The Life and Times of Bruce Bramson


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February 5, 2010


My room-mate’s grand-niece dined with us last week: she’s 7.  The conversation got around to recent films, and the current fad for animated movies. In today’s “out of the mouths of babes” department, she made this observation: “I don’t know why they have to use computers for this stuff when there’s plenty of people around to do it.”

Why, indeed?

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

Malaysia Malacca

The arrow points to Malacca

Saturday, 9 November 1968

According to plan, I departed K. L. at a reasonable hour yesterday morning. I’d intended to go to Seremban by a devious route, but discovered presently that I was on a main hiway after all! It was but a short way, and I found Seremban a pleasant, modest place but with some very striking new buildings. There is a small museum of some interest. Colonel Bramson was on holiday, but his amah seemed to think he was of Australian origin, so I guess he’s not related.

By a pleasant 20 mile drive, I next dropped by Port Dickson, which is less of a port and more of a resort—the road down the coast from there is lined with nice estates with lovely views and beaches. By a very pleasant route & a very leisurely pace, I meandered through some of the most typical Malay countryside I’ve yet seen to Malacca, arriving around 2. The weather all day was delightful—indeed it only rained twice, briefly, in K. L. while I was there—the rainy season here is about over. Today in Malacca was very warm & pleasant. Malacca [town] is a very historic place, a confused jumble of architecture & culture, all glossed over by relatively recent influx of english money.

For some reason, I went off on a tangent here!

Largely, the place is as anglicized as Bangkok is americanized, and in fairness it must be said that contemporary british are no less boorish & overbearing than contemporary americans. But I get the impression the Malaysians are more resilient than the Thais, and the impending withdrawal of Britain will be less of a hardship to most people than a corresponding withdrawal of americans from Thailand would be. Though many seem convinced that removal of westerners from SEA would automatically & instantly result in communists filling the vacuum, I am by no means convinced of this myself. I think Cambodia would resist this, and Malaysia as well. Burma is already essentially communist, and Indonesia’s new government may not have the necessary strength to survive. But of course the British are withdrawing not for any lack of colonial hopes—simply because their economy can no longer support their involvement here. At present rates, I would not be surprised to see Mr. Nixon faced with the exact same situation before his term expires. His pronouncements so far hardly encourage one to think he is aware of this. As for the blood-baths that everyone speaks of in the same breath as “withdrawal”, that would certainly involve mostly politicians, most of whom, having spent years serving their own interests rather than fostering the sort of Nationalism that is anathema to communism, will be getting about what they deserve.

Nat Hentoff’s article (War on Dissent) in Sept Playboy is chilling. Our slavish devotion to Science & Technology  since the Industrial Revolution has produced something much closer to a technocracy than the technocrats would have dreamed of. Unfortunately, we’ve overlooked the human aspects of existence much too long. It is quite one thing for a research scientist to spend millions of R & D dollars to develop a synthetic rubber, and for his associates in business to then “improve” their products by switching to petrol-based material. All overlook in this system the fact that the switch quite literally takes food from the mouths of thousands of people whose existence is largely dependent on the natural product. The scientist & businessman, in their isolated cellular environment, will argue that it is “progress”  and that the synthesized rubber has superior properties for which the public clamors. But the public is insulated and unaware of the far-reaching consequences of its actions, and the “progress” measured by some is offset by the recession elsewhere.

I can remember some years ago a period of struggle in my own mind about becoming involved in the main-stream of american technology—my deviations into the organ business and other schemes were largely the result of my decision to avoid it, a decision which, in the light of subsequent events, I shall always believe was the wisest one. When I read articles such as Hentoff’s; or those vilifying of praising Dr. Teller; when I observe the storm of controversy surrounding the few scientists who recognize their own  conscience & at least try to deal with it (Oppenheimer & his followers) I realize that, had I so chosen, I could be right “in the thick of it” myself; but I find it much more interesting & rewarding to be in the “thick” of average Joes (or Wongs or Pradits) who live much more humanistic—if often prosaic—lives. Should I return to scientific endeavors, I think it would be to try to develop some sort of selective “plague” that would only affect rotten politicians. The abuse of power, in whatever manner obtained, is, of course, nothing new; neither is the remarkable blindness to past failures that seems to affect everyone who seeks to regulate the present & future. But the true “public servant” has become the rarest of species in the Genus Homo S. And while it can be enthusiastically proclaimed by people like Stanley Kubrick that an answer to the current dilemma is posed by genetic regulation—just around the corner—I’m inclined to suspect a hydroponic public-servant factory would be far down the list of priorities for development. I’m certain that such a factory to produce invincible warriors would be established first. And, to discern the genetic code that says “learn from the mistakes & failures of the past” is likely to prove impossible, so obviously recessive is that particular gene!

If Hentoff’s article was chilling, an article I saw recently somewhere (I neglected to clip it—possibly because of revulsion—but perhaps you saw it too) which described the “state of the art” of chemical & biological warfare (a subject that came up persistently in my endless fruitless discussions with army personnel in VN) was absolutely appalling. Man’s capacity for destroying himself is by no means confined to nuclear holocaust; 6000 dead sheep in Idaho through a freakish accident are only a drop in the bucket when compared to the potential destruction being actively developed and stockpiled. Here, as with nuclear stock-piling, the specter of accidental use or intentional mis-use by a deranged controller conjures result almost too awful to imagine—yet the danger is real, & very certainly in existence. And, as with nuclear weaponry, the dollars & cents cost of the development & production & storage of these deadly arsenals (not to mention the inestimable “cost” in destruction of human values required to enable it all) must far outweigh the sums spent trying to find a path to peace in the world.

Well, enuf of these depressing thoughts for now—off to see what Malacca after dark has to offer—a celebration of some sort at the Chinese Temple, among other things, I’m told. More later.
Sunday, 10 November 1968

Malacca after dark serves up the usual asian fare—walking in the waterfront park, eating in the nearby string of outdoor cafes, etc. The celebration at the Chinese Tenple was colorful, but totally incomprehensible! Eventually I fell into a very interesting & lengthy chat with a group of residents out for an evening (it seems this was the first Satuday sans rain in some weeks!) & Malacca-style entertainment.

BACKSTORY: Malacca, with a long history of Portuguese and Dutch habitation (not to say occupation), had some of the most spectacular boys I found anywhere! The term “Eurasian” is often over-used, but I could see the influence of different genes everywhere, and the boys seemed to combine to good effect the best the foreigners had to offer. As it happened, there was some sort of fair in progress on the outskirts of town, and I repaired there in the late afternoon. Before long I had an audience of a dozen or so handsome youths, all anxious to know if I could help them in any way to get away from Malacca. Gosh! Here I was in a veritable paradise of youth (cf. remarks earlier about most SEA countries with over half their population under 19), and all the “youth” wanted to do was get away from it! The grass really IS greener on the other side of the fence. But if I could have waved my magic wand and settled down in a place where a superabundance of young men would make life pleasant in the extreme, I’d have settled in Malacca in a heart-beat. As it was, I only actually had a tryst with one fellow while there: we repaired to an old fortification on a hillside and waved our magic wands (and more) for several hours.

This morning I arose rather later than planned, but was on my  way, not quite sure where, by around 9. My route, coastal through Muar to Bandar Maharani followed for some miles the route of a local road-race (foot), so I had quite an audience for a while. Although the route lies on the coast, the flatness & the fact the road is about a mile inland combine to make views of the sea largely non existent. Both of the major river crossings, shown on the map as ferries, are now by toll bridge, so far neither of which has been washed away! The day was perfect, reminiscent of the better days in Cambodia—clear sky, mid-80s, slight breeze occasionally—really lovely. Of course, my nose burned again and the “up” side of my arms reddened up too: but for driving comfort, in short-sleeves, the day couldn’t have been better. At Bandar, I had the choice of going inland or coast; continued news of east coast floods, plus the lovely west coast weather described above conspired to keep me coastal, & I proceeded leisurely to Pontian Kecil, where I had an excellent mid-day dinner (Beef Stroganoff, of all things!!) at the Gov’t rest-house. And from there, it is a short 37 miles to Johore Bharu, to which I arrived around 3 PM. Though the (small) central shopping part of J. B. is not much, the surrounding town, all built on low hills, is strikingly beautiful because of the vast expanses of lawn—the whole city looks like a vast park. Two istanas (palaces) add to the majesty of it all.
Malaysia Johore

The arrow points to Johore

Somewhere this morning my elapsed mileage topped 5000; the odometer itself flopped to 10,000 in K. Lumpur. From my hotel window I can look across the straits of Johore (badly polluted, alas) to Singapore, though the city itself is just below the hills there so there is not much to see. But only 17 miles separate me from S’pore at this moment—except that (weather permitting) I plan to go to Kota Tingii tomorrow, and sight-see here in Johore some more, before going on to S’pore tomorrow afternoon. K. Tingii is a resort area for Johore built up around what are supposed to be some lovely waterfalls. Quite possibly, (weather permitting) I may make the whole circle trip to Mersing, Keluang & back to Johore (may stay here one more night even). This will show me the south-east coast, thus leaving only the east-coast drive from K. Bharu through Trengganu & Kuantan un-traversed: it is strongly advised-against at this season, & news reports certainly confirm that (on a moto at least) it would be quite wet and oft-times impassable. On a return trip someday (!) I can do that, and can also make the arrangements necessary to get into the King George VI Park (game preserve) in Pahang (via boat form Kuala Lipis) which was somewhat beyond the scope of this particular jaunt, but which is said to be both cheap (Gov’t subsidized) & very worth-while  if you enjoy stalking game with camera.

I’ve mentioned the Gov’t Rest Houses several times. Virtually all the major towns have one. They are really first-class hotels, and are maintained at Gov’t expense primarily for the use of traveling gov’t employees (upper echelons) who have first claim on the facilities. But anyone else can use them, and tourists as well as Malaysians utilize them heavily. Except for universally uncomfortable (too soft) beds, they offer reasonable rates for really good accommodations (always with the proviso that you may be expelled if a gov’t entourage should show up unexpectedly (which rarely happens as those travelers generally book in advance). Cheaper hotels are available (which I’ve used mostly) and in some places more modern facilities can be found at a price; but one could easily & inexpensively travel all over this country staying only in the “Rumah² Persinggahan”.

The superscript “2” needs explaining: in Malay, the plural form of any word is formed simply by repeating it twice. “Laki” is man; Laki Laki is men. Teksi is Taxi; Teksi Teksi is Taxis, and so forth. Rarely, except in the case of short words like Laki, is all this written out, especially on signs—instead, a super- or sometimes sub-script “2” is added as appropriate.
Rest House Johore

I recall this as the Rest House at Johore, but I could be wrong

The major news today concerned (here) with the lightning arrest of 116 communists all over malaysia by the Federal Government. Perhaps the most amazing remark in response to this development comes from the Chairman of the Labour Party’s Selangor branch, Dr. M. K.  Rajakumar, who said this makes it “physically impossible” for the [communist] party to contest the [forthcoming] elections. He added, “I assume this is customary preparation for the general elections”. I think the development strengthens my thesis, though, that Communism is unwelcome here & will have a tough time taking over, with or without the Western “presence”. One must bear in mind as well that, along with political unpopularity, Communism is opposed by all the major religions & philosophies of virtually all of the SEA countries. Mao’s “wars of national liberation” therefore must first subvert Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, & (here) a substantial number of Christian converts (absurd as that sounds) and so forth, and success so far seems quite unimpressive. So far on this trip the only people I’ve run into who seriously entertained the idea that communism might be any improvement over current affairs was the French couple I met in Cambodia, who appeared to be admirers of Che Guevarra & Fide Castrol (oops!). As this couple was being paid by the Cambodian Government, I doubt this is an admiration they express very freely! Generally speaking, I think adherents like this can be dismissed as misguided [but I would agree that there are some Marxist principles that might well be adaptable to the SEA social scene]—after all, any nut who makes enuf noise—i.e., headlines—can get a following of sorts: George Lincoln Rockwell and George Wallace are two examples that come immediately to mind on the US scene.

12 November 1968

Weather didn’t exactly permit what I had in mind for yesterday! Although it dawned nice enough, as I went towards Kota Tinggi (rhymes with “dinghy”) I could see the storm piling up. The waterfalls are about ten miles beyond K. T., and about half  way there the storm broke with a passion! I returned to K. T. to wait to see if it would let up, but it did not, and I wound up returning to Johore—the trip to Mersing would obviously be too wet to be worth the effort. So I sight-saw in Johore for the day, except when the storm mover over it in the early evening. And this morning I drove the few miles on to Singapore itself, drove about aimlessly during the morning and in the afternoon located a suitable (I think) hotel. Also went to the GPO & picked up a letter each from Todd & Dad. I missed Todd’s in BK c/o American Express—didn’t even go near the place, and apparently missed Dad’s of Oct 5.

Singapore looks like it is going to be a pretty fascinating place—very big, lots to see, quite modern & all sorts of construction projects underway. Traffic, though heavy, is not as bad as I’d expected. One way or another I expect to depart in a couple of weeks, though, but am not sure just now bound for where! A couple of days are necessary for investigation of possibilities.

Had I known you were doing a [book] review of Angkor, I’d have mailed my Parmentier’s Guide, but maybe Todd was able to dig one up for you. Come to think of it now, though, mine is in my bag at the Singapore airport, which I have to get in the next day or two, with (probably) a lot of customs nonsense like BK.

Since this is already a “heavy” letter, & you will want to know I got to S’pore OK, I’ll mail this tomorrow & fill in plans in a later letter.

Mileage as of this moment—5200, and still 3½ º north of the equator!
Love to all~

I didn’t bring back many bills from Malaysia, for some reason. I thought they were particularly nice, though.
1 Ringgit

Colorful 1 Ringgit bill

5 Ringgit

The Malaysian bills were very pretty

10 Ringgit

As is true in many countries, bills are different sizes

Coming up: Singapore. Only one kind of sling there!

Written by Editor

February 5th, 2010 at 9:00 am

Posted in Malaysia,Politics