In Malaysia

Two days of airplanes to get from Boston to Penang, Malaysia, traveling with a spinnaker and various boat gear — 100 pounds of baggage. The airline’s maximum weight per bag was 23 kilos; the spinnaker was 22. The AirAsia hop from Singapore to Penang had a maximum total weight of 40 kilos; my total must have exceeded that slightly. But they accepted my payment for the 40 kilo maximum ($50 for a flight that only cost $68 for myself), no problem.

Chris joined me at the hotel/condo that I had booked at the marina in Penang. It was nice to start to get to know him; also nice to be in a condo with separate rooms and separate baths. The drawback was that the boat wasn’t there. Tim and crew had sailed on to Langkawi, a 3 hour ferry ride away. But we spent two days in Penang, as did Tim, getting our Indonesian visas. One plus was that I got to briefly meet Tim’s friend Randy. And even better I got to cross paths with Bob and Barb as they were about to head back home to Canada. Bob will be coming back to sail aboard Maggie to Mauritius. And then he will either go home to help care for his newborn granddaughter or he will join me from Mauritius to Brazil. He/I should know within a week.

We finally arrived at the boat in the evening. She looked a little sad. Lots of dirt on the outside, and in some areas inside. Stains on the deck and top sides. She has a crack in one of the pilothouse windows. She’s low on fuel (not a small task, carrying jerry cans and siphoning through a filter into our tanks). The port side cabin sole/floor has cracked, making for a spongy surface and the risk that it might give was completely. The person involved would only sink 5 or 6 inches, but might easily be injured. We need propane. Food stores are very low. One of the fuel transfer pumps isn’t working (again). The forward fuel gauge has broken irreparably.

But no worries. It’s been fun, despite withering heat, tackling some of these problems over the past two days. It brings to mind the cruiser’s definition of cruising: fixing your boat in exotic places! I’ve mostly been working on the cabin sole, epoxying in four supports to brace the damaged floor. It is satisfying that I get to use the skills I’ve learned in the building of my own boat (even though that boat isn’t finished after 23 years). It’s a very challenging task, however, due to inaccessibility. Fingers are crossed that it will work.

Having Chris aboard has been inspiring long/deep philosophical conversations. Last night over dinner (and beers) at a delightful Indian restaurant, we talked at great length about how privileged we are, and what responsibilities come with that. I don’t mean privileged to be living on a boat in Malaysia, but privileged to be white males growing up with means in North America, having opportunities open to only a very small percentage of human beings. We don’t have to struggle to feed ourselves or to keep our families safe. We have the luxury of time and comfort, from which we can choose the actions we take. Chris asserted that everyone has choices about how they want to live; whether they want to live within the norms of our society or live in some other way and/or place. Tim vehemently disagreed, asserting that most people have no such choice, because they are so exploited by our capitalist culture that their reality doesn’t extend past their next paycheck and car payment; forget dropping into some other place and culture. So Tim seems to believe we have a responsibility to take direct action to right wrongs (he’s quick to admit he isn’t now), while Chris seems to believe his responsibility lies in learning more about realms beyond what our brains readily perceive, and then look again at the question.

I found another difference of opinion between the two very interesting. Chris asserted that most people act like robots, being reactive to incoming stimuli, rather than making choices from a more aware state. He sees his current “job” to be to expand his awareness and grow personally beyond the robotic condition. Tim believes that if people act like robots it is because they have been treated like robots by our exploitative capitalist corporations, and he sees focusing on personal awareness as a narcissistic excuse for not doing something to improve the lot of the oppressed. Beyond this being a very entertaining conversation, it makes me wonder…do people have to grow in some spiritual sense to live a fulfilling life? Or do they only need an environment where they are valued and not worked to exhaustion?

From there we worked our way to the topic of denialism… How can people still watch professional football, Tim asks, when they know that a third of the players will suffer serious brain injury? Whatever the mechanism is that allows people to enjoy the football game, it is the same mechanism that has us ignore the oppression of the working class people of the world…

Tonight we had cocktails aboard Tahawus, and I expected some fireworks from Tim and Norm being in the same space. To my great surprise there was no fireworks when the subject of Bernie Sanders came up. While Norm doesn’t have the passion for Bernie that Tim has, he does think Bernie is the best of the available candidates. But since politics didn’t generate much heat, the conversation moved on to Islam, and the subjugation of women in Muslim culture. Here Chris asserted in essence that we Westerners should mostly keep our noses out of a culture that we don’t fully understand. That Western interventions, thinking we know what other cultures should do, have lead to terrible things (such as the destruction of most of the American Indian cultures, for example). So we should at least tread lightly, and not assume we have the answers. This led to the never-before-seen bonding of Tim and Norm jointly standing against a common enemy…uh…that is…fellow BPO rally member, citing examples of women being stoned, and being treated as whores if they don’t wear the required uniform, and having to walk four steps behind their men, and not being allowed to drive, and not being given access to education. Should we take some action about all this? Maybe we show off our Western culture as an example of what’s possible, and let others move toward it if they think it is an improvement? How do we reconcile the extreme examples of subjugation of Muslim women with the many happy and well educated women we met in Indonesia?

Oddly, perhaps, this conversation makes me think of the South Pacific Islanders, whether Marquesans or Tongans or Tuvaluans, where most of the people seem to be very happy, content with their lives. But now comes TV and the Internet, and young people longing to travel to Los Angeles so they can do some serious shopping! Sewing seeds of discontent, it seems. Is there a similar impact of Western society seeping into the Muslim world? Leading women to want equality and education sounds like a good thing. But are we also increasing the level of unhappiness? Maybe sewing seeds of discontent is a good thing, when big change is what’s needed…

Whether it is societal responsibilities or politics or religion, one member of our crew seems to go to the need for class revolution; the other goes to personal awareness. One says expand consciousness of the evils of the exploitation of the many by the few; the other says expand your personal consciousness to experience things beyond our limited/limiting minds. This is going to be a fun four months!

(My apologies to Tim and Chris for my inevitable inaccuracies in trying to describe their statements in my own words.)

4 thoughts on “In Malaysia”

  1. Interesting perspectives, challenging understandg cultures we dont understand, i remember feeling passionate about something & couldnt understand why others could see it diffrently, made so much sense ‘to me’ then it was brought to my attention as strongly & passionatly i believed so did they even if we could not understand how the other could see it so diffrently,
    Robot refrence got me thinking we are conditioned in ways were not even aware! I’ll work on being more mindful of that,,,, thanks for sharing it gives me & surely many others insight in seeing things diffrently 🙂

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  2. Thanks for the thoughts. Nice to have you back! I sometimes wonder who we are to assume that our way of life is “better” than others’. Obviously abusive practices toward anyone is not acceptable. Much of what you have described so far has sounded like people are happy. Our current lives here are full of stress and move way too fast.

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  3. Hi. Circling back to this post, because I remembered that I wanted to comment on it when I read it. Not much time now, but I really like hearing about your thinking and the political and philosophical discourse with you and your mates. I think I agree with both Tim and Chris about a lot of things. Ending all forms of oppression (classism, racism, sexism, adultism, ageism, you name it!) is central to me, as is expanding my personal awareness….. “both/and” thinking.

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