My visit to Malaysia actually began with a little misfortune.
The train I was due to board from Singapore to Malaysia had derailed and so delayed by three days. Of course there were buses, they were cheaper too, but there's something special - romantic even - about boarding a train to another country, especially one that cuts through the Malaysian jungle.
So my mind was set. I spent the extra few days in Singapore wandering Chinatown and watching the bustling activities of last minute Chinese new year errands. Every butcher had a queue of customers out the door purchasing mince for lucky dumplings and red - the emblem of joy - was the colour of street lanterns, doorway charms and children's dresses. The year of the snake grinned cartoonishly overhead.
Singapore was an easy city to like, and an easy opening to six months in Southeast Asia. It was my first two weeks of solo travel and I was nervous about traversing Asia alone and concerned about language barriers. While I loved my week in Singapore, I wanted to stretch my legs and go somewhere new. I needed the distraction of a new city to take me out of my head and away from being alone and homesick.
The train rattled and shook. It felt to me like we would topple as we shot through the jungle. Passing villages with makeshift corrugated iron houses. was a glimpse into lives much less fortunate than my own.
Nothing could have prepared me for seeing this level of poverty, piles of rubbish sat at intervals in this otherwise beautiful tropical jungle. The casualness that the locals have with littering would eventually come to ruin Malaysia for me. The oceans were awash with plastic bottles and even beautiful temples like the Batu Caves weren't exempt from piles of garbage.
As a New Zealander growing up with 'no littering' campaigns and a pride in my environment, I found Malaysia difficult to stomach.
But I digress, in other ways Malaysia opened itself up to me like the hibiscus flower for which it is known. True to it's tourism slogan Malaysia truly Asia, I found a diverse multicultural nation of Chinese, Indian and Malay.
English was prevalent due to lingering British influence and so I explored Georgetown on foot seeking secondhand bookshops and museums (pastime of the introverted backpacker). I soon found more symbols of Chinese new year in an explosion of red lanterns strung up along curling alleyways and an offering of mandarins everyday - gifts wishing abundance and good fortune.
A big, modern, but ultimately empty shopping mall
Chinese new year's eve saw costumed dragons nimbly hopping on pillars to the beat of Psy's Gangnam style while fireworks popped overhead. The following morning two men clad in a dragon costume would do rounds of the town's houses, dancing in a show of good fortune. I witnessed them bless the hostel while the receptionist watched with a very somber expression.
While not superstitious (and not Chinese) I still enjoyed the energy on the streets during the two weeks the celebrations were held. It really brought home the reality that I was in Southeast Asia - in a part of the world that excites all who visit.
I found I had worried about the communication barrier for nothing, when I couldn't make myself understood I would mime my words across (sometimes to the great amusement of others). Following the festivities, my travels in the region went smoother than I ever could have wished on that New Years night I stood riveted by fireworks.
Perhaps a little luck was just what I needed.
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