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Trip News and Notes

POSTSCRIPT: A Spectacular Finish — And Thank You!

Posted by Keith on September 10, 2007 at 7:02 pm | 4 Comments

Hong Kong
September 11, 2007

In a few minutes The Global Adventure will make her way up spectacular Victoria Harbor, Hong Kong, on her final journey as our ship.

On this, the anniversary of 9/11, and as she has always done when entering a foreign port, The Global Adventure will fly her 8′x5′ American Flag from high on her stack as she passes beneath what may be the most spectacular urban skyline on earth.

Our flag will be seen by thousands upon thousands of people, and so will The Global Adventure.

The ship will pass from a marina in the far west, Pacific side, of Hong Kong to The Global Adventure’s new home at the Gold Coast Marina on the east side of town near the airport.

There she will be offered for sale in a combined effort by Nordhavn Yachts and Asia Yacht Services. We will post listing information here on the site within the next couple of days. You may recall that we had planned to take The Global Adventure to the Nordhavn ship yard in Xiamen, China, and to sell her from there. But the mainland authorities imposed too many restrictions, so as we headed north up the China coast we turned left into Asia’s free-market capital, Hong Kong, instead.

The Global Adventure’s trip across Victoria Harbor is a fitting end not only for our relationship with a proud ship, but also for this trip of a lifetime.

Since announcing our journey’s end, and the end of our radio show, we have received many supporting, often touching, emails. They are posted in our chat room and after articles such as our August 26th JOURNEY’S END, and the September 4th FINAL THOUGHTS posts, below. There will likely be comments after this post as well. I encourage you to read them all. If you find them as uplifting as my family and I did, it will be time well spent.

THANK YOU ALL for your kind words, your support and encouragement. You have each touched us in a very real and positive way.

Sharing our adventures with you, and having the opportunity to visit with you each Sunday morning on the radio for so many years, has been a privilege and an honor.

You have enriched us beyond measure.

I will depart Hong Kong in a few days. I have not seen my family for nearly two months. I have not been home since late May.

While I’ve enjoyed every moment of every visit to foreign shores, safely setting foot on Arizona soil, and being home once again home with my family, will indeed be the crowning achievement of our Global Adventure.

–Keith

FINAL THOUGHTS: A Dream Come True

Posted by Keith on September 4, 2007 at 7:17 am | 4 Comments

Northbound on the China Sea
About 420 miles southwest of Hong Kong

A chat room participant recently suggested that our trip would have been more successful if my family and I had taken a cruise ship around the world.

I’m afraid this poor fellow entirely missed the point of our Global Adventure.

First and foremost: The beauty, excitement and challenge of being at sea in our own small ship – especially a vessel as seaworthy as our Nordhavn 55; the satisfaction of charting courses, traversing vast expanses of ocean, maintaining the ship, and arriving safely at our destinations; and the fun and flexibility of setting our own schedule – these are the elements of true adventure, and are just a few of the things that have made every moment of this trip a dream come true.

As we arrive in a few days at our final destination, Xiamen, China, we will have traveled 11,000 nautical miles, or about 12,600 statutory miles – a distance almost exactly equal to half the circumference of the globe.

After departing San Diego on April 1, my crew and I brought ourselves to, and called at: Honolulu, Hawaii; the island of Majuro, The Marshall Islands; Pohnpei Island, Micronesia; The island nation of Palau; Cebu, The Philippines; Porta Princessa, The Philippines; Kota Kanabalu, East Malaysia on Borneo; Pattaya Thailand; and finally Xiamen, China.

During this trip I made a side trip to Hong Kong, met my family, and toured Mainland China for three weeks.

Along with several thousand cheering fans, I watched the Micronesia games on Majuro.

In Pohnpei we saw fishing vessels at the dock next to us unload a huge harvest of Yellow Fin tuna, we toured the beautiful countryside, and visited ancient ruins.

We went scuba diving in Palau, took friends there on a sunset cruise, and in fact made friends wherever we went.

I toured Cebu, the Philippines, visited the first Spanish fort there, and the bay at which Magellan was killed, and I saw the gut-wrenching poverty in its neighborhoods.

I visited the base of Mount Kinabalu Sabah, East Malaysia, on the Island of Borneo, toured the legendary city of Bangkok, and strolled down infamous Walking Street in Pattaya, Thailand.

Just two days ago, while in international waters off the coast of Vietnam, a patrol boat fired several flares across our bow, attempted to cut us off by pulling directly in front of us, and tried to board us. They said we passed too close to one of their offshore natural gas wells. We raised our U.S. flag, held our ground and refused to pull along side their ship, or to let anyone from their ship board ours. We put out an alert on our VHF radio, and after a one-hour stand-off, they pulled away.

Throughout the journey we fished, and kept only what we could eat, and sometimes we watched in awe as 400-pound Marlins danced across the surface after striking our lures (almost always biting through them within minutes).

Sometimes we fought 15-foot seas, and sometimes we enjoyed perfectly calm days. We stopped our ship and went swimming in thousands of feet of water whenever we felt like it.

We ate well thanks to our fully equipped galley; and we lived every bit as luxuriously aboard our Nordhavn 55 – the aptly named Global Adventure — as aboard the most opulent cruise line.

Thousands of miles out to sea, I’ve seen fishes that fly, birds that swim, whales and dolphins, and, as at this very moment about 420 miles southwest of Hong Kong as we head north in the China Sea, we’ve enjoyed empty horizons in every direction where we alone momentarily ”own” the entire sea around us.

Some nights we’ve seen hundreds of small fishing vessels light up the horizon in all directions, and sometimes we barely missed tiny unlit vessels, and their nets. We’ve stood watch in rotation, and sometimes doubled the watch in cluttered seas. Meanwhile, we’ve seen colorful vessels of every conceivable sort, some little more than canoes fifty miles from shore.

And other nights, and sometimes for nights on end, we alone have owned the stars and the moon and the breeze.

And throughout it all, we’ve had the privilege of sharing our videos, photos and commentary about our adventure with thousands of radio listeners and website visitors.

As we arrive in Xiamen we will have crossed not only the entire Pacific Ocean, but also the Sulu Sea, the South China Sea (twice) the Gulf of Thailand (Siam), the China Sea, and even the Formosa Straight.

What made the trip possible in the first place was my family’s enthusiastic support of my dream. But my wife, Lynn, and I agreed more than a year ago that yanking our youngest sons from school was not in their best interests; so the possibility of the family traveling together at this time was never on the table.

It was I, not they, who called it quits. In fact, my ten-year-old son, cried when he heard the news. He thought I’d be sad.

There may come a day when we complete the second half of the journey. Or not. It doesn’t matter. The Global Adventure has always been about the journey, not the destination.

It has always been about dreams come true.

JOURNEY’S END: Time to Come Home

Posted by Keith on August 26, 2007 at 3:40 am | 44 Comments

Pattaya, Thailand
(Near Bangkok)

Time to Come Home

First and foremost, I want to assure everyone who has followed our journey that I am fine, and that my family is fine. There is no emergency bringing me home. No crises.

However, having crossed the vast Pacific Ocean, the Sulu Sea, the South China Sea, and the Gulf of Thailand; having visited Hawaii and seven countries since our April 1 departure from San Diego; having made many new friends along the way; and having enjoyed and shared with thousands of listeners and readers the adventure of a lifetime, I’ve decided to conclude our trip over the next couple of weeks and to return home.

Why is The Global Adventure’s journey coming to an end?

It’s simple: I miss my family. Despite their incredible continued support of this adventure, and despite the countless hours I have spent arguing with myself to the contrary, I can’t shake the feeling that I am missing a much more important adventure at home.

If we go any further west from here we would most likely need to complete our circumnavigation in order to return the ship to where it could eventually be sold. This would probably require an additional 18-month commitment due to seasonal weather considerations around the globe.

While every member of my family would support me if I continued the trip, I am electing to do my future world travels by plane, with them, and to capture that 18 months at home.

To bring the trip to a prompt and successful conclusion, my friend Dan Streech, President of Nordhavn, has recommended that we return to the Nordavn production facility in Xiamen China so that The Global Adventure can be spruced up and resold from there. For the record, not much sprucing up will be necessary. The Global Adventure is as Bristol as the day she left San Diego. In fact, she looks awesome.

Therefore, we will backtrack across the South China Sea; then head north well clear of the coast of Vietnam, and return The Global Adventure to where she was born, at the shipyards of Xiamen.

We hope to leave here — Pattaya, Thailand — in a few days to begin the 1800-mile trip to Xiamen – our last great adventure aboard The Global Adventure. The trip should take 10-12 days.

But it’s typhoon season here; and if our weather-routing service alerts us, we’ll duck into Vietnam, or into Hong Kong, or wherever, to avoid the excitement of 70-knot winds and 30-foot seas.

Captain Wolfgang Petrasko and Engineer Brian Wallace will be making the trip with me. Alida Christiansen, our fourth crew member, has already headed home.

I’ve Asked KFYI to End the Radio Show

After more than 18 years on Arizona radio – more than 16 years with KFYI, and two years with KTAR — I’ve asked KFYI to end our show after the September 2 broadcast. They may carry the show for an extra week or two. Or perhaps they’ll end the show immediately. That’s up to them. KFYI has been great to work with. I’ll miss them!

I love doing the show! But it’s time to turn the page – and to be home on Sunday mornings for a change!

Sincere Thanks

Some great people helped make this trip possible:

Gordon James of Gordon C. James Public Relations is not only a good friend, but a great PR representative. My thanks to him and to all of the great people he works with.

Tammi Gauthier is my administrative assistant back in Phoenix. Without her help life would have been infinitely more difficult for both Lynn and me.

Dan Streech and all the folks at Nordhavn have been beyond spectacular. If I started again tomorrow, it would be on a Nordhavn.

Smokey Rivers, Dan Garcia, Jason Wilmot, Doug Burkhizer, and Bryce Carmichael, to mention just a few of the great people at KFYI, have been tremendous to work with.

Chris Crump at Comrex, Steve Buckingham and Steve Griffin at KVH Industries, the folks at Medlink, the folks at Commanders Weather, and a long, long list of other professionals all made the trip possible – and safe. We are in their debt.

The Global Adventure’s Captain, Wolfgang Petrasko, is a serious seaman and a good friend. He has taken us safely half way across the globe; and I know he’ll make our final 1800 mile passage to Xiamen a success as well.

Engineer Brian Wallace was a late addition to the crew, starting in Majuro; and we could not have done it without him. He too is a fine seaman, and I’m very pleased and grateful to be traveling with him.

Rip Knot, Kate Chapman and Alida Christiansen also contributed as crew; and their help is much appreciated.

At each port of call we made new friends and were extended countless courtesies. To everyone who made each stop an immensely positive experience – thank you.

Each week I receive many positive emails from listeners and website visitors. I can’t thank you enough for your support and encouragement. Many times I begin my day by reading your emails. They – and those who write them – make a huge difference. Many of you have written to say I was living your dream. I hope I have not disappointed you.

Having an audience with which to share his adventure made it all much more meaningful. It was always a pleasure to know that our shows, the photos and videos, and the articles were appreciated. Thank you all for listening and for visiting the website!

What the Future Holds

I’ll be sure to post at least one final dispatch when we arrive safely in Xiamen, and I do look forward to what will probably be our final, September 2nd, radio show.

After securing the ship in Xiamen, I’ll return to Phoenix. I hope to be home within about three weeks.

What’s next? Time with the family! In addition, I certainly want to do some investing based on what I’ve learned on this trip! Many other opportunities also present themselves. But I think I’ll wait until I unpack before I make any major decisions!

It’s the Journey…

Sitting here, looking over the Gulf of Siam (Gulf of Thailand) on a clear, hot humid day, I can honestly say I would not trade away a single moment of this journey.

But having come this far – half way around the globe – I’m reminded that it’s the journey, not the destination, after all, that matters most.

There are journeys occurring back home right now as well: The journeys of my two youngest sons, Sam and Mac, ages 14 and 11; of my adult children, Keith Paul, Chris and Laura; of my grandchildren, Marie, Nora and Anthony; and of my daughter-in-law, Kiley.

And then there’s Lynn. She’s waited five months now without complaint; and she was fully prepared to wait as long as it took for her husband to return.

We have a journey of our own to continue.

–Keith

Pattaya, Thailand
August 18

After a very choppy six-day passage across the South China Sea, we arrived at the Ocean Marina in Pattaya, about forty miles southeast of Bangkok, early this morning.

The Ocean Marina is large, new and beautiful. The people at the Marina office were wonderfully hospitable. Unfortunately, because we arrived on a Saturday, and because Monday is a national holiday here, we remain unable to clear through either immigration or customs until Tuesday.

Therefore, I will not be able leave Pattaya until Tuesday afternoon at the earliest; but once able, I hope to visit Bangkok, and from there to visit other points of interest in Southeast Asia. I will continue to file dispatches and post photos during my travels.

Pattaya is an energetic seaside vacation town. There are, I’m told, more than 70 hotels and resorts here. It fronts on the east coast of the famous Gulf of Siam, now known as the Gulf of Thailand, and it bustles with tourists amid the construction of new condos and hotels everywhere.

Many Thais and foreigners maintain second homes here; and many more stay at the hotels that range from one to five stars.

The Quintessential Wartime R&R Location

But it wasn’t always this way. Until the 1960s Pattaya was a sleepy fishing village. But then the U.S. Military settled on this location as an “R&R” destination for its personnel fighting in Vietnam.

Their decision spurred the establishment of countless bars and hotels, and drew young women from throughout Thailand to the young Americans desperate for human contact of another sort.

Those of us in Vietnam who were married took our six-day R&R in Honolulu, where we met up with our wives and, in my case, where I met my oldest son, Keith Paul, for the first time.

But the single Marines in my unit usually opted for right here at Pattaya, Thailand. Many would return with new stereos, stories of bar fights and sexual exploits (never verified, of course), and often with a souvenir of another sort in those pre-AIDS days — for which the U.S. military provided prompt medical attention.

The night life is still wild here, I’m told, and military personnel still visit; but today Pattaya, with its upscale resorts, condos, restaurants and shopping is also firmly established as an upscale vacation destination.

A Birthday to Remember

It happens that today, August 18, is my birthday. The crew and I will have a nice dinner this evening to celebrate. But I most look forward to the birthday phone calls I’ll enjoy with my family tomorrow, where back in the States it will still be August 18. Thanks to the international date line, you might say I get to celebrate twice.

I’m staying at the beautiful Sheraton Pattaya Resort — a five star hotel — waiting for that passport stamp on Tuesday and to rest that cracked rib of mine (see previous dispatch — “Rugged Adventure on the South China Sea”) for the next three nights. Being in this region of the world I can’t help but remember that I spent my 20th birthday not too terribly far from here in a foxhole south of Da Nang. Without a doubt, I recommend the resort!

–Keith

–Keith

Dispatch: Rugged Adventure on The South China Sea!

Posted by Keith on August 16, 2007 at 4:30 am | 2 Comments

18:30 Local Time
About 400 Miles South of Bangkok
Entering The Gulf of Thailand from The South China Sea

A Major Change in Conditions

In my last dispatch I described the South China Sea as bright and calm, even benign.

But within hours of sending that report things changed dramatically.

We entered a vast shallow area of the Sea, where the ocean floor rises from an average depth of more than 4000 feet to only about 100 feet, and sometimes less.

Water this shallow promises two things: An armada of fishing boats, and rough seas.

The Fishing Fleet

They began appearing en-mass our third night out: Fishing vessels of every shape and size — hundreds of them scattered in long lines across the horizon in every direction. Many carry the flag of Vietnam. Most carry no flag at all.

At night we watch their lights, if they have lights. Some ships are lit up like a bright city street. Others carry a single weak lantern. Many of the smaller boats carry no light at all. During the day we scan the horizon in search of vessels to avoid.

Day or night, only a few of the ships reflect on our radar, so we must maintain a constant vigil. We look not only for ships, but also for the nets they often leave, marked only by a few bamboo sticks that float vertically at the surface.

In the dark we use the night vision camera mounted on the brow of our ship to help us avoid ships or nets at the last minute. But it’s a backup tool at best. Mainly we spend each watch scanning the sea with binoculars, estimating the distance, size and course of each vessel we see, and trying to surmise where they might have set nets or lines.

Fortunately most of the ships anchor in these shallows. But still, more than a dozen times we have found ourselves on an intercept course with ships that are also underway.

This area is vast, but based on the size of the fishing fleet we’ve seen – often more than 200 miles from shore — it is easy to suspect that these waters are being over-fished.

But still they come, as they have for thousands of years, but in greater numbers now, in small boats and large, plying these choppy seas in search of fish for profit, or fish for sustenance.

Storms from Nowhere

The storms come from nowhere. One moment the horizon looks fine, the next it is black with low ominous clouds. They sweep through quickly, intensely.

The storm video I took, and have posted here, does little justice to the impact of a storm’s leading edge on the water. By the time I grabbed my camera and made it to the the aft cockpit, that particular storm’s leading edge had passed. But initially, these storms whip the water into a frenzy, kicking spray high above the waves.

Just behind the wind, they bring torrential rain. The rain actually flattens, or calms, the sea. Then lesser winds are brought by the trailing edge of the storm, and then it’s over, usually in minutes – until the next one arrives.

Heavy Seas and a Cracked Rib

I grew up in Cleveland on Lake Erie. I remember being told that because the Great Lakes are often shallow, they can be very rough.

I believe that this portion of the South China Sea – extending south to Singapore from beneath the southern tip of Vietnam, then west to the Thai-Malay Peninsula – may be much the same, and for the same reason.

Vast quantities of water are pushed up from the ocean depths across these thousands of shallow square miles. The water surges to the surface and above it forming intense, choppy waves.

We’ve been in heavier seas as we crossed the Pacific. But those were swells, often ten seconds or more apart. These waves are relentless, and push each other against and past the hull of our ship one after the other in staccato fashion.

The Global Adventure continues to acquit herself most admirably; but there is no denying that it’s a rough ride.

In these conditions, and with the bow into the wind, the salt spray constantly attacks the forward windows of the pilot house, but the ship’s wipers are equal to the task.

At night we lower the brightness on our navigation monitors to make the pilot house quite dark and to increase visibility out the forward windows. But there is still a bit of reflection on the windows from the monitors’ glow, and with a constant spray against the forward windows, it can be quite difficult to see outside at night.

To get a better view, last night I stepped out of the pilot house and stood on the starboard companionway next to the pilot house hatch, just above the stairs that lead to the lower deck. I was attempting to use a pair of hand-held night vision goggles to search for unlit ships.

A wave hit and nearly threw me down the steps backwards. The impact slammed me against the starboard rail, cracking a rib. At no time was I at risk of being tossed overboard, although at the moment of impact, I would probably have preferred that.

Not to worry, this particular rib and I have a long history. I manage to crack it about once a year in the same spot. Let’s see, once I broke it trying to jump across a small stream while hiking with the family; twice I’ve snapped it wrestling with my boys; and on one occasion, while coaching flag football, a third grader the size of Refrigerator Perry blindsided me with an excellent demonstration of his blocking skills.

But nursing a cracked rib in rough seas is not something I would recommend, if you can avoid it.

On the other hand, if that’s the cost of my ticket for this E-Ticket ride, its one of life’s great values.

–Keith

VIDEO: Storm on the South China Sea!

Posted by Keith on August 16, 2007 at 4:25 am | 1 Comment

Dispatch: Greetings from the South China Sea!

Posted by Keith on August 14, 2007 at 2:33 am | 2 Comments

17:30 Local
August 14, 2007

Smack Dab In the Middle of the South China Sea

We are about 400 miles east-northeast of Kota Kanabalu, East Malaysia, and about 325 west-southwest of that southern-most tip of Vietnam located at the southeastern corner of the entrance to the Gulf of Thailand. When we reach that point we’ll take a more northerly heading past the Vietnam and Cambodian coasts toward Bangkok. But for now our course is 282 degrees true (west-northwest) – straight across the South China Sea.

We’ve been at sea for two days.

The water was dead calm when we left Kota Kanabalu. We enjoyed a serene and picturesque sunset the first night as we slipped between the many brightly-lit off-shore oil rigs and fishing vessels scattered along the East Malaysian-Brunei coast.

After an equally spectacular sunrise, the sea presented a light chop from the southwest yesterday, and has continued to build today. Winds have increased a bit but are still only in the teens. The skies are blue with little sign of storms on our radar. We are surrounded by an endless blue horizon.

Our weather routing service has warned us that seas and winds may continue to build a bit, but to nowhere near threatening levels. Still, this is typhoon season here so we continue to watch the weather carefully. We will not linger out here, even if fish start biting by the dozen the two lures we usually have out!

Today is Tuesday. We should arrive at the Ocean Marina Yacht Club near Sattahip, Thailand – about 30 southeast of Bangkok — by Saturday, August 18 (My birthday!).

Our intrepid Nordhavn 55, The Global Adventure, is heading almost directly into the wind and waves, so things are a bit bouncy, but not too uncomfortable. For example, at this moment, with Alida on watch, Brian is napping in the forward crew’s quarters, Wolf is here with me in the Salon reading, and I’m sitting in one of our two leather recliners typing this dispatch. Obviously, we are not suffering.

Before we left Kota Kanabalu, the crew did a particularly exceptional job of cleaning the interior and exterior of the ship. While she is now covered with salt spray outside, the ship’s interior remains so neat and clean that life is particularly comfortable onboard. It’s like traveling in a five-star resort.

Before we shoved off from San Diego April 1, my family gave me the “Complete Alfred Hitchock” DVD set. I had forgotten we had it, but earlier today I rediscovered the set and enjoyed the film classic Rear Window.

We have two flat-screen TVs on board: One on the wall in my stateroom, and another larger set that emerges from the starboard cabinet in the main salon with the push of a button. As I said: Five stars.

Our Watch Schedule

With four persons aboard, we each take two three-hour watches during each 24-hour period. This leaves every member of the crew 18 hours per day to sleep, take photos and videos (see yesterday’s postings) write blogs, cook, read, attend to minor repairs or equipment adjustments (everything is working splendidly), eat, sun bathe, talk and watch movies.

Here’s the watch schedule we’ve maintained since Pohnpei, Micronesia:

00:00 – 03:00 Engineer Brian Wallace
03:00 – 06:00 Crew and Steward Alida Christiansen
06:00 – 09:00 Me
09:00 – 12:00 Captain Wolf Petrasko
12:00 – 15:00 Brian
15:00 – 18:00 Alida
18:00 – 21:00 Me
21:00 – 00:00 Wolf

Wolf sleeps right behind the pilot house and is available 24/7 to assist the watch person with any issues that may arise.

We use local time, and when we pass into a new time zone we typically adjust the schedule accordingly.

The South China Sea

The South China Sea covers almost 1.5 million square miles, at an average depth of 4800 feet. But there are many sea mounts, reefs, and small islands here as well. While not difficult to avoid, they force us to stay alert, as well we should under any circumstance.

The Sea extends as far north as Taiwan opposite the central coast of China, and as far south as Singapore at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Below that is the Java Sea that extends to Indonesia. The South China Sea is bounded on the east by Taiwan, The Philippines, East Malaysia and Brunei on the island of Borneo. The islands and land masses occupied by these nations separate the Sea from the Pacific Ocean.

To the west, the South China Sea is bounded by China, Vietnam, and the Malay Peninsula. Cambodia, arguably also fronting on the South China Sea, is oriented more toward the Gulf of Thailand, as is Thailand itself. The Gulf of Thailand is the comparatively small gulf in the northwest corner of the South China Sea.

For some reason – perhaps the adventure stories I read as a boy — I always thought of this Sea as dark and foreboding. But it has been very kind to us, offering up blue skies and fairly gentle seas.

Unfortunately, even out here there are logs and debris floating by with regularity – an indication of man’s carelessness, particularly on the Malay Peninsula. But it is truly beautiful out here. There are fish that fly and birds that swim, warm breezes and plenty of sun. Even the Sea’s water temperature is comforting: close to 90 degrees.

Adventures await us in Bangkok and in all of Thailand, as well as in Cambodia and Vietnam.

But for today, with gratitude and excitement, we embrace the adventure of crossing The South China Sea.

–Keith

PHOTO ALERT: South China Sea Crossing!

Posted by Keith on August 13, 2007 at 5:00 am | Leave a Comment

Click here to view photos

VIDEO: South China Sea Crossing — Life Aboard & Ship Tour

Posted by Keith on August 13, 2007 at 4:48 am | 1 Comment

Please view the East Malaysia Photo Album on this site!

Wow!

Kota Kanabalu, the small Malaysian city on the west coast of Borneo, and Sabah, the lush Malaysian state in which KK (everyone’s affectionate name for the city) is located, has stolen our hearts.

What an absolutely delightful place this is! Our ship is securely docked at the beautiful new marina here at Sutera Harbour – a resort that features not only the marina, but golf (including fully-lighted nighttime golf, until 9 PM), a country club, a spa, and two world-class hotels.

I am writing this from my eleventh floor room at The Pacific Sutera, a luxury resort that rivals the best Maui has to offer. I overlook the lush, sprawling hotel pool area, the marina and our ship, and KK’s spectacular bay as I avail myself of both WIFI and fire-wire high speed internet on my two computers.

An easy walk around the Marina, past tennis courts covered by a huge canvas canopy, and past the massive club house for the Country Club, is the Magellan Hotel. I would rate it only a small notch blow the Pacific Sutera, yet larger and perhaps more fun for families.

I watch as jet skiers, scuba-, paragliding-, and water-skiing boats crisscross the beautiful harbor here. The sun is shining, the water is blue, the hills are covered with rain forests and lush jungles, the streets are clean and safe, and the largely Islamic population is enthusiastically tolerant, well educated and genuinely friendly.

Background

Malaysia, home to about 26 million people – most of them on the Malay Peninsula – was once a group of petty kingdoms. There are about three million people living in the State of Sabah here in East Malaysia, including about 300,000 who live in the City of Kota Kanabalu.

All Malaysians victims of Japanese occupation during WWII, and became British protectorates after the war. They overcame regional differences sufficiently to pull together as the single nation of Malaysia, gaining full independence 1957. The island of Singapore initially joined the nation, but two years later it declared itself an independent city state. Regardless, it remains the financial center of the region. On August 31st, Malaysia will celebrate 50 years of remarkable progress under their constitutional monarchy.

The Malaysian Ringgit is their currency. The average family earns about $1500 Ringgits per month – or about U.S. $500 per month – approximately U.S. $6,000 per year.

Their goal is to eradicate poverty here by 2010; and from what I’ve seen I would say they are well on their way, at least in East Malaysia. They apparently define the hard-core poverty income level as about $500 Ringgits – about U.S. $165 – per month for the average family of five.

It may appear they are being a bit too easy on themselves in setting as a goal the elimination of family incomes of less than about U.S. $2,000 per year. That’s not much for a family of five.

But U.S. $2,000 per year is positively opulent when compared to the 36 million people nearby in, say, The Philippines who live on less than U.S. $2 per day. Also, it is especially comfortable (relatively speaking) thanks to massive government subsidies for everything from fuel to bottled water. These keep the cost of living modest, in a country that is expected to grow economically at a rate of 5.5 percent per year between now and 2020.

That growth fuels Malaysia’s plan to become a “first world” country by 2020. Based strictly on what I’ve seen in East Malaysia, on the Island of Borneo, I would not be at all surprised if they succeed.

I have not formed an opinion yet on whether or how best to invest in Malaysia, and will reserve judgment until late September when we have our first opportunity to visit the Malay Peninsula, where most Malaysians live.

My Tour With Mr. Ibrahim Tamanan

When you arrive in KK call tour guide Ibrahim Tamanan at 013-858-6018, or ask Jack, the head bellman at the Pacific Sutera, to contact him for you.

Ibrahim and his wife (they have six children) own Borneo Full Force Tours. Ask for Ibrahim specifically as your driver. In a late model air-conditioned KIA mini-van, he will take you on the local tour of your choice. You pick the itinerary, or change it along the way.

Ibrahim is an excellent tour guide and the consummate entrepreneur. One suggestion: Ask him to turn off his cell phone at the start of the trip.

Be sure to set aside a full day to visit the Kinabalu National Park at the base of the 13,000-foot-high spectacular Mount Kinabalu. Enjoy the amazing scenery as you ascend the Crocker Mountain Range, driving from sea level to an elevation of nearly one mile at the visitor’s center.

Incidentally, Kinabalu National Park is 750 square kilometers in size, and there are vast additional tracts of protected rain forest, jungle, river and wilderness areas within Malaysia’s boundaries on Borneo.

If you are the eco-hiker type , and enjoy a rugged but not particularly dangerous (unless you blow out the old aorta along the way) two-day outing, arrange for guides to assist you up the mountain. You will pass through magnificent strata of rain forest, spend the first night at a lodge half way up, and enjoy the view from thousands of feet above the tree line at the summit.

If you are less ambitious, enjoy the relatively tame and very beautiful park rainforest trails in the vicinity of the visitor’s center, and the exhibits at the center itself.

I learned many interesting things about Sabah and East Malaysia in particular, and about Malaysia in general, from Ibrahim during our full-day tour. And, of course, supplemented by some homework of my own, I had the opportunity to observe and form impressions as we embarked from the Pacific Sutera Resort to the visitor center at Mount Kinabalu.

Head Hunters and Pirates!

There are two dominant peoples in Sabah, East Malaysia: The Baju and the Kadazan Dusun.

The Baju traditionally lived near the sea, fished, and were often pirates. They were particularly receptive to British systems of government when the area was a British protectorate.

The Kadazan Dusun lived in the surrounding mountains. They were excellent farmers – and headhunters.

These days, according to Ibrahim, the only thing either group hunts is money.

Shopping

Center Point Mall, and the upscale Heritage Square attached to it, comprises the primary shopping area in downtown KK. However, street-front shops also abound, and a new “hyper-mall” is being constructed just outside of town. You won’t find traditional Asian-style market areas here, however. The stores are nicer, cleaner, and more spacious. The place has much the feel of a rapidly growing mid-size U.S. city – Malaysian style.

The Malaysian Flag

The Malaysian flag bears a striking resemblance to Old Glory. Instead of thirteen alternating red and white stripes (for our thirteen colonies), it has fourteen such stripes – one for each Malaysian state.

While the blue rectangle on the upper hoist side of our flag contains fifty five-pointed stars in nine horizontal offset rows, theirs contains one large star with fourteen points (again, for their states) and Islam’s crescent moon.

Race and Religious Relations in Malaysia

Malaysia’s population is about 86% Muslim, and while I know of no non-Muslims who hold high elective office here, the government adamantly promotes harmony and tolerance. I saw several large and beautiful mosques here, and also some Christian churches.

The local papers seem to acknowledge that some friction does exist between various ethnic and religious groups, but the government insists that intolerance and extremism is unacceptable.

Not-Such-a-Fantasy Island for Budding Terrorists

According to Ibrahim the government employs a very popular law called the International Security Act to contain budding extremists of any persuasion. Here’s Ibrahim’s unofficial explanation of how it works:

The law uses a system of bottom-up reporting and enforcement. There is a strong sense of community in the villages and neighborhoods here so that people tend to know each other’s business.

If local citizens become concerned by someone’s comments or activities, and if they believe that person represents a threat to others, they report their concerns to the village chief or to local officials. The local officials investigate, and if the activity persists, they attempt to take videos or recordings of the offending words or actions.

If the local authorities believe the matter is sufficiently serious, they route the evidence though state officials who will likely route the matter to the appropriate national ministry. If the suspect activity or speech seems to represent a violent perversion of Islam or of any other faith, the ministry will consult with applicable religious leaders for their evaluation as well.

At each step of the process, the offending individual may be counseled by local, state, national or religious officials, and encouraged to desist.

But if the behavior persists, and appears dangerous to others, the individual will be sent – without trial — to an unidentified Malaysian island where he will spend two years under close scrutiny.

The prisoner will be kept safe, treated with respect, and fed well, according to Ibrahim. However, no communication with the outside world is allowed. No letters, internet, newspapers, magazines, radio or TV. Prisoners may visit with clergy of their faith, and throughout their stay they are counseled on, for example, the precepts of peace and tolerance that are the cornerstones of true Islam.

After two years, the prisoner is sent home. If he behaves, that’s the end of the matter. If he persists, he will again spend time on the island.

Human Capital

The Malaysian government is making a major effort to develop the nation’s “human capital.” The beautiful 14,000-student University of Malaysia, Sabah, is an example of the strong emphasis on higher, and continuing, education here.

In particular, during a visit to East Malaysia contemporaneous with my own, Prime Minister Abdullah Bin Ahmad Badawi, and several of the ministers accompanying him, repeatedly emphasized the importance to all Malaysians of becoming proficient in information communications technology (ICT).

While the government is currently awash in oil revenues, they appear to be taking the long view toward developing a self-sustaining economy replete with light clean commerce.

Goodbye Logging, Hello Eco-Tourism

While logging is not banned throughout Malaysia, it is now, according to the government, closely controlled in a “sustainable” fashion. According to Ibrahim, logging is, however, now banned entirely in East Malaysia. And there is an effort to replant logged areas.

Unfortunately, East Malaysia shares the island of Borneo with Indonesia. Indonesia has made far less progress at protecting the island’s rain forests. Brunei is also located here, but I am unaware of any significant forest depletion problems emanating from that incredibly oil-rich nation of less than 400,000 people.

East Malaysia at least has seen the future, and it comes in the form of tourists who will pay dearly to walk in rain forests, climb their mountains, and dive in their waters, to see remarkable marine life, orangutans, elephants and a seemingly endless variety of plants and other animals.

Here’s an example of their eminently sensible approach to conservation: The Kinabalu National Park is owned and administered by a non-governmental organization precisely because, according to Ibrahim, the people don’t trust the politicians to properly protect the place. In addition, all of the park rangers are given shares in the entity and participate in the profits it generates from tourism. This keeps them highly motivated to protect the park.

The entire region here is also incredibly clean; and you feel safe virtually anywhere. In sum, the people here have worked hard to make East Malaysia a highly desirable, world-class tourist destination.

In my opinion, they have largely succeeded.

Real Estate and Business Ownership in Malaysia

Many Pacific and Asian nations prohibit foreigners from owning real estate or businesses. Not Malaysia. Here they employ more eminently sensible approaches:

Foreigners may not own Malaysian real estate valued at under $350 Ringgits (about U.S. $120,000). But foreigners may buy all the real estate they want if valued above that amount.

This brilliantly simple approach prevents foreigners from speculating in the local housing market of the vast majority of Malaysians. It prevents foreign-capital-driven inflation in that market.

However, by permitting investment in more expensive condos and homes, Malaysia not only adds billions to its local economy, it creates jobs in its burgeoning construction industry for Malaysians. Those jobs are not limited to the construction of high-priced homes. They include the construction of the offices, shopping centers, and infrastructure that support a more affluent population. Everybody wins.

Meanwhile, foreigners may own up to sixty percent of any Malaysian company. Obviously, foreign companies may easily avoid even this requirement by incorporating elsewhere while opening branches in Malaysia.

Our Departure

Our weather routing service has told us to get out of Dodge in order to avoid some weather later this week. We are therefore shoving off immediately after we broadcast our radio show tonight:

We had wanted to stop in Brunei, but when driving a small boat across the South China Sea, you do what the weather dictates; and the weather says, “Get thee to Bangkok.”

Please view the East Malaysia photo album on this site!

–Keith

___________________________________________________________________
i. Eco-Hikers may be identified by the following characteristics: Heavy boots, short pants, beige shirt with lots of pockets, bandanna (cap optional), REI collapsible walking stick, modest back pack with carefully selected contents, no makeup, a vague bewildered look when embarking up the path, and an exhausted “this was the dumbest thing I’ve ever done” look upon return. May also belong to the Sierra Club, thinks they are liberal (until they pay their taxes), and are probably registered as Democrats.


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