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Cigarettes and Dirt

Cigarette butts lay in a neat pile below his dinner table next to his dirty feet sticking out of his flip flops. A small lizard scurries across the floor as my arm swipes across a puddle of water on the table from my sweating Tiger beer. English-speaking pop music spews out of a cheap cell phone as the cigarette smoke puffs from his mouth whilst drinking a Heineken. Why Heineken? It’s such shit beer. This is my kind of restaurant. No one speaks English. Everything is dirty. I revel in it.

It is all so surreal. I’ve been traveling around Asia for only 3 weeks, but the vast differences between each location are notable. I left Washington, DC, likely one of the most diverse and interesting cities in America with a heart full of sorrow, when I thought I’d be leaving with joy. I have friends there. Real friends and it was hard to say goodbye to them.

I pop open my camera and press record. Through this little glass lens, I am capturing moments, but losing the essence of those moments until I learn how to convey these feelings through each edit. I wish I could explain to you how I feel out here amongst the strangers. I want you to understand how raw life is here. My life is filled with zippers and bags, cold showers, plug adapters, and lockers. Communal couches, dorm beds and instant coffee. How do I use the bus? Is it a long walk? Currency Converter apps save my life, while bad internet makes it miserable. Skype and What’s App are primary forms of communication with those my heart aches for at home. Yet, I have no home. Each hostel, each Couchsurfer’s couch/air mattress is my home.

I arrived to Thailand with certain expectations. I did not expect to only partially like it though. This was my dream country since I was 11 years old. Thailand and all of Africa have piqued my interest since I was very young. Why didn’t it grab a hold of me as I thought it would? In Thailand, a farang (foreigner) is a walking, talking dollar sign. This may be the case in Malaysia as well, but it didn’t feel like it. Thailand has an air of cheapness to it. It has a dark energy where the people of Thailand have been affected by our seedier tastes of life in the West. It is a beautiful country with so much to see, so I do not discourage a visit to this place, but be aware…it doesn’t hold the same kind of old culture and authenticity that many of us crave while abroad.

Malaysia had this girl’s head in a spin. I knew it was a Muslim-ish country, but I had no idea it was truly the dominant religion in the country. I’ve been to Indonesia and I know it’s 94% Muslim, but for some reason I forgot this might apply to Malaysia, right next door. Because of this, you will see most women in full clothes and hijab all over the country including while in a pool or at the beach. Obviously this is just an interesting site for an American more likely than any European. We are not exposed to this kind of look as often. I found the Malay people absolutely hospitable, kind, warm and good-hearted. There is a solid mix of ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians who are still Malay by citizenship, but you can sense the sharp divide between the ethnic Malay and the other two groups. One of the many great bonuses though to this ethnically diverse country is the incredibly good and authentic Malaysian, Indian and REAL Chinese food at your fingertips and all for so cheap filling the many street stalls and restaurants. While in Kuala Lumpur, I was utterly spoiled at my Couchsurfer’s apartment with an infinity pool overlooking the entire city from the 37th floor of his building.

 

Honestly, I spent a majority of my time in KL at that pool, but I did manage an excursion to Batu Caves just a few stops away. The place is definitely a bit kitchy and blatantly tourist-driven, but still worth a peek. Monkeys.Are.Everywhere. If you’re afraid of the little buggers…don’t’ go to Batu Caves. I got a nice smack on the shoulder from one for starely too long at a mama monkey with her baby. It is beautiful there and the contrast between history and modernity is lovely. Take a quick trip there if in KL, definitely worth your time.

 

One of the most amazing experiences I had whilst traveling in Malaysia was my visit to Borneo (Kota Kinabalu) where I completed my Open Water PADI Certification. I cannot possibly recommend a better company to complete this certification with more than Borneo Dream. I had the most professional, kind, hospitable and thorough training program to receive this certificate. It was only $384 USD, which is just slightly more than what the average joe pays for a cert in Koh Tao, Thailand. If you find yourself there and are seeking any dive certification, I highly recommend this spot. www.borneodream.com

 

As much of my travels are dominated by my desire to watch football (soccer) abroad, I have spent a decent amount of time chasing Premier League and Champions League games at odd times in foreigner bars this summer. I had the ABSOLUTE pleasure of watching my beloved Chelsea Football Club win the Premier League at an Irish bar in Kota Kinabalu. Afterwards, I had the great honor of conversing with a Chelsea fan since 1967 who had tears in his eyes as his team took home more deserved silverware. This happened the same day I received my Open Water PADI Certification. A truly perfect day for me.

My first few weeks of travel were dominated with Thailand and Malaysia. These two countries are so very different, each with it’s own pro’s and con’s. I will be heading back to Bangkok for a few days in a couple of weeks. I’ve decided I’d much prefer Couchsurfing this time so I can get a better feel for the place. I am wanting to stay far from the debauchery that is Backpacker Hell: Khao San Road. I’ll update you all on the more “local” side of Bangkok soon. Currently in the Philippines and off to Vietnam soon. Asia has a special place in my heart and I’m enjoying this jaunt around the southeast. Soon though…I’ll be in Africa, a place my heart has longed for my entire life. For now…Cheers from Asia!

 

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