Scratch ‘n’ Sniff

by Ant Stone on September 21, 2010

in Malaysia

I leaned my head against the aeroplane window, and watched as my house sauntered by. My downward gaze instinctively retraced my former running route, and in my mind’s eye I took a walk through the neighbourhood; to the supermarket I never fully understood, and into the pub where they never quite learned my name.

The passed week had been a circus of phone calls, emails and mad dashes across the city, to close accounts and sell many of mine and Reb’s belongings, while spending as much time as I could with the people I love.

As Wellington sank away, life began to feel simpler. I was on my way to Auckland to catch a connecting flight to Malaysia, to spend a few weeks celebrating my journey, and then home to that chirpy, moist and rugged island: Great Britain.

Fusty Bread Rolls

At Auckland airport, I could feel the meltwaters of thousands of travellers’ sorrow and ambition slosh around my feet as I dripped through the queues in quiet contemplation. In a flash, I reviewed the passed few weeks. That phone call which sprung Reb back to England, and the series of decisions which followed.

It felt as if Life had clicked its fingers, and I was flipped out of the ark.

I sat peacefully, watching people as they tucked in the edges of their lives; frequent flyers tried hard to appear like they flew frequently, while the rest swirled like a paisley herd, ripe and ready for their imminent migration.

The flight into Kuala Lumpur was passed in conversation with an English girl who was returning home from her fourth ski season in New Zealand. I listened to her hopes and dreams, as we traded fusty bread rolls for nondescript desserts, and made a mental note of how balanced she had allowed her life to settle.

Moving forward, balance is one of my main goals, and I’m keen to achieve it sooner rather than later.

Journey of a Lifetime

I searched the luggage belt in Kuala Lumpur for lonely backpacks, and followed one of them round to a lone Kiwi girl called Celine. It was her first time in Asia and she explained she had sold her house and was only in Kuala Lumpur for 24-hours, before flying on to New Delhi and eventually to an ashram in Bihar (India’s poorest state).

Celine kindly agreed for me to tag along with her to a hotel she’d booked and during the commute, we learned each other’s stories.

Celine had lost her dad to cancer a few years ago, and soon after she was bedridden by a rare disease, for two long, hard years. Her journey to the ashram was an extension of her belief in meditation, as the primary factor in her recovery.

I wondered how Celine felt, as that flight took off.

Fusion of Senses

We shlepped our way through the warm evening streets, before checking into the budget hotel Celine had booked.

My first impressions of Kuala Lumpur remained with me throughout my first days in the capital; and brought me straight back to the first year of The Trail.

After scratching away New Zealand, I was suddenly inhaling Malaysia’s capital city. I became enveloped by a fusion of the world’s major religions; scented with clove cigarettes, ammonia, and a thick schmear of heat, whisked up by the choking fumes from raucous traffic.

It was showtime in Malaysia, as tourists avoided eye contact and began to take their seats, while local’s filled the stage with masterful and seamless performances. Sometimes comical or serene, sometimes subtly romantic or bright and cheeky. This was just the opening scene, and already I wanted to roll out a thundering ovation.

I began to question the common theory that Kuala Lumpur is like its near neighbour, Singapore. It’s true that they share some commonalities — shopping centres, multiculturalism and excellent food — but Singapore is a world away from the Kuala Lumpur I have seen so far (in two days).

If associations should be made, I would look toward Chennai or Jakarta: centres of business and banking, a powerful religious presence and smattered with obligatory, yet fading tourist attractions and rebellious pavements.

Will it be OK?

I was also reminded of my place as a travel blog writer; to not over-simplify the act of solo backpacking.

“It will be OK” is an echoey mantra which I — and many others — guide towards nervous travellers, yet it suddenly seemed so futile as the Malaysian culture and way of life swamped me. I thought of the many travellers who are facing a journey of so many unknowns; who stand beside their brave mothers and are each compensated with that throwaway line: “It will be OK.”

In the end, I am confident that it will.

But before it can be OK, it will be a world of eroding and evolving emotions. A wicked introduction to cultural acceptance and a constant sensation of being lost (or simply, on the wrong platform).

In return, I have a modest sense of pride for my own travels; and that I had made the decision all those years ago, to cut loose and roam free.

I’m prouder of myself now than I ever was during the first few steps of The Trail; those first few steps where I had never even contemplated the existence of a clove cigarette, let alone dare to arrive in a place without a reservation.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Linda September 22, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Ahhh clove cigarettes ~ Smells are so evocative! As is this whole piece of writing 😉

You’ve also reminded me of my mother asking as I left England on a single ticket but what will you do when you get to the other end?
“I’ll put a whetted finger to the air, see which way the wind is blowing, and turn in the opposite direction so I have the wind behind me”

You’ve posed an ambiguous thought that one can be more lost on home ground than in the skin of a traveller who doesn’t know where he is.

Ant Stone September 24, 2010 at 1:17 am

So evocative I’ve ‘had’ to buy a packet. I know it’s not the PC thing to say, but they taste as good as they smell.

And your mother must have rued that whetted finger, as by all accounts you ended up on completely the other side of the world!

And your closing thought is quite similar to the way I see things; which is one of the theories I have as to why travellers bounce so quickly from their homes and back onto the travelling trails.

It’s ultimate escapism, which isn’t necessarily a good thing — and is usually resigned to the long term fraternity, rather than those that travel in more bite-sized chunks.

The longer one is away from a place, the longer it takes to reintegrate.

Linda September 24, 2010 at 3:20 pm

I take the tack that as soon as a place doesn’t feel as though I’m on holiday, its time to move on –
So having spent an initial period downunder, I longed for the history and quaintness of ‘olde’ England so went back excited to see my ‘home’ country through travellers eyes for a few years drinking up such miracles as dry stone walls undulating over the green countryside and warming myself by 16th century inglenook fireplaces (which I hadn’t really appreciated when I ‘lived’ there)
History quenched… it was back downunder for some sun 😉

I therefore think its not a question of trying to ‘reintegrate’ wherever you are, but rather be a ‘tourist’ and explore it and enjoy it as a visitor would through fresh curious eyes 🙂

Ant Stone September 24, 2010 at 9:03 pm

I like your style, Linda. I’m longing for history and olde England quaintness myself, so you’re a good role model for me.

In terms of reintegration, I’m interested to see how my theory pans out compared to yours. Watch this space.

Matt September 25, 2010 at 2:57 pm

Beautiful, Ant – what a well thought out post. I really can feel where you’re at during this stage of your journey. Aotearoa will certainly miss you, but I’m glad to know you’re again caught up in the excitement of far away places.

Here is hoping we meet sometime down the road … wherever the wind takes us.

Ant Stone September 25, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Thank you, Matt. I like comments like yours because they make me reread my own posts. I think it’s inevitable we’ll cross paths sometime in the future, we seem to be caught in the same tides of thought.

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