lost in diversity in Malaysia
nasi lemak, bowling and Messi
It’s 9.30 pm. I am on a ferry. There are beds on this ferry.
I am trying to sleep for a couple of hours. Someone is shouting in my face. We arrived. They put me in a minivan in the middle of the night. Is this a military operation? After 21 hours, I am arriving in Penang, Malaysia, saying goodbye to Thailand. There is a problem though, I don’t have any accommodation. Everything is booked out due to a marathon tomorrow. Great. I am desperately talking to ho(s)tels in the town. After 10 trials, I gave up. I am tired and hungry. I have 3 backpacks on my shoulders. It’s 7.30 pm and I don’t know where to sleep tonight.
Checking my watch again. It’s 9.30 pm. I am sitting in a Mercedes in the front seat. The Malay-Chinese driver is telling me how his mother pushes him to find another job. He tells me that he was recently fired. He is showing me around. He was born in Penang, lived in Penang, and probably will die in Penang. He loves this place. After a short ride, we are going to his apartment. He is giving me clean sheets. No, he will not steal my kidney and sell it to the Chinese mafia (I hope). I found him on Couchsurfing 1 hour ago. I opened the app and texted some people after the big failure of my hotel search. It’s been 4-5 years since my last Couchsurfing experience in Munich. But, here we are. Thank you, Alfred. Thank you for saving my first night.
Selamun aleykum. I had a tough start in Malaysia. Currently, I am in Borneo and waiting for my flight to Singapore. I have been in Malaysia for 3 weeks and today is new year’s eve. Hurrah! Happy new year everyone. This is the current map of my journey.
The first thing I realized in Penang was the remarkable Chinese culture. I would never guess the number of Chinese people in Malaysia. They have a strong presence in each country I visited in Southeast Asia, mainly because of the migration in the 20th century.
Whenever I talked to a Chinese person, young or old, they were always well-educated, open-minded, and friendly. It was a stark contrast to the perception of mainland Chinese people in the media.
In addition to Chinese, Indian culture is present and together with the Malays, these 3 groups create an immersive diversity. My biggest problem was choosing a cuisine for each meal. (first-world problems)
I started my second day in Penang in a morning market. After a short walk, I am eating my shrimp noodle with an iced coffee. On the one hand, my mind is trying to map this new world with what I see, hear, and smell. On the other hand, I am trying to understand the gossip between two beautiful Chinese ladies. I am totally awake.
I continue by walking in the streets. In each neighborhood, I find a different culture. I try their snacks, read their history, and watch people.
It’s only the afternoon and I am introduced to 3 different cultures and one new city. When you travel, you remember how long a day can be.
Then I met a Malay girl from Sarawak. She invites me to a bowling game. Suddenly, I found myself in a bowling saloon with her expat friends. There are 2 British guys and of course, after the game, we go for a drink. I am listening to Chinese karaoke while eating my 3rd noodle today. The last thing I remember is getting a lap dance from the bartender.
After a short stop in Cameron Highlands to recover from intense days in Penang, I am in the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur. Oh boy, KL is completely different. I can’t walk in this city because of the car-centric urban planning and the diversity is a bit lost, this is definitely a Muslim city. I am a bit disappointed after Penang. How long should I stay in this city? Expats actually like KL because you have west and east, modern and traditional in one place.
I can’t help finding similarities between Turkey and Muslim Malaysia. Restrictive religion and social pressure make people unhappy, most women wear a headscarf, and a highly corrupted government tries to oppress minorities. One expat said that the government cut off the electricity in one election to change the votes. Hahaha. It is not all bad. People are friendly and intimate and you feel you can do everything in this country.
Malay cuisine is also fascinating. At its core, there are rice and curry dishes with different spices. Chicken and fish are the main characters. But sometimes you find them together in the same dish. Famous Nasi Lemak consists of rice, salted fish, spicy chicken, and nuts. Small restaurants usually serve an open buffet with various protein dishes.
And there is Durian, the fruit that smells like hell but tastes like heaven.
On my last night in KL, I am going on a date with a Japanese woman. In the middle of the date, we realized that that night was the night of the world cup final. Suddenly, all streets turn into a carnival, everyone is supporting Argentina. We live and die together through the game but in the end, football pays its debt and gives Messi a world cup.
Despite all its drawbacks, it is hard to turn one’s face to cities. All it matters is people and cities attract all these different people. Malaysia gathers different cultures and provides a stunning experience for its dwellers and travelers.
Oh god, I love traveling.
Happy new year and see you soon.