amw (amw) wrote,

70°E → Tanjung Pelepas

May 20 - Day 12 - The Storm

Breakfast: scrambled egg, corn beef, tomatoes
Lunch: bubble n squeak (spinach, potatoes, beans, meat scraps, frankfurter sausage), roast lamb, garlic bread
Dinner: "ravioli" (ground meat pierogi, spinach and potato pierogi), onions

At sea.

Security level dropped to 1.

Well this is new. At some point today i guess we will pass the 71st meridian, the Maldives and the southern tip of India. Somewhere around there is the halfway point. Right fucking here we are in a thunderstorm. To the south, the ocean is like molten lead. To the north and west it's black, crested with indignant foam as the clouds hurl lightning bolts into its depths. There's no rain yet. It doesn't matter. It's dank and humid enough without.

We're safe, of course. Our ship has a guardian dragonfly. The birds peel off when you get to the deeper ocean. The insects remain.

Oh, here comes the fucking rain. It's blowing horizontally across the containers. One of them has a hole and someone's cargo is going to get very wet. Visibility is about 4 container lengths. I'd go dance on the deck if i didn't think captain would kick me off the boat for stupid. I'm guessing standing ankle-deep in water on a hunk of metal in the ocean isn't the smartest thing to do in a thunderstorm.

And - just like that - it's over. A tropical squall. Cruising at 20 knots nothing really lasts.


So, more than a squall. I guess we were in the eye. A few hours on and shit is going down. The rain is now horizontal in the opposite direction from before. None of my camera phone photos are going to capture this. It is wild out there. Wind is whipping through the tiny spaces in the rows of containers, it's raining upwards from between them. The sky flashes and the thunder is rolling continuosly. Some rag, some stray plastic bag - even out here in the middle of the ocean - floats up from nowhere and is choke-slammed to the steel like God in silver trunks slamming our abuse of the planet back into our faces.

And - when the rain clears enough to see the water again - whitecaps, the waves syrupy. The whole world is thick, hot, loud. And yet if i closed the porthole, covered it, it'd be no different to any other moment of this crossing. The ship plowing its way forward through the chaos with the same happy, drunken roll as ever. What remarkable contraptions we have built.

Clocks advance 1 hour.

May 21 - Day 13 - Meat and Music

Breakfast: scrambled egg, bacon, tomatoes
Lunch: steak, french fries, mixed veg (corn, peas)
Dinner: buffet!

At sea.

This is the first time i have listened to any music since leaving Vienna where i rearranged my data such so that my entire music library could fit on the internal SSD of my tablet. I'm listening to Opus III - It's A Fine Day because, after yesterday, waking up to a still-cloudy but far less ominous sky it just felt like the right moment. Of course, listening to that makes me want to listen to Orbital - Halcyon+on+on, which famously sampled and reversed the vocals. But i don't have that any more in my music collection, just in the opening scene of Hackers.

Orbital - Halycon+on+on

I bought the CD years ago after seeing Orbital on MTV Partyzone. The brown album turned out to be one of the defining albums of my highschool years. My mom had donated me her hi-fi at some point - understanding that as a teenager i was going to get far more pleasure out of it than her - and i set the alarm every morning to blast Halcyon+on+on which to this day i think is possibly the greatest song of all time to wake up to.

Life rolled on and i sold the brown album to get credit at the record store for other albums. That's how it worked in the days before digital. That's even still how it worked after digital piracy became the norm if you bloody-mindedly refused to accept that music didn't have value. I was wrong, of course - music doesn't have value. I only truly realized that years later when i moved to Germany and half of YouTube was blocked. Suddenly i stopped listening to music from all the artists that were blocked. Because who cares? There is so much music out there that if people are forced to pay they will just listen to the free stuff instead. The only thing that has value nowadays is performance, so we are back to the Middle Ages where musicians are expected to be traveling entertainers.

I think that's why i am okay not having a career in music despite never being happier than when i wrote it. I just wanted to be a composer, not an entertainer. I love traveling but i would hate performing, being the center of attention. I think performance takes away the purity of the music too; it becomes about cult of personality instead. But clearly i am out of touch with the rest of the world because even in electronic music - that most anonymous and humble of genres - millions still flock to watch superstar DJs and artists turn the rave scene into a stage show.

I dreamt of music last night, rocking and rolling on the Indian Ocean. I was in a record store that was going out of business and they had pulled out a dusty box from the basement with a whole bunch of old Djax-Up-Beats records and CDs in a cardboard mecha display. I immediately bought the CDs and said i would get in touch with a friend of mine who i thought would want the records. I can't remember who the friend was, in my dream. In real life, i would never buy hard copy any more. Back in the day a Djax-Up-Beats compilation was one of my first "underground techno" CDs. That led me to the Dutch acid scene, which turned out to be a branch of the free party/anarchist movement of the mid-90s. I didn't know that at the time. I just knew they played their 303s loud and even shy nerds like me were welcome to show up and dance our hearts out under strobe lights in a decaying building. For a night, no one could touch us. For a night, we were free.


The Sunday paper just arrived. Thank you Sri Lanka and your epic cell towers that send data bars out to ships at sea with not a speck of land in sight. I needed a win after lunch, which is the first meal here i couldn't force myself to finish. I hate wasting food and always try to eat everything on my plate, but fuck steak. It's literally the worst dish possible, even worse than a roast bird. Fat slab of flesh with nothing on it. Completely fucking pointless. I apologized to R that i left so much and explained it was just too much meat. He said he understood, but "Americans eat bigger steaks!" Because of course they fucking do. Maybe reading the news will cheer me up. Otherwise i shall go back to listening to music. That was a fine start to the day.


Speaking of music, here's a musical thing i will never understand. Karaoke. I have had several close friends and an ex-wife who loved it, but no one has really been able to explain the appeal. I don't understand why anyone would want to listen to a bunch of songs they probably don't like sung by a bunch of people who aren't professional singers. From what i gather the singing part is more important than the listening part, but then i don't understand why anyone would want to do it in front of other people when you could do it alone with far less mutual embarrassment and no waiting in line. It's just such a bizarre pastime to me, i don't get it at all. But there's the crew, on the easiest stretch of this voyage - Bay of Bengal, no pirates, no ports - belting it out.

I should probably go down and ask the guys why they love karaoke so i can write a more compelling travelogue, but i feel i would be imposing on their private space. You're stuck on a boat 24/7 with 18 other guys for 9 months at a time, then some random passenger pokes their head in on the one evening you get to unwind? Nope. I wouldn't have the slightest concern popping in if it was a real bar where i could buy a drink and leave without any obligations, but the crew lounge is their space. I am 100% sure that other passengers do it, but i just feel awkward. It'd be like visiting someone's house. People's private spaces should be private, that's why we have the public space. Though... i guess on a ship the crew lounge is the public space. But... eh. This village is too small.

Plus, you know. Fucking karaoke.

Clocks advance 1 hour.

May 22 - Day 14 - Meat and More Meat

Breakfast: scrambled egg, "luncheon meat", tomatoes
Lunch: cheese and asparagus soup, pork cordon bleu, gravy, boiled potatoes, mixed veg (cauliflower, zucchini, carrot)
Dinner: beef ribs, rice

At sea.

If it's "luncheon meat" why do we never have it for lunch?


I think i have hit my breaking point. It is impossible to eat meat three times a day. Even when i ate meat i didn't eat this much meat. It's just insane. I feel bloated and fat after every single meal.

May 23 - Day 15 - Fame

Breakfast: ???
Lunch: chicken noodle soup, roast lamb, gravy, mashed potato, mystery pickle (looked like apple slices, tasted like pickle juice)
Dinner: grilled white fish, rice, mixed veg (carrot, radish, zucchini)

At sea.

I missed breakfast again because i got hooked on a show last night and didn't get to sleep till around 2am. It was the first show i've watched since being on the road - the recent ESPN documentary series about O.J. Simpson. I thought it would be a good way to cap off reading Paul Theroux's Deep South. Dear God, was it ever. From the Third World conditions and racial injustice of rural America to the conspicuous consumption and racial injustice of urban America. I couldn't stop watching, it's like a car crash.

I remember the media circus - it all played out while i was in highschool. In Europe no one had the slightest idea who the guy was, and Europe's race problems are very different to America's, so the whole thing was part of the "light news" segment and we would all shake our heads and laugh about how crazy America is. Now that i'm an adult and a lot more educated about the social issues in the US, the whole thing still comes across as a shining example of how crazy America is. It's got everything. Hollywood mansions. Z-grade celebs. Washed-up athlete. Pretty blonde victim. Blood and gore. Wife-beating. Homophobia. Racist cops. Hidden tapes. Advertizing. Golf. Collectibles. Lawyers, fucking armies of lawyers. Flim-flam men galore - religious leaders, political figures, so-called "news" media, two-bit hustlers and conmen. Everyone scrambling, desperate for a scrap of the lime-light, a chance to grandstand, to be part of the spectacle, to revel in the grotesque, to score another fucking point. Like social justice is a product to be packaged and sold, systemic racism and the privilege of the 1% just opportunities for brand building. Yuck.

It's suddenly no surprise at all this country would later elect a corrupt reality TV star (and admitted sex offender) to their head of state. Not the president anyone wanted, but sadly one befitting. America is such a fucking shit-show. I spent a good part of my life longing to emigrate there, enrapt with the unique vibrancy of its subcultures - not to mention the incredible natural beauty of the country and warmth of its residents - but dear God if you step back for a moment and look, really look, it is such a fucking shit-show. I'm not sure if i should celebrate the gamification and productization of society itself as a post-modern inevitability or if i should just curl up and weep for our planet.

America aside, one thing watching this documentary reminded me of is that fame is a thing some people deliberately seek. This is no grand revelation - reality TV, game shows and so on are all about people seeking fame - but it occurred to me this drive is something that could explain the appeal of karaoke. Not that people singing karaoke long to be famous - obviously not, or they would be writing their own songs and schmoozing - but there must be some rush, some extra pleasure involved in doing something you love in front of an audience.

To me i can't think of anything worse than doing something i love in front of an audience. Having an audience would ruin it. I go out of my way to not be the center of attention, ever. I like to blend in, to be ignored. Which isn't to say i'm anti-social. When i do interact with people i hope they leave enriched. In my optimistic moments i imagine that somehow i can broaden people's minds or provide them with some kind of entertainment or even just a smile - but i don't want them to remember my name. I don't want to be put on a pedestal. I'm just another stitch in the fabric of society, another ingredient in the mix that hopefully makes people's lives better and not worse. I don't feel comfortable being the star, not even for 3 minutes in a drunken room.

I guess that might explain why i don't really want kids either. Parenting is the opportunity to be a person's ultimate star, for a few years. Huh.

Perhaps i should read Dune again. I bought it on Kindle when we were sailing through the Suez. I can't remember whether it is Dune or Dune Messiah, but i have a memory of the main character struggling with his terrible obligations as ducal heir, selectively-bred übermensch, prophet and mahdi... Underneath it all just a boy who didn't have much choice in any of it, one robbed of his humanity. I remember disliking the boy, but the theme resonated - the horror of being thrust into fame, a hyper coming-of-age. What society wants from you, what people expect of you, the pressure to follow tradition, to fulfil a destiny - that path can never result in happiness. Freedom is at sea, in the desert, anonymous, alone.


Outside there are millions of sampans. When did that happen? I always associated Aceh province with religious extremists, but out here in the strait seems like it's just fishermen. Open sky, sandy water, boats fucking everywhere, welcome to South-East Asia.

Tags: american dream, food, looking back, music, news, travel

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