Malaysia, Truly Asia?

To get from Hanoi to India, you can fly through either Bangkok or Kuala Lumpur. I’ve already been to Bangkok several times but have been to Malaysia only once, which made it an easy call. Since I had to book a separate ticket to KL and India anyways, I decided that I’d spend a little time in Malaysia on my way to India. Not to mention that my close friend Nat was going to be there, plus that someone I’d met a few weeks before had offered a place to stay if I ever came to Penang.

So off to Malaysia I went. As my plane left the ground in Vietnam, part of me expected something a little more profound than what actually occurred. I was neither over-excited nor worried; instead I was acutely in the moment and mentally strapping my seatbelt for the ride. But it felt good and right. At last, the plans I’d been laying for the last several months were bearing fruit, and I was off on a new path.

I spent the next three days taking advantage of the amenities of the Shangri La Hotel. I hardly made it a kilometer from the hotel, instead working from the room during the day and running small errands, or spending time at the bar during the night with Nat. Nat is my partner on, and after several months of working via Skype we utilized the time we had together to make some serious progress on the site, which we did. (Expected launch date, early August.)

Nat and I Doing Some Intense Negotiations over Skype

After three days of peace, quiet, luxury, and relaxation, Nat had to fly back to Australia and I to Penang. I had only heard of Penang maybe once or twice prior to booking a ticket there, but I knew I had a place to stay and that it was an island, and that was enough. My host, Sev, was a Canadian I’d met at a party in Hanoi. Engaged to a British chap who is living in Italy, she’s one of the crazier characters I’ve run across, albeit the good kind of crazy.

View from the apartment I stayed at in Penang, Malaysia

On my third night, Sev and I headed to a posh bar in the Batu Feringi area of Penang, which is the rich area of town. The swimming pool was both inside and outside the bar, and was built right next to the beach.

Sunset swim and cocktail in Penang

Swim inside if you want!

In short, Penang was fantastic. The title of this post comes from an ad campaign from “Tourism Malaysia” that is played in the planes when you land is a little bit ubiquitous. I’ve embedded below just to save the extra-curious folks the time, but really don’t watch it. Its just tourism-propaganda bullsh!t.

But Malaysia isn’t really like Asia, atleast the parts of Asia I’ve visited. Granted, I haven’t been to the city-monstrosities in China or Hong Kong, but I have been to Singapore, Thailand, Bangladesh, Laos, Myanmar, and Vietnam, and Malaysia didn’t strike me as typical at all.

Malaysia is not like the Asia I’ve been to because it crosses a threshold when having the kind of amenities you probably take for granted. The streets are clean, drivers courteous, and traffic manageable.

As I said, the people were friendlier than almost any place I’ve ever been to. Friendly in a way that is genuine and also is sincere in not wanting anything in return, which was just so odd. To give you an example, twice at 3:30am I was riding my rented motorcycle back to the apartment after watching the World Cup and got lost. Both times, when I asked someone for directions, they insisted that they escort me the entire way back to make sure I was OK. You may be able to find such help in other Asian countries in the middle of the night, but usually it will come at a price.

Besides working 12 hour days in coffee shops in Georgetown in Penang, on Wednesday I rode 40km to the national forest and took a two-hour hike through the jungle to Monkey Beach. I was intent on seeing some monkeys, but also wanted to make sure I didn’t visit a tropical island and miss the beach. I only saw two monkeys, but at least two is better than zero. Once I made it to the beach, ominous clouds were gathering, so I took a quick swim before hitting the trail in an effort to beat the rains.

Monkey in the Wild on the way to Monkey Beach

Rain threatened my visit to Monkey Beach

After the hike, I packed my stuff before getting in one last work-session at the coffee shop that evening. I returned to the apartment at 1am, said my goodbyes to Sev, and closed my eyes for a few hours. At 5am the next morning, I was in the taxi and finally on my way to India…

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