Tag Archives: Malaysia



As many of you know by this point, I’m leaving Malaysia.

Yes, it is official. But as to the standard follow-up question, no I’m not coming home. Not yet…

After more than a year in Malaysia, I decided it was time to move on. Since I moved here in July of 2010, I have seen and learned some incredible things. But as I began to enter August of 2011, the start of my second Ramadan in Malaysia, I realized that much of the novelty of this country had worn off for me. I’d already experienced every major holiday here, visited my top travel destinations in Southeast Asia and felt I had gotten a fairly thorough understanding of Malaysian culture. And frankly, as grateful as I am for the experience, I decided that one year in Malaysia was enough for me.

However, I realized that I was still not done with Asia and certainly had not attained the goals I had originally set out for myself (as mentioned in my previous post). So I have decided to continue to achieve them, but to do it elsewhere…in India.

Before I came to Malaysia, I didn’t have a good understanding of Asian culture. All I really knew about Indian culture was that there were a lot of people, they had good food and they were Hindus. But after living in KL where ethnic Indians make-up 10 percent of the population, visiting Hindu temples, meeting Indian people and attending Indian festivals, India has shot to the top of my travel destination list and is a country that I want to explore hardcore.

So when an old friend of mine messaged me that he was planning on backpacking India for three months starting in the fall, I thought it must be more than a coincidence. How often does one come across someone with the same time, money and timing to take a dream trip? It was too good of an opportunity to pass up. After much consideration, I officially resigned from my job.

The feeling was both absolutely freeing while absolutely terrifying. Since I was 20, I have found continuous ways to travel, either through studying abroad, working abroad or short trips. And while I’ve always said I wanted to travel around the world, I’ve never traveled continuously for more than a few weeks at a time. For years, friends and family have kept waiting for me to get this travel bug out of my system, but I really don’t think that is going to happen until I really have the chance to travel freely. So it’s all built up to this: the trip of a lifetime.

The plan is now to meet James in New Delhi starting in the beginning of October and just go: wherever we want, for as long as we can. No job, no income, no restraints, no guarantees: pure travel and all that comes with it. While James is planning for a three-month trip, I honestly don’t know when I’ll be back. If I love India, I plan to use the full extent of the six-month visa and maybe have the ashram experience. I might also try to volunteer for awhile, either in India, Nepal or perhaps another country entirely. And if I run out of money, I may move again somewhere and teach English or search for volunteer exchange programs. I honestly have no idea where I’ll be in six months, but the great thing is, I don’t have to.

So now begins the great challenge of both leaving Malaysia and preparing for my new adventure. Already I have resigned from my job and am now in the process of getting out of my contract, clearing my tax forms, selling my car, selling my furniture and electronics and getting someone to take over my lease. I am also in the process of obtaining my Indian visa, getting all my vaccines, researching the country and mentally preparing for what could be the biggest challenge of my life, but quite possibly, the most rewarding.

I have one month left to figure everything out. Here’s hoping for the best!

Bersih 2.0 Rally – An Eyewitness Account


Yelling all around, shoving my way through a crowd of 20 men to squeeze through a two-foot gate with angry, baton-holding police at our heels, those few minutes during the Kuala Lumpur Bersih 2.0 rally ended up being some of the most terrifying minutes of my life.

Some few seconds before, I naively assumed my friend Jullian and I were in the “safe” zone, a quieter area on a hill above the city streets looking down on the now-vacant intersection of Jalan Pudu and Jalan Tun Perak that, minutes before, had been full of thousands of protesters demanding fair and frequent elections and an end to corruption.

Jullian and I had arrived earlier that day to Masjid Jamek – one of the protesters’ several gathering points throughout Kuala Lumpur – to witness a major political rally that had the potential to completely change the Malaysian government. After failing to compromise on a suitable protest location, the government had declared the street rally illegal, blocked all major accesses into the city and threatened to arrest anyone who disobeyed that day.  Armed with a backpack full of bottled water, extra clothes, snacks and surgical masks, we had prepared for the worst.

Me at Masjid Jamek before the rally - not really sure what's going to happen

Jullian and I had arrived at the Masjid Jamek subway station around noon, a full two hours before the protests were supposed to start. As I looked around outside, I was surprised to find things quite calm. As all major roads to the city had been shut down the night before, nearly all the shops were closed and most of the streets had been deserted. Local police officers in their dark blue uniforms casually patrolled the streets, as patches of reporters, gawkers and protestors stood around, some taking pictures, some chatting amongst themselves but all waiting for what was about to happen.

Behind the first line, however, it was clear that police were prepared for anything but a casual afternoon. Dark blue “Black Maria” trucks with benches in the boot and gates in the back waited to take away protesters. Behind them, giant red trucks stood patiently for their turn to hose down the crowds. All around, riot police, donned in black uniforms and red helmets, wielded their weapons, some toying with their tear gas guns, others tapping their batons against the plastic of their shin protectors.

To avoid trouble, Jullian and I had decided to play the roles of tourist and tourist guide, despite the fact that I’ve been in Malaysia for a year now, and he is one of my best friends and colleagues. We did our best to smile and act normal as we walked behind the police lines and decided to join the cops and get an ice cream with the vendor on the corner. To my surprise, the police were really friendly with me. They welcomed my requests to take pictures and even invited me to pose with them, as they slouched on the steps, also enjoying their ice creams.

Riot police relaxing and eating ice cream before the rally

But within minutes, before I could even finish my ice cream, that peace was ended. Suddenly, the random crowds began to turn the corner, journalists running, and Jullian and I followed to find the rally had officially begun. With rhythmic chants of “Hidup, Hidup, Keadlian!” and “Reformasi!” (“Long Live Justice!” and “Reformation!”) several hundred protesters had begun to march.

To my surprise, the protesting crowd was quite small, far less than the tens of thousands of people the organizers had expected. But as we made our way to Jalan Tun Perak, it soon became apparent that our little crowd was just the beginning. As we stood on the steps of the Maybank Tower, the apparent gathering point of the rally, we watched as swarms of protesters from all corners of the intersection joined in what soon became a massive crowd of thousands.  Around us, people continued to chant, brandishing Malaysian flags and waving around smuggled in yellow t-shirts and balloons – representations of Bersih’s official color. Somewhere in the distance, instructions were being given in Malay from a loudspeaker connected to a phone from unseen leaders who had been banned from entering the city, while police on the outside began to warn the crowd to disperse immediately or they would move in.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Kuala Lumpur demanding fair and free elections

Jullian and I decided our best bet was to stay close to the police, with easy access to move behind the line and run if necessary. As we stood on the side, directly in line with the riot police, I realized the careless, relaxed faces I had seen earlier had been completely replaced with expressions of anger and threat.

As we watched the large red truck enter into the intersection, my heart began to race: the water cannons were coming first. Safe behind the police line, we watched as gallons of water were turned on the crowds, spewing around 180 degrees. It wasn’t until the red truck started reversing toward us and the tear gas came out that we began to run. Loud shots fired from behind and my heart began to pound as we headed even further behind the police line and stopped to watch what was going on. A haze of gas and water lie ahead of us in the street and all around people began to cough, some rinsing their eyes out with bottles of water to relieve the sting. It took a few minutes for me to feel the effects, but soon my eyes began to sting and tear, as if I had just cut up a lot of onions, and my throat began to burn. Jullian and I quickly joined with the others in rinsing our eyes with water and headed to higher ground in hopes of both escaping the gas and gaining a vantage point on what had happened to the crowds.

Riot police make an arrest during the Bersih 2.0 rally

As we reached the top of the hill, the saturated, foam-covered pavement below revealed there was clearly something other than just water in those cannons – and clearly that substance had done its job.  Crowds began dispersing into other streets of the city, and though we were in front of the police line, I didn’t realize that the small crowd gathered around us, some praying fervently, would be next in line for arrest. As I stood photographing those who were praying, ignoring Jullian’s calls to move, I didn’t realize that a band of riot police were beginning to surround us, ready to charge. It wasn’t until Jullian screamed at me to run that I realized they were coming for us – and they had weapons. In front of me a group of men were fervently trying to squeeze through a narrow gate and Jullian kept pushing and yelling at me to run and get out. The prospect of brushing up and competing to escape against this aggressive, stampede of men more than terrified me,  but when I turned around to see a line of angry riot police waving their batons and grasping for arrests, I was scared out of my mind. As the police grabbed one of the men and pulled him to the ground, I ran behind them and pressed myself against the wall of the building, clinging to Jullian and shaking in fear. For some reason, they didn’t bother with us and Jullian and I ducked slowly back to the “safe zone” to recuperate and observe.

Around, police began to bring in the new arrests, one dragged by his arms, another with torn clothing and still another, donned in bright yellow, wearing a tribal indigenous hat with a big smile on his face. Even old ladies were detained, and soon those earlier empty “Black Marias” were fully-loaded and headed for the jails.

Physically and emotionally exhausted, Jullian and I returned to Masjid Jamak – now vacant – to sit, relax and regroup. The angry crowds that had filled the street just hours before had vanished, though the groups of local police officers patrolling the now-closed subway entrance made it clear the battle was not yet over. Every now and then, Jullian and I caught a glimpse of a crowd turn the corner, smaller now, but chanting with every bit of passion they had displayed some few hours before.

Despite an exhausting cat and mouse game, protesters refused to give up

Word on the street was that the crowds were headed to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre, the heart of the capital and the site of its famous Petronas Twin Towers, for what could have been a dramatic end to the rally. But as we arrived in front of the gleaming iconic landmarks – representations of Malaysia’s growing strength and development – protesters were nowhere to be found. Instead, rows of riot police roamed the streets, this time on horseback, in an ironic contrast to the modern monuments behind them.

In the end, both the government and the protesters declared that day a success and as Jullian and I left the city centre, tired, sore and starving, I realized our day, too had been a success. Chased, tear-gassed and nearly arrested, we managed to walk away completely unscathed. And as I read of the more than 1600 people that were arrested that day, I recalled the images of the tattered shirts, dragging knees and grounded men and realized how truly lucky we were. Though no physical marks remain, the memory of the Bersih 2.0 rally was a life-changing experience that will stay with me forever.

To hear my live radio interview with WDET Detroit Public Radio on the event, please click here.



It has now been officially one year since I left home to come to Malaysia and what an incredible year it has been. Over the past 12 months I’ve seen some amazing things, met some incredible people and experienced first-hand how differently a huge chunk of the world lives.

For the most part, I have tried to keep my blog positive, sharing the best parts of my time here, especially my travel experiences. But I’m not going to lie, this year has been hard. In fact, it has probably been the most difficult year of my life. Everything from finding an apartment to getting used to my job to making friends has been a struggle. Add to that the additional complications of language barriers, cultural differences and trying to cope without efficient public transportation or easy access to food you like, and it can get pretty frustrating.

Now, to their credit, Malaysians are very nice people. My co-workers, in particular, went out of their way in the beginning to help me find a decent place to live and have made a point to take me around to experience local food and customs. Others, in particular, have been there through the tears and frustrations to bridge the cultural gaps, clarify misunderstandings and guide me through the ins and outs of living in Kuala Lumpur, and for all this I am truly grateful.

Though I won’t go as far to say that I love Malaysia, I will say that I have learned a whole hell of a lot, both about myself and the world around me. Some things, like Eastern religions like Buddhism and Hinduism, I find completely fascinating and want to explore more in the future. Other things, like what it’s like living in a country without basic freedoms such as freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, etc. are completely mind-boggling and terrifying to me (and I’m not even in that “bad” of a part of the world). Though I love being abroad, I find myself more patriotic than ever and for the first time truly appreciate being from a “free” country.

So now the question I get asked most often is, “When are you coming home?”

Well, I will say this: if I came home now, I would be content knowing I have hit all the initial “must sees” on my Southeast Asia travel list. However, I would also leave with a sense of dissatisfaction knowing that I folded in the face of frustration instead of rising to the challenge to overcome it. So, I have decided to stay and do my best to finish my work contract, which ends after another year.

This past year, my 26th, I traveled to some incredible places and saw sights that many will never get to see. I am a bit ashamed to admit, however, that my frustration actually living in Malaysia often brought out the worst in me. So this year, my 27th, my goal is to focus on personal growth, to develop patience and understanding and achieve inner peace as well as pursue some pipe-dream professional goals I have been a bit shy to attempt.

So now, as I begin year two, I have a specific list of goals I want to achieve before coming home:

–          Improve in my yoga practice, learn to meditate and spend some time in an ashram

–          Volunteer, ideally working at an orphanage, women’s shelter or wildlife sanctuary

–          Publish something and get paid for it: attempt my hand at travel writing, freelance reporting or as a fiction writer

–          See as much of the rest of Asia as possible, especially India

Now that I have published this list to the Internet, I fear I must now be held accountable for my actions (or inaction). But in the end, maybe that’s a good thing ;).

In the mean time, I miss all of you at home dearly and know I do not keep in touch as well as I should. I’m currently toying with the idea of coming home for Christmas, but if that doesn’t happen, let me know if you’re ever in KL 😉 !

Cars, Cameron and Cherating


With some of my recent trips, I haven’t had much time to actually write about life in Malaysia. Things have calmed down for a bit now, and I’m happy to say that life in Malaysia has been pretty good lately. This last month in particular has been really fun with lots of positive changes :).

The biggest change is that I finally bought a car. Yes, I am now the proud owner of a light green, 2002 Proton Wira, a medium-sized Malaysian car that was within my budget and not the size of a clown car. No more fighting to communicate with non-English speaking taxi drivers, no more long journeys on the LRT subway, no more staying at home because going out is too much  of a hassle, I AM OFFICIALLY MOBILE!!!

My car

Now, I’m not going to lie. For the record, I still HATE Malaysian drivers. Seriously, they are the most impatient, selfish drivers I have ever seen.  People cut you off constantly, motorbikes weave in and out of traffic without looking and everybody parks wherever they want, regardless of whether or not they are blocking traffic or visibility for others. I have woken up in the middle of the night at least three times now with an overwhelming fear that I would die in a car crash here. I wish I was kidding, but in the end, all I can do is hope for the best and triple check my mirrors :).

Me at the Boh Tea Plantation

Along with getting a car, I have also had the chance to explore deeper into Malaysia and see some really cool things. In March, I joined some fellow CouchSurfers on a weekend trip to the Cameron Highlands, a cooler area of Malaysia within its Titiwangsa mountain range that is a popular weekend getaway. With cooler temperatures, the area is full of tea, vegetable and flower plantations that offer breathtaking views and a welcome relief from the heat. We spent most of our time at the Boh Tea Plantation, one of Malaysia’s most established tea producers, and it was incredible. All around are hill after hill after hill of rich, green tea bushes, all manicured into neat little rows. The air is much crisper there with a vague scent of tea, and you just feel fresh as you breathe it in. I felt like I was in the Great Valley (where are my Land Before Time peeps at? :P).

At one point, we even got a glimpse of Malaysia’s former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi (2003-2009) who was also enjoying tea that day. Though I really know nothing about him, it was still pretty cool :).

Last weekend I was finally able to check out some of Malaysia’s beaches with a weekend trip to Cherating, a small village on Malaysia’s east coast known for its surfing. My Malay friend Omar invited us to join him on his weekend surfing trip, and it was a blast! Omar showed us how to surf, and though we were pretty bad, we just enjoyed jumping in the waves! As a Michigan girl, what was especially refreshing was jumping into water that wasn’t freezing cold. Though not exactly crystal clear, the water was a perfect lukewarm temperature, making it irresistible and easy to spend the entire day in. I couldn’t get enough!

Me and the baby meerkat

Perhaps equally as cool as the surfing, however, is I got to hold some exotic pets! Yes, we all know my weakness for small, furry animals, and I was absolutely delighted when I discovered one of the village families had a baby squirrel, a baby meerkat and a baby monkey! Seriously, HOW COOL IS THAT??? I have always wanted to hold a squirrel (they just look so darn cute outside), but honestly, they’re much more rodent-like than I expected, and I was quickly disenchanted. The meerkat, however, was the sweetest little thing. It was like a small, grey “Timone” and would just sit inside of my hand, so cute! The monkey, however, was my favorite. If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that monkeys are kind of a big deal, but this was the FIRST TIME I was actually able to pet one! “Kiki” didn’t really like to be held, plus after my first monkey attack, not sure how close I wanted to be to its teeth, but I was able to feed him with a baby bottle and pet him a little, which was still really awesome!!!

So now I sit here, nursing my bright red skin, looking forward to this weekend’s trip to Perhentian Island in northern Malaysia. My face maybe sunburnt but at least it’s smiling :).



I know I am getting very behind in my blogs here, but there are so many things I want to write about, and with all my recent travels, I have hardly had any time to catch up!

That being said, there was one holiday in January I got to experience that I would really like to share here: Thaipusam. Since my first visit to the Batu Caves in August, I have been looking forward to this event to witness first-hand the more than one million Tamil Hindu devotees who flock to the caves to pay homage to the deity Lord Murugan, to whom the cave’s shrine is dedicated.

What makes the event interesting is that the pilgrims show their devotion by carrying burdens called “kavadi” on their bodies, which generally include carrying large, heavy decorations on their shoulders and/or attaching small fruits and flowers to their bodies with hooks as they climb the 272 steps to the top of the cave. Others, especially women, carry jugs of milk. Each devotee has an entourage who accompanies him or her on the journey, and those who are especially hard core get a small band who help them get into and stay in a trance.

I gotta say, the whole experience was AWESOME! But I must admit, Thaipusam, for both the devotee and the gawking tourist, is not easy. First, it is hot! Since I work in air conditioning all day long, sometimes I forget how hot Malaysia really is (last time I checked the temperature it was 95°F, “feels like 106°F”), but being out in the open sun in a crowd (plus a sunburn) is a quick reminder that I am only 3° above the equator.

Second, it is crowded! More than a million people came out to the Batu Caves that day and within an hour, I had lost everyone in my 30-person group. At one point, the police were fighting to keep the non-participant crowds from going up the stairs into the caves, and I found myself constantly squished up next tons of sweaty, stinky strangers.

Usually, I hate crowds but for some reason, I actually didn’t mind them during Thaipusam. There was a really exciting energy in the crowds, and though I obviously wasn’t participating, I definitely felt like I was right in the event. At one point, exhausted, sweaty and dehydrated, I decided to head home, but then I found out they had opened up the stairs to the caves to the non-participants. Though part of me wanted to crash, my curiosity got the best of me and I managed to haul my butt up the steps to see what I could find.

All around, people were removing their kavadi and many of the devotees were passed out or lying down with their attendants rushing to cool them down and take care of them. Though all I saw was the actual carrying of the kavadi, these people undergo weeks of purification rituals to prepare, including fasting, where they eat only one simple meal a day. Though I know the act is gruelling, I was still surprised to see how strong of a physical toll it took on some of these people. Many perform it as a form of thanksgiving or penance to Lord Murugan to receive blessings from him, especially if there is an impending crisis like a severely ill family member.  I suppose people can do anything with the right motivation!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Surviving Sarawak


With the different food, water and climate, everyone said I should expect to get sick when I came to Malaysia, especially in my first few weeks. I was very relieved to find my immune system working full force with not even a cold in my first few months here. In fact, the only sickness I did get was after eating at a high-end Chinese restaurant at the Hilton, not the local street food. So it was just my luck that I got a bout of bronchitis right before my four-day work/holiday trip to Kuching, Sarawak, East Malaysia.

I’d been looking forward to this trip for weeks, ever since I found out I was being sent for work with the chance to stay back and travel for a couple days after. When I started feeling a pressure on my chest and coughing a few days before, I thought it was a cold and my stance against encouraging a global immunity to antibiotics as a result of over prescription stupidly prevented me from going to the doctor beforehand. It wasn’t until my ear refused to pop for nearly a day after my flight and my voice started sounding like Barry White that I realized perhaps I was wrong…

After two days working, resting and drinking as much hot water as humanly possible, it was finally time for my weekend trip. Let me tell you, after waking up throughout the night with a hacking cough, feeling exhausted and feverish, I was not exactly in the best situation to go out exploring Sarawak. But I was also not about to give up my semi-free trip, so I loaded up on cold medicine, lozenges and tea and set out.

Let me just say, Sarawak is absolutely beautiful! It is much cleaner and less congested than KL, and there are green hills and jungles everywhere. Sarawak is one of two Malaysian states that make up East Malaysia on the island of Borneo, which also includes the country of Brunei and parts of Indonesia.

To start off our trip, Jullian and I rented a car and headed out to a crocodile farm where they have lots and lots of crocodiles, as well as cages of other cool animals. The farm was pretty cool. You get to see lots of crocs in cages, and at feeding time, you get to watch them jump in the air for their food. They also have cages of monkeys (like Rafiki), snakes and ponds of exotic fish to look at while you’re there. My highlight, however, was the baby monkey who escaped from her cage to give me and the rest of the tourists quite as a surprise as we were walking down to see the crocs…

Way better than the crocodiles, however, was the orang utan sanctuary at Semenggoh Nature Reserve. The reserve, along with another center, rehabilitates orphaned or displaced orang utans to send them back into the wild. At the reserve, you get to enter into the park at feeding times when the orang utans come back to eat (the plan is for them to eventually learn to get food on their own). It was amazing! I gotta admit, the first 50 minutes were a bit slow. The orang utans came down about 50 feet away to eat,  and I was disappointed that they were so far. But in the last 10 minutes four orang utans came down to our side of the park, where they came within a few feet of us to get food from our park ranger.  They were hilarious too, just swinging all over the trees and trying to steal food from our guide, even when he tried to turn them down. I absolutely loved watching them, and they had to practically drag me away from the park. It was definitely an incredible experience.

Aside from wildlife, Sarawak is also known as being a major cultural hub in East Malaysia, especially with lots of local aboriginal tribes that are different than the Malay-Chinese-Indian ethnic make-up of Peninsula Malaysia. In between the crocodiles and the orang utans, Jullian and I drove out to visit one of the tribes in a longhouse in the middle of the jungle. A longhouse is literally what it sounds like: a very long house, sort of. Mostly made from bamboo shoots, a longhouse is a very long community building where the


whole village lives. Individual families have their own doors and units, but the outside is like a very long porch which is a common area for everyone. We didn’t get to stay very long, but we got to walk along the building, chat with the people, and check out the skulls room (many tribes were known for headhunting, where it was a mark of honor for a man to take the head of another person. They then save the skull and get a tattoo).

The next day, we were able to learn more about the village we just saw at the Sarawak Cultural Village. Like Detroit’s Greenfield Village, the Sarawak Cultural Village is like a living museum where you get to walk through replicas of the homes of aboriginal tribes where characters dress in costume, perform local dances, traditions and crafts and talk to you about the history. It was fun, you get to see a very different kind of history than I’ve been exposed to and watch a very cool cultural dance show in the end.

Tree house

One of my favourite parts of the trip, though, was just swimming in the South China Sea. Aside from a short trip to the beach at Port Dickson (not known as a very nice beach in Malaysia) this was the first real beach I’d been too while I was here. It was gorgeous! The beach was right next to the hills (or mountains? Can’t really tell the difference) so you can swim while watching the clouds descend into the trees. The water was fun too. Not exactly crystal clear, but the waves were pretty rough making them extra fun to jump into! The resort we stayed at was also pretty unique, we actually stayed in a tree house! Technically, it was a cabin on stilts that sits among the trees, but it was awesome. It came with its own bathroom and shower, air conditioning and a beautiful view of the beach and trees. The fact that the hot water was fickle and there was a creepy crawly shell/crab thing sharing the bathroom with us only added to its charm (sort of).

Now I’m back in KL on a sick day with a full course of antibiotics waiting for my body to recover. Less than three weeks until Thailand!

“10 Million Fireflies”


Aside from monkeys, some of the other things I wanted to see in Malaysia were its much-acclaimed fireflies. When I was reading about the country way back earlier this year, I came across a side box in one of my guidebooks that mentioned a little village outside of Kuala Lumpur where “millions” of fireflies just light up the forest at night. Of course I had to go! So Jullian and I took a little road trip Saturday afternoon and headed to Kuala Selangor to check it out.

I have to be honest, the fireflies themselves were pretty underwhelming. Thanks to deforestation and the destruction of their natural

A firefly in Kuala Selangor

habitat, the number of fireflies has gone down significantly in the past 20 years so the site isn’t as amazing as it used to be. The trip to get there, however, is quite charming. To see the fireflies, you get in these old, rickety, canoe-like boats that hold about four people. It’s nearly pitch black outside, and the guide takes you across the water for a 20-minute ride along the mangroves where the fireflies are. Though not spectacular, the fireflies really are beautiful. They light up the trees and twinkle like Christmas lights, which was sort of nice since it’s the end of November. What was really interesting to see was how small they are. They’re only a few millimeters long and just a fraction of the length of American (or at least Michigan) fireflies. It was a very cool experience.

The real highlight of Kuala Selangor, however, was the MONKEYS! Before going to see the fireflies, Jullian and I headed to one of the village’s parks to check out the wildlife. Given my recent history being attacked by a monkey in the Batu Caves, I was a bit wearier of them, though still fascinated. In fact, when I saw the sea of macaque monkeys (the same as in the Batu Caves) sitting in the parking lot

Silvered leaf monkeys in Kuala Selangor.

and swinging in the trees as we drove in, I was a bit scared to get out of the car. But when Jullian told me there was a four-foot lizard nearby, I grabbed a stick and got out :). I was glad I did, because when Jullian and I made it to the top of the hill, I found a whole new breed of monkeys I completely fell in love with: silvered leaf monkeys! Unlike macaque monkeys that are brown, can be quite aggressive and have been known to kill babies, the silvered leaf or silvery lutung monkeys were quite gentle and definitely not afraid of humans. You can go right up to them and feed them, and they just come right up to you taking the food, some even climbing up on you to get to it. They are absolutely adorable too, with dark gray fur that’s almost like a Mohawk on top and these sweet little faces. I just adored those monkeys, I could have played with them all day. Sometimes I think I’ve gotten over the culture shock of being here, but the minute I see monkeys I’m in awe all over again. I hope I never lose that.

Aside from Kuala Selangor, the week brought about some other new experiences. Last Wednesday Malaysia celebrated Hari Raya Haji to mark the end of the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The event is basically a mass slaughtering of animals meant to commemorate the sacrifice Abraham made instead of his son (in their case, Ishmael). The men use knives to cut the throats of the animals, and the meat is divided among the animal donor, the family of the one slaughtering and those less fortunate.

Muslim men gather to slaughter an animal during Hari Raya Haji to commemorate Abraham's sacrifice.

So anyone that’s ever talked to me for more than five minutes would know that an animal slaughtering is not exactly an Erica-friendly environment. Though I am by no means a vegetarian, I am an animal-lover, overly-emotional and have a pretty weak stomach when it comes to blood. However, my curiosity got the better of me, and I decided to join Jullian and Kevin to visit the mosque of a friend where a slaughtering was to be held. When we got to the mosque, I saw a crowd of men on the lawn with about eight cows and goats tethered to trees (sidenote: Asian cows look different than American cows. Their ears are floppy, they have a hump and they’re more of a brown/gray color). As they went to slaughter the first cow, I kept my distance and took a little stroll around the grounds. When I came back, they had moved on to the goat, so I thought I’d focus my attention on the living animals and distract myself from the slaughter. What I didn’t realize was there had been a mistake in the slaughter of the first cow (they missed one of the jugulars) and the animal lay among the living cows, slowing bleeding to death. When I saw the cow’s gaping neck with the blood dripping down, I left the grounds as quickly as I could and burst into tears. I literally walked to the side of the road and began to sob, it was a very difficult sight for me to see. As I mentioned before, I am not a vegetarian and have no right to judge the killing of animals for food, since I am the happy recipient of the one who does it, but seeing that up close is a little disturbing.

When I headed back (yes, I headed back) they had just finished a goat and another cow, who lay dying on the ground (these two had been done properly the first time and the deaths were a lot quicker). What was particularly sad this time was watching one of the living cows go to the dying cow and actually start licking its face as if to comfort it. Again, it was all a bit sad. Interestingly, I heard from a Malay friend that if you feel sorry for the animal, you are not allowed to consume the meat it provides, since you are supposed to be grateful for what God has provided you. That is also the reason many women don’t attend the event. I think, even if I was Muslim, I would never be able to eat Hari Raya Haji meat.

Now I’m preparing for my next adventure, a four-day trip to Kuching, Sarawak in East Malaysia. Though I am technically going for work, the weekend is all mine! Can’t wait!

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.

Festivities and Saris!


It’s one of Malaysia’s many holiday seasons this month, and let me just say, things have been crazy busy! After several weeks of fasting, Ramadan is coming to an end this week, which means lots of preparations and excitement in Malaysia. It’s almost like Christmas season here, with people sending gift baskets and greeting cards to each other and getting ready for Hari Raya, the Malaysian version of Eid ul-Fitr, to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

It’s really interesting being in a Muslim country during Ramadan. Though I usually noticed when it occurred when I was in the U.S., here the whole country changes for the month to accommodate the Malays, all of whom are Muslim and who make up the largest majority in the country. At work, Malays come in early and leave early to make up for the shortened “lunch” break and allow them time to go home and prepare for “buka puasa,” when they break the fast after dark. More than just a suggestion, all Malays are REQUIRED to observe Ramadan by Sharia Law. In fact, when I went out to lunch with some co-workers a couple weeks ago, my Malay friend (who was sick and therefore not fasting) had to hide behind us when we ate out in public for fear of getting fined by Sharia police. While the Chinese, Indians and other “obvious” non-Muslims have no problem during Ramadan, people who are half Indian half Chinese, known as “Chindians,” sometimes get into trouble, because they physically look Malay and Sharia Law is enforced through racial profiling. Definitely not in Kansas anymore…

Aside from Ramadan, last week Malaysia also celebrated Merdeka Day to recognize the day it gained its independence from British colonial rule. I’m still not exactly sure what Malaysians do to celebrate, but it seemed to me everyone just enjoyed an extra day off from work. I decided to use my day off to go hiking with a friend in a local park called Bukit Gasing which, though not exactly the deep jungle, was still pretty cool.

Me holding a Malaysian flag on Merdeka Day while hiking in Bukit Gasing

Let me tell you, hiking on the equator is like hiking in a sauna! Though the park was relatively tame, after just a short distance I was completed soaked in sweat and my face was bright red. The huge rainstorm that poured down half-way through the hike was more than welcome and felt amazing after all the heat and humidity. All was fun and games until I realized that the rain had soaked through the backpack, destroying my phone and severely damaging my camera…yeah…not cool…

In addition to the national festivities, I have also been getting ready to go to my first Indian wedding later this week. The guy getting married, Prakash, was one of my cab drivers when I first got here who I made friends with. Though I don’t know him well, he was very excited that I come to the wedding, and there is no way I am going to pass up this opportunity!

Being an Indian wedding, I want to dress appropriately, so of course that means I had to get a sari! Unfortunately, I don’t know any Indian women here very well, so my Indian Malaysian friend Jullian offered to take me sari shopping, which, as a guy, he had never done either…

Jullian took me to an area in KL called Brickfields, also known as Little India, to shop. Though I didn’t exactly know what to expect, I was hoping to meet a nice, English-speaking Indian female at the shop who could help me pick out a sari and show me how to tie it. Unfortunately for me, the shopkeeper was a man, who though very nice, only spoke Tamil…

Somehow between me awkwardly pointing at things, Jullian translating and the shopkeeper wrapping me up like a doll (like I’m going to be able to repeat this!), I managed to find this beautiful dark pink and gold sari as well as matching bangles and jewelry. Then it was off to the tailor’s (another man) where I was measured for a custom-made sari shirt to wear under my new sari (fun conversation moment: tailor: “Do you want cups sewn in?” me: “I have no idea. This is awkward…”). After pointing out pictures in a book, some translating from Jullian and advice from the tailor’s wife (“Yes, get the cups…”) I think I picked out a really pretty design that I can’t wait to see when I pick it up on Wednesday!

Along with getting Indian dress, I also learned how to properly eat Indian food, with my hands! A couple weeks ago my co-workers and I were interviewing an Indian Malaysian family for a university ad and afterward took them out for an Indian banana leaf lunch. Though I had done this before, I have always used a fork, but this time, I had proper tutors :).

To start, a banana leaf is placed in front of everyone and the server comes around and puts rice and different ladles of curry and other sauces around it. You then use your hand to mix things together and put it in your mouth. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong!

Turns out, eating with your hands is hard!  You only use your right hand and you’re not supposed to get messy past your second knuckle. Much easier said than done…  After several awkward, elbow-raising attempts with very little food getting into my mouth and much taunting from certain co-workers, Saha, the Indian Malaysian student we interviewed, told me the rule of thumb is not to use your thumb, except to push food into your mouth. Apparently the key is to scoop up the food with the tips of your fingers then use the back of your thumb to push it in your mouth.

In the end, I left with a full stomach and a sense of accomplishment. Next step, learning to use chopsticks!