Autumn is hands-down my favorite season. As a student, I loved how the season signified the beginning of a fresh academic start and brand new back-to-school supplies (yes, I was a bit of a nerd). In more recent years, I always looked forward to busting out my fall boots and joining in on the whole bandwagon of pumpkin-obsession. I went a little overboard last year back in Canada, where I was making a new pumpkin recipe on the hour it seemed: from lattes, to soups and curries, to baked goods, to almost slathering it on my face and hair as a “mask” for no legitimate, proven reason. A little crazy, but it was almost as though I subconsciously knew that it would be my last autumn season for a few years so I went all out.
Only in the Fall: Zombie Walk
St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada – October 2012
This year, however, I am experiencing absolute zero signs of my favorite season and while I miss it, I’m not shedding any tears over it. Being close to the equator, there are two seasons here: dry and wet. As we’re nearing the end of the dry season, monsoon season is now upon us which means it will basically just rain straight for a few months and then back to dry again. All the while, the weather will more or less stay put in all of it’s humid, tropical glory. This means that while much of my family and friends will be throwing salt on their driveways, dealing with frostbite, shoveling snow, and wrapping their scarves a little tighter, we will be lounging on our nice blue hammock that my husband got from Venezuela years ago and finally was able to put into use. Jealous much? I don’t blame you, I would be too. As much as I adore my home country, I am thankful for a break from the miserable winter months I have suffered through the majority of my life, so yes, I will be staying put on this side of the globe until at least the first birdsong of Spring is heard. If I happen to miss snow this year, I will drive my car to the nearest “snow wash” station, which is basically just an old school car wash that uses water and foam (not snow), but I can’t help but smile every time I drive by signs that wrongfully promise that my car will be washed with buckets of snow. Anyway, to create a bit of that Fall feeling, I went and bought a pumpkin and made some of my go-to pumpkin recipes – a seemingly small act that somehow brought a sense of familiar comfort and connection to the things I loved and now miss.
While Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia, boasts a vibrant fine arts scene, complete with artsy cafes, hangouts and bistros, the east coast is lacking in this regard. In the province of Terengganu, there isn’t much in the way of dining variety outside of the local Malay and Chinese restaurants, with some others scattered about, all being quite predictable in their similarity to one another. However, driving 1 hour to the city of Kuantan in the neighboring province of Pahang, can bring you to a lovely little art bistro/cafe by the name of Tjantek Art Bistro. I happened to luckily come across it online, but wasn’t fully convinced of it’s artsy vibes until setting foot there myself.
The bistro offers a “Western” menu, which compared to most places that claim to serve “authentic Western” food, was actually edible to the point of enjoyment. The fruit juices were also fresh and sugar-free (actually a big deal, as most places will add needless spoonfuls of sugar in their juices, which might explain why Malaysians have some of the highest diabetes rates in the world).
Housed in a post-war era shop house that retains all of its character and charm, what I loved most about the place, not surprisingly, was all of the art placed on the walls and placed into obscure nooks and crannies. The owner, I found out, is a practicing artist and actually paints in his artist studio upstairs. For a city filled with restaurants and eateries that don’t vary much in terms of what they have to offer, this place is revolutionary! The bistro is also no stranger to ambiance: jazz music, dim lighting, bookshelves filled with books on art history and travel – I could literally live here.
The moral of the story is that I’m beginning to take back what I said in my post titled “On Home” where I made the bold assumption that living in Kemaman will never quite cut it to being “home”. Although I will always feel like an outsider here in general, that doesn’t mean I won’t find belonging in the little things, I’ve come to realize. The last month has been paramount for me in terms of the new friends I’ve made with other expat spouses and partners who are all from a different part of the world, creating a lovely new mix of cultures I can learn from and find support in. Finding places like Tjantek Art Bistro meant so much more to me than other similar places I’ve discovered and enjoyed over my life, because in this particular moment in time, I needed this. I needed the familiarity of it, the sense of belonging, and perhaps it was simply the mere presence of artwork that felt like so grounding for me. After several months of feeling like a hopeless, homesick nomad, I’m feeling like myself again, in fact maybe even a bit better. I believe there is a change that occurs for most people when you are stripped of all of your familiar surroundings and comforts and forced to adapt to a whole new way of life, be it a small change or big, but more on that later, seeing as I’ve only just begun.