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September   October Continues  More Ramblings

October 4, 2000:

After five days in a car cruising around peninsular Malaysia I have a greater respect for the people who live there. It's quite funny to hear from the Malays in Penang that they've never seen the eastern side of their country because it's "Too far. Very far." But 1500 kilometers didn't seem too far for the three of us. Bruce, Ric and myself jumped into Bruce's Proton, the Malaysian car of choice (note the sarcasm), and headed east. Our initial plan was to drive along the coast and then head into the interior to the wild rain forest of Taman Negara, Malaysia's huge wildlife preserve, home to some of Malaysia's indigenous people, the Orang Asli tribe.

We hit the coast after half a day on the road; little fishing villages hugging the shores, soccer pitches stuck in the sand. Unlike Penang, Kuala Lumpur, the west coast, the east coast is primarily Malaysian. Very few Chinese or Indians inhabit the east coast. Additionally, when we stopped for lunch, we discovered that not too many of the Malays there spoke much English either. After some smiles, te tarik and tom yam aiyam, pulled tea and Thai seasoned chicken, we were on our way.

The east coast Malays are a friendly bunch. Time doesn't seem to move too slow or too fast for them. Our fist morning on the coast we decided we take a walk before hitting the road; we ended up, five hours later, freshly showered after battling nearly a dozen 10-year-old Malaysian boys in a game of soccer. The pitch was set up neatly in the sand off the beach and the rain swept through in the first couple of minutes significantly cooling down the humid heat. Being a woman it was great to see that these little men had no problems playing with me, or tackling me for that matter. My team was beaten fair and square and I watched the whole group, Bruce and Ric included, run off into the sea for a post-game cool down.

The three of us drove the rest of the day on our way to the jungle. Taman Negara is a huge 43 sq kilometer park where you cruise nearly three hours by river boat to reach park headquarters. The river is dirty brown, a silty mess that lets the mind wonder as to its contents. High jungle surrounds each side and at the small village itself the Muslim call to prayer and the laughter of kids in school are the only sounds which break the ever present jungle noise. They say there are tigers and elephants, monkeys and snakes in the park but, unfortunately the only one of these I saw was a six-foot long, black killer snake. Ric and I were coming back from a little walk and happened upon a huge rubber tree strewn with vines. I ducked under a big branch to take a closer look at the bark when the snake up and jumped (slithered) away into the underbrush. "Did you...?" I mumbled trying to pop my eyes back into my head. Shortly a park ranger came by and asked what we were looking for. "Snake?" "U-huh." "Big?" U-huh." "Black." I said and added, "Poisonous?" "Probably." He answered and walked away.

But besides the few leeches that attacked both Bruce and Ric (but left me out of it) we were left to ourselves. Due to the rain and our time schedule we weren't able to visit the native Malaysians. We took the afternoon boat back down the river and hit the road back to Penang.

 October 9, 2000:

Sometimes you have to be content not knowing the answer to things, not knowing the rules. I'm still here in Penang waiting for that fated credit card to show up(from when I smoothly had my wallet borrowed in Melaka over two-weeks ago). My friend Ric and I decided that for lunch yesterday we'd go hit the hawker stands -- a hawker stand being a small, outdoor cart that serves any sort of Malaysian, Thai, Chinese or Indian food imaginable. We walked around looking at all the little stalls, picked out a few that we thought looked good waited in front of one for a few minutes for someone to come and take our order. "I don't think we're doing this right." I said. Ric nodded. So we walked to another stall and waited for another few minutes. "No, neither do I." Said Ric. We sat down at a table and watched all the Malaysians slurp hungrily at the piles of food on their tables. After five more minutes of observation Ric and I caught the glance of one of the servers. "Soup?" We asked. The man smiled. "And... Let's see. What else do you have?" At this the fellow breathed deeply before rattling off more than a dozen different dishes in Chinese. And at what must have been halfway through his list he stopped, noting that we had no idea what he was saying, and motioned that I follow him. Picking our way between tables and chairs we arrived at the hawker stand at the back of the row. Full of people and cooking food this stall was obviously where all the lunches were coming from. He pointed and I nodded, pointed again, I nodded. When I came back to the table, "What are we having?" Ric asked, I could only answer, "Food. Noodle food, fish food and a vegetable food."

The food came and of course it was incredible. While we inhaled we noticed that all the other eaters were munching on the same fare. "It's so frustrating not to know how things work." Said Ric. "Do we pay here or do we go up to a counter somewhere? I don't know."

We ended up paying at the table, a woman we had yet to see came up with the tab in her hand and we gave her the amount of Malaysian ringets written on the slip. With a little patience, and friendly help, we figured it out. That seems to happen often to me in my life (god knows it happens all the time on this trip), I get impatient and feel guilty for not knowing the correct way of doing things, the natural way that things work for each particular region and culture. It's like my credit card, I have no idea where it is, and I have no idea what would be the best way to facilitate its speediest arrival. I must have spent an hour on the phone trying to locate it, hitting closed doors the entire time. "Wait" was the conclusion I came to "and you'll probably get it one day." Not always the greatest or easiest advice but for some reason it has seemed to work in the long run.

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