Introducing the world’s lightest backpacker

     Talk about inimitable style. Look at the size of Philip’s bag. He says he is “only traveling for three weeks”, but who does this? The most substantive part consists of two pants, two shirts, one swimming shorts, a sarong, a toothbrush, and two books. Two books!
     I look at my own stuffed bag and feel almost ashamed to be so overladen, though there are specific reasons my backpack is half full of cat tranquilizer and ammunition.

     I made the move to Melaka on Christmas day, partly because Penang’s mosquitoes were killing me. (Malaria is almost eradicated country-wide in Malaysia, but there’s plenty of dengue fever.) There was never a question of how to go the 500km south; Christmas is the perfect day to hitchhike. Who can refuse you?
     By the way, did you know that if you google the word “hitchhiking", my site shows up as the ninth result? First page on Google! That’s pretty cool. Thank you, Lulu Al Alamir (could be a nom de plume!), for letting me know.
     I started from the same bad place in Butterworth near the Penang island ferry, but soon enough a group of four young Chinese kids stopped because they thought standing on the road with my thumb out meant that I needed help. Since they weren’t going out to the highway I didn’t explain it all and instead politely thanked them for stopping. They drove off, but two minutes later their curiosity got the better of them and they reappeared, wanting clarification (“You want to go to the bus station?") When I laid it all out to them, that I want a ride to just before the highway where I will stand there with my thumb out again and try to get another person to stop, they said they wanted to help me go to this magic place. I forgot there was a 1.30 ringgit (40 cents) toll involved, but they said it was my Christmas present. The subsequent photo session took longer than the ride.

     Let's see, where am I in this photo? On the left, yes, that's me. I am often asked if there is any fallout from hitchhiking with an American flag on my backpack as my country hasn’t been high on anyone’s list lately. For one, most people don’t even associate the flag with me being American. I'll have my backpack on my lap, flag facing the driver, and when they will ask where I am from, they're surprised. Once they see I am American, they still don't have a problem with me. Very, very few people aren't able to separate me from my government, and if they want to talk politics or anything else, I'm game. How many people get to meet normal Americans in this relaxed setting? Few Americans travel to Malaysia, nearly none hitchhike, and drivers get quality one-on-one time to talk with me. Is there such a thing as a non-governmental ambassador for my country? That's me all over the world. I should be getting paid by someone.

     Supercreep stopped for me after that, a guy who couldn’t hide his bad intentions, whatever they were, and I turned him down flatly. It very, very rarely happens, but when it does, you just know.
     I’ve hitchhiked in Malaysia many times over the years, and only twice were there weird situations, both involving gay guys who picked me up. In the first case when the guy was rebuffed, he became ill, stopped, opened the door and threw up. In the other case, the guy waited for the rain to come before trying to feel my knee, thinking I wouldn’t get out of the car in the rain, but he thought wrong. (Wrongly?)
     It obviously didn’t deter me from hitchhiking again in the region. I had thoughts of hitching all the way up to Bangkok or to do the reverse if I had flown there first. However, I met a young, blond normal-looking German guy who wanted to hitch from Bangkok to Malaysia and did what I would have done: take the train from Bangkok to Hua Hin, the first town on the main road south, and he got stuck. He had his thumb out all day, tried a Thai sign—nothing. That gave me pause for thought.
     The rest of the rides were uneventful and easy to come by. I was faster than the bus and the entire journey, door to door, cost me 1 ringgit (32 cents), which was the local bus to downtown Melaka.

     OK, I get that Malaysian is an easy language for its phonetic simplifications, but sometimes they cross the line

     I met Philip again in Melaka and the poor guy had to watch me try and get reacquainted with a town that becomes more like a carnival every time I come. Why is the fabulously weird Museum of Enduring Beauty gutted? Can traffic and city planning become any worse? Is anyone in Singapore since the whole country appears to be here? Will I ever have muscles?

     This is a closeup of the picture above. My sandal broke. New tan lines imminent.
     Who wants a postcard from Malaysia? If you haven’t won this fantastic prize before, the first person to respond below who also follows me on Facebook gets one. (If you have a reason for hating Facebook I completely understand and will send it to you anyway.)

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Introducing the world’s lightest backpacker — 9 Comments

  1. Best wishes for a Happy New Year. You are my favorite Dromo Sexual! Keep up the blog – it keeps the northern chill at bay.

  2. I’ve hitchhiked in Malaysia too, oh, the best experience in my life of hitchhiking for sure – I was picked by a very young driver (i don’t really think he had a licence) who was driving only with his alcohol and water resources for 2 days. Luckily, we reached Mount Mulu alive. By the way, I’d seriously love to get a postcard from anywhere you are, haha!

  3. “Very, very few people aren’t able to separate me from my government” … I love this. Hardly anyone thinks I’m from America at first glance, but when they do, they don’t have a problem with me… even back in the G.W.B. era when I spent some time in Europe. They were mostly just curious as to how it could’ve happened twice and because I was from California, they also wanted to know why we had Arnie as our governator. No one held me personally responsible. I’m on an ongoing quest to pack more lightly, but I think that bag is ridiculous. I have a friend who sometimes travels that lightly and it’s not a good thing! I hope for everyone else’s sake that he was handwashing his clothes regularly!

  4. Well, Philip was largely visiting friends where he could wash, put it is still a tough thing to pull off indeed.
    I imagine as a black woman that you would be even more of a curiosity than me when you travel!

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