Archive | August, 2011

A Plane, Rain, and a Boat

30 Aug

Langkawi is – well, truthfully, I can’t say for sure what Langkawi is. I don’t think my trip to Langkawi can be described as a real trip to somewhere. The most memorable parts of the trip were getting to and going from the island, a large duty-free island right off the northwest coast of Malaysia, near the border of Thailand. It is a popular vacation spot for locals, especially during the upcoming holidays, Hari Raya Aidilfitri (the three-day celebration marking the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting) and Hari Merderka (Malay for Independence Day). My main impression of Langkawi was torrential rain and diverse crowds of Muslim, Chinese, and Indian families.

My flight to Langkawi began innocently enough. Then, about halfway into the hour-long flight, one of the pilots came on with a “weather update,” telling us there was severe wind and rain in Langkawi. Oh, great, I thought to myself. That undoubtedly means it’s going to be a turbulent landing.

As a bit of a hesitant flyer, even slight turbulence is enough to get me apprehensive about the pilots’ ability to keep the plane in the air. Rationally, I know this thought process is ridiculous; I know that most turbulence is not dangerous and is not going to cause the pilots to lose control. But irrational fears are not based in logic, and my slight to moderate degree of fear while the plane is experiencing turbulence doesn’t subside even when I tell myself it’s crazy.

As we began our descent into Langkawi, the plane started lurching from left to right, up and down. The pilots told the flight attendants to take their seats twice, the second time sounding quite urgent (at least in my fearfully-biased mind). The Muslim woman next to me who didn’t speak English was gripping my hand, and the Chinese girl on my other side was clutching the arm rests looking like she was holding on for dear life. It felt like we were in a movie.

I was straining my neck to see out the window, hoping to see the ground cruising towards us calmly. When I did finally see land, we were coming in at an angle to the runway, the wings precariously tilted to one side. (I found out later this is how a plane is supposed to be landed in severe sidewind conditions, so at least our pilots knew what they were doing.) The wheels hit, we skidded for a second, and then we continued smoothly straight on down the runway, the brakes doing their magic.

Everyone in the plane started clapping and cheering. I felt a strange mix of disbelief and euphoria. I almost got why people become adrenaline junkies – the sober fear that something bad is going to happen followed by the euphoric feeling that you survived it is a uniquely electrifying feeling.

The spooky Lagenda Park

Needless to say, the weather in Langkawi was really terrible that night, and it wasn’t any better the next day. Since the beach was out of the question, my rain jacket and I decided to trudge through Lagenda Park, jumping over puddles and unsuccessfully trying to avoid the muddy spots. The park is set next to the waterfront, has a wide array of trees, bushes, and other plants surrounding several ponds, and contains many different sculptural exhibits based on local folklore and history dating back to prehistoric times.

On this stormy day, the park was completely deserted. With the ominous looking clouds above, the dank trees, the muddy ponds, the really strange sculptures throughout the park, and the virtual silence except for creepy bug and animal sounds, I felt like I was in a horror movie.

Interesting Sculptures in Lagenda Park

Next, I decided to get a bit of a reprieve from the falling wetness in the duty free mall across the street. To cross the street, I had to find a spot where visibility was best (there are no crosswalks) and wait … and wait … and wait for a gap in the cars (which were all going the wrong way – those crazy British traffic practices).

Finally, I made it to the safe dryness of the mall. I decided to reward myself for not spending money on tourist attractions that day (as if I had a choice) by purchasing a very cheap pair of Indian style pants – super cute and super comfortable, perfect for the beach if I ever escaped the rain.

Entrance to the Duty Free Mall with "Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri 2011" greeting

When I exited the mall, despite my hopes for a miraculous change in weather, the rain was more brutal than ever. It was coming at me from all sides and the entire road was beginning to look like a river. I stuffed my new beach pants into my coat and made a run for it back to my hotel.

Focusing on not getting hit by cars or by the huge splashes they made when they passed me, I totally didn’t notice that I had dropped my shopping bag. When I did, I retraced my steps the entire way back to the mall to no avail. My new pants were lost in the rain somewhere, forever.

Feeling a bit dejected, I collapsed on my hotel bed and derided myself for making such a stupid purchase. This was my punishment for shopping, I told myself.

That night, I was looking forward to a quiet meal in my hotel’s restaurant. As the luck of the day would have it, the restaurant was closed. The front desk receptionist told me the nearest restaurant was a five minute walk down the road. Five minutes seemed an overwhelming amount of time to spend on a dark, stormy road in search of food. So I decided to subsist for the night on the free instant coffee that was in my hotel room.

All in all, it was quite an interesting day.

The next day I enjoyed the free Malay breakfast at my hotel, then started off on the twenty minute walk to the ferry jetty. Instead of focusing on the unlucky fact that there were no available cabs, I decided to appreciate the fact that the skies were not downpouring rain on top of me and my luggage.

I was a bit remorseful that I was leaving the island, now that the sun was finally out, but the Langkawi accommodation and attractions are a bit pricey for a traveler on a budget, and I had gotten a good fill of island paradise in the Philippines.

I was one of the first passengers to arrive at the terminal for the ferry to Penang. It wasn’t until a mob started forming that they opened up the ticket check-in counter, and I lost my spot at the front of the pack.

A college-age guy waved me over and said to get in front of him because he knew I was at the terminal first. What a thoughtful and courteous thing to do, I thought.

View of Langkawi from the Ferry

Once on the ferry, I ended up sitting next to this young guy, a 22-year-old Iranian named Ashkan who was currently studying in Kuala Lumpur. He was accompanied by his younger brother and their friend, and they were all sharing a Heineken, which I thought was pretty funny.

Ashkan was really excited to practice his English (which was quite impressive English considering he had only begun language classes a few months before and suffered from a stutter he acquired after being in a terrible car accident two years ago). He talked my ear off almost the entire ferry ride, alternating between letting me play Angry Birds on his phone and giving me his earphones to listen to his favorite American tunes (“Break Your Heart,” by Taio Cruz and “Baby, Baby, Baby” by Justin Beiber, to name a few).

Presents from my new friend, hotel soap and a purple pen

I was thoroughly entertained and touched by this young man, a skinny, tattooed, dark-skinned, scruffy-faced boy with an innocent demeanor, an exuberance towards life, and a good heart that shone through within minutes of our conversation beginning. The three hour ferry ride felt like it was over within minutes.

After saying goodbye in Penang, I realized that sometimes the highlights of a place won’t be the things I visit but the people I meet.

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