Travel log: Malaysia

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I used to live with a guy named Al. Al in many ways was a total freak. The stand out sign of his freakishness was giant bowls of Maypo with frozen blueberries stirred into the otherwise gruel-like meal. It was a meal that could occur at any of the 24 hours in a day and would often leave a blueish gray cast of spills and crusted tableware all over the apartment.

Al also called himself a writer. He would watch and look and examine and write in his imagined grotto. One day I came home to him transfixed by a can opener, which he was twirling to view at every angle and at every gradation of open and closed.

Caught in his study, he explained as a writer one must at all times carefully observe everything, even minutia to a minute detail. All was fodder for greatness.

I think his plan was to be as Melville was to whaling, but his passion would be kitchen utensils.

Al puzzled me.

His contention, his philosophy was that all writing is at its core was observation. He was a watcher. He existed in the square rooms of our apartment never venturing beyond the journeys he concocted between his temples and behind his forehead.

At the same time, I was studying journalism, writing that by its very nature stepped back to observe and report. Aloof from the messiness of human existence, we were taught to remain factual and by extension allowing the story to create its own structure remaining neutral in the telling. I suppose this training had me thinking Al was onto something.

But, my favorite journalists just might be Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson. They, in the sense of Neal Cassady, Ken Kesey and The Electric KoolAid Acid Test, got ON the bus.

Many years later, I found my own tribe of writers and storytellers. Not quite out there in the wilderness of the 1960s and 70s, they did not ascribe to stories coming from afar, cool observation. Nope, stories came from going balls in and doing something.

Which, in all apologies, brings us to today. Holy fuckballs (as I like to say in countries where the locals are unlikely to be able to translate, I did take a long-winded path to today.

Today, I had round two sparring with the kung fu master who bloviated that he is one of 10 elite in the ‘hood called Malaysia who can tap out impurities and do something good to your chi or qi or chee (definitely not chia). My qi has positively been beaten into submission.

For a couple of bucks, I succumbed to a type of massage that literally involves a long series of backhand slaps to my areas of arthritic pain. By the way, I grew up hearing the word arthritis and thought of diseases and treatment. In these modern days, it’s medical shorthand for the fact of my cartilage deteriorating and my bones rubbing together, nothing more interesting.

In the spirit of travel, adventure, story telling, sucking the marrow from existence, I figured the investment was worthwhile on two scores.

First, I have back and leg pain and it sucks and I exercise and try to work out the kinks and strengthen my core and it persists and it sucks. Anything that could remove the suck would be fine indeed.

Second is just the awesomeness. I have a story to tell and pictures to show.

I have these:

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I also have this one of my knee. Grace and good sense preclude me from posting the worse bruising on my ass.

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Best of all, we get too bring home magical and mystical and therapeutical bottles of oily elixir of mystery.

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My back and leg are sore as I type this missive. But, if all goes well, in 2 days time I shall be healed. He promised me that soon I could do things with my legs I couldn’t before. I’m hoping that means ballet.

Of all of it, it’s a traveler’s dream of “authenticity.” The master’s rap was solid, peppered with references to the Chinese, qi, cultural superiority and my yin mixing with my yang. Westerners like me, we can’t take pain of treatment like the Chinese can.

The promises were wonderfully rich with self-promotion and mystery. He had skills and powers and training that few possess and to which he wouldn’t give a name.

I can’t decide which experience I like more–His burning my back, literally, with the heated ember of a block of incense, the visible bruising or the manifestations of health represented by the color and texture changes of my beaten flesh. Perhaps it’s the sum of it all.

So I wait, and I’ll report back if I can plie and jete like nobody’s business as the bruises subside and the oil seeps into my wounds.

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