Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Zoe and I have been stationed in Dungun, Terengganu. It is a town whose paucity of excitement matches its name. Dungun. To say it right, you have to attempt to say it derogatorily: Doong-oon. It's like a mythical sword, a disease of the feet, or an Australian video game. Dungun down under. Dungun glowed brightly as the goblins approached.

The Dungun between my toes has spread to the balls of my feet.

How fitting, then, that in Dungun I should become infected with boils. At least they aren't carbuncles yet.

There's an awful lot of Islam happening . . . which is fine, of course, seeing as this isn't my country . . . and if it were, I'd likely appreciate all of the Islam all the time. It seems to make the people happier than they would be otherwise. It's just that I'd be happier if there was somewhere I could go for a cheap, cold beer on the beach.

But on the whole, I find Islam in Malaysia to be a benevolent, if somewhat overly serious, religion. In my personal opinion, it hasn't got much to offer that other religions don't offer. It also suffers from the same habits of unreason that seem to fester around other religions (i.e. stubbornly trying to use science to prove some part of the Qu'ran valid, despite insisting that evolution didn't happen because the Qu'ran has more authority than science).

In fact, it seems to me that the greatest function a religion could have would be to teach someone of a different faith that their own cherised ideas aren't all that unique or significant. At best, religion is a personal conduit for emotion and meaning. At worst, it's just one more tool to be mean and petty.

Much more troublesome is the food. The New York Times taught me the word for myself this week: foodie. I am a foodie. And the food here just doesn't quite fulfill my requirements. It's excellent (yes sir I've tried the nasi), but there isn't enough variety to really keep my palate interested. There is a fantastic night market: fantastic because it offers the best versions of the same old. And since most western ingredients are unheard of in Dungun, Terengganu, I'm left incapacitated to supply my own epicurian lifestyle. And so for my stomach, this is indeed a dungeon. I am left boiling noodles in MSG water.

This is what I missed most about America when I lived in France. Even haute-cuisine wears a bit thin when you're longing for the cournicopia of ethnic America. Oh Greeks! Oh Italians! Oh salad making people of the world!

Despite all this, life here is rather agreeable. It's quiet, safe, cheap, and there's time to read and write. Zoe and I spend time together.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for those witticisms or culturally induced epiphanies that will make this trip pay intellectual dividends. At least the novel goes along.

Next week: Alex & Tom, luxury, drinks, and elephants in Thailand. In the meantime, I'll be bringing the boils to a head and trying to stay well fed.