Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I have arrived in Malaysia. Currently I am on the island of Penang, otherwise known as the Jewel of the Orient. Formerly a colony of Britain, the island is now invaded by hordes of Europeans coming for sunshine and white sand splashed with gentle surf, both of which can be found in abundance. This place seems much different from the hectic environs of Bangkok, although I have had precious little time in either location thus far. Here is a distinction that stands out in my mind between the two: I took a cab to the airport yesterday. The driver was keen to mention that I should put on my seatbelt. In hind sight this should have been a warning. Once the road opened up, the driver did too, giving me what was hands down the most harrowing cab ride of my life. He made sure to point out at one point that we were traveling in excess of 140 km per hour. This is in contrast to most people around us doing 80 or so. And nearly every cab I was in had similar experiences associated with it. In contrast, the ride from the airport here in Penang was serene and mellow, so much so that I was able to gawk at the monkeys I saw hanging out on a road sign. Thats not to say the cabbies can't be reckless here, but the general mood of the place just feels more relaxed. Perhaps this is because we are on a tropical island. Or maybe it has something to do with the rigor imposed Islam. For Malaysia is a country that is governed under the auspices of the Koran. The reality of this struck me as I disembarked from the plane to find women in headdresses, and some even in full burka. The point was further driven home as I lay on my bed, resting in the AC of the room while the evening call to prayer from the mosque behind me wrapped everything in somber tones, and the dark banter of roosting crows filled in the gaps with eerie and forlorn tension. Clearly I am in a foreign land. An austere version of paradise. But no less beautiful for it, with friendly people and cold beer (despite its ontradiction to the Koran).