I left Singapore’s Changi Airport this morning after 32.5 hours of travel. Half an hour later, I arrived at the hotel where I’ll be staying for a couple days and took a shower in the pool locker room because my room wasn’t ready. My primary objective for the afternoon was to stay outside as much as possible in order to keep myself awake and to let natural melatonin do its thing.
Immediately upon leaving the airport, I realized a year away means a lot in terms of memory. For example, I’d forgotten that they drive on the left side of the road here, a legacy of British colonialism. I forgot that no one knows how to walk in a straight line, that people actually wait for the crosswalk light to change before crossing the street, and that escalators are for standing (strictly on the left, of course). Additionally, I forgot that you tap your subway card on the way in and on the way out to calculate the fare and I forgot the subway map altogether.
So many people smoke cigarettes, which I’d also forgotten, and it’s gross. And yet, I knew exactly where to find the closest money changer and where to get a new SIM card. I remembered the location of certain stores in a mall I used to frequent and was able to recognize new ones.
It’s weird that I was gone for a year . . . and it’s weird that I was gone for only a year.
I felt somewhat similarly in Rochester this summer. There were certain things about driving around town that I’d just forgotten. I’d forgotten how certain neighborhoods blend into each other and the names of different streets that I used to know. It’s unsettling that after spending so much of my life in that one place, a lot of it was gone, replaced by new pertinent information like all the local and express stops on the 4, 5, 6 trains in New York.
I expect that it’s going to be the same in Singapore for a little while. There’s definitely some adjusting to do, but it feels good to back.
We made it! Mitch and I traveled for about 40 hours door-to-door, but we made it to Malaysia and so did our luggage! I ignored the flight attendant’s request to “stow all electronic devices” during landing and took a few pictures to document my first glimpse of my new home.
I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but I wasn’t expecting so much greenery. I am aware of the fact that Malaysia is tropical and that a large part of it is rainforest, but somehow that did not equate to green in my head. Sometimes it’s nice to be mistaken.
My bosses picked us up at the Kuala Lumpur airport and we drove for about 40 minutes to reach Seremban, the city where we’ll be living. Or, at any rate, the city where I’ll be living and working; Mitch still has to find a job, and Seremban is an “up and coming” city, which, in Southeast Asian terms means it has more than doubled in size in the last decade, so it’s probably not going to be here.
On our drive we passed literally dozens of palm oil plantations. We were warned not to make friends with any of the many stray dogs that roam the city (so far I’ve only seen one) and told to watch out for poisonous snakes. Apparently Malaysia has more species of poisonous snakes than any other country. Excellent.
The on-campus residences are still under construction (yikes?) so the school has put everyone up in a hotel for now. Part of orientation will also include off-campus house hunting, too, so I’m really excited about that. Mitch and I spent the afternoon getting organized, trying to figure out cell phones, and wandering around town. One of the more interesting aspects of our wanderings were our attempts to find and ATM. There were signs for ATMs at the mall next door to the hotel, but they’re not installed yet (“up and coming” in Southeast Asia also means currently under construction) so a helpful lady directed us to a 7-Eleven around the corner. We’d already been there and their ATM was broken, so we went back to the hotel and asked at the desk. The gentleman on duty directed us to a hospital down the street.
Never in my life have I strolled into a hospital, wandered around the first floor unaccompanied and completely ignored, taken money out of an ATM, and walked out again. I did not leave feeling incredibly confident in the Malaysian healthcare systems, especially considering the sign announcing prices for different procedures at the door. Toto, we are certainly not in Kansas anymore.
After 40 hours of travel, sporadic eating and sleeping, and lightheaded wandering, we were more than ready to find some dinner. We had asked a hotel employee for suggestions, stipulating that the menu include vegetarian food. He directed us to a Chinese restaurant in the opposite direction of where we’d walked earlier. I’m not positive we found the specific restaurant because there’s more than one Chinese restaurant here, but we ended up finding the spiciest tofu I’ve ever tasted.
When we walked in, a server handed us menus (mercifully written in both English and Chinese) and we sat down at a table. After looking over the menu and consulting our friends Google and Wikipedia, we learned that we were in a laksa restaurant. We also learned that laksa is a spicy soup that combines Chinese and Malay culinary traditions. Good for us, we’d found something authentic! It also wasn’t too hard to figure out how to order after we realized that no one was coming by to check on us.
When we pressed for service, a bell chimed and a number flashed on the wall, like the numbers people take in the deli counter line at the grocery store. A server came over, we ordered, and a short time later, we had food!
It’s a good thing there were tissues on the table (maybe they were supposed to be napkins?) or I would not have gotten through that bowl. Quite tasty, though!
All in all, so far so good. We’re basically watching the clock until it’s late enough to go to bed. I know what day it’s supposed to be, though not exactly what day my body thinks it is. At any rate, I’m glad we have a couple days to acclimate before teacher training starts. We certainly need it!
“I know nothing with an certainty, but the sight of stars makes me dream.” – Vincent Van Gogh
Today’s the day! My last day in the US started with the realization – a bit like a bucket of cold water thrown on one’s head – that my alarm hadn’t gone off because my phone was rebooting. Good thing Mitch and I don’t have to be at the airport until later this afternoon.
The other issue I’ve been facing is how much stuff I have. Malaysia is a tropical country so all of my winter clothes (I live in Upstate New York so that really means most of my clothes) are staying in the US or have already been donated to Goodwill. Nevertheless, one of my suitcases is at risk of being considered freight (means over 70lbs) and therefore not allowed on the plane and the other is about half a pound shy of overweight baggage charges (means it’s just under 50lbs). Geez. I am apparently bad at minimizing.
Wish us luck! Get ready for great stories!
Photos, travels, musings, and ideas on education by a twenty-something teacher trying to make the world a better and more peaceful place