People talk about the proverbial ‘vacation from their vacation’ a lot, and I’d say we took one of those in earnest during the month of January in Penang, Malaysia. For three and a half weeks, we comfortably nested in a 17th floor apartment overlooking the Georgetown seaside and skyline. After 11 months of pretty solid travel we were ready for a bit of a hiatus to rest our bones and recharge our batteries. A number of factors brought us to Penang at that time, with the most influential one being that some good friends of ours, Tom and Keiko had offered their gorgeous apartment to us, and in return we agreed to pay the basic maintenance fees for the time we spent there. In short, it was the deal of the century, and went a long way toward preserving our budget for future travels. Our friends are currently living in Japan, so this huge apartment was basically empty except for another Japanese woman also staying there.
Factor number two was our good travel buddies, Shona and Ash, who we met a few years ago in Guatemala, also being in Penang in early January. This prompted us to leave Thailand earlier than planned, because plans are meant to be altered when you travel open-ended. There’s something undeniably liberating about tossing plans aside to do something completely different because that’s what life if throwing at you in that moment, and we certainly have exercised that option numerous times in the past year.
Factor number three was that my laptop inexplicably stopped powering up a month earlier in Vietnam. I bought it in Mexico in May, and it was still under warranty, so I took it into an Apple service provider in Penang to get it running again. The repair, which was supposed to take one week, took nearly three weeks, as the service center, which operates independently of Apple, tried to claim that there was corrosion in the computer which voided the warranty. They wanted me to pay $200 for the repair, which definitely felt like a scam, as I knew the computer had never gotten wet and they weren’t forthcoming with photographic evidence of corrosion. Long story short… I got a high level Apple manager in Singapore involved and within an hour the shop was back on the task of reviving my laptop free of charge. Before too long, my MacBook was back in business, making blogging much more enjoyable than the task is by cellphone.
Connecting with Shona and Ash, who are both British/Indian, was great in a place like Penang because it filled some of the void we were feeling from bypassing our plans to go to India in favor of Southeast Asia. Right off the bat they stocked up on groceries with a focus on Indian goods, and both of them cooked up some wonderful Indian meals during their 10 day stay. And when we weren’t feasting at home, they were guiding us through the culinary hotspots in Little India, where eating dosas in the afternoon became a bit of a habit. The capper on our Faux India holiday was a visit to Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Hindu Temple where we just happened to show up in time to take part in a beautiful ceremony one evening. Good times, Shona and Ash! Happy trails until we meet again…
Penang is truly an Asian melting pot with significant Malay, Chinese, Indian and Thai communities. Religion is ever present in this region with Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and Christianity (in that order) being well represented with enormous mosques, massive Buddhist temple complexes and stunning Hindu temples throughout the region. In one spot near Little India, we found a Mosque, a Church, a Hindu Temple and a Buddhist temple all within two blocks of each other, and the people of Penang will proudly tell you that folks of these various religions coexist here peacefully.
Penang is also a serious foodie town, with everything from super high end restaurants to extremely gritty street stalls. Admittedly, we tended more toward the latter, as we just love the atmosphere of places like the Gurney Drive Hawker Center and the Chulia Street Hawker Center which are packed with dozens of different vendors offering huge varieties of Asian cuisine for just a few bucks a meal. Chinese options in particular are quite abundant here, and dim sum for breakfast at Tai Tong was a highlight for sure. But best of all, culinarily speaking was our chance to eat some high quality Japanese food for the first time in a long while. We spent quite a bit of time with our Japanese roommate Dodochan and our friend Shu, who lives in the same apartment complex. Dodochan also had several of her friends coming and going from Japan which led to some delicious Japanese eating parties, turning our high-rise apartment into our own little version of ‘Little Osaka’.
The slow pace of our time in Penang was highlighted by a lot of reading, lounging by the pool, seeing movies at the nearby cinema and the occasional day trip to check out some nature, but most importantly it served as a recharge station and a chance to reflect on our travels. After all, our life is vastly different now than it was during our nine years of vegetable farming in North Carolina. Sometimes I ask myself… Why am I doing this? What am I getting out of this? What led up to this? And I’m sure many of our friends and family sometimes wonder the same thing. The whole answer is way more than I could ever express in one blog entry but the short answer is that this world and this life are not static. They are flowing. And if we are not flowing with them, then we are stuck, and if we’re stuck then we invite things into our lives like disease and disillusionment. Sometimes the flow keeps us in one place and sometimes it carries us far away. At the moment, the flow is taking Haruka and I on quite a ride.
I look at the country where I was born, and it’s broken. In some ways it’s not, but in many ways it truly is broken, and certainly it was broken even before we moved there ten years ago from Japan to be organic farmers. We moved there specifically to take part in fixing what was broken, especially regarding food systems, and it was an amazing segment of our journey in this world so far. So much progress by so many different people has been made in that realm, and at the same time, some aspects of the American food systems are far worse now than a decade ago. This is sad, but this is the human experience in the 21st century, and indeed everywhere we go in this world we see broken parts laying around. No place on this planet is exempt. Poverty, environmental destruction, war, cruelty, greed and corruption find their niches in every country on the globe to varying degrees. For us, there is solace in observing the madness and the beauty of this world from an ever-changing perspective. Every time we change locations, our perspective shifts with the experiences of new places, new people and different challenges.
There is no miracle drug or quick fix for the ills on this planet, but deep compassion, deliberate action and conscious attention toward one another and toward this planet that supports us go a long way toward pushing us to one day achieve our goal. We can do that by staying in one place or changing locations frequently. It doesn’t matter as long as we stay true to the flow that guides us. Sometimes the flow is quick, and sometimes it’s slow. We were very grateful to be able to slow things down in Penang and get a bit of perspective on what matters most in this life… which is of course… living! And thank you Tom and Keiko, for giving us such a sweet spot to contemplate the flow!