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Anthony Bourdain Parts Unknown

Malaysia. Aired 9-10p ET.

Aired November 05, 2015 - 21:00   ET



ANTHONY BOURDAIN, CNN HOST: When I first went up this river, I was sick with love -- the bad kind, the fist around your heart kind. I ran far but there was no escaping it. It followed me up river all the way. That was 10 long years ago, a previous episode of a previous series in a previous life yet, here I am again heading up to that same longhouse in the jungle.

Last time I saw all this, I think it's fair to say I was at a turning point in my life. I promised some people I'd come back, and I am back. My life has changed a lot. How much have their lives changed?

Kuala Lumpur. Happy to be here, but brimming with mixed emotions. Surrounded by all the sights, smells, and flavors I remember so well.

This is where a wandering soul such as myself can dive right in and get some of that straight Chinese food I've been missing.

First order of business, dinner. Been on a plane for, like, I don't know, it was long. Very long. Saw, like, five Mark Wahlberg films. I can't tell you how excited about the prospect of getting some black pepper crab, some Char kway teow and some pork gladed noodles and a regional beverage -- reasonably cold.

I don't even know what this is. I love you, noodles. Don't want to get all heavy and philosophical at this point, but why I'm here, what my mission is, what I expect to find, basically me tracing my steps and all that. We'll talk about that later. Right now, noodles.

Gudwa Tei (ph), this place is the most excellent. Char kway teow?


BOURDAIN: Char kway teow, which is -- look at the greasy, fatty. Yes, come to daddy. I'm a bad man.

This is, like, a random restaurant, with purloin Minnie Mouse logo and their food is unbelievably good. Oh, yeah. Black pepper crab, come right here. Reveal yourself to me, my love. Hot, hot, hot. Oh, yeah. Wow.

All right. The frenzy's over. Now eat in a more relaxed phase.

[21:05:04] Kuala Lumpur rises up out of steamy, equatorial, Southeast Asian jungle, Malaysia's capital city -- a chaotic, multiethnic, multicultural modern metropolis of Malay, Chinese, and Indian.

This is where you start out when fulfilling a decade-old promise to your ex-headhunter friends to return for Gawai, the annually Iban rice harvest festival.

What was interesting the last time I was there was the old guys with their tattoos and rings on their fingers.

EDDIE DAVID, BORNEO INK TATTOO ARTIST: Yeah. The old people, a lot of them have passed on.

BOURDAIN: I hear no more skulls. They made them put the skulls away.

The Iban once enjoyed a truly formidable reputation as trackers, warriors, and ritualistic takers of heads. They were and continue to be wanderers valuing the bejalai, a tradition where every tribesman was set out from the longhouse of his birth to travel, learn, to bring something back. Each tattoo he gets over the course of his life represents a different experience, a different journey.

DAVID: Basically the tattoos are just to signify knowledge and the wealth they brought back to the longhouse, what you probably would want to get is a warna terang (ph). Something like this.

BOURDAIN: I like that.

DAVID: Yeah.

BOURDAIN: Since last I saw you, and you gave me this...

DAVID: And it's still there?

BOURDAIN: Still there. 10 years ago at his shop, Borneo Ink, Eddie David tattooed me with an Iban style ouroboros, the symbol of a snake eating its own tail. Life, death, the eternal ebb and flow. I think I was going through a hippy phase. Eddie does great work and he's known for traditional tribal tattoos, but I'm looking forward to getting it done old school this time -- hand tapped in the jungle. So, i need your advice because I'm going back to the same village that I went to last time.

DAVID: Just be careful of the Langkaw (ph).

BOURDAIN: The Langkaw? Yes, they had it in every type of bottle. This is clear sort of cloudy liquid with particles in it.

DAVID: Sometimes they put all kinds of weird stuff inside. My dad used to tell me they take mosquito coil and leave it inside the langkaw.

BOURDAIN: A mosquito what?

DAVID: Coil.

BOURDAIN: Like the pesticide?

DAVID: Yeah. Just make it, like, stronger, I guess.

BOURDAIN: I would imagine so.

DAVID: That's a natural staple, Gawai, is usually partying, drinking, passing out, waking up, eating, drinking some more, passing out again then getting up and drinking some more. Yeah. You're going to have fun, man.

BOURDAIN: Wow. All right. So I'm headed upriver again.

DAVID MAGI (ph): Yes, sorry I can't be there.

BOURDAIN: I promised them, I said, "I'm going back."

MAGI: About nine years late on your promise, but...

BOURDAIN: Nine years late.

MAGI: That happens. You know, promises come liberally.

BOURDAIN: It was David Magi who first took me up to the longhouse. On that previous trip we met at Aunty Aini's on the outskirts of K.L.

MAGI: Everything moves exponentially, right. I just feel like some things remain exactly the same, some things haven't changed at all. This place is certainly one.

BOURDAIN: The charming and for lack of a better word fabulous Aini was an actor in the Malaysian film scene who now runs a very successful Kampung style restaurant specializing in beloved village or country classics. All of them prepared with a staggering finesse and precision. This is delicious, delicious food.

AINI, OWNER OF AUNT AINI'S RESTAURANT, ACTRESS: Welcome. It's been so long. Oh, my. You still look as handsome as ever. All right. So...

MAGI: So let's pick up right where we left off which started with this.

AINI: Help yourself.

MAGI: Thank you.

AINI: You're going to have the roast beef and poached egg and our favorite will be our rendang.


AINI: This is chicken rendang.

BOURDAIN: So good to be back.

AINI: I love watching you guys eat.

BOURDAIN: Who taught you to cook? Who was the good cook in your family? AINI: When we were small, my grandmother would say stuff like, I don't care who you are, if you can't cook, you're nobody to me.


AINI: Yeah, they're from there. There's no teaching Malay cooking here. It comes from your grandma's kitchen, your mom's kitchen.

[21:10:02] And you learn by smelling, by seeing. That's how I teach my children to cook. All the dishes when you do them, the aroma just floats around. I know exactly where the chili paste frying in the pan is ready for not. It's from here. Basically it's from here.

BOURDAIN: Right. This food is so perfect. I mean the flavors are so perfect. It's so delicious.


BOURDAIN: After a two-hour flight from Kuala Lumpur, I land in Borneo, third largest island in the world. Divided between Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. Kuching, capital of the Malaysian Sarawak. It's a sleepily city with a colorful 19th century boys adventure story history, pirates, head hunters, opportunists, the former domain of Sir James Brook, an Englishman who came to be known as the white raja.

For a century, generations of the Brook family ruled Sarawak as an independent kingdom. They created their own army, the Sarawak Rangers who also acted as raja's personal guard. Tomorrow I follow the pavement as far as it goes then it's boats the rest of the way. But first, breakfast. And fortunately, I know exactly where to go.

I sat at this same table last time. I look at my life as a continuum, a trail of noodles. Going round and round the world until it comes right back to the same spicy bowl.

[21:15:00] Oh, yeah, that is, can I ay tumescent on CNN? Yeah, pretty sure I can.

Oh, yeah, baby. This is a magical dish. I don't know. It's like two types of noodles I think. Chicken, prawn, coconut, chili. You know, the main event of this is the broth. The wisdom of the ages is contained in there. It's, like, super complex. Might be more of this.

All right. I'll have another one of these. More. It's the broth. The broth. Look at it. Thank you. Now I I'm becoming the object of much amusement. People have noticed I'm on my second. Damn. Best breakfast ever.

Love that sound.

Before heading out to the longhouse, I'm meeting Kuching native Alex Wong at a dockside karaoke joint on the Malay side of town. Now, what's up to the karaoke here? It's popular everywhere, but this is alcohol-free karaoke.

ALEX WONG, KUCHING NATIVE: Yes. BOURDAIN: In my experience, you have to be really (inaudible) up to do karaoke, but here apparently not.

WONG: No, no. It's the spirit, you know. Our people here, they can party any time.

BOURDAIN: So you're coming upriver with us?

WONG: Yes, I am. I am.

BOURDAIN: Exciting.

WONG: And four days of non-connectivity, you know that, right?

BOURDAIN: Yes. I'm committed to that. It's the drinking.

WONG: I'm worried about that, too, seriously, because I'm way past my drinking days, you know...


WONG: ... but I don't think there's an escape from it. Why are you back in Kuching after 10 years? AAnd why Kuching, you've got a lot other places in Borneo?

BOURDAIN: It's a good question. I'm revisiting some stuff. Just some -- I was in a weird place in my head when I first came here. I was personally, professionally, everything in my life was changing. I was in this sort of nowhere land between previous life and whatever came next. I'm retracing my steps to a lot of this to see if it still hurts.


BOURDAIN: And also I said -- I'd promise these guys in the village, the chiefs, that I'd come back. Well, I made a promise, and I'm going to live up to it.



BOURDAIN: Even the jungle wanted him dead. This Skrang river, what's the line, snakes through the Sarawak jungle like a main circuit cable, plugged straight in a, somewhere. A place. The state of mind. I don't know. I was a basket case last time I went up this river. My mind miles away.


WONG: Is this how you remember it, Tony?


WONG: Exactly the same? 10 years later? BOURDAIN: Pretty much. Yeah, so far. You pick your way upriver,

like walking up a gradual flight of stairs, getting out often to push. With several hours still to go, a stop for lunch. There we are. We're even right on a beach, too. All right. That's cool.

WONG: Looks like bamboo chicken there.



BOURDAIN: Good, right?

WONG: It's great. He said Yamay. Yamay, that means delicious.

BOURDAIN: Yeah, how's your Iban?

WONG: It's possible, I guess. A little basic words.

BOURDAIN: I gather the plan is to try to get there before dark.

WONG: I don't think it's going to happen.

BOURDAIN: Yeah, me either.



WONG: Hello.

(Speaking in Foreign Language)

BOURDAIN: All those years ago the man who looked after me at the longhouse was named Itam. Over 80 years old back then, he led us bounding uphill through the jungle like a young gazelle. He still had the marks on his fingers of a man who'd taken heads, in Itam's case, presumably, communist guerillas when he fought with the British during the Malay insurgency.

We drank shots of rice whiskey together under a bouquet of human skulls, trophies from another time. I promised I'd come back for Gawai, a big deal in the Iban calendar, when friends and relatives return to the longhouse.

A lot has changed since Iban tracked communists through the jungle and much has changed in the 10 years since I've been here. Itam passed away the year before last at the age of 92, and the evidence of how timbering has depleted much of the forest is everywhere, scandalously so.

It's dark by the time we arrived, but someone has been waiting for us. Please advise me of protocol.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language) BOURDAIN: Thank you. All for me. Oh, yeah. Just like old times. There you go, my man. Custom must be observed. Thank you. Woo. Oh, yeah.

UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)


WONG: (Speaking in Foreign Language)

BOURDAIN: More cell phones than last time.

WONG: It's a great welcome.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)


UNIDENTIFED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)

BOURDAIN: Yes. Madam, my respect, my condolence.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)

She cannot stand longer.

BOURDAIN: Of course.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)



UNIDENTIFED FEMALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)

BOURDAIN: Back in Entalau after a lot of years and a lot of miles. I wake up to the sounds of early morning village life. Roosters call. The coughing and clearing of lungs as the elders rise to do chores. The whole village leaves here in separate apartments sharing a communal space that runs the length of the building. Some things have noticeably changed. The longhouse I first stayed in has been replaced by a somewhat more modern version.

These days there's electricity from a reliable diesel generator. And while there's no cell phone signal, the plumbing works, the washing in the river is still, the way I see it, anyway, the preferable option.

In this part of the world, you live or die by the rice harvest. Less so these days as timbering has changed, well, everything out here, but traditions run deep, with the Iban and Gawai, the harvest festival was and remains like Christmas and New Year's rolled into one.

We will need pork for Gawai. And unfortunately, that means a pig must die. More awkwardly, custom, and my personal history in this village demands, once again, that I do the job. Down by the river, I shot my baby. What did he mean by that? Why would he do that? Shoot his baby? Unless baby was a delicious, delicious pig.

I'd like to tell you that this is never easy, that I felt this time like I did the first time. Sad, nauseated, complicit, aware that I crossed a line, been changed by the violence and the blood and the awful noise. But that would be a lie. This time, I plunged the spear in without hesitation or remorse.

[21:40:18] When the pig dies, finally gives it up. I feel only relief. I have been hardened by the last 10 years. I don't know what that says about me, but there it is.



UNIDENTIFED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)

BOURDAIN: Far up Skrang River, the countdown to Gawai is on, and I can't help but be struck by one particular upgrade since my last visit. Karaoke. As I come to learn, constant karaoke. Never-ending karaoke. From a limited playlist of favorites. Nearly 24 hours a day accompanied by copious amounts of beer, tuak and other strong spirits.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)

BOURDAIN: It should be pointed out Gawai isn't just about consuming potentially blinding amounts of alcohol. It's also about food. And one would be well advised to eat a lot. Lay down a solid base for the torment to come. Oh, thank you. I feel so guilty. No, no, not at all, actually.


BOURDAIN: So delicious. All right.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Tradition that people put rice on your plate.

BOURDAIN: (inaudible)

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

BOURDAIN: Delicious.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)

Attention, from the first room of this longhouse to the last, tonight we are going to drink to a long life. Please drink nicely. Don't argue over politics. I will not hear any of it. Even if you get drunk, no fights because a bad name will come to my longhouse.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: (Speaking in Foreign Language)


BOURDAIN: Thank you.



As the revelry kicks into high gear, there is nowhere to hide. I know only that if I sit still anywhere within range of hospitality, there will be a river of booze. Beer, tuak, which is rough hand crafted local rice wine and its more lethal distilled brother, langkaw. Then somebody's pouring you Johnny Black or J.D. or Vat 69. Then, langkaw again, then, who knows. You only know it keeps coming until you sag facedown on the hand-woven mats and pass out.

[21:50:03] Perfectly acceptable practice, by the way.

I wake up, I go to sleep, I wake up again. The parties move down a few doors but it's still going. This is an experience that will repeat itself again and again for the next three days. One time it's the ladies still standing, partying like it's 1999, dancing and drinking. And another time it's the old dudes, the village chiefs and elders. And then everybody, elders, women and children visiting relatives and their families from Kuala Lumpur, Kuching, and from abroad, whatever circumstances that the bejalai took them. And the parties are in no shape to discern.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: One, two, three.



BOURDAIN: Morning routine, wake up, feed the chickens, rake the pepper drying in the sun and then it's time to rock the bike, people, and it starts all over again. While the party continues up at the longhouse, I've got an appointment.

If you were wondering by the way if this hurts, two guys hammering away on my sternum with a bamboo club and sharp need tells. Yes, it hurt a lot and you can be damn sure if I wasn't in television while it was happening, I'd be whimpering and yelping like a gut shot poodle.

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Right there. Stand up.

BOURDAIN: All right. Good. Very happy, guys. Thank you. (Inaudible). All right. Let's party.

Another tattoo is never going to make me younger, tougher or more relevant. It won't reconnect me 10 years from now with some spiritual crossroads in my life. No.

At this point, I think my body is like an old car. Another dent ain't going to make a whole lot of difference. At best, it's a reminder that you're still alive and lucky as hell.

Another tattoo, another thing you did, another place you've been. The final long gaze at the river, take in probably for the last time in my life, the slow rhythms. One more thing to do, say goodbye to an old friend. He was a very strong man.


BOURDAIN: I remember him well running uphill faster than all of us. So what do we do? Leave him a beer, some cigarettes?


BOURDAIN: He would like that?

UNIDENTIFED MALE: Yes, he'll like that.

BOURDAIN: First cigarette in two years (inaudible).


BEN CARSON, (R) PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Do you think I'm pathological liar like CNN does?