I love to experience the new and unexpected. New sights, experiences, smells and tastes from different places broaden my view of what’s possible. Malaysia is a beautiful, tropical, country that is a hodgepodge of cultures that have blended together to form an exotic culture. I was married for 19 years to a man from that culture and I made the journey half-way around the world to his homeland.
Malaysia has been a travel crossroads since man set sail. It’s a colorful blur of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian and British. My ex is Chinese and his large, multi-cultural family is scattered throughout the Malaysian peninsula and Singapore. He is the 12th of 13 children; he was born to the second wife. The two moms, his father, a grandmother and all the children lived under the same roof. His grandmother was born in China. I heard the story of her broken, gnarled feet because of having them partially bound as a very young girl. This was the custom in China before war caused her family to move to Malaysia. His grandmother, father and the first mom had long passed away before we married.
This only child was warmly welcomed into his large family. My Mother-in-Law spoke no English, so there was lots of smiling and nodding when we met. Family life centered around mealtime and generations came together to laugh, gossip and eat. The Kitchen God’s image hangs in the kitchen and is fed sticky food so he can’t slip away and repeat the overheard gossip.
Adults eat first, the teens clean up and everyone plays with any available baby. After dinner, the kids go outside to play and climb the fruit-laden trees while the adults play mahjong. The only Chinese I had leaned were the curses that my then husband would mutter under his breath. He had no idea I had learned those curse words much to the delight of his family when asked if I had learned any Chinese and I proudly said them.
Our daughter is named Jade, a name to fit in both East and West. When we returned a few years later to visit with her, it was hard to realize that my baby girl would have been the age of her great grandmother when foot-binding would have been the norm. My little exuberant American—who talked as an equal to the adults, not something the other children did—was embraced and welcomed just as I was. I have sweet memories of her curled up in her grandmother’s lap watching TV…in Chinese. Their understanding of each other transcended language. Fortunately she did not learn those Chinese curses.
While life in Malaysia is more similar than different from my American life, there are differences. His family all went to British schools. So while English is their first language, they speak English/Malay/Chinese; it’s whichever language has the best word for what they’re trying to say. Malaysians often end a phrase or a sentence with the word “la” which gives conversation a lovely lilting sound.
Each day the heavy tropical dawn air carries the beautiful sound of prayers being chanted from a nearby mosque. Muslims, Buddhists, Christians and Hindus all live side by side. Shoes are taken off before you enter homes or temples. There’s always a pile of shoes at doorways. There are warning signs at temples that say “Beware of Shoe Thieves”. One memorable sign said “Beware of Shoes”. I wear a size 7, which is huge over there and probably why I never had my shoes stolen. I’m 5’4”, which made me the size of most men. My ex is 5’8” and played center for his high school basketball team.
I love curry, dim sum and mangos because of first tasting them in that tropical crossroads. I’ve walked on a rope bridge high atop a rain forest, eye-level with the tropical birds and monkeys. I’ve stood on Penang’s breathtaking island shores–shores that a devastating tsunami would one day flood. I’ve slung back a Singapore Sling at the timeless Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the same place Somerset Maugham, Hemingway and other ex-pats drank and told their stories. I’ve stood atop the world’s tallest twin towers in Kuala Lumpur and seen the sunset on a distant horizon. A sunset that was becoming a sunrise back home. Life is indeed about the journey and not the destination. Savor every step.
If you like My Creative Journey, I’d love for you to follow me. My posts will then arrive in your email and I promise no spam.
I adore your Creative Journey, and loved this post. How I wish I could come with you to be a fly on the wall to see all you have written. How marvelous to be a part of this cross-cultural experience that, really, seems like (as it should be) that we are all one. Love it, and the marvelous pictures. Kudos to you, Connie.
Thanks Cathy! The pictures of my baby girl from that trip are favorites of mine.
I also LOVED Malaysia because it’s cross-cultural flavors! Penang is one of most interesting and exciting islands I have ever traveled to, besides Venice!
Wonderful sharing of stories, Connie!
Laura, If you ever watch Anthony Bourdaine, he did a great show from Malaysia and spent some time in Penang. It made me want to go back just to eat the food!
Holy coicsne data batman. Lol!
Beautifully written. What an interesting life you’ve had my dear!
Thanks Lisa, I really appreciate your support.
Thank you for taking me with you …..
I enjoyed this reflection on your life. Those two little girls are beautiful. Journey vs. destination, for sure. Thanks.
Thank you Rick. Those beautiful little girls are now beautiful women in their 20s.
This is part of the world I long to visit someday. Thanks for sharing your journey.
Jennifer, I hope you go there too!
Sounds like a wonderful place to go. And I found myself wondering how old your daughter is now.
Alexandra, my baby girl just turned 23. If you click on this link there’s a picture of us at the end of the story. http://conniemcleod.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/stand-tall-and-hold-hands/
Thank you for sharing your insights. You have a very rich vantage points from which to share the landscape, food, culture, people. Sweet pictures. I like the little details, like the signs about shoe theft. Now I want some Malaysian street food! (Ain’t gonna happen in Kansas.) A lovely travel story.
Thnaks, after writing this I went and bought a mango to eat and I’ve got to get some curry this week!
That sounds so amazing…I’m pretty sure Wendy has been to Malaysia during her time in Hong Kong, but it’s like a faraway dream to me. 🙂
I always wanted to explore Hong Kong, but never made it out of the airport.
How wonderful that you have been able to experience another culture so fully. My sister-in-law is Korean, so we have had some experience with her culture over the years – I think it’s amazing when cultures meld together like yours and your husbands.
Sharon, you are correct. I am so grateful that I had the experience.
You must have loved writing this. What wonderful memories you have of the Far East. Thank you for sharing.
I really did love writing it. My first draft was twice as long!
I loved this Connie. Such interesting things to learn – how people go through their day-to-day lives. I love your description of dinner, the kids playing outside after, and the adults playing mahjong. Fascinating stuff. Small differences but we are really all the same.
Oh, and I love your daughter’s name. Jade – perfect.
Amanda, I really enjoyed and could relate to your post. It was a new experience for me to be the only white person in a large marketplace. While I was always welcome, I know that I never got the best prices. Not only was I not good at haggling, everything about me screamed American tourist.
I can totally see that about not getting the best prices. I’m sure I scream Canadian tourist every time I set foot in Jamaica too.
This is beautifully written, Connie, and now I am putting a trip to Malaysia on my bucket list while salivating over the descriptions of the food. What a fascinating culture!
Helene, I hope you do make it someday!
Just in case this is the closest to Malaysia I ever come (I hope it isn’t, based on your description), you’ve done a fantastic job making me feel like I experienced it through your eyes.
Jade is a beautiful name for a beautiful daughter.
And happy belated blogoversary!
Thank you Lori. Jade has grown up to be as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside!
What a wonderful experience. In that first photo of your daughter, she reminds me of the girl who plays Cam and Mitchell’s daughter on Modern Family. What a cutie. Well. I’m sure she’s grown up since then!
Pam, You’re right! I never thought that till now (I love Modern family). That little girl is now 23!
This post drew me back again to Linda See’s “Snow Flower and The Secret Fan.” Such a beautiful book reflecting that time and culture.
Shannon, my book club read that book, it was facinating. I bought a pair of tiny shoes “called flower bowls for the lotus feet” on our trip. It was hard to wrap my mind around these being adult women’s shoes.
What an amazing experience. I felt as if I were there. Gorgeous photos.
What an amazing experience — such culture, such history and such a gorgeous little girl! The pictures are absolutely beautiful, and you’ve now made me add a new place to my travel list!
What a wonderful adventure and heritage for your daughter. Lovely pictures, but my favorite is her with her cousin.
Beverly, I love that picture too. Jade is an only child and I was always amazed how much they looked alike!
OK-Asia is on my list and you made it sound way better than I thought! Great photos too
Thanks! The easy thing about traveling to Malaysia and Singapore is that most everyone speaks English.
I’ve never been to the East, but Raffles! Oh, what i would give to fan myself as I sip some gin drink in Raffles! “More similar than different,” of course you and your daughter were warmly welcomed. Fantastic piece! I will be back. And yes, as other have said, “Great photography!”
Nancy, the Raffles was indeed a step back to another era.
Loved this post, Connie. So fascinating all the details you included about Malaysian customs. Your Jade is beautiful!
Thanks Pat, I always appreciate your comments. I thought of you when I wrote ex pats!
Thanks Connie for such a lovely post- what a great way to share your history with us. How great that they shared their love of you in other ways other than language. And, your daughter Jade sounds wonderful. Great Post! Virginia- FirstClassWoman
Thanks Virginia, I have such nice memories of my travels to the other side of the world. And my Jade is wonderful!
What a great adventure.
It was indeed!
What a fascinating essay, Connie! I loved reading about your experiences in the East. I especially loved learning about the “Kitchen God,” being fed “sticky food so he can’t slip away and repeat the overheard gossip.” I feel as though I’ve been there thanks to you. (Your daughter is beautiful!)
Thanks Marci! Amy Tan wrote a book called “The Kitchen God’s Wife!” And her book “The Joy Luck Club” was true to the culture that I experienced.
Yes! I believe I read Joy Luck Club years ago. Great writer!
This post made me want to visit Malaysia! I’ll have to settle for a Malaysian restaurant 🙂
I’ve been craving curry since I wrote it!
Very interesting experience not just as a traveler but as a family member. A cultural mix is so interesting!
Haralee, I will always be grateful for the experience!
I enjoyed this story. Jade is so beautiful – both inside and out 🙂
Reading this is just what I needed to confirm that Malaysia is where one of my Year of 50 adventures will take place. And what sweet, sweet photos of your little girl. I loved reading the comments as well.
Lisa, it’s a great country to visit and a great way to celebrate your new decade. Be sure to go to Singapore too! I can’t wait to hear your adventures.
Connie, thanks so much for sharing this! It was really lovely to read! My favorite part has to be that one about your daughter and her grandmother and how their ‘understanding of each other transcended language’. That was simply beautiful!…made my heart melt, really. (I guess my shoes won’t ever get stolen too over there. I’m a 9.5…eeek!) xoxo
Joy, meeting you at the conference was such a gift. I can’t wait to follow along your blog and keep up with your story! I know we’ll connect up again some day.