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December 10, 2008

Maryland in the Borneo Newspaper?

Tom McLaughlin

KUCHING, Borneo – Still sleepy and in the early dawn hours, I sat in a Chinese coffee shop in downtown Kuching. The thick black Sumatra liquid, with a finger of white condensed milk on the bottom in the clear cup, had yet to be stirred.


I slowly mixed the two liquids reading and turning the pages of the Borneo Post, the East Malaysia English language daily. I was jolted awake. A two page spread on Maryland in the Borneo Post?


Contained in the Nature Health / Travel and Living/Going to America section of the Saturday supplement, the article had a collage of pictures. Arranged haphazardly: a larger picture of the USS Constellation in Baltimore’s Harbor, the flag, snow scenes, a sunset with a skipjack in the foreground and a bowl of crab soup with a crab claw peering menacingly over the rim.


The first section of the article contains history and reads as if it was copied straight from the guide book – and probably was. The sections on Annapolis and Baltimore also came from the same source. The fun parts are the author’s personal observations.


Related as “richly exotic,” a Maryland crab feast is described as “fished from the Chesapeake Bay, served in magnificent quantities, drenched in Old Bay (ingredients described as a peppery mix) accompanied by copious amounts of beer and, a total wonderful mess.”


“Fried Chicken, a Maryland specialty” (indeed, I have seen it featured in many restaurants around Malaysia) is described as “your garden variety fried chicken smothered in a creamy gravy.” It also states: “You’re unlikely to find it really anywhere but try looking along route 50, towards Ocean City in unassuming shacks bearing ‘Chicken’ signs." The paper also advises that “Royal Farms gas stations, for reasons beyond anyone’s understanding, serves up fine fried chicken.” It also advises to “get it fresh out of the oven.” The other “mid Atlantic foods worth looking for is a slice of scrapple for breakfast is a fried delicious must.”


As to Maryland crime areas, the article says that “in Baltimore the main tourist areas are very safe (and heavily patrolled by the police) but one does not have to wander far to find more dangerous areas. The rest of the state, with the exception of Prince George’s County and Annapolis, is very safe, and you would be hard pressed to find trouble.”


Other interesting description include Chesapeake Bay, the Great Shellfish Bay; Bethesda, the urban upscale hotspot; College Park, a vibrant college town; Frederick, a bustling historic city near Harper’s Ferry, famous for antiques and outlets; Hagerstown, quaint small city at the foot of the Appalachians; Ocean City, very popular seaside resort; and Solomon Island, a small historic town and popular weekend getaway.


People from the United States often blame the rest of the world for causing most of the pollution problems associated with global warming, shark kills and other environmental maladies. Although deserved in some respects, one can understand why people from another country may wish to point out our failures.


Maryland’s great failure is the Chesapeake Bay and the article reminds us we need to try harder.


The article depicts the bay as “under appreciated and over fished.” “The blue crab, symbol of the state…and a source of state pride – all the more disappointing that over fishing and farm runoff have decimated the local blue crab population. Greatly limiting the fishing haul, and meaning that you are eating crabs from some where else unless you caught them yourself.”


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