Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Kota Bharu. Jobs. New phone.


I've just crossed the border from Sungai Kolok in Thailand to Kota Bharu in Malaysia. A reversal of the crossing I did on the 24th of September 2008. Strangely, I also crossed into Malaysia from Singapore exactly two years ago today!

Borders perplex me. They are an invisible lines in most cases, however languages and cultures couldn't be further apart in the case of Thailand's border countries. You walk from Thailand to Malaysia and you quickly realise that Thai lingual ability does not float across the border. I didn't meet anyone today who can speak Thai even though I could still see Thailand! I thought there'd be more blending. People's speech, religion, dress, looks and personalities are completely different! My Thai baht and recently acquired language skills were useless.


I'm thinking of taking the jungle train from here down to Kuala Lipis for some jungle treks before hitting Penang (I love that place). My only real commitment is a flight from Kuala Lumpur to the Philippines on the 1st of Feb and back again on the 19th Feb.


I've just been to a money changer and was pleased to see the pound is weak against the Malaysian Ringgit too. No surprises there then. It used to be £1 = 6.2RM and today it is £1 = 5RM.........nice. Is there any currency in the World performing as poorly as the GBP just now? I noticed it was £1 = 1EUR a couple of days back! That's pathetic.

Along with the lowest interest rates in the UK for years I can't see an easy way out of this mess. I predict pain for a long time ahead. Hindsight is a wonderful thing: I wish I'd used pounds to buy Euros six months ago. Similarly, I think now is a good time to buy oil but I don't have the balls to dabble in this stuff. An American 'expert' nearly convinced me to buy oil a few months back. I refrained and saved myself losses of around 60-70%.........phew! Where's all this financial volatility coming from?

Clean living

I like Malaysia. Always a nice opportunity to quit smoking, drinking and save a few quid. My new year's resolution is to stop smoking and today's the first day of that. I'm gagging for a tab man! Newcastle lost their last two games of last year and have Hull City away in the FA Cup 3rd round tomorrow. I reckon Blyth Spartans have more chance of lifting the trophy than NUFC! They entertain a struggling Blackburn side in the third round and I wish then the best of luck. There are 5 divisions between them!

Selamat Tahum Baru - Happy new year!

Kota Bharu rain

I'm still in the Bunga Raya Guest House in Kota Bharu taking advantage of their free internet service. This is a blessing given the amount of rain we've had recently. It rains for hours on end every day during the monsoon season. Including my time in Sungei Kolok across the Thai border, I've now been enclosed by grey skies and rain for seven days. I'm getting a little sick of it.

So, last night I went for a walk. Inevitably it pissed down and my tiny umbrella was no match for the falling blanket of H2O. I was drenched. I took refuge in a University lobby for a while where I got talking to two Malay professors teaching an MBA course (in English). They were surprised to see a Westerner here as we are few and far between. They informed me that Kota Bharu is Malay for Newcastle! Kota = Castle and Bharu = New. Coincidentally, both places are in the North East of their respective countries. There you go - some more useless information for you.

Saturated, I eventually reached the KB Mall where I was looking at phones and laptops among other things. I purchased a 2GB memory stick (18RM) to replace the one I lost in Cambodia. 2GB was the smallest available! I remember when I worked in IT, a 512MB memory stick was the largest available and that cost a fortune! This rapid technological progress is known as 'Moore's law' for any IT geeks out there.

I've decided to forget the jungle train to Kuala Lipis as it will probably be a swimming pool down there. I looked for buses to Penang figuring it might be drier on the West coast but they're all booked out until Wednesday. So I'm stuck in soaking Kota Bharu for a while.


With all this time and free internet, I decided to check out some employment opportunities. I scanned my passport details, composed a CV, got some passport photos, scanned my degree certificate and stored them all on my newly acquired memory stick. I started looking for teaching jobs in China (I can speak rudimentary Chinese), Thailand (I like Thailand and can speak some) and Japan (Unbelievable cash there). I used these websites: and I filtered my search to positions within Universities or teaching adults. I applied for 10 jobs in total: 3 in China, 3 in Japan and 4 in Thailand.

I've received two replies from China. One in particular looks very tempting: the Guangdong University of Finance in Guangzhuo City, Guangdong province, Southern China near Hong Kong.

The job is to teach English to University students for 16hrs/week from 1st March 2009 until 15th Jauary 2010. 6000RMB/month (£600) with a 15000RMB yearly bonus. A free fully furnished campus apartment. Help with medical bills and visa. I have a telephone interview with them tomorrow.


In England I viewed my BSc(Hons) and MSc as a waste of time, effort and money. Nothing ever came of them there. I never had any opportunities in the North East of England, in fact I earned the lowest salary of anyone I knew. However, these qualifications are required out here so I'm quite pleased to have them now!

Kota Bharu is very wet, very Malay, very Muslim and, some might say, very boring. However, I'm enjoying it. I'm enjoying the break from beer and tabs in crazy Thailand.

Telefon temeduga = Telephone interview


During tonight's sunset stroll to the Kelantan River, I noticed only two types of shops: Pharmacies and Photography shops. I've struggled to produce a theory for this dual profusion. Perhaps one could infer this is a town populated by a hypochondriacal paparazzi?


Yes, this reminds me. In Malaysia, many words are spoken the same but spelled differently. Take Pharmacy for example. Here they write Farmasi. Other examples include: wait a minit, wanna eat in a restoran? where is the shopping komplex? what time is the bas?


The Chinese-communist-government-bureaucracy fears I'll burden their health system while in their domain. I had a medical check to allay their fears. I scanned the resulting form declaring 'fit for overseas employment' and emailed it to the University in Guangzhou. I've been doing a lot of scanning and emailing recently. I've been on this computer for hours searching, applying and completing endless repetitive forms. I'm sure anyone who's been on the dole looking for work understands how frustrating this is.


I have to stay in this hostel until I receive an invitation letter from the Guangdong Foreign Expert Bureau. Once I have that letter in my hand and I've been accepted as an 'foreign expert', I can head off to the Chinese embassy in Kuala Lumpur and apply for a Z class visa. Finished? No way. Now I turn up in China with my Z class visa valid for 30 days and I apply for residency which involves further medical checks and mountains of bureaucracy. Confused? I am.


The doctor gasped when I weighed in at 65kg. I'm officially underweight. He was impressed that I'd quit smoking four days earlier though. He said my skeletal appearance needs attention. I explained how a diet of beer, tabs and little food in Thailand might explain my weight loss but he ignored it and told me to piss in a cup. 40RM all in.

I ate a McD's pile on some beef. As I raised my gaze from the newspaper I noticed six head-scarf clad lasses staring at me. They averted their eyes as I looked up but I thought "What's wrong? You never seen a skinny white bastard eating a bigmac before?" 

I'm off to the mosque.

kurus - skinny

kencing - piss


I've joined facebook which is something I've never had enough online time to do before. I've been chatting to people in Guangzhou, quizzing them on all things Cantonese. I've been completing the final few tasks regarding job applications. I've been trying to buy cheap laptops and phones online through ebay.

Another phone

I miss posting pics on here so I thought I'd buy a new mobile. I settled on a Nokia 3500 classic. It has a 2MP camera which was the clincher. I shoved a 256MB microSD card in it and purchased a small USB card reader. Cost:

Mobile: 355RM

MicroSD card: free (I salvaged it from my wrecked Nokia E65)

USB reader: 10RM

After negotiating a 10RM discount I handed over 365RM which at today's  exchange rate of £1 = 5.42RM is £67. Luckily the gbp has crept up slightly against the RM. It was 4.9 when I arrived but has recovered to 5.4 within the last 10 days.

Armed with a camera I thought I'd honour the young lad who sold me the phone. And what a result. Ping's beauty is captured for eternity.

As I was walking back I encountered this bloke. I shouted to him "Where you go? You want taxi" in a Malay accent. He turned around and laughed when he saw I was another Westerner. We got chatting and it turns out Thomas is a 30yo electronics engineer from East Germany. He had the pleasure of being my second model.

We went to Pizza Hut where we talked about travelling, Berlin in 1989, programming CNC milling machines and designing digital logic circuits. We both struggled to remember how to convert a whole mix of logic gates into a NAND gate only configuration. Engineering nerds.

Apa tu? - what's that?

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