Malaysian Days – 1 The Journey

Friday 2nd January – Travel to Kuala Lumpur

As this is my first trip ever to Asia I thought I would just record my observations for any who might be interested. It has already been a fascinating trip. They say that travel broadens the mind. It certainly helps me think.

Fear of Flying/Dying
We were actually supposed to arrive on the evening of New Years Day, but I decided to write an account of my illness in 2011, just because my fear of flying had been compounded by the Air Asia tragedy and I was more aware of my mortality than usual. On reflection this is of course irrational. After all every time I get into my car, or on my bike I don’t think this could be the last time – although it could be and I am far more likely to die in a car crash than on a plane. But rationality doesn’t always take away fears.

Drama at Heathrow
I was sitting in London Heathrow with Annabel writing away, and started to feel unwell. Rather stupidly I thought it was because I had not eaten properly all day and so went to a pub grub place and had a plate of cheesy chips and a Peroni. Not surprisingly that did not really help so I thought I would wander over to the blood pressure machine in the concourse and get my BP checked. The next thing I remember was waking up a pool of my own vomit, surrounded by anxious people asking the somewhat superfluous question ‘are you alright’? I asked them to get Annabel who was summoned yet again to a husband who had collapsed! She was obviously concerned – we had been here before. I was sick again several times and could not move so they called an ambulance. It was quite surprising how long the ambulance took to take – it was a good job I was not having a heart attack! I was concerned to get on the plane but Malaysian rightly decided that it was too risky. After being thoroughly checked out, everything was ok and we went to stay in the airport hotel for the night. We were really impressed with the ambulance staff who were pleasant, professional and caring. They told us some horrendous tales of the pressures that London ambulance crews are under just now. I am not sure we appreciate how blessed we are to have such a service as the NHS. Anyway it was one of the strangest ways to see in the New Year that I have ever been part of.

Out of Date Passport
On New Years day we headed in early to the check in desk, and Malaysian told us the flight was full but that we were top of the standby list. Thankfully for us (but not for them) a connecting flight from Manchester was delayed and so we were put on the flight. But then it got really interesting again! At the check in counter the agent noted that my passport was due to end on June the 15th (Annabel’s was July the 15th). This would technically mean that I would not be allowed into Malaysia because they require all passports to be more than six months in date. She was hesitant about letting me on the flight but she accepted my explanation that June was six months – being the sixth month of the year and we were just on January the 1st. Of course I was wrong. But we got on board. Another agent questioned me at the gate – “are you travelling on?” (meaning are you staying in KL); to which I replied, “Yes I am going to Australia”. Which was the truth but not the whole truth.

The Best Airline in the World?
Malaysian are a very impressive airline. Their staff were superb. In contrast with United airlines, they were professional, attentive and helpful. Their uniforms were attractive and classy. They are a great advert for their country.

As a result the 12-hour flight was actually quite pleasant. Kuala Lumpur airport was typical of most international airports – a soulless shopping centre. I was concerned about our passport but we prayed and were let through without any trouble. I had visions of having to live in the airport until Monday – as Annabel went on to the wedding!

Malaysians Have One Meal Per Day
It’s not wise to make judgements about any kind of place based upon the road from the airport into the city and especially when you have not slept for 24 hours. So I won’t. We were met by Dr Jacintha Gong, sister of the bride, and one of our congregation. I don’t think we were that hungry but she and several other friends and family, took us to a typical Malaysian restaurant/café called Kayu Nasi Kanbur for brunch. It was wonderful. The tastes, smells and food were largely all new to us. I loved it all. And I loved the way that food was placed on a wheel in the middle of the table and you just spun it round to take what you wanted. One of the things about eating here is that it is more communal than with us. I think this reflects that we have become a much more individualistic society whereas the Malaysian Chinese (who were the people we mostly met) have a stronger sense of family and of community. This is reflected in their eating. Incidentally I also think it is unwise to make generalisations about a culture based upon a three day visit – these are just my initial observations and are of course subject to correction! Having said that I suspect this next observation is true – Malaysians really like to eat! So much so that there is a saying “Malaysians only have one meal per day, but it lasts all day”.

The Gift of Hospitality
Another observation, not unconnected with the previous, is that Malaysians are incredibly kind and hospitable people. We enjoyed meeting Adeline’s parents at their home. They – and everyone else – treated us as special guests. Again its funny how things bounce back. We have loved having the Malaysian students in our own home and seeing them become part of St Petes. Little did we think that the first time we had Adeline and Jacintha for a typical Scottish Sunday lunch that we would end up in their home in KL, tasting the delights of Malaysian cuisine. The Bible insists that hospitality is a requirement for elders and their families. I think it is a great gift that all believers should seek to exercise – and one that inevitably has its own rewards.

The Biggest Shopping Mall in the World?
Not everything is rosy in the garden. In the afternoon we went to one of the top ten biggest shopping malls in the world. I hate shopping malls at the best of times – but 30 hours without sleep did not help. However the excitement of being in a new country and the pleasantness of the company made it seem churlish not to enjoy it! I spent much of my time just people watching. One of the things that is very noticeable is the distinction between Malays who are largely Muslim (at least in KL) and the Chinese. There were groups of teenage Malay girls walking round the mall in their jeans and head coverings, whilst the Chinese girls were in tight shorts and halter-tops.

Moderate Islam
The distinction was seen even more at the restaurant that we went to for the bride’s family meal in the evening. It was a Chinese restaurant, which only Chinese could go to, and not the 70% of the population who are Malay – because it served alcohol and did not have halal food. There are Sharia courts and police who enforce the rules. All Malay Muslims carry an identity card with Muslim on it. This cannot be removed, as they are not allowed to convert. Sharia police can stop them if for example they are seen with a member of the opposite sex and asked if that is their husband. Or seen in a restaurant which serves alcohol. This is in a more ‘moderate’ Islamic country!

We Are Family!
Our day was rounded off with this ‘bridal’ meal at the New Paris Chinese restaurant. Again we loved the family emphasis, where the old are honoured and the young treasured. The food was stunning and the sharing round the table a great example of ‘fellowship’. The children were fabulous. As always I enjoyed talking to them. Maybe it is my childish nature but usually I find it easier to establish a rapport with the children before I do the adults! I very much felt that we were family as well. Because we were. One of the beauties of Christianity is how the family of Christ overcomes the boundaries of our human families (without destroying them).

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