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Sun 7 Mar 2010 04:00 AM

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Secret CIO

Secret CIO finds more than he bargained for in the jungles of Asia.

Secret CIO
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It's really hot out here.

Sticky, sweaty, slimy and virtually every other adjective you can think of for uncomfortable warmth. In fact, it's so hot, I decided to spend most of my time in the hotel instead of working at an oil plantation in the jungle.

You'd think I would have realised all this before I came to Malaysia, a very pleasant place to relax but also unfortunately one blessed with a typically tropical climate - that is to say, hot, hot and just for a change, incredibly unpleasantly hot. In fact, the only thing that can distract you from the mounting heat is the rampant humidity.

This by the way is so bad that even during the frequent thunderstorms you may still be sweating away. I'm not kidding - you can be bone dry under a bus shelter in the middle of the pouring rain and still feel perspiration running down a chest.

There are some good points, it has to be said, about the country. The widespread existence of fake goods, for one; Malaysia is overflowing with vendors of all things non-original, from phones to handbags. As a result, I've spent my time evening in the markets wisely stocking on pseudo-expensive gifts for the soon-to-be ladies in my life - long may they be unaware of the true cost of that really chic Fendi bag.

Secondly, good hot food is extraordinarily cheap (sense a trend?) and widely available on every street corner no matter which part of the country you reside in. A word of warning to the wise, though - make sure your constitution is up to the task at hand. My two colleagues foolishly thought they were tougher than me in that regard - but then, how could they know that I had two years of national service in the Singaporean Army under my belt? In the end, they spent several days hugging the hotel's porcelain god while I enjoyed yet more delicious street food.

Lest this turn in a Malaysian travelogue, I should admit at this point that we were in the country to do a job of work. We had arrived six days earlier to travel to a remote plantation to build an IT infrastructure. Unfortunately, our passports "mysteriously" disappeared on the second day (by which I mean that we flushed them down the toilet) and we were forced, against our will, to stay in our five-star hotel for another week while things were sorted out.

After about three days, it rapidly became obvious that things weren't going to get sorted out in any kind of hurry. On top of that, we had three different nationalities to deal with in our case, so obtaining travel documents from local embassies was an exercise in frustration. Seeing as we spent most of our time in the pool, this situation suited us just fine, but our parent company had other ideas and at the end of the week, despatched us into the jungle to "get on with it, already".

Sadly, the new accommodations in the plantations were far from ideal. From a decadent hotel room in the heart of the city, I was transported to a bleak portacabin with all the charm of a Berlin post office. Sanitary conditions were rudimentary at best - and by that, I mean it's best not to describe them in detail - and despite what we'd been led to believe, there were no women in sight.

This is not strictly true. There were in fact, something on the order of 500 young women in the plantation proper - but getting there would involve hacking through about five miles of deadly wild jungle armed with nothing more than a crimping tool. It was a bridge too far.

Well this only applied to me clearly, because on our second day of work, both my assistants vanished in the middle of the night. An extensive search of both sites the next day revealed no trace of them. Management seemed surprisingly nonplussed with their disappearance and insisted once again that I "get on with it".

This was going to be the worst holiday ever.

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