Friday, June 06, 2008

The Malaysia Diaries: Beginning at the End

I'm not exactly sure where to start with these diaries, so I guess I'll begin with the end. Or at least an overview. Visiting Malaysia with my mother (and for part of the trip, my sister and her husband) was an amazing experience, if for no other reason than I'd never been outside of the United States before. (As a teen or adult, that is; my mother brought me to Malaysia when I was 15 months old.)

But there was so much more to the trip than that. Seeing where my mother grew up, watching her get excited about food she can't eat anywhere else, meeting her brother and sister, her many cousins, and of course, her mother all helped me understand my mother more deeply than I had before. And I thought I already knew the woman quite well. Subsequently, being introduced to this other side of my family that I'd never met before also helped me understand myself better. I'll write more about that in a post to come.

Something I'd like to write about in this first entry is the flight to Malaysia, however, because it seemed to come up any time I talked about the trip with someone. "Oh man - how long of a flight is that? I don't think I could do it. I'd go crazy." We're talking almost 24 hours spent on an airplane. It's roughly four-and-a-half hours from Detroit to Los Angeles. Unfortunately, I flew Northwest Airlines for that, after I said I'd never fly with them again after the way they treated me in New York, back in March. But I didn't book this flight. You can still go fuck yourself, Northwest.

On the bright side, Lou Ferrigno was one of my fellow passengers to L.A. I noticed him waiting in a restaurant near the gate, but wasn't entirely sure it was him until I caught a glimpse of his arms. I excitedly told my mother that the Hulk was going to be flying with us, and she encouraged me to go over and say something to him, but I didn't. For one thing, I didn't want to bother him and draw attention. And I never know what to say in those situations.

"Hey, you scared the shit out of me when I was four years old. Must've been that green wig. But I stopped being a sissy and got over that. By the way, I don't know if you remember but you totally cut in front of me in the hot dog line at the San Diego Comicon eight years ago."

Mom said I should tell him he was one of my heroes, but I think that's pushing it a little bit. Plus, I'm not sure that would've rang true with a fat guy professing such admiration to a former bodybuilder. "Hero? Then why didn't you pick up a dumbbell instead of a pizza slice, Tiny?" Ah, I should've at least snapped a picture. But I digress...

From L.A., it was another 12-13 hours to Taiwan, where we stopped to refuel. And that was capped off with another five hours from Taipei to Kuala Lumpur. How did I feel after finally getting off the plane? Well...

Ye gahds. That's the biggest picture of myself that I think I've ever posted here. And it's not very flattering. My apologies.

Anyway, I tried my best to sleep through as much of the flight as I could, and did a pretty good job of it. (My sister's husband told me he hardly slept at all; he must've been going nuts.) Each time I'd wake up, I'd hope I burned off four hours or so, only to be told by the screen in front of me that only one or two hours elapsed and there were eight more to go. But even if you nap for four hours, you wake up and still have a hell of a lot of flying left.

Could I have made it easier on myself by turning the screen off or switching to the in-flight programming? Maybe. But the maps and graphics were kind of hypnotic. And watching a movie titled "Jumper" didn't sound like a great idea on an airplane (though I do want to see it when it's released on DVD next week). So my iPod (with the full season of Mad Men on it, along with all of the podcasts and music I loaded on it before leaving) and several issues of The New Yorker kept me sane in between succumbing to sleep's sweet seduction.

It didn't quite feel like it at the time, but one fringe benefit of being stuck on a plane that long and warping through the 12-hour time difference was that I kicked my caffeine addiction. I managed to sleep through most of the withdrawal, but there was a period when I woke up feeling nauseous and in a cold sweat. At one point, I thought I might have to reach for the bag. I suppose I could've asked for a coffee or Diet Pepsi if I really wanted one, but I told myself this was a good thing. Being afraid of the headaches that would ensue without having some coffee each morning kept me from trying to wean myself off before.

I also tried to view my withdrawal symptoms from a somewhat spiritual perspective. I've been an angry person recently, irritated with several different aspects of my life and annoyed with many people I deal with. It's not healthy, and I really felt like it was eating away at my soul a bit, affecting how I act toward the world around me. Getting away from those situations was really important to me.

And though my body was literally dealing with its lack of a caffeine fix, I'd also like to think I was detoxifying all of the negativity, all of the bile I'd been carrying around, out of my system. I'll let you know if that worked next time I'm behind someone who's been in line at the coffee shop for 10 minutes, yet still insists on looking up at the menu and trying to figure out to order once he or she gets to the register. Serenity now! Of course, now that I'm no longer under caffeine's high-heeled foot, maybe I won't be sitting in those lines as much.

There's one photo I wanted to include in this post, of the local flight we took from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Bharu on AirAsia airlines, because the scenario was bizarrely hilarious. The planes were comfortable and looked nice with their leather seating and flight attendants in rather tight red uniforms. But most importantly, they were cool. Besides the air conditioning, it looked like some kind of cool mist vaporizer was being used to keep the temperature in the cabin down before take-off. But when we got onto the plane, all of the mist made it look like there was a fire. Maybe someone was trying to transfer something spicy back from Kuala Lumpur.

So I figure I have anywhere between six to 10 posts in me about Malaysia, judging from the notes I jotted down in my handy, dandy Moleskine. At least two posts will be devoted to the food I ate, though I should probably tell you right now I didn't eat anything too weird. Sorry, no bull penis or any sort of animal testicles. I guess I can't sit at the table with Bourdain and Zimmern just yet. But almost all of it was good, and I'll probably try in vain to re-create some of it here at home. Other topics should include my family, the language barrier between us, the sweat-pouring heat, the rather exotic animals that lurked nearby, and my unhappiness with the bathroom situation in that country. We'll see where it goes in the next couple of weeks.