Day 4 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020 | Travels with my wife through Asia and beyond. Join us as we explore history and culture. And after thirty years in Asia, we are now back in the UK. What next?

Travels With My Wife

Still talking after all these years!

Day 4 of The Round Malaysia Road Trip 2020

Today we hit the beach!

In those cold dark miserably wet wintry London evenings I used to shiver in, I would go to the cinema and on the screen would be an advertisement. It would feature a man in a raincoat, sneezing and coughing, as he struggled home from a day at the office. He would stumble through the door and scoop up his mail from his letter-box. Where he would find a catalogue for package holidays, and suddenly he was whisked away to blue skies, warm seas, and lots of good-looking guys and gals with cocktails in their hands, laughing and giggling in tune with some stirring sunny music.

Somehow I bought into this. I dreamt of the sun kissed beach under blue skies, with a gently lapping clear water sea. I dreamt of being shaded by palm trees, lying on a lounger sipping cocktails out of a coconut. I thought, how great it would be to lie there soaking up vitamin D, while reading that book I have been trying to find the time to read for the past year.

I also had, and still have for that matter, a hankering for plunging into the tropical infinity pool, floating over to the poolside bar where a frozen margarita is served, and then sip it while displaying my lithe suntanned body. In this pose, I dream of striking up a casual conversation with the supermodel in a string bikini who has sidled up to me to grab a handful of the peanuts set out before me. She says, "I hope you don't mind me eating your nuts…"

Then I wake up a fat guy at the wrong end of his sixties, wondering why that has never ever happened to me? The fact is, I have never ever experienced this idyll despite living in the tropics for thirty years.

Most tropical beaches are plain dull. Pretty, but dull! Even when the hotels have gone out of their way to provide shelter, sun beds and waiter service to provide some semblance of the fantasy, I have rapidly discovered my legs turning bright red, my coconut cocktail finished in three slurps, and whatever is brought in the form of food, too difficult to elegantly eat perched on the end of a sun lounger that somehow always tries to fold up on itself.

As for the supermodels after my nuts: they certainly do not turn up in Malaysia! And it is a rare thing to find anyone in a bikini, as most locals put clothes on rather than off when heading to the beach. For that matter, that coconut cocktail is also a rarity, not simply because they do not serve alcohol, but because they do not serve anything at all on the beach! The beach is bare. No loungers. No shade. Nobody sun bathes because it would mean the skin-whitener applied that morning would have been a waste. And the pool of a Malaysian swimming pool is darkened by the shedded fibres and oozing dye from all the fully clothed bodies soaking in it.

To pre-empt someone now posting a comment that I should instead try Thailand, or even Langkawi, I have. Been there. Done that. Hawaii? Been there, done that too.

On those rare occasions when I ended up in a resort at least attempting to create the fantasy, after ten minutes, I was bored.

For the sake of that teenager sniffling in the London cinemas, I used to try and enjoy such things as the water scooters, or the para-gliding; but you go up and come down and pootle about for a bit getting sunstroke and soon yearn for air-conditioning and Netflix.

If I had been of the Ibiza generation, I am sure I would have found riding a banana with a bunch of drunken Brits, mind numbing. Similarly, a night in a club having my intestinal tract battered by repetitive bass lines accompanying the coke fuelled rantings of the latest Li’l DJ, would have me staggering into the night yearning for my childhood. My childhood holidays meant being squeezed into my grandparents' living room, surrounded by pipe and cigarette smoke, the smell of old bacon fat, accompanied by a sputtering coal fire and a pile of Batman comics my Grandmother acquired at her Chapel jumble sale.

Granted that Ibiza is hardly tropical, but it was all part of the dream of those of us from cold, dank, claustrophobic climes. I look back now and wonder what exactly happens when one emerges from childhood and starts trying to find something else. We latch onto a dream, a myth, a fantasy about what is to come, what was, and the efficacy of living in a glorious here and now.

My least tedious exercise was scuba diving, which did hold one's interest. You would kill yourself if you did not pay attention. Once, just off the boat, a wave swept me against the cliff wall that we were about to dive, and knocked my mask and regulator off my face. To escape being battered to death I had to sink beneath the waves, find my air pipe, get my mask back on, and then try empty out my lungs of sea water and race to join the dive party blithely pumping their way down thirty metres.

And then there was that moment I came to the surface to await the pick up and a damned water scooter nearly took my head off!

After every dive, I have felt many twinges in my joints telling me that perhaps I miscalculated my dive times. I am convinced that the year I spent with a crippled knee was caused by a touch of the bends. In Maui I had found myself diving with a bunch of macho marines. They were built like Schwarzenneggar so I assumed some military training or steroid overdose. They were determined to find a particular undersea landmark that was at least twenty metres beyond safe limits. In the dark watery depths I listened to all the dive computers screaming their alarms for way too long. After that I discovered my inner wimp and my wet suit has shriveled up for lack of use. It must have done, for it will not zip up anymore.

Consequently, a day in a hotel on Merang beach, was enlivened only by an opportunity to sit and fly my drone. The images it picks up are incredibly enticing. You think, wow, I would love to be there! And that is exactly what one thinks while wearing the VR Goggles that I use when controlling the drone. I would love to be there, I think, and then remind myself that actually, I am, though somehow, it is not what the images promise.

I fly and I am up there with the drone looking down, feeling rather dizzy from the height, and somewhat nervous as the wifi connection falters and the screen pixelates. The heat seems to effect battery life of drones, and one hopes that if it does lose connection it does not land in the water. I have had that happen and it is not a happy, or cheap, experience.

The heat this time was at my end. One operates the drone via the wifi of the iPhone and it is remarkable how hot one's phone gets while strapped to one's forehead. The plastic of the goggles actually melted. I too melted. The dream is all about technology nowadays, all about battery power, all about apps.

The shots though are spectacular. Now, my interest in any of these places, is whether I can find a good shot, or a good story, and hopefully both, so that I can send out a message of hope to some other young person hunkered down in a dismal grey world. Or is that message, a lie? Is it all fake news? Is tropical splendor, merely sand flies, sun burn, and lethargy? The message I hope, is that one has to make something interesting, one has to find some trick of looking that turns the discomfort of living into something meaningful. The historian tries to find what really happened for fear that the same mistake will happen again. The artist strives to make the myth, strives to make it noble, inspiring, enticing. Though perhaps it is all just propaganda to distract one from an ever-present dissatisfaction.

I am obviously in a reflective mood today. And I offer one glimmer of hope: there is nothing better than a peanut butter flavoured cendol, except perhaps one with a slug of Tequila added in. As you shall see if you watch yet another instalment of our Malaysian Road Trip…

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