Time for a Tiger!

Trip Start Oct 04, 2005
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Monday, February 6, 2006

Leaving the glitz and glamour of KL, Dad and I headed into the jungle...on a cushy air conditioned bus nicer than the greyhounds of Australia. After an 8 hour ride during which I was afraid to drink anything because we only stopped once for a bathroom break - and my first squat toilet experience - we arrived in Kota Bharu. And let me tell you, this was not the little sleepy town of Dad's stories. KB as it is now called, is now more like KL was thirty years ago. Ready to explore after sitting for so long, we wandered down streets crowded with people, cars, and motorbikes that do not stop for anything. As with KL, it is a slightly schizophrenic place, the fragrant smells of curry competing with the garbage in the gutter, tall buildings and a shopping mall lording over streets where one must be careful not to fall into the open drainage system. The place where we are staying is the Suria Hotel, which was once the nicest hotel in KB, and now though comfortable, is not exactly like the Renaissance down the street. We ate our first night at street hawker's and Dad chatted with the owners in Malay, recalling the days when he was teaching in Pasir Mas thirty-one years ago. We ended the night at the only place that sells beer in all of KB, sipping on the famous Tiger Beer and reflecting on everything that had happened both to us and to Dad's sleepy town. But that was only the beginning of the journey back in time. The next day Othman Ismail, a friend and collegue of Dad's, picked us up with his son and grandson. As they remembered the days when they had known each other and catching up on the last thirty years, he showed us around KB, everything that had changed. I don't think people realize just how progressive Malaysia is, what a dynamic time the past couple of decades have been for it. And then we went to Pasir Mas. The little village on the edge of the jungle that I had envisioned as Dad would tell us stories growing up, is now a thriving little city. The road has been widened and shops have sprung up everywhere while traffic fills the streets regulated by more than one traffic light. At Othman's house, we met his wife, three daughters, and grandchildren. It was almost overwhelming, but at the same time so interesting and so amazing that we were actually there so many years after Dad had left. When we went to Ramlah's house and met her son Aidi, her sister Rohani, and her neice Eda. Dad had lived next door to Ramlah and her husband, Osnan, and they had really been his family while in Pasir Mas. The reunion was very emotional, especially for the two of them, but even I, who had never met this small and regal women with such a kind face, felt a connection. Sitting in the family room listening to everyone talking in Malay, figuring out what was being said merely by the emotions in the voices, I felt like I had finally come to the Malaysia that my Dad had known. And then I began to carve my own little Malaysian experience that was all my own when I started talking to Eda who is only four years older than me. We immediately became friends and she invited me to a birthday party that night. It was great! We met up with everyone else at this restaurant where Nina, the birthday girl, had a private room. Because Muslims don't drink alcohol, we sipped lychee juice and everyone sang karoke. And then the dance music came on. Everyone was up, with the lights dimmed, dancing around the room to the Black Eyed Peas and Kelly Clarkson. It was another one of those surreal moments where I was dancing to the same music I had danced to this summer on the Outer Banks, but in a completely different atmosphere and place. I must say, my dancing was quite a hit, and everyone kept shouting for me to dance with them. So "Don't Funk with my Heart" was punctuated with cries of "Lucy!". No one can ever get my name right, even in Australia, so for that night was the dancing American named Lucy, making my impression in Kota Bahru. Afterwards, everyone took lots of pictures with me and I felt somewhat like a movie star...maybe teaching isn't for me afterall. The next day, tired from the night before, but ready for whatever was in store, Dad and I drove with Aidi into Pasir Mas to see some more of the family. We went around visiting Eda and meeting her father, Fauzi, at their car dealership, then went out to lunch at a stall nearby. The rest of the day we spent first with Ramlah and two of Aidi's kids, and then with an old friend named Din who still had that glint of mischief in his eye even though he must be in his fifties. We went back to Dad's old school, which was really just so cool! I've heard about this place my entire life, seen the pictures, and now I've been there. All the kids were excited to see these strange white people, and giddily posed for a picture. The headmistress talked with us and showed us all of the advancements the school had made. It was quite an impressive place. Dad's house has been torn down so unfortunately we were unable to see it, but we did go out to Ramlah's mother's kampog. What was once completely jungle and a little dirt road is now a paved road lined with a couple more houses and a few shops. The spunky old woman who met us at the door looked exactly like Ramlah and though limping due to knee problems, still had a girlish quality. She talked to me in Malay and I've now picked up enough words so that I could get some of her meaning. After such a hectic day, it was relaxing to sit in her cute, airy house listening to the fans whirring. But the peace was soon interrupted by the laughter and chatter of her grandchildren brought by Rohani and Ramlah for afternoon juice and fried bananas. Mira, Aidi's oldest daughter, even got up the courage to read to me in English out of her school book. I cannot stress enough how amazing it was to be there with these people, getting to know them as my dad had, listening to him remembering his Malay and watching him getting to know his friends and his former home as they are now. This has been a truly unique, touching, and fascinating experience. This is what this journey is all about, connecting the past to the present and building my own experiences and memories from what I discover. With two more days ahead of us here, it's exhausting, but also very exciting to think about what lies ahead. And at the end of the day, there's always time for a tiger...
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dadofdivaboots on

You have really captured the essence of this truly incredible journey. It is soooooo wonderful to be here with you...

Brian on

Wonder if it was the school I attended in the late 50's as the sole european. Salamat Merdeka was very much the rage, and I learnt Malay very quickly.

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