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September 14, 2011

Visas and Outback Steaks

Tom McLaughlin

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – I always hate leaving my island paradise in Kuching for the country’s capital. The American Embassy was calling me to secure a visa for my wife and a birth registration for my eight month old son, Dzul.


The two-hour plane ride over the waterway between the South China Sea and the Java Sea was uneventful. Dzul slept most of the way. Loaded on board was tons of paper work required to secure the necessary travel documents. (We’re coming to the states in late fall.) They included my passport, my wife’s passport, my son’s birth certificate, my wife’s birth certificate, my divorce decree, my college diploma, pictures of Dzul from birth to the present, his notochord, my wife’s hospital bracelet, bills from the hospital, pictures of my wife in waiting, the ultra sound scans, my contract with the school where I teach and things I have probably forgotten.


I was going to dig up the placenta (see we buried but thought that would be going a bit too far. Well, maybe not.


Deplaning, I nearly dropped to my knees. My eyes watered, my throat became scratched and my sinuses bloomed into a massive headache. The air quality was an oxymoron as smog enveloped the entire capital. Sumatran rice farmers burn off the stubble from the previous crop during the dry season. This prepares the fields for the monsoons and new plantings. Unfortunately, the winds blow the smoke across the Straits of Malacca and envelope Kuala Lumpur.


In order not to make the Embassy people angry with me, I will say we got the visa and birth certificate in a timely fashion and efficiently.


This section of Kuala Lumpur is populated mainly by visitors from conservative Middle Eastern countries. They are not the oil rich magnets because they are staying at the same hotel I am, cheap but nice with an emphasis on the cheap part. I can tell they are from conservative Islamic countries because the women wear the foot to the head black covering.


With a population of these wonderful individuals, a grouping of Middle Eastern restaurants has emerged. We enjoyed over stuffed grape leaves as an appetizer. For the main course we had a grilled succulent chicken, beef and lamb kabob. All this was served with Nan bread and chapatti with Dahl.


Contrast this with my dinner at Outback Steak House the next night. I had my mouth watering for the advertised New York Strip Steak. I had looked forward to this for an entire week before we departed. Suriani, my wife, ordered the rib eye. The plate came hot and sizzling but at first glance I knew something was wrong. The steak looked nothing like those served at the Outback in Frederick. It was only about a few millimeters thick and about half the size. I looked it over and dug in.


Take an old water buffalo that has been plowing the rice fields for 60 years or so and died of extreme old age. They made a steak from the hide, I thought. My wife’s rib eye was melt-in-your-mouth delicious, so I said nothing.


I made it about ¾ of the way through and setting aside most of it after a thorough chewing. I asked to see the manager. I had no intention of paying for my portion of the meal. The manager turned out to be a young Indian. The irony of an Indian being the manager of a steak restaurant was not lost on me. It fully explained his lack of expertise in the selection of quality cuts of beef.


The chef came out, a non-Indian, and asked what the problem was. Speaking in Malay, I informed him about shoe leather and he probably wondered why I ate my sandals. He told me the beef came from Australia and I informed him they must have switched the packages with old, male kangaroo meat.


I will have to wait until I get back to the states for my succulent steak but most of our goals in Kuala Lumpur were accomplished.


…Life is good…..


For other articles on Malaysian Borneo see Tom’s blog at


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