Love, Truth, and the Journey Through

The airplane trembled.  After traveling for two months I hardly noticed it, especially after 16 hours flying over the Pacific at the start of my journey.  The plane began its descent into Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.  I had needed to leave Myanmar in a hurry, but now I could relax here for a couple days and then fly down to Singapore, then maybe back up to Thailand.  The airport was extravagant but I had no time to appreciate it, my flight landed at midnight and I was desperate for a warm bed.  I thought I could take the train, but that closed as I landed.  Left to me was the bus or a taxi, but the bus wouldn’t take me near where I wanted so the taxi won (a combination would later prove the cheapest in hindsight).  The taxi driver made a fortune off of me.  Then he pressed the 50% surcharge button for late night rides and he made even more.  I chalked it up to bad timing and moved on.  It took me a while to find my hostel, the entrance seemed almost hidden.  I found the place while browsing through booking sights.  Everyone online kept saying it was a good place to relax, that it felt like home.  I was beginning to feel exhausted with traveling.  I could use a home.  I was traveling hard and fast, a lot of people warned me about burning out if I don’t slow down.  Maybe a week here is what I needed.  I entered Dreamville Hostel and was warmly greeted by a staff member.  She showed me the WiFi password, told me about the area, showed me where breakfast and water was, then gave me my key and showed me my bed.  I embraced it.

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The door rang.  I buzzed them in.  “Welcome to Dreamville”.  “Do you have a reservation?”  “Can I see your passport?”  “Where are you coming from?”  Okay okay, that’s the important stuff.  Oh and make sure they pay.  Keys!  Which key do they get?  Why doesn’t this key work for any lockers?  Who numbered these things?  Found it.  I guess this isn’t too hard.  I showed them the WiFi password, told them about the area, showed them where breakfast and water is, then gave them a key and showed them their bed.  “If you need anything, just ask!”.  Embrace it.

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I slept great.  For the past month I had been on Myanmar time, waking up at sunrise and barely staying up late.  Now I slept until noon.  It felt good, but it kind of reminded me of all the wasted days sleeping late in my life.  That scared me, but I needed the sleep.  For breakfast I had a bowl of cereal, without any milk (How tough are ya?).  Oh and some peanut butter toast.  I hadn’t had peanut butter in ages.  For two days I did nothing but be a lazy POS.  I sat around and watched movies, browsed the internet, went for little walks.  It felt very first world.  But Malaysia is a very first world country. Across the street I could try Malaysian food, around the corner some Indian food, down the street for fast food.  My first meal here was Nasi Ayam Penyet; fried chicken with rice, tempeh, and spicy sauce or a sweet soy sauce.  The meat was irresistible.

After relaxing enough I headed out to see the city.  Dreamville Hostel was just outside the busy city in a sort of suburb reminiscent of Bloomington in many ways.  It was only a minute walk to the Light Rail Station though, which could take me anywhere I wanted in Kuala Lumpur.  The public transportation here was cheap, fast, and easy.  I zoomed to KL Sentral, the main transport hub, and walked around the mall there for a bit.  KL was filled to the brim with malls.  I wasn’t here for shopping though, I was trying to find the nearby Perdana Botanical Gardens.  The problem was I seemed to be surrounded by roads with no escape.  I asked somebody at a fancy hotel for directions and was pointed in the direction of the highway.  So I walked up the off-ramp and crossed the road when it was quiet, then got pointed to the park by some helpful construction workers.  Not the easiest route, but it was definitely worth it.  Right as I entered I saw a pretty good sized monitor lizard (they look like cat sized Komodo Dragons).  The park itself was practically empty at that time.  The tranquility was nice.  I ruined it by running late for my next stop and worrying about time.  I took a shortcut through a deer park and saw one (1) deer.  Then I found what I was looking for and arrived at the KL Bird Park.  Advertised as the “Worlds Largest Free-Flight Walk-In Aviary!”  I just wanted to see a couple birds, but it surpassed all of my expectations.  There were birds from all over the world here and they seemed to be kept in pretty good condition.  Peacocks, parakeets, parrots, pelicans, pink flamingos, and pigeons.  There were also birds that didn’t start with a ‘p’.  My favorites were the Great White Pelican, which reminded me of home, the Sacred Ibis, a friendly and cute Egyptian wading bird, and the Great Hornbill.  The Great Hornbill is native to South East Asia and looks a tad like a toucan with a lump on top of his beak.  What I found most amusing about them is the way they hop around and look at you inquisitively.  Look up a video!  They are also very smart and loving.  I watched as a caged hornbill, whom had been given fruit, passed along chunks of fruit to another hornbill outside his cage.  The pieces were of long, irregular sizes and they worked together to fit them through the holes of the cage in the right way.  The caged bird was either being nice or conducting some kind of trade. Or an elaborate scheme to break out?  Cool either way.  Most of the birds are outside of cages though, so you can just walk through crowds of them as they stumble about looking for food.  Hopefully this food is some seed you can buy around the park, but I definitely saw a Chinese man feed a bird some ice cream.  And a particularly unafraid Ibis tried to steal my chocolate.  Not today, Thoth.  I spent a solid two hours here relaxing with my bird-friends.  I was a bit worried I’d feel weird going by myself to such a family tourist spot, but I saw so many cool animals I didn’t even notice.  It started to dawn on me how much I prefer visiting natural areas to urban and cultural ones.   I always knew that though.  After the bird park I walked around the area some more and then headed into the city center.  I found a nice monument area near Chinatown and sat for a bit and watched families play in the grass.  I saw the Petronas Towers in the distance and got one of my sudden urges to walk long distances.  So I followed it.  The stroll took me through Chinatown a bit, near another nice park, and then towards the towers where things became especially well maintained and pretty.  It was a strange feeling, I was actually enjoying a city for once.  Usually I stroll about cities desperately looking for the one or two spots I might like, but I was just enjoying the whole thing.  Kuala Lumpur was really growing on me.  I got to the Petronas Towers after the sun had set and laid down next to a bush to stare and marvel at the architecture of the building.  Then I sat and thought about life.  Eventually I went into the towers, where two shopping malls are located, and grabbed some Indian food at the food court.  Interesting enough, a couple months earlier in Los Angeles was the first time I ate Indian.  This was the second.  It was growing on me.  After my meal I went back to where I was sitting to look for the water light show that happens throughout the night.  I waited near the fountains but it never started.  I got fed up with tourist girls using the fountain to take pictures that made them look like dudes peeing, so I walked around the towers some more.  I got to the other side and found where the show actually takes place, which made sense since the other one was so small.  Oh well!  The show started.  Water danced through the air as sound and light began to mingle.  It was a peaceful way to spend the night.

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I hardly bothered to look up as I walked into the Suria Mall inside the Petronas Towers.  I wasn’t sure where it was, but google said it was here.  I strolled up to one of the touchscreen directory maps.  Bottom floor, central.  I allowed myself to be absorbed into the crowd and flowed down the escalators and past the countless fashion shops on the first floors.  The store was tucked away to the far right, difficult to see.  But I always find what I’m looking for.  As I walked in, the single store clerk was helping a very wealthy looking Chinese woman.  I waited patiently browsing the goods.  Jade Buddhas, crystal orbs of varying sizes, extravagant jewelry.  I took an educational pamphlet and decided to get food.  Over a plate of nasi lemak and a cup of tea I studied the pamphlet front to back.  What did I want to give her?  Restful sleep.  Beautiful dreams.  Deep insight.  Inner peace.  Unconditional love.

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One full day in the city and it was back to relaxing for me.  I loved staying at Dreamville and I started to get to know the staff working there.  They were happy to have me too, since apparently it’s no fun if the guests just keep to themselves.  It seemed like a really nice environment.  Apparently soon the owner was coming to visit.  Probably some older Malaysian guy.  I went out for a walk and when I came back there were three guests in the common room drinking and hanging out.  I figured I’d sit down and mingle for a bit before going to bed.  That plan left once I was handed some Buckfast to drink.  Some sort of caffeinated tonic wine from the UK, where Glenn was from.  Not bad actually.  With Glenn was his partner Clara, a very caring woman from Sweden who sang us some superb drinking songs.  With them was a friendly and soft spoken young Malaysian guy.  Apparently Glenn and Clara had come here to visit Safuan, the owner of the hostel, for about a week.  They motioned towards the mystery Malaysian.  Oh! Asian genetics strikes again.  We drank some more and talked about our countries for a bit.  They were apparently planning on leaving the next day for Pangkor Island, a couple hours north of KL.  They told me about the island a bit and then invited me to come with them.  I hesitated in my mind at first, but I always end up saying yes.  I still had some things to see in KL but I could do them when I come back.  It would be nice traveling with a group too.  Another hostel guest, Kasper, came out to hang with us and was eventually invited to join in on the trip.  Kasper was from the Netherlands, an energetic and happy young backpacker looking for a fun time.  The five of us would leave the next day and grab a bus up to start our adventure.

We awoke early, at noon, and drove to the bus station in Safuan’s car.  The five of us, and his cat, crammed in for the ride.  Safuan dropped us off to buy tickets and left to drop off his car and kitty at home.  We waited patiently for him even though he wanted us to take the bus and he would take the next one.  What a sweetheart, right?  The bus ride took a couple hours, so we stocked up on snacks and booze for the ride.  We hid our booze in pop cans, but on the way the bus driver got suspicious and came up to interrogate us.  We lied so well I almost convinced myself I was sober.  Safuan, or Saffy, sat next to me on the ride and educated my ignorant self on Malaysia.  He pointed out the university he went to as we drove through his old college town.  Eventually we made it to our destination, after surviving an extremely angry bus driver (not our fault this time).  We missed the last ferry to the island, so we had to take a taxi over to a different pier.  There, we made the last ferry just in time.  I always seem to be just in time.  Anyways, we bobbed across the waves over to Pangkor Island where my expert Maps.Me skills guided us to the hotel we had booked an easy 30 minute walk away.  We had apparently booked a double room for the five of us.  We were a tad worried they would make us pay more if we all went in, so me and Glenn stayed behind and mixed alcohol while the others checked in.  When we got the all clear Glenn and I strolled in and went up to our room.  The hotel probably had over a hundred rooms, but besides us we saw maybe three or four families.  The room was nice though and we got a sea-facing balcony on the corner of the building.  That night we drank some more and then went to the beach.  It was only us on a clean beach with nice sand and clear skies.  What more could you ask for?  We played in the ocean, talked about the myriad of things, and lay on the beach to watch the stars.  Peace.  That night I shared a bed with two guys, but its okay because I didn’t sleep next to the straight one.  That’d be weird.

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The following day we rented scooters.  Pangkor Island wasn’t very big and was a great place to scoot around safely, much like my first biking spot in Koh Lanta.  These bikes were manual though, which I found annoying in Myanmar, but I got used to here.  Especially on the really steep hills.  It was a bit annoying riding with other people, but I tamed my speed demon and enjoyed a peaceful ride around the island.  The hills were really exciting.  I was lucky enough to ride solo, but the others were sharing and had to sometimes hop off to make it up.  Sucks to suck!  We saw some monkeys.  My friends fed them.  Shame!  We also found some great beach space, but we didn’t bring stuff to swim.  Sai la vie.  But I was able to catch a glimpse of some cool whirlpools and currents in the ocean.  Later we rode into Teluk Nipah, a much more crowded area then we were staying in prior, and found another cheap spot to spend the night.  Saffy and Kasper had to run back to our last hotel to grab their bags, so Glenn, Clara, and I sat around in town and enjoyed some local food.  I still had no idea what food was what here, so I ordered randomly and got some fruit with spicy sauce.  Pretty good except for the sourfruit.  After a sudden and heavy rain storm the boys finally came back and we could begin the festivities.  We grabbed some more food, some drinks, and headed off to a nearby beach.  It was quiet enough to be relaxed, but still active enough to make some new friends.  A group of Malaysian girls were there, and in exchange for letting us borrow their balloons we let them take pictures with Kasper.  Somebody found a volleyball and we played some beach soccer, which I did surprisingly well in.  Then we played catch in the water.  After, we sat, drank, and talked on the sands again.  I brought my ukulele too and was ready to play in public for the first time.  I sang one song and it was a bit out of tune.  I tried to fix it and made it worse.  I normally tune with my phone but I didn’t bring it.  Guess it just wasn’t my night to sing.  Still fun though.  We went back to town later and continued the party, but I was falling into one of my moods where I find myself less drunk than everyone else, and a bit annoyed by them, but can’t seem to will myself to drink to their level.  I still had fun playing cards and learning the basics of tango with them though.  But eventually I had enough drunken antics and retired early to bed.  Maybe I just wasn’t the party type?

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We were energy incarnate.  We were music to the deaf and light to the blind.  We were the party.  The dance floor was ours and we shared it gladly.  Everyone wanted us, or wanted to be us, or both.  But we had each other and we were happy with that.  The psychedelic rave music had evolved beyond simple sound and had become our sustenance, feeding us for the past 4 hours.  I was dancing without thinking for the first time in my life.  Childlike I played with light beams and smoke, like toys from my closet.  Strangers were now friends and friends were now bonded to me forever.  At times, my heart felt like it was going to burst, Icarus flying too close to the sun.  Deep breaths, posturing, meditation.  Icarus flies back.  Everything felt like magic at my finger tips.  I felt amazing, my friends felt amazing, that dirty table felt amazing.

We went outside to calm down, Jenny wasn’t feeling well.  Dehydrated I think.  Saffy went and got us some water and beers while we sat on the knee high walls of the parking lot.  It was nice to relax for a bit.  We shared the beers together, because sharing is caring for the Dreamville Staff.  And all of us were here except Duygu, whom wasn’t a partier and was kind enough to hold the fort whilst we foraged for fun.  Saffy was our leader, since he lives in KL, but Mike was our party veteran and helped look after the flock as well.  He was a 30 something year long traveler, the kind of person that you would call a jerk but also your friend.  Then there was Jenny of course, near my age, Finnish, and full of youthful energy and happiness.  A surprising contrast to my calm and mellow nature, though we are only months apart in age.  And we can’t forget Michaela.  Born in Germany, worked in Sweden, 35, spiritual, more relaxed like myself.  I suppose I’ll add myself too: the second American along with Mike, 22, reserved, kind, calm.  Together we kept the hostel running.  Tonight was my first night out with them, and really my first night out in a long time.  I was nervous upon invitation, but I knew I would go along and be glad I did.  I could really feel the kindness we had for each other.  We protected each other.  We loved each other.

There was no memory of reentering the club, only that we were now back in the fabric that the DJ was weaving for us.  I would dance alone and love music and love life, or grab a friend and share in that love.  Or we would all crowd in and bask in the glow together.  A stranger might come up and I’d grab his shoulder and jam with him, and sometimes they’d want more and I’d retreat back to my friends.  Balloons with lights on them bounced around the crowd.  When your hand touched them, they vibrated.  People would pass around small LED lights to play with.  I’d dance with them for a time, then pass it on to someone else that looked like they needed it.  Spread the love.  Big circles would form and the rhythm would possess us together.  The hours passed until finally the DJ rallied the dwindled crowd into a final song.  Once the music finally stopped it was like waking up from a dream.  We regrouped and got ready to go outside.  The DJ came down and talked with us for a bit and invited us to an afterparty, but we had no energy for that.  We sat on the curb outside exhausted, using each other as pillows as we waited for our taxi home.

Back at Dreamville, we stumbled upstairs and sat down, exhausted and silent.  We only had energy to cuddle. We rested, laying this way and that, holding each other close in the way friends are often scared of doing.  Comfort, peace, love. I held Michaela close to me, enjoying the warmth and intimacy.  My thoughts were on her, and I noticed they had been all night.

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It was early morning on Pangkor Island and Kasper and I had decided to leave towards Penang today.  We would be traveling separately though, he by bus, and I by hitchhiking.  We would try to meet in Georgetown.  Not that the bus was expensive, but after feeling overwhelmed socially the night before I felt I needed it.  We took separate ferries back to the mainland, and I began to march towards town with my hitching thumb strong.  My first ride was a rather grumpy looking Malaysian man whom took me maybe a kilometer before dropping me off and then driving more in the direction I was going.  Quickly after that I got another ride, this time by a lovely European couple on a road trip to Kuala Lumpur.  They were very chill and we chatted for a bit, and they took me to the turn off for the next highway I needed to travel on.  Another brief walk and I walked by a family in a parked car, whom called me over.  We chatted for a bit, and since they saw me hitching as I walked, offered to give me a ride.  I sat in the front with the father, as the wife, 18 year old son, and young teen daughter sat in back.  I told them about my travels and they seemed really fascinated that I was hitchhiking.  Apparently they were staying at a hotel nearby and could only take me so far before they would have to turn off.  Instead, they surprised me by offering to let me spend the night at their hotel, since they had an extra bed.  I figured I wasn’t in a rush and could spend the night here and start out early tomorrow.  And it would be a great opportunity to see what normal family life is like in Malaysia.  I accepted the invitation.  After some miles, we took a turn off into a vast forested area with a very well maintained road.  The father, Azi, was a jokester and told me not to worry, I wasn’t being lured into the woods to be killed.  I thanked him for such calming words.  We rode past some nice viewpoints, a golf course, and eventually the hotel.  It was huge and beautiful.  What I thought would be an average hotel turned out to be a 5 star luxury beach resort.

Azi showed me to the rooms they were staying in and gave me a bed in the room with his son.  He told me to get comfortable and invited me to play some basketball with him in a bit.  I agreed, but for the time being I just sort of sat around in shock at the absurdity of the situation I’d been placed in.  There’s a sweet sort of irony to a hitchhiker being rewarded with a free stay at a fabulous resort.  I looked around the resort and was immediately reminded of my many visits to Playa Del Carmen with my family throughout my life.  Nostalgia.  Azi, his son, and I left for the basketball courts, walking through the many halls of rooms that the resort held.  One of Azi’s friends joined us.  They had apparently both gone to college in the United States and fell in love with basketball there.  At the courts, we found two Chinese guests playing and so we invited them to join us in a 3v3 match.  I’ve always hated competitive team sports, but I think I did okay.  One of the Chinese guys summoned his inner Yao Ming and became the MVP.  After shooting some hoops, we decided to head off to the pool to cool off.  Here is where I learned that in Malaysia it is typical to swim with your clothes on instead of bothering with swimsuits.  When in Rome.  After a dip, I went back to the room to shower and relax before dinner.  For our meal we drove back into town to a Thai restaurant that they loved.  The restaurant paralleled the resort.  We ate in ‘set’ style, which is normal in Malaysia, where large dishes are ordered and shared.  Huge, fresh cooked fish in a chili sauce.  Soft, butter cooked chicken.  Hot and spicy Thai style curry.  Shrimp with heads the size of my mouth.  And the tom yam soup.  A Thai seafood soup with quite the kick, one of the best things I’ve ever tasted.  I picked out bones and shells, but after being egged on by my friends I gladly devoured the shrimp and fish heads whole, leaving not a morsel to waste.  A habit that would stick with me it seems.  Back at the hotel, Azi and I sat down for some tea and crackers and discussed some deeper topics.  Azi was a very devout Muslim and greatly desired to educate me on Islam.  Thankfully for him, I love studying religions.  He told me a lot about the Koran, about its mystical predictions of the future, its predictions of science, its acknowledgement of Jesus as a prophet but not son of God, and about Muhammad.  I disagreed on some points, but was overall motivated to learn more.  He wanted to give me a Koran, but he didn’t have one with him.  But apparently you can get one at any mosque for free, since Muslims are very devout about spreading their faith.  That night I slept in my best bed in months.

When I awoke, I packed my things up and went to breakfast with the Amer family.  It was one of those all inclusive buffet sort of things.  Instead of an omelet station, like I was used to from Mexico, we had a roti station.  Here I had my first roti canai, an Indian soft, oily tortilla-like bread to be dipped into different Indian curries.  I also got to try Nasi Lamak, rice with chili sauce, peanuts, and small fish.  Both would prove to be my favorite dishes throughout Malaysia.  After my meal I enjoyed the beach a bit, which was much less crowded than the pools.  At noon the family and I left, and they took me as far as they could.  They were going one way and I was going the other, so we said our goodbyes and promised to keep in touch.  They wished me good weather for hitchhiking.  And as I marched north, alone again, the weather did indeed prove to be fair.  The cars, however, did not.  I was stubborn and really wanted to complete my entire journey by hitching rides, but I quickly became frustrated by the cars and tired from the heat.  Halfway to my destination a local dropped me off at a bus stop and gave me a bus number, so I finally caved and hopped on board.  My hitchhiking journey still proved to be useful in saving money, since where I ended up I could now rely exclusively on local buses, the total cost of which was about a tenth of a long distance bus.  Eventually I succeeded in weaseling my way to Penang and crossing by ferry to Georgetown.  Walking to my hostel was easy.  Sleeping was harder.

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I took some time to review the night before.  It felt like it was the best night of my life.  I got rather sad at the prospect that nothing better could ever come.  I was wrong, of course.  Thoughts rolled over me, thoughts of a blonde yoga instructor that I hardly knew, that confused me in a subtle way.  Surely I was being silly, childish dreams of a boy lost on the other side of the world.  Give it time and these feelings will drift away.  They always do.

There was a calm, loving energy about Dreamville still lingering from the night before.  It would prove impossible to remove.  The others were awake now as well, and we sat calmly and deliberated.  It was a day to relax and ponder the previous night.  We watched a movie and I held Michaela again.  Lightly, timidly, but she was in my embrace and I was content.  Dangerous thoughts.

The following morning I awoke with an almost religious fervor.  What I had lacked the day before came back to me tenfold.  Enough positive energy to share.  Others about the hostel seemed much more drained, especially Michaela who seemed to have quite the headache.  This upset and worried me for some reason.  Why?  I always seem to be too empathetic with people I care about.  With people I care about?  The least I could do is throw a washcloth in the freezer to cool, that always helped me.  How do you tell someone “I want to do everything within my power to help you”?  After 15 minutes of mental battle, I offered a scalp massage.  She accepted happily.  What a world!  The sense of touch is a strange thing.  A powerful way to connect.  What separates a handshake from a hug, hug from a kiss?  Location of contact?  Or is it the thoughts we place behind it?  Can a child grab your finger more powerfully than someone can kiss you?  I knew what thoughts were behind my fingers.  My limbs grew sore after forty odd minutes, but my labors were apparently fruitful.  Borne anew, she rose again ready for the night to come.  But was I?

After four beers, several swigs of vodka, and a long island, yes I was.  I never saw myself as much of a clubber, but times change.  Good friends help too.  We bounced around between different bars and clubs.  The universe occasionally graced me with Michaela’s presence.  My eyes were on her.  Was it reciprocated?  Is this a good idea?  Is this what I want?  Is my head spinning?  Yes.  Outside I go!  I stumbled to get some water at a minimart and then I stumbled back.  My friends called me over.  They lost me.  Well, I didn’t lose you!  I’m not used to being cared for this much.  Next club!  Indians, Indian music, dancing, stomach churning.  I know what I need.  Outside again.  Sitting on the curb.  Peace.  Negative thoughts.  Doubt.  Friends!  They lost me again.  Sorry.  We got in our taxi home.  Where’s Brian?  I’m over the toilet but I’m not sick.  But I can’t move.  Saffy snaps me out of it. I return to Michaela.  Silently, I profess my feelings.

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Georgetown was a gorgeous city, an old British colony on a pristine jungle island.  The main reason to visit?  Why, the food of course.  Chinese dim sum, Japanese ramen, Indian curries.  And Penang laksa, the most famous dish.  It was truly like nothing I ever had, a sort of tangy, fish and noodle soup dish with quite the kick.  Besides the great food, I also found the time to hike up to Penang Hill.  Most people take the tram up, but I like the challenge of a good hike.  It was steep, poorly maintained, and a tad confusing, but the real problem was all the damn paper I was cleaning up.  The trail was apparently used by hash clubs, a type of trail running club that marks there path with paper logos they staple to leaves, trees, and probably some wildlife too.  Some of the paper looked like it survived a couple storms, some looked fresher.  I cleaned the fresh ones too, maybe I ruined their run on accident.  But maybe they shouldn’t be harming the environment that supports their hobby.  End rant.  The hike was beautiful, especially as I started getting high enough to enjoy the view.  Even better was getting high enough to enjoy the breeze, since Penang proved to be an especially hot island when tramping through the jungle.  At the very top, where the earth leveled out and the breeze softly rolled over the hill, I walked peacefully among the trees and listened to the birds.  There were some ruins of an old British outpost of some kind too.  My path eventually lead me downhill again, since the hill I had climbed was merely a neighbor of Penang Hill.  The climb up Penang Hill was easy though, as it was much more maintained and I quickly got to a staircase that took me all the way up, beneath the trams of happy tourists.  Besides the view, the top of the hill was mediocre and overly touristic.  It was filled with valentines decorations and there’s nothing quite as annoying as valentines when you are single. Except maybe valentines when you aren’t.  After some pictures and relaxation I went to the tram for an easier ride down.  There was no ticket booth or anything so I assumed you only payed on the way up.  Wrong I was, as at the bottom I was asked to scan my electronic ticket.  And so I lied through my teeth until they let me through with the promise that the next time I visit the tram I will pay double.  Thankfully lying is more morally grey when done to the harm of a corporation rather than an individual.

Besides the hike, I also enjoyed a visit to Entopia, Malaysia’s premier insect zoo.  As a fan of entomology, I was thrilled.  The main attraction was the many free-flying butterflies that, if you were lucky, would land on you. I was not.  Personally, I enjoyed the beetles and the stick insects much more.  Did you know there’s a giant stick insect the size of your forearm?  There were also some cool exhibits on ants, frogs, spiders, and lizards that made me giddy with joy.  At the end I joined a brief show on frogs and toads where I earned myself a button for answering the most (all) questions.  The folks back home can be glad that my degree is finally paying off.

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Otherwise there really isn’t a whole lot to do in Penang.  It’s fun to walk around town and enjoy some of the famous street art by Ernest Zacharevic.  I especially enjoyed the old, historic British cemetery. Somber and peaceful.  There is also apparently a nice nightlife, but I wasn’t in the mood for it.  I spent much of my time here writing my blog post on Myanmar and practicing songs on the roof of the hostel, where I could sing as loud as I want.  Throughout my stay here I was in a bit of an asocial mood, and don’t remember having many conversations.  I was recovering emotionally from my over-socialization on Pangkor and my personal struggle with failing to complete my entire hitchhiking journey, and whether it was something I even enjoy. Eventually it was time to leave.  I had heard from someone that Langkawi was a great place to relax on the beach.  I needed to figure some things out. Hopefully a trip to Langkawi would be good for my soul.

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Time is dead.  The Earth has stopped spinning so that I might breathe deep of this moment.  I can feel what you think.  I think what you feel.  Synchronicity: meaningful, unexplained coincidences.  My head hurts, but your presence makes the pain go away.  My logical mind has difficulty explaining the magic of the situation.  Thus logic must be put aside.  My soul is yours to do with as you wish.  May it grow in your care.  I stare deep into your eyes and see the future.  I can see the road ahead.  It might be dangerous.  I carry on anyways.

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Felix twirled the stick in a circle across the sand, one end stable, the other fluid.  A perfect circle was formed.  He drew another, centered around the edge of the first.  He continued until the first circle was surrounded by images of itself.  When he was satisfied, he stepped back, proud.  “What is it?” I asked.  “A mandala.  The Flower of Life” he replied.  The waves claimed it eagerly.

I was losing track of how many days I had spent in Langkawi.  The first night was forgettable, in a noisy hostel with reclusive people.  But I moved much further down to a relaxing Rastafarian sort of place and had been stuck there ever since.  It was the kind of place backpackers dream of in there dorm beds at night.  Wake up, relax, go to the beach, drink, play music, make art, live peacefully.  I was fed a constant supply of good people.  Felix was a chill 30 something German fellow, with many quiet insights on life whom had been there for weeks.  Laina was from Rhode Island and was great to hang with.    Susan was a sweetheart from Georgia (the state) who worked at the hostel via Workaway.  And many others whom I struggle to remember the names of.  It was a friendly place, with a quiet beach nearby and cheap, tax free beer.  The water was beautiful and the sand soft.  In the ocean’s waters I contemplated my desires in life, my future, my dreams.  I motorbiked to the top of the tallest mountain and breathed deep the fresh air from the sea.  I rode to beaches with breathtaking views of land, sea, and sun.  I swam in waterfalls, the largest and grandest I had seen yet.  I played with death.  The bedrock of the waterfall was smooth, and you could slide down them into pools at the bottom.  I misunderstood my directions from Susan and slid down an especially long one without any forethought.  As I picked up speed, the rock steered me towards a gap in the stone, big enough to stop me but not big enough to carry me forward.  I imagined broken limbs to be the most likely outcome, but perhaps worse.  I zoomed towards doom, but was steered at the last minute toward a larger opening in the rock where I landed on my ass and absorbed some force with my legs.  I laid there for a bit to take in the situation.  My spine was a bit compressed, but everything was fine.  I contemplated how dangerous that really was.  Would not an object of my shape and size always fall down the same course I did unless interfered with by an outside source?  Perhaps I was completely safe all along.  Safe all along.

It was a sad day when all my friends left.  Felix finally moved on to his next destination.  Susan had worked her month and was moving onto another Workaway job.  She painted a lovely mural on her way out.  She told me a lot about the cool jobs you can do with Workaway.  All I knew was that I definitely didn’t want to work in a hostel.  Not really a people person.  My enjoyment of this island was entwined with these people, days swimming on the beach, nights relaxing at bars on the sand.  Campfires with pizza and getting comfortable singing in front of others.  But they were leaving, as all travelers do, and I felt like leaving too.  Not very far though.

I marched to the harbor where all the boats were settled.  At about noon, I found a small boat that would take me across the waves for a cheap price.  The ride was short, and he dropped me off on the island.  I told him to come back tomorrow.  I really hoped he would.  I marched up the beach and found a spot that others had clearly used before.  They had built a tree house and chairs and hammocks.  All out of driftwood and logs and fishing rope.  I set my bags down and walked around the island looking for other spots to set up camp.  The perimeter took maybe 15 minutes to patrol.  The driftcamp seemed to be my best bet.  This would be my first time camping alone while traveling.  An island seemed like a fun place to do it.  I tied my hammock up to a tree using some fishing rope, then I set up the tent I borrowed near the edge of the sand dunes.  I love setting up camp, and damn was she beautiful.  I took the two 1.5 L bottles of water I brought and buried them deep into the sand beneath the shade.  I’d hoped it would keep them cool.  The sun was high and I took a more leisurely stroll, hoping to maybe see some wildlife.  Strange items had drifted to shore, from helmets to art projects.  I found a huge jellyfish dead on the beach.  Naturally, I poked it with a stick.  Boop.  Hopping across the jagged rocks I returned back to camp.  Something felt off though.  I had that disturbing feeling you get when something wasn’t right, like you were being watched.  My camp wasn’t the same as I had left it.  One of my water bottles was missing.  My most precious of items.  I peered in every direction for clues.  Where my eyes failed, my ears succeeded.  Drip. Drip. Drip.  The top of the tree house.  Torn open water bottle.  Water dripping down the trunk.  I climbed up and analyzed the scene.  The culprit was clumsy and wasted most of it.  The tear in the side of the bottle pointed towards teeth.  Not a bird, and who else would climb a tree?  This island was so small it hadn’t even crossed my mind they could be here.  The trees in the distance rustled.  Monkey.  I ran over and gave him a piece of my mind.  And some rocks.  Nothing was close to hitting home, but the message was clear.  I took stock of my resources.  I typically need 3 to 4 liters of water a day.  I had 1.5 liters and would hopefully leave in roughly 20 hours.  Of my food, I had tuna, which would hydrate me, and trail mix, which would dehydrate me.  I felt fairly hydrated and knew that even with no water I would be okay for a day, but would I be comfortable?  I rationed my water and hid it dearly in my tent.  In the event of an apocalypse I knew the monkeys got food and water here somehow.  I just needed to find a volleyball.  Besides playing SurvivorMan, I had plenty of other fun too.  I had the beach to myself, and enjoyed her clean sand and clear waters. Yes, of course I skinny dipped.  But not much, for fear of… hungry fish.  I swam in the open sea and watched the sky, as golden eagles soared about looking for prey above my land.  I became startled when from the island flew out a small group of bats, fruit bats, much bigger than even the eagles.  They were only the early risers, as suddenly hundreds of fruit bats soared out from the center of my island to begin the night’s hunt.  Apparently an island of vampires, I would be lucky to survive the night.  After preparing my wooden stake and cross, I took the time to add a bit to the driftcamp, mostly some artistic flair.  A great place to relax and read in my hammock as well.  At night I discovered I needed to practice my fire making skills.  In the dark I had my sup and then brought out my ukulele to serenade the sea.  I sang for the crabs, whom were delighted for the company.  They danced among themselves and found rest upon my feet.  I dozed for the night in my hammock, where I would turn and watch the hermit crabs dig their holes for homes.  The sea spoke in my one ear and the jungle the other.  At times the monkeys’ noise would get too close and I would reprimand them for daring to enter man’s abode.  Mostly through primeval grunts and roars.  Sometimes rap lyrics.  In the morning I packed up camp and relaxed on the beach, reading, snacking, meditating.  My boatman arrived an hour late, but he arrived.

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When I returned to the hostel, I replaced old friends with new.  Maggie and Agnes arrived and I took my place as rightful veteran of the hostel now that Felix and Susan had left.  The duties of course being to dispense knowledge on the activities and food of the area.  For a couple days I continued to enjoy the beach and peace of the island with my new friends.  Together we were also lured into the tourist trap of island hopping, a most unbackpackerly experience filled with entrance fees, crowds, and rules.  It was still made fun through our companionship.  Eventually I knew I had to move on, and I left with Maggie and Agnes in the same cab.  They to fly, me to sail.  Hugs goodbye.  Back on the mainland, I took the long bus off to Ipoh.

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My walls were high.  I let Michaela in.  In her redecoration, she opened doors that were supposed to be closed.  Knowledge could enter through hallways that were never used.  Ideas could enter that were normally repelled at first sight.  Oft called pseudoscience.  Spiritual energy and vibrations, reiki, chakra, spirit guides, crystals (sorry Rowan).  I wasn’t convinced, not yet, but I let them in.  Through my love of meditation these ideas flowed quickly.  Greater developments on my understanding of God and the universe.  And she was there with me through it all.  She told me her Story, how she awakened out of her normal, depressed life and began her quest for knowledge and her place in the world.  A recent story.  A story not mine to tell.  What was my story?

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Ipoh was much like Georgetown.  I enjoyed the food, I enjoyed walking around town, I enjoyed the street art (by the same artist, actually).  I practiced my music.  I do what I always do while traveling cities and sat in parks to contemplate life.  I spent two nights here but there isn’t much to say beyond that.  I enjoyed it, but a lot of people skip it.  A city for travelers with too much time.

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Too much on my mind, far too much.  I wrote my thoughts in a tightly packed, flimsy notepad I had brought from home.  Michaela gave me a proper notebook.  An extra one she had bought for some unknown reason.  And so I poured my heart into it.  Much of what I’ve already said.  I was nervous, as I always am in concerns of the heart, and writing helped.  With passion in my pen it felt like I wasn’t writing, but making art instead.  She stirred beautiful thoughts in my heart and mind that begged to be let forth into the world.  My muse.

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On my way to the Cameron Highlands, I peered out the window at the destruction the Malaysian mining industry was doing to their beautiful mountains.  Those gorgeous limestone cliffs that only exist in this area of the world, demolished for building materials.  Malaysia is such a rich country, in beauty and in resources, but they are sacrificing it for profit.  The Chinese continue to push their economic influence on the area, even going so far as building a train line from east to west just so they don’t have to go to Singapore for shipping anymore.  Are these decisions worth the pain?  Are they ever?

The Cameron Highlands in central Malaysia is an area discovered by the British in an attempt to cool off from the tropical heat.  These days it’s a popular tourist spot for locals and foreigners alike and is primarily famous for its lush and breath taking tea plantations.  When I arrived at my hostel they told me about the local area and, like they always do, tried to sell me tours.  Like I always do, I take the free option. I came prepared and planned to do some of the hikes up the mountain that would let me see much of what the tours would offer, and more.  My hostel was actually very helpful with planning out the hike and giving me tips.  I was even able to convince some of the other guests into joining me the next day.  That night, several of my new friends and I took a cooking class for dinner.  Cheap, delicious, and plenty of food for all of us.  Our master chef was Bangladeshi and we made some wonderful fish curries, chili potatoes, fried vegetables, and the strongest tea I have ever had.  Can’t say I remember learning much, but I made some mashed potatoes I guess.  The hostel had the exact kind of vibe I was looking for and the cramped communal area was perfect for making friends.

In the morning I grabbed a quick breakfast and then met with my new friends.  Today four of us would be hiking trail 1, supposedly the most scenic trail and one of the more challenging.  The trip would prove to be exciting every step of the way.  To begin our journey, we hitchhiked from our hostel to the trail head about 20 kilometers away.  This was advised by other guests and our receptionist, and proved to be a great area for it.  The hike began with us marching through some countryside, then past the fencing of a water facility, then over it, and finally left us to cross a small stream and clamber up the muddy, slippery hillside using only a pair of old ropes.  Hiking with me was Jakob, an 18 year old Dane who always proved to be excited for new things, Cassandra, a sweet and gentle German girl of 20 years, and Niall, a thirty something that continued to prove that I love hanging out with the Irish.  All of us except Cassandra had a lot of experience hiking, but what Cassandra lacked in physical strength she compensated for in emotional strength.  At the first climb most girls her size would have given up, but even though she slipped over and over she kept trying until we succeeded.  She was a small girl, and although it made it hard for her to keep up, it made it quite easy to help her. We get by with a little help from our friends.  The entire climb proved to be as difficult as the beginning.  The Cameron Highlands was a damp land, constantly shrouded by mists, and showers were frequent.  This made the trail more liquid than solid.  You wanted it flat so you wouldn’t slip but you wanted it steep so there wasn’t a pool to walk through.  I loved it.  There was some especially tough moments, but as a group we pulled through.  At the top, we relaxed and enjoyed the view of the mist.  Breathtaking.  Shortly after our summit, a tour van arrived with some other people from our hostel.  The guide made fun of us a little, but we were completely satisfied with our more rigorous journey up the mountain.  They drove back down and we walked the road to the nearby Mossy Forest.  It was another stop on the tour, and although it was fashioned with nice boardwalks, we had just hiked hours through the exact same terrain.  We continued our walk down the mountain, until we got more into the lowlands where the famous tea fields were.  Just as we crested over a hill the mist gave way and we got a beautiful view of the sprawling fields of lush green tea.  You see pictures and think the green color is an act of over editing, but it really is that green when you see it.  We gawked and snapped pics for a while, but then continued our walk back to town.  The tea fields were vast and we got to enjoy many gorgeous spots along the way.  When we returned to town, we stuck our thumbs out once again and hopped into the back of a pick up truck to get home to our hostel.  After such a rugged climb, we were all happy to be back to take warm showers, rest, and grab a nice hot meal and cup of tea.  Niall recommended me a cafe, The Lord’s Cafe, which proved to be the exact kind of homey, relaxed place you want for a cup of tea and a scone. The cool, rainy environment gave the land an air of peace.

Cassandra had enough fun hiking the day before, but Niall, Jacob, and I hungered for more.  We found another trail, going to another mountain, and climbed that too.  The terrain was better, less muddy, and actually much more beautiful.  The trees were very old and a thick, healthy green.  The ground was of spongy sphagnum moss, which gave a bounce to our step.  The environment fascinated me.  The climb proved much easier, but still very rewarding.  A similar view of mist at the top.  On our way back down we trotted through some nice strawberry fields (forever).  Back in town we grabbed a beer and contemplated our future travels.  We eventually agreed to keep this hiking team together and go to Temun Negara tomorrow, the famous national park of Malaysia.  That night I ate with Cassandra at an Indian restaurant.  She was vegetarian and I remarked how annoying it must be.  Meat was far too good to give up.

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Jenny was painting an image on the side of the wall.  A large, flower like image.  A mandala.  She didn’t have time to finish it.  So everyone played a part in completing her creation.  Orange was its strongest color.  Orange proved to be a good color for Dreamville, we would joke.  Good for your sacral chakra.

Jenny was leaving soon.  She was returning home to finish up school.  As something special before she went we wanted to take her to the elephant sanctuary.  Mike had returned from a failed road trip with Laila, leaving us enough staff for Saffy, Jen, Michaela and I to take the day off and go.  The drive was long, but ultimately worth it. It was a busy day at the sanctuary, but we paid the extra fee for the chance to bathe the elephants, which also came with our own guide.  This was a sanctuary, and thus only rescued and injured elephants would stay here.  Elephants are sweet and playful beasts, as you might imagine.  Going close to them they would probe our fingers with their trunks hoping for food.  At one point, we went to the river where we watched the adult elephants bathe in the water.  The trainers rode them down to the water, which made me a tad uncomfortable.  They played like children, rolling around in the stream and splashing water about themselves and the guides.  Eventually our guide dragged us away so we could find seating for the ‘elephant show’.  They didn’t do any especially ‘bad’ tricks, but the idea of the elephants still performing when freed from their previous lives gave me a bad feeling.  After the show we fed them fruit, which gave a great chance to get more up close and personal.  A particularly curious elephant kept grabbing my shoes and even gave my head a good caress or two.  After the show we got to go back to the river, where we would be able to bathe with some adolescent elephants.  They laid in the river as our group of four washed them with sand and splashed them dry.  It was fun hugging an elephant, but I preferred interacting with their face and looking at their, very emotional, eyes.  We got some sweet pics.  The ride back home felt much quicker.  Michaela kept me distracted.

Later on we all went out to take part in one of the funnest things you can do in Asia with friends.  KARAOKE!  A nice private karaoke room for us to celebrate Jenny’s last night.  Saffy, Jen, Michaela, Mike, and I sang our hearts out.  This is also where I got to know Thomas more.  Thomas, a friend of the hostel I had just met, was a fabulous young Wisconsinite who proved to be lovely company during his couple day stay with us.  I apparently summoned my inner highschool persona, and expertly sang such hits as All the Small Things by Blink 182 (in dedication to the boys back home) and Black Parade by My Chemical Romance.  And a little Frank Sinatra.  My singing voice, and musical confidence, was developing nicely.  Afterwards we hit the clubs, where Michaela and I tore up the dance floor, as we always did.

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Temun Negara, literally translated to national park, is the main park reserve of peninsular Malaysia.  Here, you had the chance to experience the real jungle.  To possibly see monkeys, elephants, tigers,  and rare birds.  Of course, it was all luck.  Jakob, Neall, and I easily made it to the canopy walk, supposedly one of the largest in the world, where all the tourists flock at the chance to brave the heights and see the sights.  It was fun to swing about on the boards, but the only piece of wildlife I saw was a small snake at the exit.  One Malaysian girl behind us was conquering her fear of heights.  That seemed much more exciting.  After walking among the canopy we marched off to climb Bukit Teresek, one of the tallest peaks you can complete close by.  It proved to be a fairly easy climb thanks to the constructed boardwalk.  We were rewarded with a fantastic view.  We climbed down the opposite direction, via the less used path, which proved more adventurous.  Muddy slopes, broken bridges, and hungry leaches.  Much funner!  After the long haul down the mountain we turned back towards town and found a serene swimming spot where we took a dip with some Malaysian teens.  The river was a golden brown from all the silt, but the water was still clean and cool.  A great place to cool off and drift slowly down the river.  We returned to the park entrance, where the only accommodation was a fancy resort.  We were instead staying in town across the river, so we marched down to the dock and paid our 1 ringgit to be ferried across.  At the opposite dock stood several restaurants floating on the water, where we wound up eating many of our meals.  Our hostel was on the meander of the river and gave a great view of the stream and her boats.  That night, I whipped out the ukulele and had a jam session with a Malaysian teen.  As with most South East Asians, he preferred pop music.  I tried my best to play along.

Another day, another hike.  This time we headed for the much less traveled southern region of the park.  We had to cross another river by a separate ferry.  Immediately as we set out, we startled a group of boars that scampered off in all directions.  Shortly after, we were also graced with the rump of a spotted deer scampering down the trail.  This hike proved to be much wilder than any of the others.  We hopped over trees and climbed up many hillsides using ropes, roots, or whatever we could find.  At one point, we discovered the large, distinct clumps of an elephant’s droppings.  It was certainly possible we could run into one, but it would be very rare. I’m not sure what we would have done if we did.  The plants here were straight out of Jurassic Park, with trunks you could make a house inside of and leaves big enough to cover your car too.  A couple large, imposing beetles flew about our heads as we marched across a fallen tree.  Neat!  Our goal for this hike was an abandoned cave, formerly a popular tourist spot before it collapsed after a storm.  Close to the cave, we became a tad disoriented, but trusty Maps.Me and a little ingenuity found us safely to our destination.  Definitely destroyed.  Still filled with bats!   We marched back the same way we had came.  On our return, the path was covered with large colonies of termites, out and about during the midday sun.  They clicked and chattered faintly as we marched one way and they the other.  We made it back to the park headquarters for lunch, but we still had plenty of hiking ahead of us.  This time we continued north, past the canopy walk, and made our way to Bukit Indah.  The hike over was treacherous, climbing up one hill just to immediately climb down into a stream valley.  After a long haul we finally made it to the bottom of Bukit Indah, where I left my pack to hike up unimpeded.  I’m glad I did, because the climb up proved to be more rock climbing than hiking.  The ropes tied about the mountain were your lifeline as you climbed up the rocks jutting from the slope.  It proved a short climb though with a rewarding view of the surrounding area and river.  We relaxed here for some time, enjoying the cool breeze as our prize.  Eventually we climbed back down to where I had left my pack.  Here I said goodbye to Neall and Jakob, whom were going to head back into town while I continued into the jungle to spend the night.  I would see Jakob when I returned, but here I would say my last farewell to Neall.  Here on the trail, surrounded by nature, I parted ways with my friendly Irish hiking partner.  I marched on alone.

I was hiking into the jungle with, as some would say, a completely idiotic lack of information.  The maps given by the park office were terrible and lead me to believe I could make it to one of the main campsites before dark.  I was wrong.  Checking Maps.Me, I was about halfway to the campsite when I thought I should be there by now.  I was stubborn and wanted desperately to push forward into the jungle, to reach as deep as I could before nightfall.  The hike had become very dangerous.  My pack was heavy with food and water, and the trail was steep, slippery, and often required ropes.  A strange feeling washed over me as I obstinately advanced forward.  I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the campsite.  It wasn’t a question of time.  I wouldn’t make it.  I sat with the mosquitoes for a bit to contemplate.  I decided to turn around.  It was tough to give up on my original plan.  But it felt relieving, almost spiritual, to retreat back from whence I came.    I knew a good spot by the river that would be perfect for the night.  I made it there with just enough time to set up camp.  I ate my sup in the dark again.  I had no fear.  I felt at peace.

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My mind was melting.  Not in the fun way, either.  The fluorescent lighting, the low ceilings, the endless consumerism.  Malls.  Asian malls.  The first thirty minutes were good, but now I wasn’t sure if it had been 2 hours or 2 days.  We had just waved off Jenny who had departed by bus for Singapore where her flight was.  Our enthusiasm and party energy would never be the same.  Michaela was going shopping, so I was going to return home with Saffy and Thomas.  Stereotypes held true though, and they quickly decided they wanted to shop as well.  However, I would recommend anybody that doesn’t like shopping to never enter a mall with a girl and two gay guys.  The experience quickly started to feel far too normal.  Like I was at home again, trudging through the malls of my native land, bored out of my mind.  Not what I would expect while traveling the world.  Michaela’s soul also began to get sucked away by the concrete beast we had entered, and thus we suffered mutually.  An important experience, this was the most human I had ever seen her.  It was easy to see her as the magical, powerful angel that shattered my preconceptions and ignited my soul.  But she was also a woman.  A woman who gets stressed.  A woman with fears.  A woman that needs help and comfort sometimes.

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Kuala Lumpur.  I was still with Jakob, and together we were enjoying the seedy filth that is Chinatown.  We spent the day drinking beer and wandering about the city.  We ate some bomb Chinese food.  Later on we went to the Batu Caves, one of 10 sacred holy sites for Hinduism.  The temple was okay, but I most enjoyed visiting the Dark Caves.  The Dark Caves were a conservation site where you could pay for a tour to see some creepy crawlies and some cool cave formations.  I don’t need to tell you how much I enjoyed it.  Later, I found the time to climb Bukit Tabur, a mountain hike that was closed down because too many people were falling to their deaths.  I had a permit though, titled “I do what I want”.  I didn’t fall to my death, but I did forget to bring enough water.  Exciting!  One of my favorite hikes yet. I also reconnected with Cassandra while I was in town and we visited Little India, which was lackluster, but also the National Mosque where I was able to get a lecture on Islam and finally get that Koran I told Azi I would get.  It’s proven to be a very dense and difficult read.   Eventually I finally had to part ways with both these friends I had spent so much time with.  I gave them each their hugs goodbye at the proper time and then finally took the train up to the northern suburbs.  I had been traveling for a month in Malaysia and I was feeling exhausted again.  Dreamville had been relaxing last time, so I was excited to return for a couple days to unwind and plan my next destination.

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I arrived back at Dreamville and rang the doorbell.  An unfamiliar face let me in.  In fact, the only face I did remember was Duygu’s.  I took the same bed I had stayed in before.  I caught up with Duygu.  I told her of my travels and she told me about the hostel.  Apparently Manu, a guy that came to work just as I was leaving, had upped and disappeared a couple days earlier.  So did some money and valuables.  He had seemed like a decent guy.  I was texting Safuan, hoping that he would visit while I was there so we could hang out.  He was worrying because Manu left and they were understaffed.  I offered to help out a bit if he wanted.  He was thankful and said that I didn’t have to pay for a bed.  Woo free accommodation!  Duygu helped me learn the ropes, but passed me on to Mike too.  He was a bit difficult to get along with as a person, but he seemed to know what he was doing for the work.  The poorly censored Texan would end up growing on me.  I also met Jenny, who seemed to have endless energy and enthusiasm and made me feel tired just being near.  I met the interior decorator, Michaela, too.  She seemed nice.

I mimicked her movements.  I shut my eyes and listened to her voice.  Deep breaths.  I’m inflexible, but I still try my best.  My balance is better.  Michaela is our teacher, but I think it was Nick’s idea.  Afterwards, we meditate.  Yoga is not my forte, but meditation I can do.  It had been a while though.  We discussed things afterwards.  They seemed interested in my success with meditation.  Nobody is normally, so I was eager to relay my accomplishments.  I’m not normally around people like this.  Michaela seemed deeply spiritual and Nick too in his own way.  He was an eager, bright minded entrepreneur with probably the most upbeat attitude ever.  Last night I had said I might not want to wake up early for our impromptu yoga class.  I was the first awake in the morning.

____

Michaela had eyes of deep green, with a center of brown and a mix of grey throughout.  Like an ancient forest shrouded in mist.  I spent hours getting lost there, exploring the nooks and crannies of her soul.  Her hair was the color of sunlight.  I became addicted to running my fingers through it so much she worried for her hairs’ health.  Her body, thin and gorgeous like a goddess of antiquity.  Her skin, soft and smooth like silk.

Michaela and I were thirteen years apart in age, but when we were together we were children, curious and trusting. I’ve always felt older, and she younger, so I suppose we met in the middle.  It didn’t stop me from making play of the situation.

She enjoyed nature and spirituality.  Yoga was important to her like meditation was to me.  A vegetarian and an excellent cook.  Useful in every situation, a very handy girl.  She taught me of Germany and Sweden.  I taught her of the United States, by showing her Mean Girls.  It was totally fetch.  She got me to like The Notebook and even Coldplay.  Our song was Concert Pitch by Empire of the Sun.  She was always glowing, in the sun by day and around fairy lights by night.

She saw us more as intimate friends, where I saw it more as temporary romance. We agreed on Soulfriends.  She often worried that I was falling in love.  But there was nothing to worry about, I knew I would.  I wished to love as strongly as I could, even if it might hurt later on.  She would joke that I was a smooth talker.  She gave me great confidence in my ability to express myself with words.  I loved explaining to her English words she didn’t know and we loved reading to one another.

I supposed it technically broke the rule of “Don’t get involved with a coworker”.  I knew it had the chance to fail, to get weird, but I was always prepared to leave in that case.  But it never came close to that.  It took some time to understand what both of us wanted.  There were some issues at the start, but I was persistent.  I knew what I wanted and I wouldn’t let the universe stop me, not without a fight.

We hid our acts of affection from our friends at first, which wasn’t necessary.  We hid them from the guests, which was.  It was exciting.  Sneaking a kiss around the corner, acting normal when somebody walked by.  I don’t think we were very sneaky.

She was late night walks and deep talks.  She was upward dog and rising sun.  She was spirit science and crystal gems.  Forgotten passions and new ideas.  Fresh fruit and sweet cookies.  Soft hair at my fingertips and smooth skin against my lips.  She was everything I needed.  Not forever, but for a time.  She was magic.

____

We were watching a movie, but Duygu paused it to go grab something.  I stretched back onto the couch, thinking about how I had to leave tomorrow.  Three, two, one.  Happy birthday to you~.  Happy birthday to you~.  Happy birthday dear Shane~.  Happy birthday to you~.  The time was exactly midnight.  Saffy was on speakerphone. I could do nothing but smile that smug, tight-lipped smile that comes out when I am the center of attention or praise.  These friends of mine were amazing.  Michaela got me some fancy cheese tarts too.  I should have expected something like this, but I was utterly surprised.  It still warms my heart to remember.  That night, Michaela revealed another gift, a small set of fairy lights.  A perfect item to remember her by.  I promised to use them while camping.  Earlier, I had told Michaela that I had left the first pages blank in the notebook she gave me.  For I had reserved those pages for her.  We exchanged notebooks and wrote our last messages to one another.  Our messages were different, but beautiful, and summarized the feelings of the past month.  When we were done writing, I let her read the rest of my notebook.  It was mostly about her and I wanted my heart to be open.  That night was emotional for me, but intensely beautiful.

It was morning and I wished I could stay where I was forever.  Eventually I roused myself, knowing that I had a flight to catch tonight.  There was an energy in the air, the end of an era.  It was bittersweet.  I knew it was time to leave, there would be nothing for me here soon.  And I was here to travel, to see the world.  I knew this moment would come, exactly like this, the moment I first looked deeply into Michaela’s eyes and into her soul.

Michaela made me breakfast, as she often did. A delicious fruit mix. I hadn’t eaten meat in over a week because of her, and I hoped to continue that. She had that effect on me.  She was always so positive. So caring.  We stared deep into each others’ eyes.  Getting lost just one more time.  My eyes struggled.  Eventually it was time.  I grabbed my bags.  My heart wanted to tear itself asunder.  I always had something to say to her.  I didn’t know what to say now.  I’m terrible at goodbyes.  She walked me to the bottom of the stairs.  It was hard to decide which kiss was to be the final one.  I felt the pull in my chest, this was it.  I said my last goodbye and turned away.  It felt like millennia for my body to put my back to her.  I tried my best not to look back.

End Book 1

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