Small Scenes of SE Asia

Normally I share small scenes of Central Asia, given that I live in Kyrgyzstan and all. After New Year’s, though, I made my way to Malaysia to see some friends from college and get some beach time. After a missed flight and an upgrade to business class from Abu-Dhabi, I finally made it to this corner of the world–one of my first travel experiences where I’m unfamiliar with the language, history, culture, and politics of the countries I’m visiting. So, for the next three weeks, brace yourselves for some small scenes of Southeast Asia.

imageIt is hoooot – Jalalabad in the summer hot. My body, which has become used to constant cold and has forgotten what sun on exposed skin feels like, is a little confused by the heat and humidity. Rebecca and I both have sunburns on only our left shoulders; we’ll have to walk on the other side of the river to balance out the freckles.

I thought Kyrgyzstan was diverse, but the religious diversity in Melaka – a southern city on the coast of the Indian Ocean – is incredible. In one day, we visited a mosque, a Buddhist temple (run by only women nuns and monks), a church with services in four languages (English, Malay, Tamil, Mandarin), and walked past a Hindu temple. Many shops and street corners have tiny altars where people leave fruit and burn incense. At one of the Buddhist temples, a sign was posted for visitors: ‘Worshippers can request the services of a more experienced person to pray on their behalf.’

Walking along the river, Rebecca spotted a huge lizard emerging from the water. His blue tongue flicked around, and we swear he knew we were watching him because he kept looking up at us before sliding back into the river. He tucked his arms at his side to swim; a strange way, but it seemed to work. From that moment on, we kept our eyes open for any and all reptilian wildlife but didn’t see anything as large or cool.

On our first night in Melaka, shocked by the heat and still struggling from jetlag, we stumbled around with the hotel map and a vague idea of what to look for. Most cafes were closed, but just as we entertained the idea of going back, we stumbled on a sprawling outdoor cafe–plastic chairs everywhere, a guy playing some long stringed instrument (Happy Birthday and Jingle Bells were on his set list), and plate after plate of steaming naan. The waiter asked if we were waiting for a third person; sheepishly we said no, but had no qualms about devouring the garlic chicken and cheesy spinach dishes.

I hypothesize I haven’t been as hungry as expected because of the heat. After a riverboat tour (the Old Town and river of Melaka are UNESCO World Heritage Sites), though, the temperatures had dipped to a level where my stomach could process the idea of consuming more food. While walking up and down the path overlooking the water in search of a suitable dinner cafe, a group of young dudes said hello and waved us into their shop. We’d been in and out of hundreds of shops all day and weren’t in the mood to politely push off a salesperson, especially not when in search of dinner, but went in to admire the t-shirts for sale. We started chatting with the guy who runs the shop, and he took the time to draw us a detailed map to his favorite restaurant. It wasn’t hard to find at all, and the smell of seafood had us nearly running for a table. As we sat down, some more young local guys called out, ‘Welcome to Malaysia!’

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