Malaysia has long been one of my top five favorite countries in the world. (The others are solidly Japan, Brazil, Hungary and then shakily either Russia or Zimbabwe.) It’s main selling point is its diversity because Malaysia is an amalgamation of three very different cultures: Malay, Chinese and Indian. That’s a heady brew. What other country is comprised of such a disparate threesome? Just Chinese and Indians alone, to mix to the extent they do, is unseen anywhere else on the world that I am aware of. I grew up in Silicon Valley near San Francisco and there are big communities of both, but they don’t blend together like they do here.
I’m always ready to defend Malaysia against the hordes of Thailand lovers. Thailand has better beaches and a party culture, a tough draw to overcome, but Malaysia also has some nice beaches, excellent nature, best food in the world, a rich history, plus good hitchhiking, which is an inference about the people even if you don’t hitchhike.
When I’m asked what the main sights are in Penang, Melaka and Kuala Lumpur, I get glassy-eyed and enigmatically say that it’s less a list of must-sees than a feeling and mood to soak in. Then I am asked if I just got out of an ashram or if I am from Marin County.
On a practical level, in Malaysia people speak English infinitely better than in Thailand, you can drink the tap water, and it’s easy to arrange anything with its superior infrastructure. Some travelers would like less infrastructure, more rough edges, and cheaper beer, lamenting that Malaysia’s going the way of Singapore. There’s always Malaysian Borneo to get away from it all, but high beer prices can’t be solved.
It’s not all harmonious good feelings and bonhomie. When Malaysians ask how I get along in their country, sometimes I want to answer that I wish Malaysians would treat each other as well as they treat me. (In Japan I have this feeling the strongest.) Politics cause rifts. On top of this, everything has to fit in with the fact that it is an Islamic country.
I’ll get to test my Malaysian allegiance vis-a-vis Thailand because I just flew into Chiang Mai after a very long absence in the north. I’m also trying to be careful not to fall under the delusion that I know the two countries well because I’ve been to both about 15 times each, but they change so fast and so much is probably under the surface that I simply don’t recognize and make sense of what I see.
OK, I see I am boring everyone to tears so I’ll stop and get cracking on the script of my next snuff film. Quick note about my flight: paid $137 including baggage check-in fee on AirAsia for the nearly three-hour flight, not my greatest achievement. I’m AirAsia’s number one fan and their founder, Tony Fernandes, is to be revered for overcoming so many obstacles to get the airline where it is today, but the lame sexism in their advertising and the cynical fee-hiding on the website is shameful and challenges anyone’s affection. When you try and buy a ticket they throw bombard you with an endless slew of add-ons, which is fine, but it’s all opt-out, not opt-in, and if you don’t want something, it doesn’t go away with a single click. Frustrating. Their hubris is approaching Ryanair levels.
I also bought a ticket to go home in three weeks. Not “buy” really, but I used miles since airfares are insane right now. 32,500 United Airlines miles and $64 in fees. The cheapest one-way flight from any big hub in Asia I saw was about $775. This is why I’m always hot to recommend signing up for every frequent flier program and not letting the miles expire.
The good news is I won’t blog so much from Thailand. HA!