Saturday, July 7, 2007

Doing What I Can to Foster Tolerance in a Hostile World

Last night I was idly wandering around a street market in Kuala Lumpur, at 7: or so, starting to think about dinner. I was hailed from a small, outdoor cafe kind of place, much like one is hailed by Indian tailors standing outside their shops. I just smiled and kept going. Within five minutes, though, I was hungry and I figured, he sounded friendly enough, I'll go back. It was worth it.

"Tarzan Malaysia" was the name of the restaurant, not "Tarzan's Malaysia," or "Tarzan of Malaysia," and it was Tarzan himself who had hailed me. I went over and sat at the table next to his. Also at my table was an enigmatic younger man, it was a big table. Both were Muslim, but no beards, just mustaches, and no little Muslim hats, you know, Muslim-but-let's-not-get-carried-away. The other patrons, however, were Muslims who were quite carried away, with the beards, the hats, the floor length shirts, the whole magilla.

The man at my table spoke good English, and he was as friendly as you can be without ever smiling. Tarzan was delighted to see me, like a kid at Christmas. He had no trouble smiling, in fact he never stopped except to laugh, and he spoke fast to the second man and pointed to me like, tell him what I'm saying.

Tarzan was a restaurateur and part time Guinness World Record seeker. He showed me their notification of his status: world's longest and most dangerous shower in actual corrosive acid. I said, "but you still have hair!" He almost fell out of his chair laughing. I guess in Malaysia there's money in acid showers. The two of them organize thrill shows for the locals, with the Guinness people as the theme, like "longest, thickest nail driven straight up the nose" kind of stuff, eating broken glass was mentioned.

I asked for food, roti, if possible, and some curry, maybe some chicken, and a bottle of water. I had had a couple of pops at the hotel and I was feeling mellow. The curry came with two pieces of white bread, it was that kind of restaurant, like the food was an afterthought. The curry was pretty good; the chicken was that jungle fowl, so tough it's like eating a diver's wet suit. But I was having fun.

I heard all about their thrill businesses, and the second man, Zalli, was also something of a herbologist, also an aroma therapist, acupuncturist, masseuse and yoga "master." In the thrill shows he lays on a bed of nails and they break a cinder block over his chest with a sledge. Like an Indian Fakir, or "faker" as they are called in America. His daughter has an even better routine: she sits in the middle of a raging fire for "a few minutes" and then jumps out with no ill effects. I got one of Zalli's cards, "Borneo Herbalist Center."

We were getting along famously, I am very good at smiling my way through half understood bullsh*t sessions, and I do really enjoy them. These guys were talkative and priceless. Zalli got a bowl of "tom yam," which is the local foreign food, Thai tom yam gai in this case. He took a huge portion of the noodles and put them in my bowl, "very spicy," he said like it was a warning. Pretty good, I agreed.

Now Zalli's fifteen year old son shows up with a box of small bottles, the fluid was green on the bottom and white on top. Aleef was the boy's name, I told him that I had a son named Oliver but he didn't seem impressed. He and Tarzan began to affix labels to the bottles and when they were done the bottles went into a display case at the edge of the restaurant. Zalli then produced a bottle like a roll-on deodorant bottle and presented it to me with a flourish. "For massage," he said, it smelled like Ban Gay. "I mix myself, " he explained, "the proportions are perfect, it will release blockages in the blood flow." (Not like that crap that charlatans sell.)

So here's the punchline: at one point Zalli gets ready to leave for his "clinic" and I stood up and said to Tarzan something like "may I pay now," or "now I must pay you." He roared laughing and backhanded Zalli like, get that! He wants to pay! Even Zalli smiled at that. It seems that I was a guest, money, shmunny, we were having fun!

No one had mentioned politics or religion even once, not even in passing. Economics, maybe; Zalli thought that I should come to Malaysia and start a business, "you can make a fortune," he suggested. He was suggesting, no doubt, that I start a business with him. "Buy a beautiful house, only RM 300,000. " (About $100,000) So there are many Muslims in Malaysia for whom your religion is not a consideration; if your money is green you can worship the broken carcass of an airplane in a cargo cult for all they care, not like that nun in Phrae. These guys wrote the book on tolerance.

1 comment:

Ollie said...

I figure the majority of American's don't see this side of the other side of the world. Ever. Even in Tijuana it's hard to imagine how these people live and even harder for people who ain't got no 'magination for that kinda thing. One thing that eases my mind when traveling is that feeling of, "Here I am", let me spin fresh stereo types into someones head. Ambassadorris Dayz.