Monthly Archives: October 2010

Cars and Elephants!


It’s October already, and I can’t believe I’m already starting my fourth month in Malaysia! At home people keep talking about the changing leaves or football games or Halloween costumes, but here in the land of eternal summer, the heat continues to blaze day after day with patches of rain and thunderstorms thrown in between. I love warm weather and, honestly, can easily give up winter, but I will admit I am a bit homesick for the season of colors and apple orchards and haunted houses. It’s strange, but without these little seasonal changes, it’s hard to believe how much time is actually passing by. Right now, it just feels like a very long summer…

But things have been changing here and mostly for the better. This week, I took the plunge and actually started driving in Malaysia for the FIRST TIME! I know I said originally that there was no way I would ever be driving here, but living in Malaysia without a car seriously limits your mobility, and the hope is with a car I will be able to move out of Cheras to a cooler city and be able to make more trips to explore the country.

That being said, driving here is terrifying! Seriously, the afternoon before the car dealer dropped off a car for me to test drive for a week, I started hyperventilating in the office. I sat there breathing in and out with my head between my knees as my co-workers laughed at my melodrama. Luckily, Jullian has offered to help me learn to drive here and has been driving with me everywhere until I have the skills and confidence to drive alone.

Now let me tell you, as an American, there are many different things to think about when driving in Malaysia:

1.       They drive on the left, which means everything including the seat, signalers, lights etc. are on the opposite side. Training yourself to look right instead of left and not habitually turning into oncoming traffic is harder than it looks.

2.       Traffic laws, from what I’ve observed, seem more like suggestions than actual laws. Cars are constantly cutting each other off, tailgating and sharing lanes. In fact, when my attempt to change lanes by signaling and waiting for space resulted in the car passing me up, Jullian said I need to be more aggressive (i.e. cut them  off) or they won’t know I’m serious about crossing over.

3.       Motorbikes are the most obnoxious vehicles known to man. Fact. They make up a huge proportion of the traffic here and like to weave in and out of cars constantly, even if the space is barely a couple feet wide. Honestly, I think the motorbikes scare me the most. Many people use the bikes to transport their entire families, and often I see Mom and Dad on the bike with little Jr. squeezed in between with no helmet. I’m learning to look at my side mirrors constantly, because I am so scared of hitting one or being hit by one who just pops out of nowhere.


Elephants line up for the tourists at Kuala Gandah.


Aside from driving, I have had some pretty cool experiences recently. Just last week, Jullian, Kevin and I drove up to Kuala Gandah in the state of Pahang ( a couple hours drive) to visit an elephant sanctuary. The sanctuary is a park where they relocate displaced elephants who have lost their natural habitat. Though extremely touristy, the park is really cool. Every afternoon they bring the elephants out and you can go right up to them (of course fighting for space with all the other tourists) to feed them fruit and peanuts. Then they have short elephant rides (think 5-minute circus-fair, once-around-the-circle-type thing). The coolest part of the park, however, is that you can go in the river and actually bathe with the elephants! They seat you on the elephant from the dock, then the elephant moves forward, falls to its side and tips everyone over, it was super fun! I’ll admit, it was a really short ride, but afterward I got to stay in the water and play with the baby elephants and you can go right up to them and pet them and rub sand on them and stuff. It was pretty cool.


An Orang Asli boy plays with a puppy at the village outside in Kuala Gandah.


After the elephant sanctuary, we decided to check out the Orang Asli village nearby. Orang Asli, literally “original people” refers to the indigenous people of Malaysia. Though they are made up of many different tribes, they are a minority in Peninsula Malaysia and have a completely different culture. The village we saw was made up of rows of government-built houses next to the original thatch huts the Orang Asli used to live in and still use as extensions to their houses. There were lots of people hanging around, some inside the huts, with children (some naked) just running around, playing with the stray puppies.  It was really interesting to see.

Heading into the rest of the month, I am planning to buy a car and either find a roommate or get out of my lease to move somewhere more interesting than Cheras. Let’s hope it all works out!

Wedding Fun!


Though I have met some really awesome people during my time in Malaysia, I must admit my circle of friends here is still pretty low. Consequently, I have been actively trying to make friends by accepting nearly every social invitation offered.

Last month, I attended my first Indian wedding of my friend Prakash, who had been one of my cab drivers when I first got here. Though we had only spoken a couple of times, Prakash not only invited me to his wedding, but to stay over at his family’s house the night before to see some of the ceremonies that take place during an Indian wedding.

Though at first I was a bit hesitant to stay with people I don’t know alone in a foreign country, I decided to take a chance. What’s life without a little risk anyway? So I packed up my new sari, matching shoes, a change of clothes and off I went, making sure to leave the address and phone number with a friend, just in case someone needed to locate the body…

At first it was a little weird. As the lone, blond white girl in a house full of Indians (all family too), I didn’t exactly blend in. Luckily for me, Prakash’s family took me right in and soon I found myself surrounded by a bunch of Indian children who kept asking me questions and fighting for my attention.

The whole evening was pretty exciting. The house was full of commotion with people all around eating, chatting and running around getting things ready for the next day.


Prakash undergoing a Hindu cleansing ritual the night before his wedding.


One of the coolest parts of the evening was this pre-wedding Hindu cleansing ceremony. Though I am not exactly sure what was going on, Prakash sat in a chair while several of his aunts smeared this yellowish paste made of turmeric on his arms and face and sprinkled water on his head. They also had this thing which looked like a covered rock that they circled in front of his body and pretended to throw at him. Again, I had no idea what was going on, but everyone seemed to have a good time :).

Awhile later, I snuck away to the couch in one of the bedrooms upstairs to try to get some sleep. Though the wedding was at 7 a.m. the next day, no one else seemed too concerned about sleeping the night before. To me, 7 a.m. for a wedding is WAY too early to even think about attaching yourself to someone for the rest of your life, but apparently in Hinduism you consult an astrologist first who finds out the best time of day the couple should be married. From conversations with others Indians I’ve met, 7 a.m. isn’t too bad compared to some of the 2 a.m. or 4 a.m. ceremonies they have attended in the past!

The next morning is a kind of a blur. I remember waking up around 5 a.m. and scrambling with the other women to shower and get ready to be at the temple on time. Though I had been shown by the tailor how to tie my sari (and he had sewn it in a way to make it simpler) I was very thankful for Prakash’s aunts and cousins who made sure I was correctly put together before walking out the door :).

Once at the temple everyone rushed to get out of the car and start bringing things inside. Trying to be helpful, I offered to help carry something. The next thing I know, a tray is placed in my hands, and I find myself at the FRONT of the procession to the temple where the groom’s family offers gifts to the bride’s family. Somehow as I walked forward thinking, “What the hell am I doing? I don’t know where to go!” I managed to slink back further in the line before I before I embarrassed myself (and them) and eventually separated myself from wedding participant to spectator, which I was a lot more comfortable with :).

From what my sleep-deprived mind remembers from the rest of the ceremony, there was a lot of music, candles, flowers  and rituals, most of which I didn’t understand. At some point, Prakash tied a necklace around the bride’s neck, everyone threw rice and Jullian told me they were married now.

Afterward, everyone ate at the temple then went back home to socialize, eat some more and rest before the evening reception. Though people mostly seemed happy during the event, I gotta admit, I’m not exactly sure if I would characterize the faces of the bride and groom as joyous… Prakash and Premla, like many Hindus, had an arranged marriage, and didn’t know each other well before the ceremony. At one point, Premla burst into tears while sitting on the couch at Prakash’s house. One of Prakash’s cousins then told me, as if it’s no big deal the bride is sobbing, that it’s normal for the bride to cry on her wedding day, because she has to leave her family’s home to move into her husband’s.

Though the idea of an arranged marriage is a completely foreign concept to most Westerners, a lot of thought is put into finding a compatible match for their children by their families and apparently there is a lot of success in arranged marriages. I haven’t spoken much to Prakash since the wedding, but here’s hoping they find happiness.