May 30, 2007

Mission Failed
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Trying to find PDA accessories in SE Asia is like trying to find someone who still writes in cuneiform.

Immigration Annoyances

Poorly placed or invisible, lightly inked immigration stamps—one of my travel pet peeves. The covered Muslim woman at the Malaysia immigration checkpoint returned my smile with a straight-faced scowl. Don't do it, I screamed in my head, moments before she stamped an already full page in my passport—directly on top of an exit from Argentina. I don't think she liked me very much.

Temporarily Homeless

Crossing the border into Malaysia at night on transport arranged in Hat Yai, Thailand, was the right move. Not only was I not seeing any pedestrians making the crossing, but I failed to see any onward travel options on the Malaysian side of the border. I very well could have ended up flagging down the same bus that I was riding on.

The real stinker of this overnight journey was that dropped me off at an intersection in the Malaysian capital at 3:30 in the morning. An unsightly, aggressive tout pushing "Le Village" hostel on me actually found me inside a 7-11 after I'd blown him off in the streets. Unhappy with his behavior, I told him that he was the reason I'd never consider going to the place, and turned my back on him again.

In truth, I had no desire to pay for a full night's accommodations so late in the early morning. I was happy to discover an open Internet cafe, and spent some time waiting for the sun to rise.

I was actually considering not getting a room in Kuala Lumpur at all. With a list of stores (in malls) where I could find Palm product vendors, I figured I could actually grab the keyboard and get on a bus to a more pleasing environment by morning's end. But the thought of a shower after a day of travel (and not carrying around my backpack around in malls and on the public transportation) got the better of me.

I was right next to China Town, and as the sky grew lighter, I began hunting for a cheap room. I ended up at the Backpackers Travellers Lodge, only because after threatening to walk away from the RM$60RM$28 rooms, did an air conditioned dorm room magically opened up for RM$10/night. I later came to discover that none of the staffers at the establishment—the surly Chinese man that checked me in, included—ever initially disclosed the cheapest option at the place, which I called one of the receptionists out on during my stay there.

No Rest (or Reward) For The Weary

A full day of travel, coupled with a sleepless night, and followed by an unsuccessful keyboard hunt (that took me all over Kuala Lumpur by bus, train, subway, and monorail) has left me exhausted and depressed.

After grabbing a shower I figured out how to reach the shopping center with the highest concentration of Palm product vendors. Low Yat Plaza is the IT shopping center in Kuala Lumpur—an eight-story mall dedicated to nothing but cell phones and computers. My spirits were high as I entered the complex—surely my device was to be found in such a concentration of technology.

Low Yat Plaza

My smile gradually diminished with each store I visited, though, as my keyboard was not to be found. The only solution I could find in an entire mall of impressive, never before seen technologies (that the technophiles in the U.S. would drool at the thought of being around) was a keyboard that used Bluetooth to communicate with the PDA (or cell phone), instead of infrared. Not only would this device suck the battery life out of my PDA (more quickly then the IR type), but it also cost an outrageous amount of money—US$130 was the cheapest I was able to get someone to come down to.

Stowaway Bluetooth keyboard

Let me put this another way, the only wireless PDA keyboard that could be used with my Palm would cost me RM$450, when I could buy a nice, new laptop in the same shopping center for less than RM$1,700. Yeah, the keyboard was actually a little more than 1/4 the price of a full blown laptop (and almost as much as my PDA). I about choked at the absurdity.

The result at the massive KLCC shopping complex and the ridiculously large Mid-Valley Mall were likewise flops. I even decided to try the Bluetooth keyboard at one point, and the clerk couldn't even get device to input text.

FUBAR

Advanced mobile phones

I've concluded that SE Asia is simply too far advanced in the technology department—maybe 5–7 years ahead of the United States—to find the device I need. PDAs don't even seem to exist in this place; instead they've been replaced with an efficient convergence of cell phones and mobile computing, all but eliminated the niched utility of the obsolete device.

With KL out of the running, I'm left to contemplate my options:

  • Call stores in Singapore to see if they carry the keyboard (instead of traveling there)
  • Fixing the keyboard locally (but I highly doubt it's possible)
  • Having a friend or family member buy the keyboard in the U.S. and express mailing it to me (probably close to a US$150 expense)
  • Buying a laptop (a decent portable would probably run about US$650), but my pack is at 100% capacity and I really don't want to in this region of the world

I wanted to leave tomorrow morning, but I need to think about things on a less fatigued brain, and will probably stick around for another night.

Comments:

Erik

June 23rd, 2007

You've lived outside the US a little too long - there are virtually few or no PDA's here either. Dell has quit selling my coveted Axim's now.

The one in your hand in the photo with the slide out keyboard - the latest version of that's just gone on sale here - looks like one of the many HTC models out there. From a tech perspective, they're all annoyingly still low res! Frustrating!

But in any case, if you were to ever upgrade and need to use GPRS or EDGE for data transfer, I would highly suggest a PDA with flip-out keyboard instead of a laptop. As long as it has WiFi, Bluetooth if you want to use a portable keyboard (few have IR ports now), you'd be completely set to drop in a SIM chip in a country for data access over a mobile network.

Erik

June 23rd, 2007

What are the model numbers of the IR keyboards you're after? I'll hunt on ebay or craigslist. I'd have no problem shipping it.

charles

June 25th, 2007

Hi there, I just surfed my way in here and I'm kind of blown away by the idea of traveling all over the place for a keyboard. For the same amount of effort, I really think you could learn to use the built-in text entry options. Your PDA supports Graffiti, right? It really isn't that bad once you practice enough. There are also some other add-ons software options that some people allege work better than Grafiti, though I wasn't annoyed enough by Grafiti to bother with trynig them. And yes, I do quite a bit of text entry with my PDA. It IS an adjustment, like going back to using pen and paper, but at least with a PDA you can erase. And remember when we thought liquid paper was a godsend for fixing mistakes on a typewriter, or you old enough for that?

Note: Comments are open to everyone. To reduce spam and reward regular contributors, only submissions from first-time commenters and/or those containing hyperlinks are moderated, and will appear after approval. Hateful or off-topic remarks are subject to pruning. Your e-mail address will never be publicly disclosed or abused.