Travel Geek Short: Hiking Tabur West

In Kuala Lumpur’s Klang district lies Melawati, home to three epic hikes; Tabur East, Tabur West and Tabur Extreme. For weekend warriors seeking the city’s nearest adventures, it doesn’t get more rewarding than this. Follow along as my amazing friend Amaal shows me the ropes on Tabur West.

For all the extras from Travel Geek: Documentary Malaysia, visit


**Readers: I’m thinking about doing a new series of short films called “The TG Hike Report” where I do a quick synapses of a hike that I have done recently.  What do you think?  Would you like to see more videos like this?  Let me know in the comments.

Well I’ll Be a Giant Hamster!

I was going to make this really entertaining introduction about the update for this week’s filming expedition, but ultimately it’s pretty simple.

This weekend, I am taking off to a town just outside of Kuala Lumpur so that I can hop into a giant hamster ball and roll haphazardly down a hill.

There are some other events that I will be doing there, but basically, that’s it.  Not a lot of explaining to do.  But the images that come to mind after saying just that sentence really does a lot to build up the excitement.  And I plan on having a blast.  I have always wanted to do this and I have never known how or where these things take place.  So perhaps that will be enough for this update.

Be sure to subscribe to my YouTube channel to get updated when the outtakes are released and check in at for more travel and filming updates.

Below are various Google search images to help that ol’ mental pallet in creating the right picture of what I’ll be “climbing into” this weekend!

Journal 67: My Awesome House in the Country

So, as part of my new job, I will be working both in Kuala Lumpur and in Serimban, a large province with small villages throughout the south and east of KL.

There’s not a lot going on in these parts, so I will have plenty of time to do what I have set out to do for this year.  And with all the traveling, book editing, film production and photography edits that I need to do, I am sure all that down time will come in quite handy.

I will be adding a journal about the local area and when I get my car I will be able to drive around to the neighboring places and find out more.  But in the mean time, I wanted also to talk about my new place in the country.

Not being a very populated place, there’s not much need for high-rise apartments and skyscrapers.  So they tend to be one- and two-story condos that are built in long rows.  They generally don’t build them longer than 10 or so homes.  And they are almost always covered in terracotta roof tiles.  It’s a pretty common site throughout Asia in general.

My place is an “end unit.”  Which means that it has the whole side of the house as a yard or patio area.  It’s made more for a larger family, so I am not sure why I was the one chosen for this particular house, but here I am — me and my huge driveway.

It’s partially covered.  It has a large security gate.  And it can fit several cars — as if I would ever have that need…

They love bars and security measures in Asia.  So my very large entryway has a giant cage to keep people in (or out, depending on the perspective).  And with 15-foot ceilings, there are lots of fans throughout.

There are four bedrooms, mine being the master suite with private bath.

The other bedrooms enter directly off the dining area and kitchen.

Then, there is the living room, which is actually more of a vestibule.  Someone’s come along and mounted a flat-screen TV on the wall, and all of my eight channels are unwatchable except for the subtitled Asian drama channel.  And I probably won’t be watching that one much anyway.

The second bathroom is at the other end of the house and beyond that, the backdoor opens up to an alleyway behind the local merchant shops.

The area around my neighborhood is pretty quiet — except for the random, adventurous youth — all of whom seem to desire the loudest motorcycle and to speed it up and down the main road every few hours.

Along the main stretch of the town, there are plenty of restaurants and a couple of housewares markets.  But just about any variety of Indian food, Chinese food and Malay dishes can be found here.  So I will enjoy trying them all.

Last night — my first night here — I set out to find a mobile phone and a mobile modem so that I can get the internet.  And I found a really nice Malay food restaurant nearby.

It was an open-air joint with about 20 tables.  And by the time I got there, there were only about eight patrons.  Three of them sat smoking and talking behind me as I ate.  They asked me where I was from and made some small talk, affording me ample time to enjoy my food.  I ordered Ayam Padan Nasi — Spicy Chicken with Rice.  I am already picking up the local lingo!

Beyond our little town lies an endless sea of mountains.  And atop these, neatly planted rows of palm fronds bowing in the wind.

Malaysia has long since cut down nearly all of its primary rainforests  replacing them with palm oil, rubber tree and palm seed plantations.  So while these amazing mountain vistas are pleasing to the eye, they are lined and layered with organized rows of these trees that sort of break up that natural feel that once graced these horizons.

I haven’t quite gotten the feel for the area yet.  But the people seem nice enough, the area is mostly quiet and the accommodations are… well, accommodating.

I suppose I will have to go out with my camera soon and find out more.

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Journal 65: My Fabulous Apartment in the City

Here in Kuala Lumpur is where I will spend a small amount of time throughout the year.  The position that I have will require me to be back in this area at infrequent times.  So that being the case, my college has secured an amazing condo overlooking one of the most prestigious sections of KL.

My main office, though, is located in Serimban.  So I will be there for the bulk of my time.  And while I like the apartment in the city, I absolutely love my four bedroom house in the country.  It’s really incredible.

It’s fully furnished with a washer, all the furniture you would want, appliances, great views and tons of space to spread out and relax.

I have a room that I keep for meditation.  Then there’s my office where I edit photos, films and books that I am always working on.  Then I have a guest bedroom.  And then there’s my bedroom – the master suite, of course.

On top of that, there is a separated dining/kitchen area, a foyer and a living room.  And this is in addition to the three bathrooms, giant back patio and open front porch and driveway.

I was very excited to be offered the position here.  The pay is really awesome.  And this is especially so, considering the fact that my apartment in the city and my house in Serimban are completely paid for – including utilities.

The other great part about living here is that the climate is very agreeable.  I have grown to like the warmer weather since first arriving in Southeast Asia in 2009.  And since Malaysia has only two seasons (both hot), it makes for a lot of unexpected benefits.

For instance, there is no need for hot showers.  Dips in the pool are much more relaxing.  Exercising really draws a good sweat.  Growing plants in my garden is almost never a problem.  The building materials here are mostly concrete, so there is little to no maintenance on the exterior of the buildings.  A cool breeze throughout the house is never taken for granted.  The heat can increase the pressure during the rainy season and make for some beautiful and active storms – not to mention unbelievable sunsets.

The downside is that foods go bad a bit quicker and I wash clothes more often due to sweating a little more throughout the day.

But the fringe benefits are also a huge consideration to living here in Asia.

Beyond the great pay and the luxury accommodations, the university also covers my insurance.  This is pretty huge when you do as much traveling as I do because there is a fair amount of risk that comes with taking the kinds of risks that I am used to taking.

Asians also LOVE their time off.  So throughout the year, each Asian country has their own national holidays.  Then there are the New Year’s celebrations.  And since there is a different New Year in almost every country, they like to celebrate them all.  There are also plenty of religious holidays.  They celebrate Hindu, Dao, Buddhist and Muslim holidays here.  So when you add them all up it comes to a lot of time off.

But if that wasn’t enough, there is also contractual time-off as well as mid-semester breaks and weekend days.  And since I am only working four days per week, I am looking forward to quite a lot of time to finally work on my books, photos and films.

If that wasn’t enough to turn me onto the position, Asia, itself, is an amazing place to work.

First of all, it’s incredibly cheap.  Even in the cities you can expect to pay much less for the same or similar items in the west.  But in the country where I live, it’s even cheaper than that.  Buying from markets, eating at the school and having already bought all the clothes that I am going to need will all contribute to the ability to save up a lot of money.

In Asia, instructors of all types are held in very high regard.  It is seen as a position of expertise, deserving of respect and requiring obedience.  This idealism has a long lineage in Asian history.  But basically put, all of the teachers throughout the various Asian country’s history there have been wise persons who have given a lot to their community, created a great following and have provide their people with a wealth of long-lasting benefits.  They tend to remember these important people throughout their culture, their religious beliefs and their heritage.  And this translates directly into the family where the children are to be taught and the parents are to do the teaching.

So it goes without saying that the instructors that bring their knowledge to these countries are expected to be treated as though they are a “parent” or “leader” of sorts.  And they take this very seriously.

So seriously, in fact, that I have my own driver to take me to and from work and around town at the click of a mobile phone’s buttons.  I will probably be getting a motorbike soon.  But in the interim I know that I will be well taken care of.

This level of attention to the teacher also breeds a lot of respect from the students.  Where in the west the students can range from emotionally disturbed and socially closed off, to reckless and downright dangerous, Asian students are well-mannered, respectful, engaging, attentive and focused.

As a teacher, I’ve never seen anything like it in the west.  If I tell the students to begin a project, the only thing I hear back from them are questions about the material or if they need additional information.  In the school where I did my student teaching, I’d give an assignment and spend the next 30 minutes trying to keep enough of them on task long enough to take care of the other students who were sleeping, goofing off or causing trouble.  It’s like night and day.

And where there are few times when students in the west would ever trust their teachers enough to develop any personal relationships, bonds are formed, maintained and held dear in Asia.

Of course, this describes the younger students in secondary school that I have taught before.  But because I prefer teaching on the college level, that’s where I started looking first.  So the students that I have here are a bit older than the ones I’ve taught in the past couple of years in Taiwan, Thailand and even as a substitute in Guatemala.

There is an interesting difference in students from this particular age bracket, I’ve noticed.  While they are still diligent, focused and respectful, I find that they are a lot less reserved and tend to ask more questions.

When I first arrived and started teaching in Thailand, I had to work very hard to get the students to interact with me.  This is because the style of teaching throughout Asia’s native schools has largely been rigid, standardized and quite dry.  This is because Asians love symmetry.  They love uniformity.  And they expect to be treated like they are all the same.

So what do students do in class?  Shut up and listen.  What do teachers do?  They do the talking.

This has classically been how the native schools have been operating since the creation of the educational system here.  So when someone from the west is invited in to teach, they bring with them a bit of a spark or a nuance of the type of laid back atmosphere that we were brought up in.

This can end badly, of course.  But with the right experience and an open mind, western teachers typically do very well here.

The college students that I have are much more laid back than the younger students.  They have loosened up just enough to be comfortable speaking with the instructor. And so they are much more engaged in the discussions.  It’s a nice mix, I think.

In any case, I will have three-day weekends every week and several vacation days and holidays every semester.  So while I haven’t had as many photos in my blog lately as I normally do, I will be heading out much more often to gather lots of great content to post along with these long journals!

Look for my next blog where I capture video with the King of Malaysia – who just happens to rent the penthouse flat in my apartment building!

Journal 64: Malaysia and Things to Come

The lovely and courteous Linda greeted me with a warm smile and expeditiously shuttled me to the hotel where I immediately disrobed, showered, shaved and felt the soothing, wonderful sentiment of being back in Asia fall upon me as I collapsed onto the bed.

I really can’t describe the feeling of just knowing that I am in Asia.  Really, the action of just “being” here is quite something.  The warm, robust air that fills the lungs; the smiling faces of people that pass by and light up simply because they know that you’re a foreigner in their land; the scents wafting through the roads from the food stalls – it’s all just so delightful and refreshing.  And it is even more pleasing to know that I am back out in the world.

And this could never be truer than now, as I am finally emerging from probably the toughest succession of recent months on record.  In just the last four months alone, I lost the love of my life, faced tragedy on the home front, nearly got mugged in one of the most violent countries in the world and was forced to leave probably the best shot at earning a Ph.D. that was completely paid for.

On the other hand, I also had some amazing experiences in the last eight months.

Since May, I have lived in Taiwan, the U.S., Guatemala and back to the U.S. where I moved from Maine to Virginia. Then I had a visit to the Middle East and started a new chapter in Malaysia.  And in the interim, I put myself through film school, visited five New England states, produced almost a dozen short documentary films, lived in the Mayan capital for the 5,000-year anniversary of the turn of its calendar, made some amazing new friends, published two ebooks,traveled around the world for the third time, released two new versions of my first two feature length documentaries and am currently planning on releasing my third by the end of February.  Whew!  I need to take a breather!

It’s been an eventful year.  And even through some staggering losses and unimaginable challenges, I have resurfaced with new insights and am more sure than ever that I will be making this year one of my best ever.

My goals for this coming year are not so much numerous as they are important.  I have started a new position teaching at a college outside of Kuala Lumpur.  So while I am ecstatic about the idea of working back in the college setting and rekindling my love of instructing on the post-secondary level, I am also very sanguine about living in a place that I will be using as a hub for my photographic exploits in the coming years.

The first thing I would like to do is to finish editing my film from Taiwan (again: soon, soon, soon).

After that, though, I will be heading out on weekends and vacation times to get lots of footage of the best things to do in Malaysia.  And I will also be bringing in a lot more travel tips, side tips and country-specific advice for travel in the region.  People seem to like the shorts that accompany the longer films in-country.

For those who have been following my travel documentaries, I have had a lot of recent success with my doc on the Philippines and in Hong Kong and Macau (which now total more than 17,000 video views).  But if you watch these films, they were produced before I went back to film school over the summer.  So I plan on utilizing all the lessons that I learned this past year in creating better aesthetic, stronger composition and I will also be adding more of an “informing” feel to the narration.

I hope that my efforts will be rewarded by more views.  This, to me, is the best success I could ever want.  To know that people are genuinely enjoying what I am creating in an effort to share the amazing experience of travel is very gratifying for me.  So in the coming months, look for my best work to come.

First on the list of new films (after Taiwan, of course) will be Malaysia.  I will be hoping to get out to a new destination every other weekend.  This means that, along with jaunts through the cities like Kuala Lumpur where I will go to the top of the famous Patronas Towers, I will also be going to amazing places like Penang, where the food and culture is like nowhere else in the country.  I will go and be a part of the sacred Hindu festivals held within the limestone caves just seven miles outside KL known as the Batu caves.  I’ll take in some sun and forget about time at the majestic Perhentian Islands.  I’ll trek through the Taman Negara National Park where they have the longest canopy suspension bridges in the world.  I will see the world’s largest flower and hang out in orangutan-populated primary rainforests in and around the Cameron Highlands along Peninsular Malaysia’s central mountain range.  And I’ll even go over to Borneo where I will travel around Sabah and climb Mount Kinabalu.

I might even tackle a longtime goal of mine to go skydiving.  I’ve already done a little homework, and it looks like the highest jump goes from about 12,000 feet, reaches speeds of 190kph and I can do it just about any day of the week for less than $400.  The last time I was investigating it, I was too heavy to go tandem.  But since I’ve lost about 20 lbs., I’m good to go!  So maybe I will leave that one for my last segment of filming.

Whatever I decide to do, I will be making this next documentary an amazing one.  It will be full of cool information, tips and advice and I will also have tons of additional footage that I will release after the film is produced.  I will also be following it up with my latest book, Moving Stills Volume Five: Faces of Religion in Malaysia.

Beyond that, I will be able to do Singapore, Indonesia and possibly even East & West Timor by the end of the year.  I don’t want to put too much on my plate, but I definitely want to leave something enticing for my wonderful readers to look forward to in the coming months.

So look for those to come soon and feel free to watch all the films that I produced throughout the year on my Youtube Channel.

Journal 63: New Year 2013!

Though the college had already paid for a hotel room for the new other new instructor and me, I decided to head into downtown Kuala Lumpur and rent a ritzy, high rise room at the Four Star Grand Seasons Hotel.

It was majestic. Porters wouldn’t even let us touch our bags. The pool on the 11th floor was an out-of-body experience when dipping in to escape the heat. And the key didn’t work very well, so they upgraded us to the 30th floor luxury suites because of the terrible inconvenience. It was an amazing night.

We went shopping on the way into town, so we had all the provisions that a good party needs. So when we arrived, we packed the booze into the fridge, cracked open the chips and started drinking. When we had a bit of a fill of beer, we took a dip in the pool (with more beer). And when we were all pruny, we headed back up to the room (for more beer).

About the time night fell, we’d drank ourselves into a pretty comfortable numbness and looked out over the city as the party began to rumble into motion.

As the hours moved on, the crowds partied louder and louder. And by 11:00 p.m., we could hardly hear the television. But by then we’d had the laptop blasting music for a couple hours. So we were partying right there with them.

We watched several countries enjoy their New Year’s celebrations before us, so Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Korea and Japan had all lit their skies ablaze with different styles of choreographed conflagrations.

Finally, when midnight arrived for Malaysia, we took to the window and looked on as the Patronas Towers, just minutes walking from our hotel, erupted in a shower of colored explosions and shimmering rocket blasts of sparks and flames. It must have gone on for 20 minutes – of course, it might have just seemed that way because of the inebriation that assisted in much of the entertainment of watching things blow up.

After the finale, the people below were so loud that we could hear the rumble of celebration as though it were in the room below us. Come to think of it, it might have also included the room below us. But nevertheless, we were moved by the experience. And before long, we found ourselves staring off into the city in a bit of a trance.

I realized that I had been drifting in thought about the year to come, my goals and aspirations and my keenly optimistic outlook on things.  It was very satisfying.

Needless to say, it was one of the most tremendous New Year’s celebrations on record. And it no doubt set the tone for what is to come this year. The next morning we emerged into 2013 with new hopes in a new place with new people and new insights.

To date this year, even through family emergencies, personal losses and even leaving an unfaithful partner in Central America, I got to see and do some absolutely amazing things. And I crammed so many wonderful memories into this year that outdoing it in the next 365 days will be quite a challenge.

But it’s going to be fun trying.