‘I’m going away, I cannot stay, I’m leaving my true love today…’ These words came from a singing round that recalls long bus rides and deep friendships. They also carry with them the excitement and joy of seeing new places and experiencing life outside the box. Which is why when my friend YingYing Lim invited me to travel to Malaysia this year, I jumped at the chance. Okay, jumped wouldn’t be entirely correct. In truth, I counted my rupees and knew, knew that no way could I afford this trip. At the same time, I also knew I could not afford emotionally and mentally to miss this chance. Thus, I’m paying the exorbitant fee airlines charge for 38 hours of transit and going.
My last long sojourn occurred five years ago and encompassed Egypt and Morocco with short stays in Paris and London both between and afterward. The actual Egyptian trip proved more difficult than any other treks before. Almost immediately, my travel partner became ill with a parasite. The places we stayed often challenged the body to recuperate from long jags with public transportation. Additionally, this Muslim-male dominated country tested me on personal issues that no other trip had done. For instance, should I have stayed out of the fray when a feral pack of young males beat and tormented a mother dog and her remaining pup? Probably. But I didn’t. My shock and sadness over how depleted Egypt’s historical wonders had become along with the continuing plundering made me realize I wasn’t interested in returning to this country again. I’ve never felt that way before. Plus, I tend toward being a communicator and many Muslim males simply refused to complete that necessary circle, even for simple questions. Over all, street anger was palpable. The day we flew out of Cairo, the first bombing of disembarking tourists occurred. Still, when I see where Egypt’s going now, I feel guardedly hopeful. In my mind, if the Egyptian musicians I love engage in this transition, Egypt could be fabulous.
Next up–Malaysia with its predominately Malay population that calls itself 60% Islamic has called–and I’m answering. Of Chinese origin, YingYing’s primary family lives in Penang and Kuala Lumpur, while other family members live in nearby states and territories like Ipoh. Having visited and loved Singapore nearly 15 years ago, I’m looking forward to opening myself to this experience, too. Yes, I’m reading the requisite travel books by Lonely Planet, working on my polite Bahasa Malaysia phrases and tossing too many things into my backpack, soon to be distilled into essentials. The old version of ROUGH GUIDE SINGAPORE sits on my desk as does MOUSE CLUTCHING WINTER MELON (Loh Sin Kip Tong Kua) by Kuan Gnat Choo. It’s signed by the family friend to Mee Lian, YingYing’s stepmother, where we’ll be staying for a time. We’ll be hand-delivering this beloved tome to her.