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Same Same but Different

I keep talking to people (locals and travellers) while travelling. An accomplishment in itself because I’m not much of a talker. In fact, I’ve been charged with being anti-social for most of my life. My best guess is that travel forces me to interact with life around me.  

This story’s about two people gave me charity while I was wandering through Asia. I must have looked like a tramp yet… well… you can read for yourself.


There is man called Kassim, I say ‘is’ because he still lives in northern Malaysia. I met him at a beach in Terengganu while resting my weary feet on a thick wooden bench. He has a small white car where the backseat was filled with carpets. He scrunched up to the wheel when he drove. “The Russian Boy is eighteen years old. Sama sama like you. Walking and walking. I gave him a lift and brought him to my house. He stayed for two hours; from 12 to 2pm.” Kassim reminisced just before he stopped the car. He went into a house to do some business with people.

There is a man called Lek. I hope ‘is’ because bombs were exploding with alarming regularity in Thailand’s Deep South. I met him while asking for directions in Yala. He puttered up to me on his rickety motorcycle. He also owns two big cars: a Volvo and a Honda. I happily stretched out my legs in them. “There is a famous Chinese stall there. Many people go there to eat. A bomb exploded and killed twelve people.” Lek pointed out a shuttered shop as he spun his Volvo to the left. He showed me Yala town: bombed shops; Muslim schools; deserted parks spanning the river’s length.

The man called Kassim speaks little English and much Malay. “I have five children. Three sons besar. They have own children. Two children still kechil. They are in Pakistan.” he said over a dinner of Nan, Dhal and Kema. After dinner, we ran into Kassim’s younger compatriot who respectfully greeted us with handshakes and fingers on the elbow of his outstretched arm. They spoke at length in Pakistani; the younger man bent forward a little and deferred much to Kassim.

The man called Lek speaks some English and much Thai. “Two years ago, Yala was nice and clean. Now it is dirty. Everyone is afraid of foreigners because we are afraid that they bring bombs here.” Grey rain stormed and howled outside the café where we had strong black coffee and weak tea. The only other customer was a young girl wearing a tudung (Islamic headdress). She moved inside the café to avoid the deluge.  

The man called Kassim lives in a little wooden house hidden with other small wooden houses in a tiny lane off the main road. The rooms are barren but plush Persian carpets cover the floor. White cotton robes hang from nails pounded into rough wooden walls. There is running water, electric lights and little else. “I hope you don’t mind my house. My house is bad. Not beautiful because I live alone. But it is home.” He said as he held the car wheel steady over the stony and bumpy lane.  

The man called Lek lives in a double-storey house made of clean ceramic tiles and painted concrete. Inside the house, shelves overflow with books and academic journals. Old Buddha statues cluster in a corner with his collection of old watches. The TV is hidden in a recessed shelf and a laptop connects him to the internet. “Welcome to my home!” Lek exclaimed as he stood outside the main door. His arms were wide open as if ready to give me a bear hug.

In the house of Kassim, I watch Kassim spread out a mat and change his skullcap. He stands on the mat and puts his hands on his belly. He mutters and inhales deeply every so often. Then, he kneels and presses his forehead against the mat. He repeats the process a few times. “Come, I finish praying. We go eat now.” Kassim prays once more when we get back. 

In the house of Lek, I saw Lek flush red as he looked at his phone in disgust “My uncle in Bangkok called me and ask me why why? Why I take a foreigner in my house?” All his and his family’s photographed past stared out from the walls. “You saw my friend at the photo shop. They called my uncle and he called me just now. I cannot understand them. I think I am right to take you into my house.” I say nothing but nod in commiseration.  

That night, in the house of Kassim, I slept in my sleeping bag and swatted buzzing insects from my face. Kassim snored gently on the floor next to me; he is enveloped by an inverted mosquito basket (a mosquito net which stands on its own). It is deathly quiet and peaceful. I had trouble sleeping. Damn those mosquitoes! 

That night, in the house of Lek, I slept on a mattress in his living room. We had been chatting away until midnight. I woke up to something snort, grunt and roar. There it was again; blasphemous obscenities growling from hell’s depths: words from the soldier who was killed just last week by a robber two doors from the house? I had trouble going back to sleep.

The next morning, we said goodbye at the bus station. I waited until Kassim’s little white car dwindled into a speck on the long road out / Lek’s rickety motorcycle turned the corner. Then I sat on my backpack and waited for a bus to rumble to a stop before me.  

Lek and Kassim. The former: a Buddhist, academic and collector of fine, old things. The later: a Muslim, itinerant salesman and far from home.

They’re both same same but different.  

What to do
Damn fine question.  

Getting there
From Betong: By taxi or mini-bus (2 ½ hours, 100 bht one-way)
From Malaysia: By train from Butterworth or Kota Bahru

Damn fine question. There should be places to stay but not one hotel accepted me that day.

Plenty of food in the market. There are separate markets for Muslims and Thais.  


Getting there
From Kuala Terengganu: Public bus to Jertih.  

Haven’t a clue what to eat, where to stay and what to do.

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