasn’t a detective called Charlie) bought the houses in 1861 and have owned them ever since. Now into their fourth generation, the multiple Chans don’t live there anymore but visit en masse on special occasions like Chinese New Year.

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Wherein dwelt the Chan family.

The carved furniture and some staircases beggar belief, they are so ornate and intricate. All joinery was achieved without the use of nails, since they believed that nails should only be used to seal coffins. Their crockery, glassware and utensils are still there, along with a 170-year-old bottle of Hennessy brandy that had gone almost black with age. But in spite of the wonderful furnishings it is how the family lived that fascinated me the most.

Marriages were strictly arranged by the family elders. The newlyweds usually only saw each other properly for the first time on their wedding night in the nuptial chamber. That really worried me. I mean, how would it be watching the bride struggling out of her layers of official clobber and finding she had a huge bum when the groom hated huge bums. Or he may step down from his built-up wedding slippers and only come up to her chin – when she couldn’t stand short blokes. Incidentally, once women reached the age of 20 they were considered unmarriageable because they were too old. The guide commented that brides under 20 these days border on being considered victims of molestation.

The house had a low cost, never-fail, non-electric surveillance system to see who was knocking at the front door. A tiny square peephole cut into the upstairs front room floor gave a view down onto the street where the knocker would be standing. Reading my mind, our guide assured us that the man of the house might be tempted to pee through the hole but didn’t, because there was an ornate chamber pot for that. Since the toilets were downstairs, this chamber pot was the only designated receptacle upstairs. After candles out, the staircase was locked until morning against thieves or late returning husbands.

I’m glad the system doesn’t apply here during our ‘cure’ period because one chamber pot for the night wouldn’t even touch the sides.

These three houses are very narrow but very long. The reason was that the government levied taxes according to the width of the frontage and even the wealthy Chans didn’t mind a bit of tax avoidance. Each house had two internal courtyards open to the sky, bringing light and fresh air into the house, plus a bit of rain water, which was cleverly drained away. Wedding nasty surprises aside, they must have been wonderful houses in which to live.

Another draw card in Malacca is the Floating Mosque. Of course, in keeping with such fanciful claims, it doesn’t float. Rather, it sits out in shallow cloudy seawater on pylons. It is quite sizeable, with the usual open field of carpet under the central dome where the faithful kneel to pray and listen to the imam instruct them how to avoid sinfulness.

As we approached the mosque we had to pass the dress code barrier.

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The Floating Mosque that floats about as much as the Sydney Opera House does.

A frowning inspection determined that I was not required to augment my clothing since my long shorts covered my knees, which, if they had been visible, would have driven Muslim women crazy with lust. Michelle was not so lucky. Although she was wearing a black floating two-piece cotton outfit, her neck and elbows were discernible, which was a no-no. She was obliged to go into the costume department and emerged in a pale blue almost-burka with only her unsmiling face protruding from the headpiece. For some reason I was reminded of The Sound of Music, but Michelle was in no mood for singing. Through clenched teeth she told me that she was choking and that the outfit had a distinctive worn-often-before-by-other-people smell. I persuaded her to persevere while we walked around the mosque and looked out across the thick haze at nothing. That done, she disrobed and returned to her sinful self.

We visited the famous old red church in the middle of town that is definitely the number one landmark of Malacca. It began Catholic, but the Dutch took out the statues and glittery stuff and turned it Anglican. A punishing up-steps walk from the church brought us to a museum but it was closed because a Thai princess was taking a look around and should not be disturbed by raucous commoners. More punishing steps brought us up to a ruined, very old cathedral. The Japanese did the ruining during their WW2 occupation. It was patched with concrete and steel supports and was a pretty sorry sight. In hindsight, the best part of the visit was the workout provided by the steps.

One of the food specialties of Malacca is supposed to be nyonya, a blend of Chinese and Malay cooking that produces a separate taste genre. Since Nancy’s Kitchen has the reputation of being a leading exponent of nyonya we took some trouble to search it out. It had moved from Jonka Street to a new suburb in which the shop numbering system was like a quadratic equation, meaning that it took us two separate attempts during which we drove past it several times.

Finally we made landfall and settled at a table to study the menu – which made no sense to us at all. We relied on an impatient waiter to make our choice of chicken tamarind curry and another meat dish, which turned out to be more chicken, this time in discs that imitated leather. Fried rice made up the trio. This restaurant does not respect the dissection of chickens. Somebody attacks the carcass with a chopper and dispenses the pieces into any dish that is ordered. The curry had a minefield of bones throughout and bones even featured in the fried rice. This was turning into a memorable meal for all the wrong reasons.

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It looked gruesome but tasted wonderful. There were no chicken bones in it, either

The saving grace was Nancy’s famous dessert: Cendol, in which shaved ice (as in a slush puppy) is lightly doused in palm sugar syrup and sits on a lake of coconut milk, red beans, and pandan jelly noodles. This unlikely combination, while sounding awful, is really quite delicious. But as for the rest of the fare, either Nancy is a lousy cook or we ordered the wrong dishes. We left underwhelmed.

If Malacca had more to offer we didn’t want to know about it. We asked Jeeves to drives us back to our spooky sanatorium where the staff members were taking things easy while their two guests had been away. Even now there is a certain slackness in the air because we’ve become part of the furniture. For instance, they let us run out of toilet paper and then to mend the rift brought us a pack of 24 rolls and later came and took them back again. They’ve turned off the air conditioning in the passageways and half the lights as well. And we have to ask one of the three waiters to turn on the air conditioning in the dining room when we eat. Because we’ve only got three days to go until checkout we’re quickly becoming yesterday’s paper.

Having said that, we still love these people. There’s not a nasty one among them. It’s just that they are victims of human nature when about seventy people are trying to look after two.

5 October 2015

Parting is such sweet sorrow

This is the last of my Malaysian logs. I’m writing it from Singapore’s Changi Airport where, because we had used points for our flights, the airline punished us with a nine-hour layover.

Yesterday was our last at the resort. Dr Muscles took me on a new walking route outside the property. We strode along a deserted road just after dawn. In the total stillness, mist lay sleeping in the jungle valleys. The only sound was the occasional call of a triumphant rooster. I thought Dr Muscles had taken pity on me and was going to let me off with a flat final journey. Not so. We passed a steep side road and he gave me the dreaded thumb. He’d been saving another Pike’s Peak for my sendoff. It was just as close to vertical as the one on the orchard trail, but longer. We did it four times, the reward of each summit offering a view that was a metaphor for tranquility.

The owner/doctor visited around noon to give us a final health report. She relied on a before-and-after comparison produced by the weird, sci-fi machine that falls into the unflattering category of pseudoscience on the Internet. It goes by the name of a Bio Resonance Scanner and claims to rapidly measure the energy level in every bodily organ and pinpoint those that are weak and need rectification. By way of credentials, the man who developed it was also responsible for the bogus Scientology E-Meter. How it works, or whether it does anything worthwhile at all is anybody’s guess.

I was told that my bladder was now working at 100 percent efficiency after a shaky start. All other organs had shown vast improvements except my heart, which had only managed an 11 per cent gain. This meant that I must be suffering from random hand tremors and memory loss, the operator said. I denied the hand tremors but said I couldn’t remember the memory loss. That did not humour this handsome young Chinese man.

During Michelle’s scan she observed him pressing an ‘improve energy’ button and concluded this was to beef up our final readings.

The doctor wanted to treat us both with ‘cold sculpting’ (attacking the fat cells by freezing them) but we’d done a bit of reading on that too. The patient is very sore for up to two weeks after a session. Twenty-four hours of travel is painful enough without the addition of inflamed love handles. We swapped it for some more ‘Vanquish’, the treatment that is supposed to collapse fat cells by heating them up to 42 degrees.

Our departure from the resort was quite sad. The place is mismanaged and misdirected by its owners who don’t know how to run a hotel. I fail to see how it will ever break even, let alone turn a profit, but the staff had become our temporary family and did their best to help our cause. I had imagined that we’d meet plenty of interesting people as waves of health-seeking guests came and went. But for most of the time we were the only guests, meaning that we turned inward to personally interact with the staff.

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Our room, fit for a king about 200 years ago.

The owners primarily want rooms occupied. They’d assumed that would happen through offering a unique, high quality Asian health resort. Since that hasn’t yet eventuated, they have given the manager the impossible task of marketing on the dual fronts of ‘health and weight loss’ or ‘drop in for a good time’. This has shattered the focus. The drop-ins are disappointed to find no bar, entertainment or gourmet food. The health crowd has not yet discovered the place and the few that have are disappointed to find the kitchen has not mastered offering spa food. Unfortunately, we live in an era where so much of holiday enjoyment is food driven.

The manager is at her wits end trying to attract and satisfy both types of guests and is succeeding with neither. What she doesn’t want is the budget crowd. One point in her favour of keeping them out is the resort’s hefty pricing. She told us of a local Malay couple who booked a double room and then announced that they intended to put six people into it. To them, the logic was plain. We’re paying for the room and we do what we like with it. Another Chinese family with an out-of-control kid came for a ‘fun’ stay whereupon the kid ran down the elegant passageways, crayons in hand, practicing his graffiti skills. Budget travellers are also notorious for pinching hotel property. Towels and sheets depart with guests at checkout time along with more serious items like bedside lamps and small pieces of furniture.

Did we succeed in our endeavour to lose weight, get fitter and become healthier? Weight loss – a little, with more to come at home. Fitter – definitely. We both worked out in the gym every day and did an aqua aerobics class and swam every afternoon. In addition, Dr Muscles took me walking up long, exhausting hills at seven o’clock every morning. The day I arrived I found it hard to reach our villa up a short, gentle slope without stopping for a puff and breather. Now I can go up the winding hills to Pike’s Peak and do five climbs before breakfast.

Healthier? Yes again. I haven’t tasted coffee or alcohol for five weeks. Don’t worry, I’m not so converted that I’ll never indulge again, but under Michelle’s renewed zest for healthy food we’ll rebuild our eating base. We’ll also need to keep up the exercise levels and that won’t be easy because we don’t have the same gym equipment or personal trainers at home.

Back to Changi Airport where we are trapped in a never-closed city of glitz, fast food, in-your-face designers and all manner of ways to extract money. Certainly, this airport deserves to have won awards. If we have to be stuck in an airport, let it be Changi. But for nine hours? Oy vey! You can start a business and go broke in nine hours. I could do that if I had a stock of Australian stray cats to sell to in-transit Malaysians.

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So as Bugs Bunny says, ‘that’s all folks”.