Thursday, June 23, 2011

A Memory of Malaysia

For me, the anticipation of an upcoming vacation is like a really good drug.  With tomorrow's upcoming departure to Cape Cod, I awoke this morning happy, awake, and giddy.  T minus 23 hours and I am out of here!

I love vacation.  I've never understood those people that say they can only take a handful of days away from home, and then they want to come back.  Not I.  No, I would be happy being on the road constantly.  In fact, some of the best memories of my life involve months of living out of a backpack.  Life is different now, but I truly do miss those days.

After my husband and I graduated from law school, we took a two month backpacking trip through Australia and Southeast Asia.  The first couple of weeks took some adjusting, but by week 3 we were in the groove, and I could have gone on forever.  And in fact, we met numerous people who were on indefinite traveling expeditions.  People who had no schedule and no destination - just a backpack, some money saved, and an open mind.  Many of these people traveled alone.  If you didn't know any better, you might think this would be a lonely existence, but that was not the case.  Because there are so many of these lone travelers, people are friendly and welcoming in a way that doesn't exist in normal life.  Many people would link up for segments of a journey, part ways eventually, and then find another pack to travel with.  I have to admit, I was jealous of these people, and I couldn't help but feel like my husband and I were imposters, traveling amongst free spirits but bound by an impending corporate world that awaited us at home.

We met many people along the way, but perhaps the most memorable is a Norwegian family we met in the Perhentian Islands in Malaysia.  The Perhentians are a remote set of islands off of the East Coast of Malaysia and it is a pain to get to.  We flew from Kuala Lumpor to Kota Bharu, which is a very religious Muslim city.   We had to stay there one night, and there was heavy security at our hotel.  We got the impression we shouldn't be walking the streets, though I am sure it would have been fine.  The next morning we took an hour cab ride to Kuala Besut, where you get a boat to take you to the islands.

The boat you take is far from a ferry - it is a motor boat that holds about 15 people.  The trip to the islands takes about 45 minutes.  Our trip started out fine, and about a half an hour in our boat broke down - the motor just stopped.  I have to be honest - I freaked out a little bit.  The crew didn't speak English, and we were literally in the middle of nowhere.  The only thing that calmed me down was the fact that there was a very chilled out Australian on the boat who thought it was no big deal.  About a half hour later, another boat came to rescue us, and we were on our way.

The boat dropped you off at the main island, but didn't go all the way to shore.  This meant you had to get into the water, about knee deep, and carry your bags over your head so as not to get them wet.  Funny side story - when we reached the shore my husband realized that he had left his small backpack on the boat.  Picture skinny, blonde American guy running into the ocean waving his arms screaming for the boat to turn around.  They did, and they weren't amused.

In any event, there was a family of four on the boat with us.  They were from Norway, and their kids must have been 1 and 6.  They had two large suitcases, and ended up staying at the same hotel as us (not a huge coincidence - there are only about three hotels on the island. We stayed at this one.)  Once we got to talking to them, we learned that they were traveling for a year.  They had pulled their oldest child out of school, quit their jobs, and taken off for a year of adventure.

I have thought about this family quite often over the years, particularly since having children.  Because now that I do have children, I can't help but think:  Were they crazy?  How did they do it?  What about diapers?  Baby food?  What if the kids got sick?  How did they handle all the long plane trips?  The long bus trips?  The lack of Nick Jr.?  What about the older child missing school?  When we go away for a weekend we have at least three suitcases.  They were traveling for a year, and had less luggage for a family of four?  What about their savings?  Their equivalent of a 401k?  Their mortgage?

Some people will think this family was crazy, and I guess in some ways, they were.  But part of me was, and still is, insanely jealous.  This family was the definition of carefree.  They were seeing the world, and instilling those values in their children.  They were living life to the fullest, and making amazing memories.  They were spending every day, all day, together.  I remember watching the family hang out at the beach one afternoon.  The baby was playing in the sand with the mom, and the older child was swimming in the ocean with his father.  They were so happy, so free. There were no blackberries or Wall Street Journals.  And no dread for the impending end to their long days together. 

I guess we too could be this family.  We could sell the house and dip into our savings.  It would definitely last us a year.  My husband could quit his job, or perhaps even look into a leave of absence.  We could load up on medicine and get a stash of antibiotics.

But I know, my husband knows, and probably you all know, this will never, ever happen.  For better or worse, we are practical, responsible, and risk averse.  I may love to travel, but I will never be that carefree lone backpacker, or that easygoing globetrotting family.

In so many ways, I wish I was.

Instead, I'll enjoy my week-long vacations to Cape Cod, Disney World, and the occasional Caribbean Island.  I'll relish the downtime with my husband, and we'll teach our kids how to swim.  We'll eat well and stay in nice accommodation.  And then we'll return to our suburban lifestyle, with playdates and billable hours and Real Housewives episodes.

But every once in a while my mind will slip back to that Norweigan family, and the Pehrentian Islands.  And I'll smile at the memory.

My husband and I, Perhentian Islands, Malaysia - September 2005

1 comment:

  1. Shan, this post made me laugh! I met a couple on an island in Vietnam who were traveling for a year with their 6 month old, they'd just had to get a motorbike taxi to their hotel with the baby sandwiched between mum and driver as there were no cars, insane, brave, who knows... loving your blog.xx

    p.s. I dream of being brave enough to quit and go blow all my savings on that trip to Peru that I was definitely doing before (or for) my 30th.
    p.p.s found a fab villa in Bali if that would be do-able for you guys or still keen on Hawaii.


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