A journey of Malaysia

Initially, I welcomed my girlfriend at Penang’s airport with Grab at dial. This was after roughly 2 months apart, which, for us, is a relative short period. Bearing smiles we had tread into our apartment and embraced our new, temporary home to give that ‘living together’, something we hardly got due to distance, a solid try. For weeks, we did our things together within the same confined space and took care of the daily necessities. We weren’t on an exotic island nor in a bubbly city, but a simple, regular town. Some eateries near, a supermarket a walk away and a mall within few arms length away. But that was it. We weren’t together under the guise of explosive passion and riveting experiences that peaked our adrenaline possibly clouding over what is a love existing purely because of the adventures. It is scary to think of, but it’s a possibility undeniable. However, living a regular life, though no day with this Filipina seems to be regular, has left me with nothing more but a longing. A longing of more dull evenings spent planning the coming day’s groceries or munching the local snacks during a binge-session. There is something about a soulmate that simply beats the wandering life in all possible ways – though it doesn’t mean the end of its spirit.

For those reasons, when the final days came peeking around the corner, I felt a bit empty and sad to bid farewell to our apartment – though I’d be back for few lonesome nights later on – as we headed towards Kuala Lumpur for a weekend trip afore her flight. She was heading back to the archipelago for a wedding and we turned it into a fun trip. We got to burn our palette on spicy Indian before pushing through the humid heat to find our tiny hotel located in the corresponding part of town consisting of Indians. Now, as we were camped at the planned-to-detail perfect spot in town, for both getting around and an early exit to the airport, I had the perfect chance to make up for my last trip. On this side of Malaysia, the peninsula, I can confidently say that I have explored most of it. However it was the capital with its thick air and loud engines where I wasted little time and today we’d make amends. So, with an eye on the time, we rode the bus to the batu caves following the footsteps off all preceding tourists. We ambled up the stairs and back down to head into town as a darkened sky became the black blanket over us. Indubitably, as it was my love’s first visit, I guided her to admire the Petronas twin towers and take a swift shot whilst passing all the salesmen wielding lenses. Against the night sky’s black palette, the two towers stood magnificent and bright and precisely as I remembered.

That night, we squeezed one another extra tight. Because come morning, we rushed to the airport where we kissed goodbye once more. However, this time around it was a kiss less morose and leaning towards excitement. A wedding attendance for her would soon follow by a rejoice in Bangkok. But first, it was a man’s night out and the perfect town for it was miraculous Malacca. And what makes Malacca such a wonderful town is the same reason Malaysia gets all my appraisals; the ambience and the people. For they are the opposite of Butterworth – no offence. The moment I wandered back in the familiar streets amidst many a tourist and local all I faced were genuine and affectionate smiles and waves and greetings. Sitting at a diner for lunch, a local Chinese couple joins my table and soon we converse away before they paid for my meal. Waiters and waitresses carried broad smiles without the intention of a possible tip nor to come across professional. People here were loving and warm. Genuine. Transforming this historic town into a place where everyone can feel at home.

Though my return here was not for this reason. It was a cold brewski with an old friend of mine that called my name. And though I had been sorrowful that my preferred bar had changed owners and no longer carried the same homey feel with a push of interaction with others, for the short time it lasted it felt delightful to sip the same beer in the same old chair where my buttocks had left a print over a year aforetime. This with a guy responsible of a friendship that led me to Pakistan and a mind full of riveting tales on the island of Langkawi. A guy I gladly call a friend and if any, one of a lifetime long. I hope by now, at the time of writing, my fellow LDR-er has had the chance to go abroad just like I did.

Overall, my second time in Malaysia had been completely different. I stayed somewhere unknown and mainly visited the known. Introducing Kath to places I had been, people I had befriended and generally what I loved about the country. New places had been explored, however it wasn’t done in a traveller’s attitude, but one that resembles a weekend trip to the next town or a drive to the park. It felt more comfortable. Thank you Malaysia for allowing me diverse experiences.

The day our taste buds suffered

Though most of my praising of Malaysia is aimed at its cuisine, they don’t excel at all dishes and since my words of appraisal hardly suffice, I decided to go the opposite direction with a glance in their world of Western food. On this side of the world, ordering anything other than rice such as the well-known delight that is bun and patty is like partaking in a game of roulette whilst in Russia. Whether the chamber is empty and you’re safe to go is an absolute bet and the same goes here.

Portraying the scenario, my love and I had a wander in search for a night-market that due to a festive day was nowhere to be found. With a creeping darkness and a howling stomach, the two craved for a meal and rather fast. Then, as a beacon, a sign with neon-light beamed ‘Papa Rogers’ and it exclaimed the presence of burgers. I have a tendency to gobble them away during my travelling endeavours, rather than during my time home, however without loss of face I pranced inside and swiftly ordered the two biggest and fattest – pardon the overstatement – burgers they owned.

As swiftly that I had ordered, the actual preparing of our meal, despite the place being abandoned aside from us and a group of four, took an eternity. An hour, said with a hint of sugarcoating, dragged by as our already starving stomachs continued to be tormented before a waiter trotted our way with indeed two fat and big hamburgers. The first and second bite was absolutely amazing and it tasted far more heavenly than any meal I had had. Then, my tongue and its taste-buds began to suspect foul play from a crying tummy capable of satisfying its hunger with a month-old, mouldy cow’s tongue. I was drowning in sauces, some of which don’t even belong on a bun. A load of spicy topped with a funky, sweetish sauce that was squeezed onto it a bit too long. Then to top up, a fury of ketchup was rained down upon it. I opened my eyes and witnessed the horror done upon a magnificent patty. Because the sad part was, when I attempted in removing some of the saucy river, I came eye-in-eye with an exemplary piece of meat that would have been excellent served in any other way. Even the bread, weak, soggy and somehow still dry, had been an utter disappointment. Perhaps their tactic was to leave a customer starving so that it will finish the meal no matter what and it had worked as we both, lamentably, did. A taste smouldering in our mouths hours after remained one unforgettable .

Even when loud and clear regarding the desire of less sauce between buns, in Malaysia, they oft douse their burgers to an extend of ruining it. But, in general it is hard to find great ones all over South-East Asia or any Western food for that matter, as it is incontestably not their suit. Which is fine, that’s why I and many others come here, to experience everything that they do exceed in and they outshine in plenty others. Nonetheless, at times this unhealthy indulgent reaches a peak craving after days of non-stop rice and then to find exemptions such as The Black Apartment, Five Loaves burgers and so on, was a welcomed treat. But finding them in Malaysia was a scarcity and this was one of many sad moments.

Which is a secret unhealthy craving you turn to when travelling? Or do you stick to full healthy meals?

Our home away

Passing the friendly guards, you’d head to the right to curve around the main building and into the second with the big letter ‘B’. An elevator ride later and you find yourself on the fifteenth floor, from which you can see the distant wavy water bouncing towards the island. Coinciding, that same wind causing the mesmerising waves whooshes through the wide gaps of the building singing its song. During storms and huge downfalls it becomes an event more daunting, bringing the whole place to a shake. Heretofore, the monsoons had turned the hallways into a river resulting in the flooding and destruction of the elevators. Due to poor management, this could last months, but fortunately, we hardly felt affected by the weather or the indolent management. At least not to such extreme extent.

At the fifth door going left, you’d pause, enter a code and then step into the humble abode. On your immediate left is a kitchen, straight is an incredibly spacious living room and to the right is the bathroom connected to the bedroom – which then again leads back to the living room. At the opposite end of the entrance is the glass slide door keeping out the humid heat. As you exit through the slide, standing on the balcony, you could lean over and watch the other inhabitants of the complex do their laps of swimming or you’d gaze further and watch a group of young children outside of the premises indulge in a game of football. Perhaps you can take a peak of the top floor of the ‘A’ building, reachable by going to the fifth floor where the swimming pool is stationed and crossing to the other side where another set of elevators awaits you. Flying up, you find a small gym. Personally, I do not partake in going to the gym – too many people. I have purchased my own minuscule set-up which, obviously, remained in the Netherlands. With that, I felt in luck with this, compared to mine, luxurious yet relative idle gym that was also within close enough vicinity. I even managed to make friends during the time span of my sessions. The only downside was the dress-code I at home wouldn’t abide by – shoes and shirt. That, and the downstairs neighbour stealing the machine’s pins turning it into a ‘Bring your own make-shift pin’-gym.

Mere a minute’s walk away awaits a haven of basic stalls seemingly coated with health code violations, however, upon close inspection, you find yourself in a wander in a heaven of foods. Uncostly meals ready in a whiff, once again served with the sweetest of smiles and with a taste uncanny bearing resemblance to the most lavish meal consumed. Except for the part where the pricey meal in the fancy restaurant with a table clothed and chairs comfortable was nothing but a disappointment and disgrace and the second the feared barrier of comfort was crossed, Utopia was found. Sitting on the wobbly, plastic chair, time after time they manage to wow you. Every food court is the same with every plate being the very picture of the previous ones, yet all tasted completely different. Finding the ones to cherish, you are in a state of absolute bliss, but the Chinese and Malay courts are not the only ones where the Nirvana of food rests, as a couple of minutes further up the road is a 24/7 Indian restaurant that spits out constant ravishing and extraterrestrial delights that had me and my missus gorging away as if our lives depended on it. I can type and type but the love I bear for half the feasts indulged in during my accumulated months on the peninsula remains indescribable and unending.

When not capable of beating the heat or simply aiming for a place further, the taxi-company Grab, the Uber of Asia, would at a bargain drive us anywhere we desired. Taking us to the nearby harbour for some sad pennies to cross for a day or hang out at the air-conditioned mall where we’d watch a movie. Go to a recommended restaurant some kilometres away or to further-away attractions, you name it, Grab is at your service.

All with all, this was perfect. The time spent there can’t be taken away. The morning toast with eggs as remembrance to my European roots, though the bread was an incompetent version, followed by daily eat-outs. All the while, we combined enjoying life and love together, going to the gym and for her working online whilst I did my courses. We both concurred that Malaysia would make a wonderful home.

Malaysia; The credit it deserves

If only I had burned out some months before and Malaysia would have gotten more credit. But no, my burnout peaked after a late post on the Philippines and with that, Malaysia was already in the past. Three whole months wrapped up in a single blog post. Was it a country so dull then? Is it lacking of enticing tales? Neh, unfortunately my creativity was what was dull and lacking. All that was written had been a story of hitchhiking, as I could not imagine a story involving anything other than the unusual. In my mind, no memory performed well when written, however that mindset has changed and the answer to the question on Malaysia: No. Malaysia was everything I could wish it to be. Hence the time spent there. Hence the return to it. Strangely enough however, when asked what to visit, though there are many allurements, I was shockingly speechless. Nothing stood out intensely to the liking of mesmerising beaches, snorkelling with whale-sharks, lonesome islands boasting their flora and so on. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot about Malaysia that is breathtaking, picturesque, impressive and on. Some of the most incredible sunsets took place there, the Petronas stand tall and mighty, Cameroon Highlands provides a charming view of the world of tea and towns like Malacca and Georgetown offer architecture, art and history that is more than fascinating. But, what it comes down to, it’s not what I reminisce about when afar and definitely not the reason I returned.

The appeal to this peninsula lays in the resemblance of being home. A home that is away. It’s the homey feeling that made me initially extend my stay and book a ticket after draining jobs and a growing longing for my love. The locals and their amazing cuisine do their part by welcoming each and every person setting foot on Malaysian soil. A dish served with a smile is their motto. At least, I dare to think so. Everywhere you go, smiles are granted and dishes are to delight. For these reasons, it made only sense to this time around stay put in one place and coat the insides of an apartment with our precious belongings. Incontestably it was not at the throw of a dart, as our residence came with a planned view of the nearby harbour perpetually hauling its passengers for few dimes and pennies from side to side. That other side was Georgetown, Penang, where I knew the streets like my hometown. With a place so familiar and filled with comfort for me a boat-ride away, I felt valorous enough to dive into an unknown town by the name of Butterworth to unpack our backpacks.

The haul there had been long; as a lonesome trailblazer I initiated the journey from the airport in the Netherlands. A foreshadowing terror when I was denied at check-in, lacking an exit-ticket not requested or asked for last time, resulted in a 20 or so minutes back and forth messages and exchanging information with Kath ending in a booked bus proving exit from Malaysia. Delightful. From there on, the saunter to my gate went surprisingly effortless and before I knew it, the sleepless flight had started.

After an endless voyage, the wheels of the – second – plane finally graced the runway and with a squealing sound the arrival was announced. It was a late afternoon and I knew I had two options at this point: One, I depart the airport in search of a cheap hostel, stay there a night resting in the comfort of a soft bed and then during twilight scurry off to the town of destination. Two, head to the bus straight away, taking on an immediate six-hour drive in the hope I get to rest and arrive in the dead of the night to only wait until the hour grows at an acceptable stance for calling someone awake. Those that know me well enough will know I opted for the second choice.

And these same people will know my exact luck coming in the shape of a night’s visit from Insomnia. For reasons unknown, this devil’s terror only appears at worst timings and such was this bus ride after an already lacking of sleep. The air-condition was on, and though I praise the lords when the first breeze of cool air gently strikes my skin, hours in I had regret the sweater still recessing inside my backpack as now the bundles of hair on my arms had risen into a goose-bump and my body occasionally shivered. Once we arrived, wistfully precise by clock, the night had struck and the town was asleep. As the apartment would officially be under my name by afternoon, I felt it unfair to waken the owner on the night before and therefore I watched the hours pass inside the harbour’s cooled building and even managed to sneak in a tiny, awkward nap. Then, delirious on a growing hunger and need for sleep, I contacted the pick-up and within the hour I stood inside the spacious room. With a stomach expected to remain satiated and restrain from protesting on a single meal doused with the wrong spices taken half a day ago, I hadn’t felt the greatest. But, to be back on known land under these rough traveller’s conditions with mere days separated between me and my love, the feeling of bliss overshadowed the wailing body and after quenching my thirst by hosing a glass of water down my throat and gorging on a snack of dry cereal, I waddled to my bed carrying a smile. It feels great to be home.