It’s about halftime for our one-year family journey to Malaysia, so I figured I’d do a quick post about the things I love most about this place, its people and the time we’ve spent here. Later on I’ll do a follow-up about the things I like least, along with the techniques we’ve used to circumnavigate or learn to accept them. But for now…
- The Food (Oh God, the Food!)
Let me put it this way. When word trickled out in the Pacific Northwest writing community that I was moving to Malaysia, I received phone calls from three food and travel writers who excitedly told me how much I would love the food here. They were right. It’s an eclectic mix of Thai, Chinese and Indian influences with a few dishes all their own. Between the flavor and the price, I’m probably going to spend time at home mad about how bland and expensive the ethnic food is.
- Smiles Everywhere
Despite a lot of poverty, people are friendly and laid back here. Friendly greetings, shared laughter and a general sense of “Isn’t all of this fun, even the messed up parts?” are just how folks interact. Part of it is probably a veneer of civility laid over an area where multiple cultures live in enclaves but interact daily, but overall folks are friendly and mellow. It’s nice.
- Everybody Dresses Like Me
My penchant for casual dress actually embarrasses some of my friends when we’re out in public together. Unless I’m “on duty” you’ll find me in ancient jeans or shorts and a t-shirt I probably got as part of my registration for some kind of sporting event. I wear sandals whenever I can get away with it. In Malaysia everybody dresses exactly the same way. Fashion-wise, the mother ship has called me home.
- Family Connections
At home, my family is deeply connected to a complex web of family that includes blood kin, marital bonds, adoption and friendships. Our home includes two adults who aren’t part of the nuclear family. I love that, and would think living long-term apart from it a deep poverty. But a year of just the four of us in the crucible of travel and expatriatism has taught me much about how I’m doing well and poorly as a father and husband. It’s a growth opportunity I hadn’t anticipated and am grateful for.
- Bonus Holidays
Melaka has a deeply mixed population of Indian, Chinese, Malay, Western and Arabic people all of whom remain vibrantly proud of their ethnic heritage. One result of this is they all celebrate their traditional and religious holidays. It seems not a week goes by that some kind of festival, street theater or party doesn’t happen someplace in this city. My lovely and talented wife expressed this best, when she looked out our bedroom window and said “Fireworks? Must be a Tuesday.”
- Celebrity Status
When you’re a Westerner in a friendly Asian nation, you get a lot of positive attention. People come up and talk to you, try to give you free drinks, go out of their way to be kind to your children or help you when you get lost. (You will get lost). Some day I’ll be enlightened and mature enough that I don’t enjoy this for its own sake. Today is not that day.
- Location, Location, Location
One problem with living in the United States is it’s hard to get anywhere else. Besides visiting tropical jungles and gorgeous beaches and nifty historical sites and religious festivals right here in Malaysia, our travel history and immediate plans include trips to Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Korea and Japan. It’s hard to do that in Oregon, and we don’t plan to squander the opportunity.
- It’s Really Cheap
You pay the same number for most things here. A bottle of Coke costs between 2 and 3 units of currency. A hotel room for a family between 100 and 200. A casual meal for four between 50 and 100. But Malaysian Ringgit are a little under 1/3 the value of a USD. We had a perfect Indian meal for our family, including a teenaged boy, for fifteen bucks and I just booked flights the rough equivalent of Seattle to Portland for the rough equivalent of 30 bucks each. It makes adventures feasible.
*Editor’s note — the meal included feeding a teenaged boy. We did not eat a teenaged boy.
- The Weather
It can be crushingly hot at times, but overall the weather here helps me understand why people from England showed up and decided to stay. About 70 degrees with a breeze off the ocean most days, and in the summer we get thunderstorms like God’s own fireworks. Even the rain is great. It falls with vigor and authority, washing the air of pollution and heat, then it’s gone.
- Cultural Awesomeness
My average morning walk passes street food of four different kinds, signs in three scripts and five languages, and four different kinds of religious building. The opportunities to learn from and about different parts of the world, and about ourselves and America from our reflection in what we learn, is why we came out here in the first place. Those opportunities have been daily, surprising and an absolute joy.