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.
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.
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!