Sunday, February 9, 2014

Welcome to Malaysia

February 8, 2014 – Welcome to Malaysia                            
Day 24 - Distance biked so far: (2,186 km)
Welcome to Malaysia
The Malaysia border
I crossed from Thailand into Malaysia on January 27th and the relatively cool weather that I enjoyed in Thailand continued for the first few days. Other than the language, religion and lack of coffee shops every 30 km or so, the northwest of Malaysia is very similar to Thailand. Malaysia is an old British colony so English is widely spoken and of course it is a Muslim country as opposed to the Buddhism in Thailand. The Mosque’s have replaced the Buddhist Wats but the friendly people still abound.
I was quickly reminded of the hospitality of Muslim countries. On one afternoon I rolled my bike up to a roadside restaurant and lined up in front of the display case to point out what I was going to order. I have to point because for the most part I have no idea of the names of the dishes so I usually just ask for rice and vegetables. A lady was in front of me and asked where I was from and then she just smiled and sat down with her son. I ate my meal and when I was done asked for the bill and the owner told me that the lady who just left and the one who I spoke with a short while ago paid my bill.
The irony is that a few nights ago, I was watching a video on YouTube about people who perform random acts of kindness. In one video, a man loaded up his video camera and a few family members and went to a grocery store in the U.S to pay for someone’s food. He was a member of a Christian church so carried some tracts with the name of the church and a few gospel messages. The young daughter filmed as the man stood behind a lady in the checkout line and when it came to her time to pay, he loudly announced that he was going to pay the bill. He then mentioned the church he belonged to and as the camera was rolling so that they could download it later. I remember thinking at the time that despite the idea being one of kindness, it certainly wasn’t a random act. It struck me that it was more of a way to get people to join a church. The lady I met here had absolutely no agenda; she simply paid the bill without saying a word, expecting nothing in return. That sticks out in my mind as a truly random act of kindness.
The next day I was biking along and a young man pulled up beside me on a motorcycle. He asked where I was from and then reached down and gave me an ice-cold bottle of water and drove off. It is the same hospitality I had when I was in Syria and Jordan back in 2011. It is really encouraging to know that there are so many people in the world who simply take the time to show kindness. It doesn’t take a lot but the impact can last a long time.
The scenery was lush and the roads were quiet after crossing the border. Here is a typical view of my first day in Malaysia.
Nice cycling in Northern Malaysia
Here is a canal in the city of Alor Setar.
Alor Setar
The country of Malaysia has been peaceful for many years but there is an underlying tension. The reason is that there are 3 main ethnic groups with the majority being Malay, the second largest but wealthiest being Chinese and the poorest being Indian. There is often conflict when the wealthier group does not have the same political influence as the majority. The government here has to walk a tightrope. On one hand they need the votes of the Malays to hold on to power but on the other, they need to have support from those paying the most tax and controlling the workforce. In general terms, a similar situation is occurring right now in Thailand between the middle class in Bangkok and the farmers in the north and northeast.
The good thing about having 3 different ethic groups is that you get 3 distinct cultures in one country and that means a great variety of food. My breakfast of choice is the Indian roti canai and teh tarik. Roti Canai is warm flatbread and served with different spicy sauces. Teh tarik is hot tea with milk. Here is a breakfast of champions or at least fat champions.
Roti Canai
If I want a different meal in the morning, I usually avoid having to make a difficult choice so just have a second breakfast. The Chinese tend to go with noodles and it is also delicious. Here is a breakfast in a Chinese roadside stall. Since they don’t really have coffee here, I stick with the hot tea.
Second breakfast
With the different ethnic groups you also get different religions. Malaysia is a secular Muslim country but has a strong Chinese Buddhist and Indian Hindu influence. Here is one of the many Mosques I rode by while in Malaysia.
Mosque near Ipoh, Malaysia
You also see a lot of Hindu temples in the towns.
Hindu temple in Malaysia
In Malaysia, as I ride by in the more remote parts, I often hear scrambling noises to my side and that can only mean monkeys. I usually hear them before I see them so will typically stop, look up in the trees and see if I can see them scramble. They are shy and will try to hide but sometimes, they are pretty easy to spot. One day, I was riding and watched a monkey walk across the power line to get from one side of the road to the other.
Why did the monkey cross the road
As I approached I saw a number doing the same thing, it was a busy intersection for the monkeys. This one was halfway across and spotted me so scrambled as fast as he could and nearly fell. Luckily they have 2 hands, 2 feet and a tail, as back up support to avoid a fall, this monkey needed all 5 points of contact.
Close call
My original plan in Malaysia was to just bike a few days to the city of Georgetown and then take a ferry to Sumatra, Indonesia. The ferries no longer operate from this part of Malaysia so I was forced to continue south and I have decided to continue all the way down to Singapore and then to take a ferry to Indonesia from there. I don’t have a guidebook for Malaysia but since I was here before I remember a lot of the details. My favorite city in Malaysia is Melaka and I stayed there for 3 nights in 2012. I distinctly remembered the Emily Home Guesthouse and so when I rode into town I easily found the place from memory.
I am taking a day off here in the peaceful settings. Emily Home Guesthouse has beautiful gardens that make it difficult to leave.
Gardens at Emily Home
There are 2 resident turtles and the female gave birth to some eggs a few days ago. They are kept under the blue container to keep them out of harm’s reach. Here are the proud parents keeping an eye on the eggs under cover.
Turtles at Emily Home
The City of Melaka has an Old Town that is a great place to walk around for a few days. Here is the Old Church in the center of town.
Center of Melaka
There are canals running through the City adding to the charm.
Canal in Melaka
The Old Town is a very artsy place with coffee shops, art and craft shops and antique stores you often find in these historic sites. A lot of the old buildings are painted and here is one reminding me of the Orangutans I missed in Sumatra.
Art scene in Melaka
Melaka is known for spicy rice balls so I had to go out and find some. The owner of Emily Home told me about a local restaurant and it wasn’t long before I found it. I had chicken, spicy rice balls and a tofu and seaweed soup, something I will be dreaming about for miles to come.
Rice balls
On my 22nd day of the trip I passed the 2,000 km mark, shortly south of Melaka.
2,000 km
As I have mentioned I like to stop to eat at the local roadside stalls as the food is delicious and very few foreigners eat there. It is a great chance to meet local people and they are very appreciative of someone trying their food. I stopped at a Malay restaurant for a small meal and the ladies wanted a picture and ended up fighting over who was going to stand beside me. They ended up taking turns and took 4 different photos. The lady on my left won the prized spot on this picture and she is pretty happy about it.
My groupies
I was cycling along one day and noticed a large Buddhist Temple with a number of Swastika signs on the side. The Swastika symbol is 3,000 years old and means different things to the Buddhist of India, China and Japan. One great irony of history is that the Nazis in Germany adopted the use of a symbol initially meant for peace.
Buddhist Temple
I mentioned earlier about the hospitality that has been shown to me in Malaysia but on February 6th, I had a day I will never forget. I stopped at a stall for my second breakfast and ordered a meal and coffee and sat at a table outside. I noticed a family inside but they were quietly enjoying their meal so I opened up a book and started reading. When I was done I went to pay and the owner told me that the family that was here and left paid my bill. They had left the restaurant about 15 minutes earlier. They smiled at me but did not say a word. I then continued on and later in the hot day noticed a sign for a Coconut Shake. I turned my bike around and had to try one .I can’t believe I am also through Malaysia and this is my first coconut shake, now one of my all time favorites.
Coconut Shake
As I was sitting there in the euphoria of a cold shake with ice cream on a not day, a man introduced himself as Mdin Ghani. We talked briefly and then I said I had to go but before I left he paid for my milkshake. The older man on his right is almost 100 years old and explained through Mdin that in his youth travelled the world by sea as a seaman. I think he would have a lot of great stories to tell. Thank you Mdin for your kind hospitality, I will remember the Malaysia people fondly because of acts like that.
My Malaysian friends
I made it to the town of Pontian late in the afternoon and was looking for a place to sleep. I went into the Sunflower Hotel and met the owner Jorlyn Tee. She took an interest in my cycling and when she asked about the Philippine flag I told her that I was trying to support the Angel House Orphanage and the victims of Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines. When she heard that she offered me a room for free. Here is a picture of Jorlyn.
Generous Host
I went to my room and could not believe what had happened in the course of about 7 hours. Complete strangers paid for a breakfast, snack and offered a hotel room and without any expectation of anything in return. I decided that at that point I was not going to simply accept the gifts. It is the gesture that has the most meaning to, not the dollar value but the dollar value can mean something to others. I decided to track the value of all the random acts of kindness and will then donate the value to the Angel House Orphanage when I complete the trip. The people acts of kindness will be forwarded on to the orphanage that could really use the support so I want it to mean a lot. I will never forget the generosity and want to spread that to others. I am completely humbled by what the people in Malaysia have done in the past 10 days and even though they will not know the impact it will have a wide-ranging effect, trickling down to the orphaned children in Davao, Philippines.
It is now Saturday February 8th and I am in Singapore. I will be here a few days and then continue with a ferry ride to Indonesia. It looks like the best option for me will be to take a ferry to the south of the island of Sumatra and then continue on my bike to the island of Java and then Bali. Indonesia promises to be a lot more hectic than Singapore, but I am excited to visit a place I have never been.
One of the things I started doing as I was cycling is to pick up any loose money that I find on the roads. I will be collecting that and also donate it to the Angel House Orphanage after my trip around the world.
Here is a summary of a few things since I left Bangkok on January 15, 2014.
Days on the road – 24
Km’s cycled – 2,186
Countries visited – 3 (Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore)
Money found on the road - $3.49 (local currency converted to $U.S)
Books read or reading – 5
-          The Smartest Guys in the Room (the fall of Enron)
-          The Man without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
-          The Big Truck that Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster
-          Race of a Lifetime (inside story of the 2008 U.S Presidential election)
-          Lonely Planet – Indonesia
The Angel House Orphanage as adorable children ready to be adopted and here is a picture of a little Princess.
Girl waiting for a home
In January, only 30% of the operating costs for the Angel House Orphanage were met through private donations. David and his team do not get any government funding and are not sponsored by a church so all the expenses to provide food, healthcare, clothing and the day to day expenses of up to 20 children have to be met by those donations. Any shortfall comes from David’s pocket and that shortfall can’t last forever. Please share the word on the Angel House Orphanage with friends, families, churches and any other organization that might provide support or even someone willing to adopt.
They have a page on Facebook, so please invite friends to like the page and pass it to their friends. David also has a website where you can see photos of the children and get updates on the work they do. It can be found here,
Thank you for following the journey. I will write again from Indonesia.

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