Thought you lost me there didn’t ya?! Apologies for the long absence. Life got a little nuts since my last post but it’s back to the daily grind again, a whole new kind of grind. I moved into the house, finally, and had to suffer a couple weeks without wifi. What am I, in the Stone Ages?! Anyways, by the time I had a properly functioning internet, our overseas shipment finally arrived and with it came a slew of new things to do. Before we could even say the word “settle”, off we were back to Canada to join in on wedding festivities of loved ones (and to forget for a short while that we just moved to what felt like the middle of nowhere). A whirlwind trip in every sense of the word, it was lovely, but super-charged with so much family/wedding-related excitement, I left feeling a bit sad to have missed out on seeing so many friends. Don’t hate me.. I’ll make up for it next time.
The weeks before the shipment came while I was “roughing” it in the house without much of anything was gray hair-inducing madness. There was so much that needed to be provided/fixed/repaired/removed/changed/cleaned with the house that I seriously just spent that time repeating myself in a series of unsuccessful communications, each time in a louder octave until my throat and brain refused to handle that sort of strain. I had to ultimately submit myself to the realization that the Malay mentality is that of ease, rest, and relaxation – getting things done isn’t really a top priority, unless you learn to hound them until they do what you need them to, so that you can check that off your own list, because being a North American, you ARE ruled by the clock. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about this fact. Here, the concept of to-do lists, agendas, and schedules are obsolete, meanwhile I feel like I can’t function without my lists. Life would be a disaster, how would I even manage to get dressed, shower, and eat without knowing what’s next? Perhaps an unhealthy obsession, but it gets the job done. This difference in mentality ended up making me feel super bossy and even sort of mean, not a feeling I’m used to, but how else was I going to survive, if for example, the air conditioners remained broken?! Also, I tend to ask a lot of questions in general, and doing that here usually results in blank, confused stares. I now ask less questions and just accept that I will never know the “why’s” of a lot of things, nor the ingredients of those crazy colored drinks in huge tubs in roadside food stalls.
Alas, things came together, as they always do, and I quickly saw how genuinely sweet and loving the locals are, which gives me that warm fuzzy feeling. Here are my first impressions of the new digs:
Lizards- Cicak (in Malay), Chipaklee (in Urdu), house geckos, etc. Call it what you want but these creepy crawlers quickly climbed my list of life worries to #1 in about, um, 5 minutes. Before seeing one in my house, I was familiar with them from seeing them around the resort at night.. here’s a pic from the time when seeing a lizard was more of a glamorous foreign occurrence rather than a downright frightening one:
So, these things scared the living daylights out of me. When I saw the first one, a worker immediately removed it. The fun began when everyone left me in the house by myself.. there were 5 all sneakily hiding behind my living room curtains. FIVE! I called the landlord’s son immediately, who rushed over on his motorbike as fast as he could half-grinning at how ridiculous he secretly thought I was being. He caught 7 lizards in total from the house last night. He kept insisting “don’t scare”, saying that they were harmless and if anything, they’re helping me out by eating all of the other creepy crawlers in the house. It wasn’t enough to comfort me, because I did not sleep that night, or the 3 nights after that. I even pulled the covers over my head in the event that one dropped from the ceiling right onto my face, permanently scarring me emotionally for life. What was a girl to do?! I googled. I went on forums and boards where people were saying how much they loved them and how adorable they were. Umm.. send me your address because I can ship you mine, is what I wanted to say. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want them dead. They were free to live full and happy lives just not in my home. These lizards occupied much of my thoughts and even brought me to tears, they even showed up in my dreams. When people asked me how Malaysia was, I would bring up the lizards as a key factor in how I’m adjusting, or not adjusting to life here.
I tried everything – from placing empty egg shells around the house to buying a can of lizard repellent that touts “your way to a lizard free home”. SOLD! It doesn’t kill them, simply creates a surface that’s hard for them to grip on to. I’ll admit.. with each passing day the fear is dying down, they are no longer my #1 problem of life but are stepping down to a #2 or 3. That’s improvement. I don’t know how to explain my fear, but I am not one to scream upon sight of a spider.. I can usually take care of those things like a grownup. But here’s the thing about these guys: their tails pop off. When you try to catch one, they have a mechanism that allows their tail to detach while they stay alive. A twitching popped off tail and half a lizard, too stubborn to leave you the hell alone. Also, they don’t have eyelids – they have to lick their eyeballs to keep them moist. Enough said.
Other moving things- There are monkeys that live in my neighborhood. And snakes. And all sorts of strange multi-legged things I’ve never seen. Oh and beautiful songbirds, roosters, and about 6-7 dogs. Also, for the first time in my life, I was stopped mid-road for a cow crossing. Do you like goats? Here’s a pic:
Sounds- All of the creatures mentioned above are LOUD. I used to associate the night with quiet, but not anymore. The sounds of frogs, crickets, dogs barking and other strange sounds lull me to sleep, while the roosters start their chant at around 3-4am every day. A beautiful sound I love hearing is the Adhan (Muslim call to prayer), five times a day. Here’s a story of a sound I didn’t love: the first night I moved to the house, there was an explosive sound so loud that it set the alarm system off. I screamed and ducked, messaged my landlord frantically and asked her for the number for the police, meanwhile devising escape plans in my head. She messages back saying that they’re just fireworks for upcoming Hari Raya (Eid-ul-Fitr) and always occur during the last week or so of Ramadan. Ahh.. the sweet feeling of relief coupled with a sense of foolishness. During the day, I hear all sorts of unique bird songs and sounds that are completely outside of my realm of experience. The closest thing to this I experienced in my adult life (as I spent the first 3 years of my life in West Africa where my parents tell me these things were part of the fabric of daily life), was on Naka Island, Phuket, Thailand last year where my husband and I stayed in an awesome eco-resort where the sounds of nature were so intense you just had to align yourself with the rhythms of nature.
Naka Island, Phuket, Thailand
General house woes- It seems like the standard of the houses is just drastically different here. Don’t get me wrong, I like our house, it will make a great home for us during this temporary hitch in Malaysia.. but parts of it are just downright creepy/uncomfortable. First of all, there are bars on ALL of the windows in the house. Great for safety but bad for the whole “I feel like I’m in jail” feeling. Also the bathrooms have no divided shower area, it’s just a bathroom that has a shower head in the corner. This seems to be common in many parts of the world but I am one who hates the feeling of a wet bathroom floor, and now there is no escaping it. A positive twist to this is that the bathrooms can serve secondary functions as swimming pools? More of a beach, actually, since every time the floors get wet, concrete residue comes off, giving you that good ol’ gritty sand in your toes feeling. The kitchen is my biggest house woe – there is absolutely no pantry space! Seriously people, where do you store all of your stuff?! I had to ask for both a hutch and shelves and still many of my things remain both unpacked and unused due to voltage incompatibilities. I’m being a Negative Nancy so let me tell you what I love: the big gated area surrounding the house, which includes an awesome clothes drying line, and soon a hammock. Oh and the fact that I have a gate I can open and close with the push of a button. That makes me feel cool.
Food- So I have to somewhat adjust the way I cook here, and most of these changes are truly for the better. I think the lack of pantry space highlights a greater trend of people just using fresh ingredients from the markets to create their meals. Not much of that canned/frozen stuff. I’ve also learned from many locals that people enjoy eating out here more than cooking at home, which solves the mystery of why there are random women who just set up shop anywhere they can, the side of the road or in front of their homes, and sell home-cooked Malay food. Around the end of the work days, I notice people on their motorbikes carrying brightly colored bags filled with containers of food home for their families. Interesting indeed, but I prefer to cook at home. My options are endless when it comes to cooking with fresh ingredients. The markets are phenomenal and I haven’t even been to all of them. There are fruits and vegetables I’ve never even seen or heard of, and I’m starting this new thing where I’ll just buy random produce and later try to figure out what it is.. after I eat it. With the help of Google, of course. (sidenote: I make too much reference to Google). I also find myself standing awkwardly in produce aisles of the supermarkets internet searching all of the different names to figure out what that is.. how am I to know that KungKlang is water spinach?
Despite the amazing availability of produce, I am disappointed at how much sugar is in pretty much every bottled drink and snack item. So.. I bought a juicer! I figured it’s not right for me to live in a place like this without one, and like every new juicer-user out there, I am going crazy on it, realizing that one day it will join the rest of the sad, neglected kitchen appliances once the honeymoon period is over.
Kemaman is sort of cool- Despite my somewhat negative first impressions of the city, I have to say that Kemaman is kind of cool. My husband and I went on the fireflies watching boat tour down the Yak Yah River which was absolutely magical, even though the fireflies were only at 60% in that month. Stars above, fireflies lining both sides of the river, and reflections in the water. I loved it, and brought me back to my early childhood when we used to catch fireflies as an evening activity. Also, did you know that this river is the best place in all of Malaysia, and one of the best in Southeast Asia to see fireflies? We also saw adorable monkeys sleeping in trees via flashlight, and a prawn fisherman hard at work wading through murky waters near mongrove trees at night catching his prey. Despite the anxious start to the night, it ended up being a fantastic experience. I say anxious because the whole setup was just plain sketchy. I called a dude to sign up for this, and he basically asked us to meet him at some dark middle-of-nowhere junction by a creepy looking river, and to get into an equally questionable looking boat all via flashlight communication. And we all know what a flashlight does to your face! Ghost stories, anyone?! This dude was pretty awesome though and he even takes people on jungle treks in the area. Sign us up!
The Kemaman night market is also a pretty lively place where there’s quite a collection of local goods, along with fake brand name goods, and of course, FOOD. Is any outdoor market really complete without knock-offs? The whole atmosphere was nice, but as far as night markets go, my favorite was in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Of course, Kemaman is a small town and I’ve only explored one of the many night markets that go up in the area. I have to say, the idea of a night market makes me happy. It’s too hot during the day to wander around and there’s a special feeling at night, a sense of togetherness of people uniting over something so casual yet ritualistic as eating Malaysian fried donuts by street corners and buying fake Gucci bags under a starlit sky.
Yesterday was pretty momentous – I drove to town for the first time. It was terrifying, but I expected it to be. There is no concept of following road rules, waiting your turn, and indicating where you will turn – you feel like cutting that guy off? Just do it. No one will honk, because they just made that same move. Getting used to that is one thing, but then there’s the whole driving on the opposite side of the road thing. So, when I want to indicate a left turn, I usually put the windshield vipers on full. That said, I am slowly getting the hang of it. This doesn’t necessarily make Kemaman cool, by the way. I just felt it needed to be acknowledged.
That’s it for now!
Annie (& the Lizards)