On the Road to Penang

On the road again- this time from Kuala Lumpur up north to Penang. The bus I sit in is quite comfortable and air-conditioned- a bit more luxurious than I’m used to. The winding path that takes us through Penang is overwhelming- inundated, lush verdure.  It seems the trees may come in and reach into the bus, brush against me, and take me one step closer to mother earth.

Road-side beauty on the way to Penang

Road-side beauty on the way to Penang

I am traveling alone again- but this is the first time I’ve gone solo in a country where I don’t speak the language. Malaysia so far has been good to me; the people kind and respectful, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that they are inviting or friendly. Even though I don’t speak Malay, and that has caused some hilarious confusion, I feel at peace traveling through this country. There is a mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian people here, and I am quite grateful for the latter- since usually their cuisine is my only option. It is a country of strong religious influence. In fact, the government law states that Malay people born here must be Muslim. Women walking around with scarves over their heads, or even niqabs, is commonplace. The dress for the festivities of Hari Raya was a beautiful mixture of long, flowing silken dresses and button down shirts, slacks and taqiyas ranging from pastel hues to vivid, eye-catching colors.


Dress code for entering a mosque in Kuala Lumpur

Boys decked out for Hari Raya

Boys decked out for Hari Raya

This is also the first time that I travel alone with a great sense of calm within me. I am alone, but not lonely. My own company is good enough for me, for I am learning not to fight myself, but instead, to embrace all that I am, flaws and all. I am a work in progress, and that’s ok. I travel alone because there are other landscapes, other foods, other people, other beliefs out there to discover, and I am drawn to explore them as I concurrently find what is within myself. I see beauty in all of the world, in all of the mistakes and crumbling buildings and cracked sidewalks. Beauty is in every idiosyncrasy, everything that I don’t understand, but seems to make sense in Southeast Asia. Logic apparently isn’t universal, nor is common sense, and I suppose that there’s no reason why there should be. If everything worked the same everywhere, if every human being completely understood each other, life would be much easier, but much, much more boring.

Store front in Little India, Kuala Lumpur

Store front in Little India, Kuala Lumpur

Communication is something that is difficult even without language barriers, and I find that even within the difference in native tongues, there is still something within all of us that allows us to manage to understand each other. Perhaps it’s the human condition, the fact that each and every one of us is going through something that we don’t quite understand. Still, we keep on getting up each morning, keep going to work, keep trying at our relationships, keep breathing and hoping for better days to come. Life is a mysterious thing, and none of us know exactly why we are here on earth. Some use religion as a way to define the inexplicable, as a way to know how to act and what to strive toward. While I am not religious and do not feel the need to cling onto a god to give my life meaning, I understand why. No one wants to be alone with the frightening fact that we are, indeed, alone. We may have vast, intricate webs of friends, family, acquaintances, business partners, personal heroes, and so on, but when it comes down to it, we are all living solitary lives reaching out to others for a sense of community, a sense of togetherness, a sense of belonging. No one wants to be ostracized, shunned, or cast out from the group, because the group is what matters.

However, I have recently been putting much effort into not seeking validation from others. Every single human being has a personal agenda and will (knowingly or unknowingly) place that agenda on you so that you make more sense to them. This thereby makes them feel more comfortable. But to come into your own true self, you can’t appease and fit each person’s mold they wish to cast on you. Not only would you be wasting your time trying to morph quickly from one identity to the next, this concept is clearly absurd. We need to live not for others, but for ourselves. And when we find our true selves, when we follow the path that we were meant to take, and stop always looking for someone’s approval, we come to peace with ourselves. And ironically, when you are at peace with yourself, more people wish to be around you and share in the happiness that you have created.

Friendly man selling street food in Penang

Friendly man selling street food in Penang

I have accepted that my path in life is much different from what my parents wanted for me. It is different from what (most of) my friends advised me against. But there no longer is a struggle within me to compare myself to others in their standard of success. Maybe that’s what I was trying to do when I was engaged- to aim for the cohesive family, the 9-5 job, the stable home, and the children. But I was trying too damn hard for something that maybe I never wanted to begin with. Who knows, maybe I will eventually have that kind of lifestyle, but it sure is damn uncomfortable when you’re a circle trying to fit into a square’s groove.

My lifestyle, after five sloth-like years of not traveling internationally, has come full circle back to what it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be on the road, supposed to be writing on my laptop on the bumpy bus ride, chronicling my life and adventures in the vast, palm tree-lined road. I am meant to explore, to dig deeper, and to have a lifestyle that simply doesn’t make sense to most people. I am not running away from anything, as maybe I was when I first began traveling over a decade ago. I am running toward the world, trying to learn as much as I can, to find every nuance and cultural custom, every kind of plant and animal I could fathom, and soak it all into my very being. I not only want this, I need this. To see the world from a different angle, different perspective, and even through a new pair of eyes. Traveling is the only thing that brings back the overwhelming curiosity I felt as a child, and this is how I wish to live- ever-curious, ever-learning, ever-growing, ever-improving. I want to be the most compassionate person I can possibly be, to tread lightly, discover what the planet has to offer and hopefully give back- whether through my words or otherwise. This is the lifestyle I need, and I couldn’t be more content, dressed in yoga pants, an Adidas shirt my friend gave to me, hiking boots, no make-up, my hair tied back, a large bottle of water and “take-away” Indian food beside me, excitedly waiting to see my next destination, but enjoying every bit of the journey.

Walking my own sandy path at Batu Ferringhi, Penang

Walking my own sandy path at Batu Ferringhi, Penang



4 thoughts on “On the Road to Penang

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