Monday, March 05, 2007
from North to South (Chiang Mai to Malaysia)....
These past 10 days have been quite a journey for me…..so much has been seen and experienced in such a short amount of time that it will be difficult to try and share it all in just a few words here…..but I will try..
Going to Chiang mai in the north of Thailand was a wonderful homecoming for me…I had met so many wonderful people there last year and was so happy to see so many famliar faces and friends when I returned….It was my time to be in a “big city” as well so I made the most of long walks throughout the day and evening, taking in all the sights and sounds of this magical Buddhist city.
My main reunion was with my Greek friends Yannis, Maria, Nikos and Costas….I ended up making several more good friends when I was there including Tasos from Cyprus and Lena from Sweden. AS you can see from the picture, Lena looks about as Swedish as they come but she lived in Greece for 6 years and speaks Greek so fluently that even the Greeks cannot tell (or believe) she is Swedish (except for the blonde hair and blue eyes, of course) ! She is like a sister to me now and is coming to Koh Lanta today to spend a couple of weeks with me…she feels like a friend for life…such a nice gift when you are traveling.
It was also so nice to meet up with many travelers who I met last year who were also back in Chiang Mai again..we were so suprised but happy to see each other again…I sense this will be a common occurrence if I return here every year. What was also very special for me were the local shopkeepers, café owners, etc., who remembered me (and I them) from last year ….this, too, also felt like a reunion and a very special one at that.
I was also in Chiang MaI for the third anniversary of my mother's passing (Feb. 25TH) I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of the thai tradition of ligthing a latern with a personal message on it and sending it off to the skies...it is a beautiful tradition , I feel, and a wonderful way to be reminded of the transience of all things we know of as "the physical" in this world.
After Chiang Mai, I flew down to the island of Penang in Malaysia…I need to leave the country every 60 days here as part of my visa status so I chose Malaysia as a country to visit for a few days. The island of Penang is very large and quite close to Thailand so I thought this would be a nice place to being my exploration of this multi-cultural nation.
And boy was I in for a surprise….I had always thought I was getting a good sense of the “muslim experience” living in Koh Lanta but once entering Malaysia I think I truly began to understand what it is like as a woman to live in a country that seems to predominately cater to emn. It was not like I ever did not feel safe- this was not a big concern though I was careful where I walked at night and always walked briskly and assuredly ( a technique I use everyehre I go ..)
What made me feel like I was really in a Muslim country was in the way I was being treating by many of the local men- the looks, the comments as I walked by, the curious stares of why I was alone, dressed in shorts, walking confidently with a smile….I think it was all just a little bit strange for them-not something they are that accustomed to in their culture……..I just haven’t experienced any of this in Thailand for all the months that I have been here….
Now this was just on the island of Penang and this is the only observation I can make about Malaysia thus far….The city of Georgetown ( where I was staying ) was a fascinating mix of Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhist and British culture all wrapped up in one- one could easily see this in the many types of architecture that represented all these ways of life- it was also great to see so many languages in the street signs everywhere I went…it seemed like all were accepted here….but I know appearances can be deceiving….not everything is as it appears, I know…..but I did get a sense of overall peace as I walked the streets. This is always inspiring and affirming to me.
I was especially taken aback by an area in town called Little India where one could truly feel like they were walking down a street in Bombay or Delhi…..it was uncanny at times- with the loud blaring bass-filled Indie music beating from the many CD/DVD shops , the amazingly colorful sarongs and saris hanging everywhere you looked and the smells of curry and coconut in the air filling my stomach several times over.…it was sensory overload and I loved it….
After Penang , I took a 2 ½ hour boat trip to another Malaysian island called Langkawi….This island supposedly draws more tourists to Malaysia than anywhere else in the country. And I could see why…rich green rolling hills and mountains met beautiful clear blue-water beaches almost everywhere I looked. And the Malays here were so incredibly warm and friendly. I took a sunset walk down a beach one night and I was constantly being stopped with shouts of “hello” from both children and adults alike….and the smiles I received from almost every single person as I walked by (both men and women) were incredibly heartwarming- these were smiles that came form deep within their hearts….They saw me as a human being first…as I did them….there is something magical when you connect with the eyes first and then the heart…it transcend all cultures, skin colors, and religious beliefs…I believe the ripple effect of this type of connection is huge.
The highlight for me on this walk was meeting a group of university students- all girls, all muslims fromm Penang, and all future civil engineers ! They were on the beach celebrating the end of their semester and they were just so happy to be able to talk to me about their studies. I was also just so happy to hear that this country was supporting women in education, especially in fields that are normally associated with men. It was just so awesome to be around these girls..they were smart, funny, kind, and so incredibly enthusiastic…..I think their smiles in the picture tells it all..
My last stop on my 10 day journey was taking another boat trip back to Thaland to the island of Koh Lipe. I had heard so much about this island last year and decided it was time to finally visit. Butinstead of being welcomed by calm tranquil beaches , I was greeted by a parking lot oflongtail boats hustling tourists back and forth around the island- not the peacefule environment I was expecting and wanting…the waters were amazingly clear here , though, so I did take advantage of doing some very nice snorkeling just off the shores of my bungalow…Unfortunately, I think there is not turning back the clock on this island…the invasion has occurred and the invadees are not trying to make as much money as they can from the situation…..some people call it progress…I call it too much , too fast….
After an amazing 3 hour speed boat trip from Koh Lipe, I arrived back here in my “home” of Koh Lanta. I admit it is really nice to be back in my little bungalow again and see my old friends here….there is a sense of family for me here and was happy to see the “gang” when I returned. Even my faithful dog Juliet (who I unofficially adopted) came running up to me as I approached my bungalow…It was like she had just seen Santa Claus for the first time..I know now why people have dogs…they truly are incredibly faithful….
Okay, I think that is about it for now….these were hardly “few words” as I planned so I apologize if I got a bit long winded….I guess these logs serve a dual purpose ; it is not only a way to share with you my adventures but also a medium for me to keep track of “where the heck I have been !”…
It is hard to believe we are in March already….I am home in a little over 6 weeks already….time really does fly when you are having fun and enjoying life to the fullest…
I wouldn’t have it any other way….
Hugs to you…