Deloreans are great and everything, but time travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Malaysia is 12 hours ahead of my motherland, Canada. Whenever it’s noon at the office here and I decide to take a break and update this little blog, it’s naturally “everyone’s sleeping in North America and won’t notice the meticulous maintenance” time.
Right now at 8:06 p.m. in Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, listening to a bizarre jazz rendition of Coldplay’s “Clocks” while Muslim business buffs chitchat over Chai tea and iPads, it’s time to catch up.
In Malaysia, every “time” revolves around food. There’s breakfast, then there’s tea, then there’s lunch, then there’s tea 2.0, then there’s supper. And, well, always and any way there is dessert. Everyone from work has been more than accommodating, letting us into their cherished “makan” community. “Makan” basically translates into “eating,” “time to eat,” or, as the Canadian interns know: “time to eat things with heads and laugh it off.”
One of my favourite nights here so far has been at a Chinese stall in Petaling Jaya, a quiet suburb of KL with a comforting family feel. Francine and I tagged along with our co-worker, Siew Eng, and temporarily joined her “Glutton Gang” – a.k.a. 15 or so feisty Malaysian foodies. We indulged in homegrown mint tea, flathead fish soup, and more than enough garden-grown veggies to make me turn vegan. Dishes were washed at the table, ingredients were given to the chefs themselves, and we felt like we were invited to Southeast Asian Thanksgiving.
Siew Eng, staying true to Malaysian hospitality, took us out for appetizers. At Restoran Say Huat (yeah, I may have giggled at that), we gave popiah a try. Although it has a thin crepe-like wrap, this Asian delicacy houses a whole city of ingredients: bean sauce, finely grated turnip, bean sprouts, French beans, lettuce leaves, grated carrots, thinly sliced tofu, chopped peanuts, fried shallots, and shredded omellte. Oh, and chili sauce… somewhere in there.
Lesson learned: Malaysians throw whatever they have left in their cupboards and call it a meal. And, even if it’s a fluke, you’ll never know because it’s fantastic.
Onto the next adventure: Canada Day in the jungle.
Cameron Highlands, about 4 hours northeast of Kuala Lumpur, is a perfect retreat for the smog-afflicted city slicker. After overcoming a horrible cold spawned by what Malaysians called “the haze” (basically pollution mixed with forest fires from Indonesia), Kyla and I decided we needed space. Known for its lush tea plantations and strawberry farms, the Highlands (or d’Highlands as our California friends joke) seemed like our escape route of choice.
Going to Cameron, we expected to take it easy. I had picked up one of those mind-bending J.G. Ballard books and fully intended to explore another world that didn’t involve secondhand smoke and motorbike exhaust. Instead, what we found was something even more mystical – something even more soothing than jumping into the pool after climbing up 100 steps to our apartment.
I think that what was so freeing about that weekend was the fact that time didn’t cross our wandering minds. Kyla and I toured the small town and stumbled across sights that most tourists wouldn’t see.
Things you won’t see on a guided tour of Cameron Highlands (and so the point form list for scatterbrains returns):
– A children’s adventure camp. Feeling like Madonna or Angelina, we stumbled across starry-eyed kids who shrieked with intrigue once we told them we “kind of, sort of… live near your favourite Canadian pop star.” After we left, one girl even yelled, “Send my regards to Justin Bieber!”
– Tea time with a local imam. On the way back from our first hike of the weekend, we ran into a local mosque and ended up feeling the most welcome. The kind imam even gave us a Qu’ran, which is ironically nestled in between two Tiger beer bottles in our apartment. Hey, it’s a “bookshelf.”
– Falling down the Malaysian rabbit hole. After almost climbing up to 6500 ft, the 3.5 km uphill jungle trek was completely unguided, rough, and breath-taking. I fell into a mysterious pit of mud and many Hunger Games-esque photoshoots were had. Thankfully, there are always vines to help you up when you fall down.
– The lives of the dear souls who pick up hitchhikers. One Muslim woman was singing along with us to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” Another Malaysian couple picked us up after we had ran in the rain with wild goats and didn’t mind that we were full of jungle filth. Although, I still think this guy is my favourite:
Mom and Dad, I’m so sorry. If it makes you feel any better, we were with a pretty responsible white man (see: second from left).
Okay, on a tour you’ll probably experience “Steamboat,” a Cameron Highlands favourite. It’s basically Asian fondue, with everything from prawns to bean sprouts thrown in the mix. Nothing says “find your soulmate” like yelling across the table, “My little prawn dude only has one eye. Who’s got the other one?!”
Time is warped in Southeast Asia. It’s been two months yesterday that we landed in KL and our internship officially ends on August 17th. That leaves us about two weeks of satisfying our inner Lonely Planet and living out of a backpack before going home. While Francine goes off to her native Phillipines to visit family, Kyla and I have decided to backpack around Thailand and Indonesia. Our friends from California told us about temples, beaches, and one-of-a-kind tailors that can recreate your dream dress for a mere 50 bucks (hello Topshop knock-off. You’re mine, baby).
We’re learning to appreciate the next month and a bit. This includes making music at 12:30 a.m. I think I’ll end this post with a little insight into mine and Kyla’s brains. Yeah, we messed up, but it’s fun and captures sleepy summer days.
Onto the next adventure: being haggard hippies at Sarawak’s Rainforest Music Festival!
Here’s the link to my last column for London Community News, published in late June: http://www.londoncommunitynews.com/2012/06/democracy-isnt-possible-without-free-expression-column/
And there’s some exciting writing news to come… Once the details are worked out, I’ll be collaborating with the Go Overseas team on a Malaysian internship guide. You can find out all the great work they do at: http://www.gooverseas.com/
Upcoming posts in blogland: The William Beckett interview (finally), Sarawak’s Rainforest Music Festival, and KLoset pt. 2