A potpourri of Asia’s oldest civilizations, Malay, Chinese, and Indian, Malaysia endows a delightful diversity of cultures and a generally warm, lovable, and down-to-earth people. This fusion of Asian cultures is also apparent in the similarities between the Malay and Filipino languages. Case in point: tolak (for push), pintu (for door), lelaki (for male), buka (for open), and kambing (for goat).
Architecture and environment are also some of the aspects where Malaysia is quite admirable besides its thriving economy. For instance, the urban side of Malaysia is relatively less polluted, and has more trees and birds than that of the Philippines. In the rural area where nature is more preserved, Malaysia takes pride of its rainforest inhabiting some of the most enchanting flora and fauna. The well-appointed architecture is evident in high-rise buildings in Kuala Lumpur, intricate exteriors are seen in the Buddhist temples in Penang, while random candid murals decorate the quiet backstreets of Georgetown.
I was blessed enough to spend twelve days in Malaysia to observe the Feast of Tabernacles. In addition to a total spiritual rejuvenation, it was a feast for the senses as it was a time of seeing extremely friendly faces, hearing amusing Indian accent, tasting the bittersweet Teh Tarik and smelling a whiff of curry lingering in the air. But above all, it is a warm, fuzzy feeling of being at home in a foreign land.
Upon arriving at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport after a three-hour flight, the initial impression was that I was still in the Philippines until familiarity backfired as it wasn’t as dusty to trigger my allergic rhinitis as it is back in my home country. After a two-hour trip via Aerobus going to KL Central and another 15-min KL Monorail ride going to Chow Kit station, we checked in at the Cosmopolitan Backpackers’ Lodge. Hostel Cosmopolitan, as it is also called, is a pretty decent lodging space with an affordable accommodation fee, free Wi-fi, and an adorable porcine cat, named Mr. Jingga (which we lovingly refer to as Chowkit, short for “chowing kitty”).
The next day was a day to explore the city where Malaysian flags were neatly hanged everywhere. I’ve instantly admired their customary expression of nationalism only to find out that it was all because it was Malaysia Day. At any rate, we stayed in KL for three days as a pre-feast backpacking adventure before going to the feast site in Penang. During our stay, we have explored the Tourism Center, the Petronas Twin Towers, and the Central Market in Pasar Seni.
The Tourism Center showcases a colorful cultural dance show for five ringgit (although we were able to watch it for free since the original indoor venue was closed for renovation and the show took place in an open stage instead); the Petronas Twin Towers house an indoor zoo called Aquaria featuring piranas, iguanas, tarantulas, shame crabs, monarch butterflies, neon-lighted jellyfishes, and all other kinds of sea creatures; while the Central Market plays host to chains of enticing stalls offering the widest array of souvenir items.
If you are a first-time tourist in Kuala Lumpur, GO KL City Bus is your friend. It is a free aircon bus that will take you around the city while you comfortably sit and exploit its free Wi-fi on board. The terminals where you can catch these buses are well signposted with large purple signboards. Read the destination board to check where the bus is going before hopping in. Bukit Bintang, KLCC/Petronas Towers, and the Central Market are some of the places included in its route.
On the day we were to go to the actual feast site in Penang, we fetched some of our brethren from the airport and headed straight to Pulau, Penang via a four-hour van ride. One noteworthy aspect of the trip was the sight from the van window — rows of neatly planted trees on the cascading mountain ranges, mile after mile. I was so amazed that I secretly called it “broccoli mountain” as we went farther and farther away, slowly zooming out.
We arrived at the Rainbow Paradise Resort Hotel in Penang and were very pleased with the tasteful accommodation as expected in a four-star hotel–the panoramic beach view from the balconies, regularly-made up rooms, well-monitored elevators, and of course, the bath tub. Across the street was the Sri Ananda Bahwan eatery where cheap meals ranging from two to ten ringgit are available: chicken, beef, lamb, goat, fish, mutton, and seafood submerged in–red, red orange, orange yellow, or yellow–spicy sauce. Yes, another remarkable thing about Malaysia is their food; it is generally cheaper compared to the Philippines.
With the help of a local friend, we were able to tour around the preserved traditional settlement in Georgetown, named one of UNESCO World Heritage sites. The charming heritage buildings and murals painted on crumbling walls channel Penang’s treasured history and valued present realities.
Other tourist sites in Georgetown include the Chew Jetty waterfront settlement, Fort Cornwallis and the Kek Lok Si Chinese Buddhist Temple and Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple. For places to shop and dine within the vicinity, checkout Plaza Gurney, Tesco Mall, and hawker stalls.
An ideal place to purchase Sarees and Punjabi dresses is Little India. To go there, take the yellow RapidKL bus for around two to three ringgit, depending on the point of origin. Haggling is the name of the game when buying a saree in Little India so it’s definitely an advantage to have a local with you. Not only does he or she can help you bargain your best find, but can also run interference and can hopefully talk you out of a jam, if need be. For a more adventurous nature tripping, Tropical Fruit Farm, Penang Hill and Monkey Beach provide just that.
The search for the new begins with a retrieval of the past. We may have gone to new heights as we spent the feast in Malaysia, but we have never left solid ground. For whatever happens, we strive to continue observing the same Holy Days that God has commanded to be kept from generations to generations.
The feast is a time of rejoicing for God’s people worldwide as brethren from Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia assembled in a holy convocation in a place God has sanctified. It is also a time to get away from the hurly-burly and refocus on the coming Kingdom of God.
The feeling of being at home also transcends the familiarity evoked by the Malaysian environment. The warmth and love from the brethren induced a deeper level of compassion and tenderness that trample even language barriers. With their sincerest smiles, tongue-in-cheek humor, and genuine concern, we feel as if we belong to one ethnicity, one family. Above all, it is the sheer privilege of having one mind that brings peace of mind and heart.
Some of the activities—liveliest acquaintance party ever, a challenging bowling match, arranged tours to several tourist sites, fun beach games, and an entertaining talent show—add to the great sermons and abundant spiritual food that sparked an overwhelming drive to change and move forward.
Yes, I have my fair share of rants as a series of unfortunate events presented itself: worn out power button rendered my mobile phone unusable upon arrival at the Clark International Airport while our flight got delayed for almost three hours. My digital camera broke down, too, my hair dryer got busted after using it twice, and my bank didn’t allow me to withdraw from my ATM card even after umpteen times of trying. As if that weren’t enough, I caught a flu for a day and coughed incessantly for the entirety of our stay. However, our overall experience in Malaysia induces gratefulness that overshadows whatever troubles that came along the way. Above all, having an awesome foretaste of God’s Kingdom is just one of the many manifestations of a life genuinely blessed beyond words.