Sunday, June 26, 2011

After groaning gorillas and carnivorous flowers it’s about time you swam with sharks.

“Ninety percent of the game is half mental.”

-Jim Wohford

After groaning gorillas and carnivorous flowers it’s about time you swam with sharks.

The boat has stopped, now just bobbing with the waves between two of Malaysia’s Perhentian Islands. There’s a large dark mass moving in the sea underneath. The Malay-driver says, “Who want sees big shark, jump in.”

So you do.

Something happened since you began traveling. Fear unraveling, four months ago you’d flail frantically back to sand if the water was chest deep and an errant plastic bag brushed your leg. Now you’re swimming in the ocean with thirty yards of visibility yet still without the ability to see bottom hoping to spot a shark. A big one.

Well, maybe you’re really hoping it’s only average in size, and a small one would be just as good, better even, you can’t really appreciate a creature in person without first observing its young.

Maybe you haven’t overcome fear, maybe you’re just living in the moment more, just jumping first and asking questions later. Treading H2O, asking questions like, “How did the boat get so far away?” and “What‘s the best position to assume in the water so as to not look like prey?” and “Which leg is my favorite, which limb should I offer if the shark is craving Caucasoid?”

The thing about justice is that it nearly always prevails. Last night you had barbequed shark for dinner.

Last week you were cooling off in the Cameron Highlands, discovering why European settlers believed the altitude respite essential, your recent lethargy realized to be the result of humidity. You went from barely being able to sweat through two hour hikes in Penang National Park to ascending a mountain or two a day in the Highlands, always feeling as though the workouts were stunted from all the flower photography. No, you weren’t hiking with horticulturists. The flowers were just that stunning, just that exotic.

Especially eye-catching was the carnivorous pitcher flower. You’re still embarrassed recalling your arousal, it’s not your fault, these things reek of eroticism. Rich colors and sweet nectar attract insects in. The invitation comes with a reluctance to depart, the flower’s insides sticky, bugs drown in the nectar or starve to death before the seductress consumes.

You women, you’re all the same.

The large dark mass moving in the ocean, it’s coming towards you. In fact, it’s swimming directly at you. It’s fast.

In the Cameron Highlands you stayed at Kang’s Lodge, which consisted of dorm beds and communal showers. Some people, especially Europeans, they share too much.

What I want to convey is, if you have a private room next to the dorm separated by nothing more than a cardboard wall and I’ve gone to sleep to the singsong of your hairy Czech mid-forties form belching and farting the past three nights, then maybe, when common sense gives way to my-liver-may-fail-at-any-moment drunk and another traveler is willing to have sex with you, you should splurge on a more private setting.

You know, spend nine dollars instead of six.

Because when you, the Czech Don Juan, start grunting I am going to giggle. It’s as inevitable as stomach acids burning the tonsils every time I hear you flagellate. I could barely contain a chuckle or five when, in response to your affection’s slurred hesitation, you kept repeating, “We can do anything, we are free.”

Your technique to embolden, it was so Euro-over-the-top, a foreigner-seduction cliché, that when it proved effective on the whiskey-straight-from-the-bottle-lubricated Asian traveler I made a mental note. Only get inebriated when in the presence of the intelligent. When tomorrow comes you may have regret, you may be having twins, but at least your progeny’s college scholarships will spare the retirement fund.

That last line, it was a joke. As if you’d ever have a fund to retire on.

Even in the I-can-no-longer-feel-my-face haze of come-on-liver-hang-in-there intoxication someone’s grown self conscious. The bed creaks from a weight-release, the Asian traveler exits the not-so-private room and collapses on a dorm bed aside yours. The Czech’s groans aren’t result of pleasure anymore. He pounds on the cardboard walls.

“Come back, we are free, we can do anything.”

Yes, you can do anything, but why, with infinite possibility, would ’anything’ include jumping into the deep blue sea for shark-sighting with nothing to defend yourself apart from snorkeling gear. Yeah, that rubber strap on the mask hurts when it snaps against the ears, but a shark may require more in the pain department before choosing a different entrée.

The fin accelerating towards you, it transforms into a shell. The sea turtle is nearly as long as you and three times as wide. When it’s merely a meter away you start swimming with it and, incredibly, you both break the surface of the water together, the turtle getting a breath of air before motoring past and back down into the shadowed depths.

Mr. Boatman, he was joking about sharks. When you clamber back aboard he says, “Didn’t think anyone jump if shark, you not so smart, huh?”

The next day you go on a snorkeling tour promising a shark sighting. 100% guarantee. In Southeast Asia there are no refunds. You don’t see a shark. You don’t get your money back. “Yeah, its about fifty-fifty you see shark,” the tour operator tells you on the return journey.

Hmm. So it’s a 100% guarantee that there’s a fifty-fifty chance of spotting a shark.

“Yeah, yeah, 100% guarantee,” the operator responds.

Of what?

“Of maybe you see shark.”

Keep drifting.

View from atop Gunung Brichang, Cameron Highlands.

You go first, Frodo.

The sun setting in Pulau Penang.

Welcome to Malaysia.

A beach in Penang National park

A canon ball tree.

Pitcher flowers

Carnivorous pitcher flowers, they're not trying to seduce you, they already have, in the Cameron Highlands.

At the Perhentian Islands; the water quality is the best I've been in.

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