I’m typing poolside at our condo in Penang as the sun begins its descent and the breeze is starting to pick up, pushing away the stifling heat of the day and perhaps foreshadowing a rain storm tonight.
Cate, Cen and Meskie have teamed up with a posse of other kids, a mix of fellow travellers and expats (there are many of the latter here).
The pool has a long and curvy green slide, and the string of 8 or so kids are hurtling themselves down one right after another, so close that they are practically forming a train. I can’t see the end of the slide, which is probably a good thing.
It’s the kind of stunt that would be quickly vetoed back home. (As would the various head first and spin-o-rama moves the kids have tried out over the last few days.) Instead the security guard watches on without comment. He seems more concerned about the decibel level than whether any of the kids has acquired a new bruise or gash. In fact, Meskie is sporting a bit of a black eye from yesterday’s swimming hijinks. She claims she does not recall hitting her head (is that a good or bad thing, I ask myself)
It’s yet another example of how travelling here has shifted my perspective – about safety, about rules, about parenting, and so much more.
Take driving. We rented a car for the month – a bit of a jalopy, but dirt cheap. I have been the primary driver, given my tendency to nausea on curvy island roads, and my less-than-stellar map reading skills (map reading + movement = stomach churning).
As an aside, the car came with a GPS befitting a clunker. It was free and we figured out why on our first outing, when it sent us on a wild goose chase and then did what any self-respecting, crap GPS does — it froze up. We so miss the reliable Garmin GPS that accompanied our previous, more expensive rental. If you’ve been reading the blog, you may recall we nicknamed its anonymous “British” voice Malaya. Our new, “American” accented GPS? Gertrude. (Cracks the kids up every time we say it.)
But back to shifting perspectives. When we arrived in Malaysia, I shook my head at the insanity of the roads here. It was dizzying – like being transported into a massive House of Mirrors, full of cars, trucks, motorbikes, bicycles, buses and pedestrians, seemingly bouncing around in complete chaos.
After a few weeks behind the wheel, though, I’ve acquired an appreciation for the complex dance that is driving in Malaysia. Through observation and more than my share of terrifying moments, I have absorbed some — certainly not all — of the unspoken rules. (Yes, there is a hidden order to what appears to be complete madness).
For example, if you are driving along a busy road and see a parked (abandoned?) car blocking a major portion of your lane (a very common occurrence), you don’t slow down (or god forbid, stop). You simply cross the centre line and continue on your merry way. The oncoming driver(s) will have observed said parked/abandoned car and will have already shifted to their left to allow you room to pass. They expect that you will do the same if the situation is reversed. The various motorbikes zooming around both sides of your vehicle (and those around the oncoming vehicles) will simultaneously adjust.
The key? Everyone shares a common goal: to maintain forward motion whenever and however possible.
Another amazing fact? It’s rare for drivers to honk here (unless there is imminent risk to life, limb or fender). It seems everyone has accepted that we’re at this crazy rave together and it’s more productive to focus on getting to our destinations in one piece vs. tearing a strip off each other for real or perceived transgressions.
Some expat folks we met at the pool remarked that you don’t see the road rage here that there is in Australia (and that we have in Canada) – despite the fact that driving here is certainly more hair raising. Perhaps it’s the individualistic nature of Western culture? I won’t quit my day job to become a sociologist, but it sure is fascinating.
How about a mind-blowing fact? Toddlers, who one would think have barely mastered a pincer grasp and should have the attention span of a gnat, are able to hold onto their parents while hurtling through space on a motorbike, swaying to and fro like leaves on a tree. Helicopter parenting does not appear to have made it to Malaysian shores.
As for our day-to-day reality at the moment, we are staying in a condo for the month of July – a welcome break from living out of our backpacks and sleeping in different beds every few nights.
We’ve fallen into a lazy routine of sleeping in, having a nice breakfast (that we didn’t have to search out ’cause we have a kitchen — woo hoo!), swimming in the pool, and (if we’re feeling particularly energetic) going for an outing. We’ve also become regulars at the amazing hawker food market in Batu Ferrenghi (best food I’ve had on the trip so far.)
Pics below are from the Hard Rock Cafe Ultimate Foam Party, a trip to Penang Hill (including a ride up their swanky, refurbished funicular) as well as a very cool tour we did at a local tropical fruit farm (which ended with an incredible fruit and juice buffet!) It’s a good life.
We’ve also met some lovely new friends (Hi Gina, Brian and Maddie!), who have invited us to stay at their home in Tasmania (maybe we’ll meet the Tasmanian Devil in person??)
In our remaining time here, we’ll work on more regular posts – apparently there is an inverse correlation between how busy we are and how much we are able to write.