Before our trip to Scandanavia pretty much all of my overseas travel has been concentrated in Asia. So I feel that I have a reasonable handle on the quirks of Asia and have developed a comfort level with all it can present to you.
However, after three weeks in Northern Europe when we arrived on Salang Sayang, Pulau Tioman and we trudged laden with backpacks to the far end of the beach I admit to being somewhat unthrilled with our chosen destination to dethaw. I like to think that perhaps I was suffering from a little jet lag and this was colouring my experience…ask anyone who knows me well…I am not a happy camper when I am tired! But my first impressions as we walked along were, well, this isn’t the travel brochure pictures I was expecting, I mean what’s with that run down piece of so and so there, and what’s with that dilapidated piece of crap there and has anyone heard of a coat of paint???
Anyway, jet lag quickly whisked me away and I pretty much slept through my grumpy introduction to Salang Sayang with the soothing sounds of a monsoonal downpour no less…it’s not all bad, you see.
So I had to admit to myself that I had indeed suffered a little from that old chestnut…culture shock.
Jet lag dealt with, I awoke with my rose-coloured Malaysian sunnies on and all was good in the world again. Suddenly all those little bits and pieces that were no good yesterday started to seem OK, good even. I mean TIA afterall! This is why we love it, if it was perfect, it wouldn’t be Asia and it wouldn’t endear itself to me quite as much as it has over the years.
Let me explain TIA. It’s a phrase we have stolen from Leonardo DiCaprio…well, his character in Blood Diamond anyway. Not long before we went on the trip we were watching Blood Diamond and there is a line in the movie where in an effort to explain all that is Africa, his character simply says matter of factly, TIA ‘This is Africa”.
And as I was adjusting to life in Asia again, TIA (This Is Asia) sprung into my mind and I was not at all surprised when without me even mentioning this thought to Damien, a couple of days into island time, he of his own accord casually said TIA in reference to some little oddity we were experiencing and I knew exactly what he meant!
Here’s a few examples of TIA:
- We were staying in a hillside bungalow with a million dollar view of golden sand and azure waters….but we had to flush the toilet in the good old way…using a bucket. Oh and when I cleaned my teeth my feet always got wet, I realised halfway through the stay that was because the basin had a pipe that emptied straight onto the bathroom floor. TIA.
- The salt on the restaurant tables, is in fact not salt at all. Careful inspection of the label reveals that it is MSG (with possibly some ‘trace’ elements of salt…but I couldn’t taste it). Even closer inspection of the ingredients label on the pepper uncovers that it too has MSG. WTF? TIA. Consequently, on our brief return to Sydney we purchased some salt to bring with us as we both recalled that (although we had forgot) the other Asian countries also have this love affair with MSG.
- An off the island example, and not a pleasant one, is when we were waiting at the bus station in Mersing and I spied a table with no one seated at it. Success! As I descended to stake my claim, I soon realised why no one was there…the back end of what was once a kitten was left under the table (in food court area). TIA.
- We are now staying in Melaka in a lovely little Guest House on the Melaka River. The owners are friendly, the place is clean, quiet and backs onto the Melaka River which is charming in bucket loads….but more about that later. Our room may be basic but it has a MASSIVE bed, air con and our own little balcony – which is actually quite gross…but it’s a balcony.TIA. But on the first day as I arose to greet the morning I went to pull back the curtain to take in the less than salubrious view out onto our balcony and the whole curtain rail came off the wall. TIA. Told the owner and her response was, whilst smiling sweetly of course, “I don’t know how to fix it’. TIA.
There will be ample more of these experiences all the way but all I can say is that I love it. When things are sometimes a little more basic, not so perfect, not always bright and shiny it just seems somehow more fun and dare I say it, more real.
So I’ll step out today and hunt down the next Melakan culinary masterpiece and try to ignore the occasional waft of eau de toilet and marvel at how fine this little slice of Malaysia is.