14 Oct 2007
Negeri Sembilan, Malaysia


I love Malaysia. Always have done. It's so easy compared to other countries in Asia. I don't just mean that you only have to pick out every third person to get someone who speaks excellent English, or that there is a huge middle class so shopping centers aren't tourist only zones, or even that there are 3 English language newspapers thick enough with opinion and lifestyle supplements to keep you occupied for a couple of hours each. There's something about the people. I know that the Balinese are lovely, and the Thai's are friendly etc, etc, but an awful lot of the Balinese and Thai people who are in regular contact with tourists are very jaded from having their cultures and sensitivities walked on, and quite a few people unfortunately view westerners as walking ATM's. It makes you very weary when someone stops to ask where you're going, if you're lost or where you come from. Especially if they say they have a sister/daughter studying in the very same town you come from - that's the opening gambit of an old scam that plenty of people fall for. In Malaysia, people stop and ask where you're going if they think you're lost and need direction. They ask where you come from then tell you that they or a member of their family visited Australia and enjoyed their holiday. And they're so helpful.

Last Wednesday evening, an old man riding a motorbike pulled up beside us on the side of a road. We told him it looked like a short cut to the main road. He spoke very gravely about drug addicts and "bad people" and insisted we took the long way around for our safety. "Better to be hot and tired than meeting with the bad people". It's not the first time we've come across this. Last time we were in Malaysia Peter was looking for a dark corner on the street for a bit of secret men's business. He found a derelict shop and started to walk down the side. A man on a bike stopped him, again "bad people", and told him where the nearest public toilet was, or if he couldn't wait, pointed out a "safe" corner he could go around and not be seen from the street. An incident yesterday proves the point beyond doubt. Wandering around the town centre, lost as usual, a middle-aged man with (I'm no expert but I'd guess) cerebral palsy approached us and asked where we wanted to go. Walking wasn't easy for him, and he'd made the considerable effort to come over to us. Talking wasn't easy either, but he gave us directions to the museum in English. I don't think anything else could illustrate the friendliness and helpfulness of the Malays better. And so many people, after asking us where we come from, say "Welcome to Malaysia" then ask if we're enjoying it.

They don't just ask, they actually listen to our answers. Then ask if we've been to see this or that - often things that don't appear in the tourist guides, and tell us we must try the chicken at a particular restaurant or a certain local fruit that happens to be in peak season at the moment. Of course, a lot of this is because the Malays speak such good English, but not all of it. They are, on the whole, very friendly and helpful.

Over the years we've picked up a fair bit of Bahasa (Malaysian and Indonesian are pretty much the same language commonly called Bahasa) and before we set off on our Very Big Adventure we could order food with no problem - to the point were I could make sure there was no shellfish in my meal. Now, with a longer unbroken time here, we're picking up more and more words. I doubt we'll ever be able to hold a conversation, but know enough to muddle through until the next English speaker comes along.

We spent last week in Port Dickson, a sleepy seaside town about two hours SE of Kuala Lumpur. Port Dickson doesn't really have a lot going for it, but it has a beach. Not the kind of beach you'd want to sink your toes into, but a beach nonetheless. Come Friday evening, this sleepy little town turns into a heaving metropolis, as weekenders from Kuala Lumpur dec send, and they have no qualms about paddling in the murky waters for some reason. By Sunday lunchtime, they've all gone again, leaving virtually nobody in town. There were only a handful of other westerners in town which meant we were a bit of an oddity. Peters bald head meant we were even more of an oddity, although the Malaysians are far too polite to point it out.

As we arrived in Malaysia it was just coming up to the end of Ramadan and every evening there were magnificent food stalls out on the streets selling all kinds of sweet treats, so good that we wondered why they were only there during Ramadan and not all year round. Vendors insisted we try various things, most of them really good, and were really patient repeating the name until we got it right. I'd read that Ramadan isn't a good time to visit predominantly Muslim countries, but I have to disagree. We always knew we'd end up in some out of the way places, but here we are in a town we hadn't even heard of this time last week. Peter is going to the motorbike GP next weekend, so we wanted to be somewhere close to the track. During one of our little bus rides, we came across Seremban, capital city of the state of Negeri Sembilan, which is about 70km south of Kuala Lumpur and 35km east of Port Dickson. We also found a great little hotel - it's a basic but very clean local business hotel. Free WiFi courtesy of the very kind local government (Malaysia seems to be just one big hotspot) makes our A$2510.50 per night money very well spent.

PS -Editing photographs has just got a lot more interesting. This morning I dropped the mouse one too many times and killed it (one less thing to carry I suppose), and now I'm trying to get used to the touch pad on the laptop. Initially, I made the mistake of using the pad as a substitute mouse but trial and error are proving that it's much easier if you use both hands. And instead of just one or two, I'm back to using ALL of the keyboard short cuts I learned 20-odd years ago that the mouse makes you too lazy for. Still, airbrushing the wrinkles is going to be a lot harder.