This Weblog comes from Mindy McAdams and resides at It's a personal blog and probably not of much interest to anyone but me. You are welcome to read and comment as you like.

November 29, 2004

The Man at the Market

Someone suggested that I visit the open-air market held every Sunday morning in the parking lot of the big stadium not far from where I'm staying. A local market (pasar) in this part of the world offers a vast assortment of goods, from fruit and hanging slabs of raw beef to padlocks and men's underwear (yes, I'll post photos sometime). I picked up a few pieces of Malaysian weaving and wandered happily among the stalls, examining knock-off Nike backpacks and sampling crunchy snack crackers when vendors offered them.

In the last row, farthest from the stadium, a crowd had gathered under an awning. I went to see what had drawn their attention. The people stood so close together, I had to go round to the back to get a look.

A man sat on a low camp stool, speaking in Bahasa with a great deal of drama. For a moment I thought he was the focus of everyone's attention, and then I saw the snake. A cobra, its hood spread wide, stared eye-to-eye with the man. Before I managed to get my camera out, he had stuffed the snake into a white canvas sack and dropped it at his feet.

Man at Shah Alam market

Then he slid the lid back from a wooden box and held up another snake, possibly a python, at least six feet long. All the while he talked up a storm. I got a few pictures, but I was standing behind him and couldn't really see his face.

The man showed newspaper clippings about himself

He put the long snake away and reached back to a crate to grab several scrapbooks filled with newspaper clippings. Apparently many newspapers in many locations have run stories about this guy, complete with colorful pictures of him and his snakes. He flipped through the books and often jabbed his index finger at a headline, talking nonstop. He went on long enough that I thought he might be finished with the snakes, but that was not so.

Each snake stayed in its own box

When I saw him start to open another box, I ran across the performance area and squatted down in front of the people he faced squarely. He switched to perfect English and said, "You want to take a picture?" I said, "Yes, is it okay?" He said, "Sure, no problem."

He proceeded to show off with two of his snakes (I don't know how many he had altogether), and I happily took a lot of photos. Unfortunately, none of them are very good. There was a light problem (bright outside the awning, shady underneath it), and in all the shots where the guy looks fantastic, the snake's had is just out of the frame! (It really gives me a deep appreciation for photojournalism.)

He gave quite a performance

I started to get curious about his angle, his goal. Looking all around, I saw no sign of a donation receptacle -- no upturned hat, no bowl. How is he going to make this pay off? I wondered. Other than the snake boxes, the canvas bag and the scrapbooks, he had only a gym bag and a plastic tub that I thought might contain a snake he hadn't shown.

His talk became even more animated as he showed everyone the snake's fangs or venom sacs or something that caused him to stick his finger into the snake's mouth. He banged on his heart with the flat of his hand a couple of times. Then he put the snake away and made a gesture showing soreness, reaching behind him to rub his lower back. Finally he indicated aching legs, sticking out one foot and massaging his calf as you would if you had a cramp. Clearly asking the crowd to identify with these aches and pains, he was leading up to something.

After a few more thumps on the chest and some vigorous pointing at the snakes (out of sight in their boxes) and his own head, during which I had the impression he was saying something about his ability to control or subdue the snakes, the man pulled out a small glass bottle filled with a green liquid.

I know about that stuff. It's an oil that smells intensely of wintergreen. Chinese people and some others attribute various health benefits to it. I know one Vietnamese American who swears by the stuff when he has a cold or flu. The snake handler uncapped a bottle and released that penetrating scent.

This is what he was selling. He dabbed a little on the back of his neck, then reached inside his shirt to touch near his heart. He walked among the spectators, letting them smell and touch the oil.

By this time I had stood up and moved outside the crowd. Hardly anyone else walked away; they waited to sample the green oil.

Finally I understood his hustle, his pitch.

I had just seen a bona fide snake-oil salesman.

This snake was especially active

Posted by macloo at 09:14 PM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2004

Bureaucracy: The Same Everywhere

Yesterday Dr. Darussalam took me around to look at motorbikes. We learned (from a salesman) the difference between a motorbike and a scooter: The placement of the engine. On a scooter, it's back near the rear tire. On a motorbike, it's farther front, between the rider's ankles, and has a chain drive. Some scooters here have pretty large wheels, unlike the ones at home, and all of these bikes range from 100cc to 125cc.

Well, not having a valid driver's license here, I decided I should make sure I could get one before I laid out the ringgits for a bike. So Daruss kindly drove me to the motor vehicles office, where we learned that a foreigner like me would need to go to the main office in Putrajaya, the administrative capital. We got the proper forms, though, and it was clear that I would need to have my professional visit pass (which is issued by the government) as well as my passport and U.S. driver's license, to get the Malaysian license.

The afternoon being spent, we made a plan to meet this morning and go to the International Office here at UiTM to pick up my pass, or visa, which I expected would be waiting for me.

Ah, that turned out to be over-optimistic. Somehow the International Office neglected to apply for my pass. So there is no way to get the license for possibly many weeks, because there will be no pass, and without that, I am just a tourist here.

So as not to waste my chance to have fun with bureaucracy with Daruss as my amiable guide, I suggested that we see whether I could manage to open a bank account at the local branch of Maybank. Daruss agreed, and thus began a long adventure of waiting, waiting and more waiting. Everyone treated me well, but there were 20 people ahead of me.

The only hitch was that we realized I would need a letter from my employer atesting to my state of employment. Luckily we figured that out at the start of the waiting period, so Daruss phoned the Faculty (what we would call the College) and got a message through that the letter was needed urgently and the dean would need to sign it. In less than an hour, someone had delivered the signed letter to us at the bank. That's efficiency!

Daruss was able to get someone to drive the letter over to us because everyone here knows it is impossible to find parking at this Maybank branch. So Daruss did not want to give up his parking space, even though we would have to wait at least another hour. In fact, we walked down the street and had a Diet Coke (me) and teh tarik (him) in the cafe of a municipal building, then walked back to the bank, and still waited a half hour more.

In the end I filled out about four pages of forms and even gave a thumbprint, deposited my check from MACEE and got a shiny new ATM card. Sweet!

It only took three hours.

Posted by macloo at 03:44 AM | Comments (0)

November 20, 2004

Tourist Food & Fun

Friday evening I met Dr. Halimah (deputy dean of the Faculty of Communication & Media Studies) for the first time. She and Kiran were at KLCC (huge shopping mall at the Petronas Towers), buying tickets for Saturday to a 3-and-a-half-hour Bollywood movie (I decided against joining them). We had dinner at KLCC, and afterward Kiran drove us around so I could see the sights of KL at night.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building

We went shopping at a night market in the Chinatown area, and both Halimah and Kiran bought new purses. I, on the other hand, bought a very nice Honda racing jacket for RM 60 (about US$16). It's a Formula 1 design, not a motorcycle team jacket, but it's nice anyway! I even bargained successfully (asking price was RM 110). Then we were hot and thirsty, so we went to a food stall area near Merdeka Square and drank big mugs of iced starfruit juice.

I went back to the same stalls Saturday while I was going around on my own and ate a plate of Mee Hong Kong (delicious!), which consisted of lightly fried noodles, broth, some hacked beef and chicken, the tiniest baby octopuses I've ever seen (tender and tasty), and assorted veggies, including some finely chopped cauliflower and a little fresh spinach. I also had a glass of limeade (very sweet) and a giant bottle of water. Total bill: RM 7, or about $2.

Masjid Jamek

Still working on the photos. I went to Masjid Jamek (a famous mosque) and also to the National Museum. Masjid Jamek was the first mosque I had ever seen back in 1995 when I visited Malaysia for the first time. It looks the same as I remember it, but the area all around it has changed dramatically -- especially because of the addition of the LRT elevated train, which has a station nearby.

Posted by macloo at 08:16 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2004

Talking and Visiting

Wednesday I spent several hours with Don McCloud, director of MACEE. It served as my orientation session, and I felt quite well informed by the time we finished.

I spent all day Thursday with one of the UiTM p.r. faculty, Dr. Kiran, who was kind enough to take me out to the university and show me around. She also answered many questions I had about the teaching and the structure of the Faculty of Communication & Media Studies (there are about 55 members of the faculty, she said). I still have some questions left over, but they can wait! Kiran was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur and earned her Ph.D. at the University of Maryland.

On the way back to my hotel, she showed me the area where she lived with her family until she was 12 years old. It is quite close to the center of the famous riot of 1969 that had such a strong and lasting effect on Malaysian national policies. She pointed out two buildings that were then cinemas and told me a detail I never knew before. The riot began in those cinemas, one showing a Chinese movie and the other showing an Indian movie on that day (May 13, 1969), when Malays killed many people in the audience for the Chinese movie, and Chinese, after ordering all the Indians to leave, killed many people who had been watching the Indian movie. Kiran and her whole family went to those movie theaters all the time, so the riot came close to them in more than one way (although none of her family were killed).

Today I spent about three hours with Karl Stoltz, the public affairs counselor at the U.S. Embassy here. Our conversation was even more informative than the one with Don on Wednesday, and very interesting. I feel quite stuffed full of information now, in fact.

Posted by macloo at 03:45 AM | Comments (0)

Virtual Tourist

This site came up in a search I did today: Kuala Lumpur. It appears to be an entirely user-generated site, and what's really neat is the listing of "must-see activities," because they are listed in order of those with the most user reviews. So it's no big surprise that the Petronas Towers are No. 1, followed closely by the Batu Caves (which I almost went to yesterday ... oh, well).

Posted by macloo at 03:11 AM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2004

First Flash Blog Entries

Not sure yet how I'm going to index or organize these, but there are two so far:

06 Nov -- St. Pete Beach A meditation before leaving.

14 Nov -- Inchon Airport The long journey from Gainesville, Florida, to Kuala Lumpur.

Posted by macloo at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

Press Freedom in SE Asia

My first post from Malaysia (I arrived last night) is, aptly enough, about freedom of the press. I found a link to the 2004 report from RSF: Malaysia ranks 122nd out of 167 countries.

Posted by macloo at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)