clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

‘Parts Unknown’ Borneo: Just the One-Liners

The 21 best lines from Anthony Bourdain's trip to Borneo.

Courtesy CNN

"When I first went up this river, I was sick with love," Anthony Bourdain says in the opening seconds of Parts Unknown's journey to Borneo, the third-largest island in the world and home to the Skrang River, where Bourdain finds himself getting reflective. "The bad kind. The fist-around-your-heart kind…. it followed me upriver, all the way." In this stunning episode of the CNN travelogue, Bourdain arrives to his destination with a deeper spiritual quest than usual, vaguely referencing a Borneo trip 10 years earlier that proved formative. "I was in this nowhere land between previous life and whatever came next," Bourdain says of his 2005 Borneo excursion. "[Now] I'm retracing my steps to see if it still hurts."

"I was in this nowhere land between [my] previous life and whatever came next. I’m retracing my steps to see if it still hurts."

But it's not all pain. Before heading to the island, Bourdain enjoys a meal in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur with even more zeal than usual, dotting his commentary with gleeful exclamation points. He fulfills a 10-year-old promise by visiting an Iban tribe and paying respects to his former guide — with lots and lots of alcohol. And in two separate look-away-if-you're-squeamish scenes, Bourdain gets a traditional Bornean tattoo on his chest (which involves bamboo clubs meeting sharp needles) and also kills a pig in a Gawai festival ritual. Here now, the top 21 quotes from the episode:

1) On the in-flight entertainment: "I've been on a plane for... I don't know. It was long. Very long. I saw, like, five Mark Wahlberg films."

2) On delicious distractions: "I 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 retracing my steps and all that — we'll talk about that later. But right now: noodles!"

3) On Malaysia's popular noodle dish: "Char kway teow, bitches! Look at that greasy, fatty... yes. Come to daddy. I'm a bad man."

4) To a plate of black pepper crab: "Reveal yourself to me, my love."

5) On groovy inspirations: "Ten years ago, at his shop Borneo Ink, Eddie David tattooed me with an Iban-style ouroboros. A symbol of a snake eating its own tail. Life, death, the eternal ebb and flow. I think I was going through a hippie phase."

6) On how laksa represents life: "If 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..."

7) On sexually charged $10 words: "Can I say tumescent on CNN? Yeah, pretty sure I can."

8) On the secrets of laksa: "The main event of this, it's the broth. The wisdom of the ages is contained in there."

9) On others gawking at his American-sized appetite: "Okay, now I've become the object of much amusement. People have noticed I'm on my second."

10) On karaoke strategy: "What's up with the karaoke here? I mean, it's popular everywhere, but this is alcohol-free karaoke. In my experience, you gotta be really fucked up to do karaoke."

11) On floating up the Skrang River: "You pick your way upriver, like walking up a gradual flight of stairs, getting out often to push."

12) On unusual decor: "The man who looked after me at the longhouse was named Itam... we drank many shots of rice whiskey together, under a bouquet of human skulls, trophies from another time."

13) On what's changed in the 10 years since his last visit: "More cell phones than last time."

14) On musical inspiration: "'Down by the river I shot my baby.' What did Neil [Young] mean by that? Shoot his baby? Unless 'baby' was a delicious, delicious pig."

15) On killing a pig with a spear: "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'd 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."

16) On the pig-spearing aftermath: "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."

17) On technological changes: "I can't help be struck by one particular upgrade since my last visit: karaoke."

18) On festival traditions: "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 out a solid base for the torrent to come."

19) On "seriously, these people drink a bunch": "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."

20) On keeping your cool when cameras are rolling: "If you were wondering by the way, if this hurts — two guys hammering away at my sternum with a bamboo club and sharp needles — yes, yes it hurt, a lot. And you can be damn sure if I wasn't on television while it was happening, I'd be whimpering and yelping like a gut-shot poodle."

21) On aging maybe-gracefully: "At this point I think my body is like an old car. Another dent ain't gonna make a whole lot of difference."

Sign up for the Sign up for the Eater newsletter

The freshest news from the food world every day