7 Sep 1998 - Kuala Lampur

Kaitlin Duck Sherwood

Well, we are in Malaysia now. Any fears we may have had about connectivity were baseless. I'm at a very nice internet cafe two blocks from our hotel that has 16" monitors, 15 minutes for a buck US, and quite a speedy connection. Germany in '95 wasn't nearly this good.

I'm battling intestinal distress and fatigue. I don't know what I ate, but it sure didn't like me. I slept all afternoon while Jim tried to figure out ways for us to take the "jungle train" - a slow train from the southwest coast to the northeast coast, filled with country folks, their babies, and their chickens. The connections are horrible, and to do it we'd have to get up in the wee wee hours to take a taxi an hour etc etc. It would be gross, and I am NOT feeling up to it.

It's a good thing that the vows said "in sickness and in health", because we've been living the "sickness" part. I, in particular, do not wear the combination of tired, hungry, and sick well, and a few times I've had temper tantrums. (Usually along the form of "I WANT FOOD NOW!!") Jim, sunny Jim, is a dear and weathers that well.

The saying is that travel is broadening; for us it has been narrowing. I have lost between ten and fifteen pounds over six months ago. (And that was before I got the trots.) Some of that loss may have been in the pre-wedding fenzy, but not all. I had to send Jim off to buy me a belt because my pants are so loose. His wedding ring has slipped off twice now.

Malaysia is getting ready for the Commonwealth Games, starting next week. I've heard that they have been spiffing the place up in preparation, and it does look spiffy. It looks even cleaner and shinier than Hong Kong.

It isn't quite true to say, "It could be an American city", but it is close. It is cleaner, the ethnic makeup is clearly different, the clothes are both more colorful and less grungy, there are fewer beards, the driving is a bit less aggressive, they drive on the left, there are more motorscooters, McDonald's delivers, and the buildings have more Islmic arches. But aside from that, there is the same feeling of prosperity, sophistication, and ease with the modern world.

I'm surprised at not feeling odd as an ethnic minority. Yes, I'm way in the minority here, but the people here don't care about me. They have their own lives to deal with; I don't intersect their lives. This is different from Bali, where all the natives seemed to want my life to intersect theirs (or at least my pocketbook to intersect theirs). And Caucasians are not so uncommon that people want to gape or touch my hair.

What does surprise people here - more so than in Bali - is being able to say a few incredibly basic things in Malaysian. Thank you, the numbers, want, walk, see, can, go, buy, sell, yes, no, and hello is about all we can manage, but it still is enough to elicit the, "I didn't know elephants could play the piano!" response.

This is different from in Bali, where people were pleased but not stunned if we said a few basic things. I'm guessing that a) A Caucasian here is as or more likely to be on business than on vacation. Businesspeople tend to fly in one place, then fly out, and have all conversations in English. Tourists are more likely to be interested in the local culture; hence the attempt is more likely in Bali. b) There is an AMAZING amount of English here. We just went to a big department store. It was hard to tell that it wasn't Mervyn's: the signs proclamed "BIG BARGAINS" and even described the merchandise in English ("Boy's briefs 70% off!"). There was a greeting card section where ALL repeat ALL the cards were in English. There was a book section where probably >75% of the books were in English. (Mind you, the clerk didn't speak English well enough for me to get across that I was curious as to why the proportion was so high, and could she explain it.) The taxi driver this morning was speaking English about as well as I speak French, and I minored in French in college.

Yes, Malaysia was a British colony until '57, but Indonesia was Dutch until after WW2, and I didn't see lots of Dutch language books in Bali. Our guidebook says that English is the neutral language here between all the various ethnic groups: a Tamil person will speak to a Chinese person in English instead of Malay. But I figure that a lot of it is American cultural imperialism. Mickey Mouse binders were in the department store. The radio in this cybercafe is playing English songs (and even advertised an American TV sitcom!) Most amazingly, I saw a woman wearing a traditional Muslim outfit -- with a large Tweety Bird on it!

Kaitlin Duck Sherwood