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Published: September 21st 2013
I was debating about whether whether I would include a Malaysia chapter for this blog or simply omit it. I hesitate not because Malaysia was unimportant, uninteresting or unexciting but rather I really enjoyed my stay here even if it is not the most glamorous of countries. Also, I should mention that in this case I am referring to Penninsular Malaysia as opposed to Borneo which I have already written about and rightfully deserved its own space.
Malaysia is probably the most overlooked of the SEA countries. It lacks the parties and hedonism of Thailand to the north and the exoticism of Indonesia to the south. In many ways Malaysia seems to act as a buffer between these to hotspots. For Canadians anyway. As for Germans, well, I might as well have learned German to prepare for my Malaysian Chapter.
Although Malaysia does act as a pseudo buffer, it also has the joint benefit of blending several cultures together better than the surrounding countries. In fact, I found it difficult to discern what Malaysian culture, cuisine and even who the people were. Instead Malaysian culture seems to be a hybrid between whatever Malay culture is (still unsure after nearly
a month) and a very strong Chinese and Indian population.
Most obviously, in cultural hotspots such as Malaka and Penang, the draw is of the food itself. Malaka prides itself on not its Malay culture but instead of the Dutch ruins left over, the famed Chinese night market and art galleries featuring everything from postmodern art, to classic Chinese calligraphy and Kashmir textiles. In Penang, Banksy styled Street art, a strange obsession with Despicable Me and (my favorite) a scavenger hunt for the local delicacies which were mostly Chinese Imports. Sooooo delicious. English is spoken by the locals, German by the tourists and somewhere in there is something Malay. More or less, I spent my days in the cities feasting away and trying to figure out where Malaysia fits in all of this. I suppose visitors to Canada would have an equally difficult time finding "Canada" in Vancouver.
Outside of the cities, I also escaped from the humidity and heat in the Cameron Highlands which resemble Rwanda almost perfectly with its cool mountain air and rolling tea plantations interspersed with jungle that seems oddly out of place with temperatures more akin to Vancouver.
In contrast, the Oasis
of the Perhetians Islands off the east coast of Malaysia are as pretty as they get. Though beautiful, Kecil Island is little more than two beaches on opposite shores connected by one footpath taking about 7 minutes to traverse. Long Beach is the glamour island with the fine white sand and turquoise waters where Corona commercials would be filmed. At night, small tables dot the beach and the beach becomes a haven for all night binge drinkers, shisha smokers and fire dancers. Fun for a night or two but an annoyance for anyone who values their sleep, their livers or for those over the age of 30.
On the opposite side of the island resides Coral Beach, a toned down and less flamboyant but still stunning in its appearance. I completed my Advanced Open Water dive certificate, kayaked at sunset and otherwise spent the days lounging about and going for a snorkel when the day heated up. Along one such snorkel, I was observing a small school of fish only thigh deep in the water when a silver flash came seemingly out of nowhere and a meter long barracuda chomped down a doomed fish. Right off the beach it
was common to see a resident and sharp toothed trigger fish and black tipped reef sharks. Amazing.
On a sadder note, my trusty companion, my Kindle died after 2 years of abuse. Not only was this tragic because I would not have a book to keep me entertained but more importantly, reading keeps my mind from racing by giving me something to focus on. I would love to tell you that my mind is racing because I am busy pondering the meaning of life, what it means to be alive or how to achieve world peace. Actually, embracing my introverted side, early on in my travels I often spend hours just evaluating my life, where I am and the world around me but as my travels progress, I seem to get.... dumber. Travel brain as I call it. My mental dialogue regresses from "what shall I do with my life" to "I'm hungry. What should I eat today? Noodles, rice? Is that a seal???? Nope, just a seal shaped rock. MONKEY!" Yes, quite sad.
To further illustrate, one afternoon as the temperature soared I decided I would cool off by sitting in the ocean just 5 feet off
of shore and knee deep in the water. As a wave from a passing boat jostled me, I reached down to stabilise myself. As I put my hand down on what I assumed was a rocky sea floor, I felt something soft and squishy. Pulling my hand out of the water I found my hand covered in tentacles which began stinging, no burning, my hand and wrist. Quickly I managed to rub off the tentacles but instead of getting out of the water and away from the stinging goop, I brilliantly decided to throw on my snorkel hanging off my knee and inspect what it was that stung me. I plunged my face into the water to see two VERY pissed off clown fish (Nemo!) and a cloud of tentacles which I had just removed from my hand and were now attaching them to my FACE! Several stings to the face and by morning it looked as I had gotten into a fight with strange marks on my lips and nose (which thankfully have gone away). Just think, 10 more months... My poor brain.
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