Thursday, December 16, 2010

November 25 2010 - Langkawi, Malaysia

We weren’t looking forward to Malaysia, for a lot of reasons. Last year, our good friend was catastrophically injured here when he was run over by a speeding tourist boat – and the authorities did nothing. The political stance is strongly anti-Israel if not officially anti-Semitic – for example, banning an orchestra from entering the country because the program included the work of a Jewish composer.
What we read about the history and culture before we got here was unsettling. There is little or no record from before the 1400s, when a prince from Sumatra founded Malacca and developed a thriving center for traders from China, Arabia, India and the Spice Islands who brought their religions, foods, technologies and intermarried with the local women. The Portuguese took over, then the Dutch, then the English, then the Japanese, who invaded the entire Peninsula in a few days. At the end of the war, the Brits returned until they were worn down by a twelve year civil war. Two big chunks from the island of Borneo were added to the new country and Singapore was subtracted from it in order to maintain a Malay (Muslim South East Asian) majority instead of an ethnically Chinese one.
With that, we set off from Singapore determined to find something to appreciate about Malaysia. The coast was pretty dull – a parade of cargo ships up and down the Straits of Malacca, fishing boats desperate to harvest the increasingly scarce seafood, and oil drilling. Our hopes to tie up the boat and see the sights ashore were dashed when there was no room at the new marina because it was being reconstructed. The next marina was built, but officially closed because nothing worked. Another was open but vacancy was kept at 30% because boats had to be separated to avoid masts colliding. Others were so silted up with sand that sailboats could not get in and out. For this, in the last 10 years, the government spent a reported $35 million US dollars.
When they build it, and it doesn’t work, they let it rot. The amount of crumbling concrete structures in Malaysia is astonishing –hotels, office buildings, water parks, shopping malls, abandoned. One morning anchored off Pangkor Island, we woke to see a big chunk of something floating towards our boat and Do It, the boat nearby. It turned out to be a 15 foot concrete deck section that had washed away from the abandoned marina in the next bay. The skippers got together and towed it ashore, shown above.
We were glad to reach Langkawi, a resort island with picturesque harbors and three fully functioning marinas, in three overnight 150 mile passages spanning five days from Singapore. We checked into Malaysia, moved into cushy Rebak Marina, and cooked ourselves a Thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat. No turkey, stuffing or pie, but the barbecued chicken and root vegetables, cranberry orange relish, crunchy green beans and bottle of Vasse Felix from Western Australia made a meal to remember.