Everything Ends – Part III: Malaysia and Singapore

In addition to not having a longterm “plan” for what would I would do in Asia, I hadn’t even considered what would happen at the “end” of Thailand.  Go home?  Keep traveling? But where!?  Eventually I decided to hop on a southbound train to Malaysia, although ironically I wasn’t even sure what city that train was taking me to.

Malaysia

Malaysia changed my life.  I didn’t plan to visit Malaysia, but it certainly had plans for me.  Both times I went to the country I exited for a different country than the one I had planned.  I left Thailand with intentions to begin my Malaysian adventure on the island of Langkawi; I arrived in Malaysia hours away at the colonial town of Penang, Butterworth, Georgetown, or whatever the hell it’s called.  I planned to fly from Kuala Lumpur to Bali; I left Kuala Lumpur on a bus to Singapore to catch a flight to Australia.  I didn’t plan to meet a woman from Long Island, New York while sitting on a rooftop bar in Kuala Lumpur; I lived with that woman in Taipei for nearly five months.

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Everywhere I turned, Malaysia presented me with intangible experiences and unexpected situations. With futuristic skyscrapers, undeveloped islands, historical towns, and mountainside villages, Malaysia provided the most diversity of the entire trip. Days spent snorkeling around Perhentian Kecil transitioned into evenings spent around a fire pit with strangers. Roaming through Penang challenged me to decide between overeating in Little India, or stuffing my face at the food stalls run by local Chinese immigrants. A good book became a great book while drinking a hot cup of locally grown tea in the cool mountain air of the Cameron Highlands.

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At the risk of completely repeating things I’ve previously written, there really isn’t much more to say on Malaysia.  I will add though, that Malaysia was by far the biggest surprise of the trip.  Completely affordable and culturally rich – Malaysia has something for everyone and is definitely worth a return visit.  At some point I will explore the colorful islands of Langkawi, the ancient forests of  Taman Negara, and the super-awesome-totally-made-for-adults LEGO theme park/water park.  Oh, and eat more food than anyone should eat in ten lifetimes.

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Singapore

Imagine how exciting it would be to bring Newton and his apples to Mars and watch in excitement as he plays with martian gravity.  Consider how amazing it would be to fly on a 787 with Christopher Columbus traveling nonstop from Tokyo to New York City.  How incredible would it be to watch Gutenberg play with an iPad?

Traveling for months through decaying shantytowns, countries with social and economic conditions held stationary in the early 1900s, and cities where you’re more likely to find dog shit on the street than a proper toilet to sit down on, I crossed the border into Singapore and immediately felt as though I had passed through the fabric of space and time.  It felt like Singapore had captured Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother – Tuk-Tuks were replaced with Lamborghinis, blight and decay were transformed into 80-story monuments to the banking industry, and sidewalks covered in cracks were magically turned into a pedestrian walking bridge designed to resemble a double helix.  This wasn’t just culture shock – this was culture shock and awe.

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Singapore was originally intended meant to be a quick stopover on my way to Australia.  I entered the country without a specific departure date – knowing only that I’d leave when my Australian visa was approved.  I soon discovered that because of a previous life in Ukraine, Australia wanted me to get a chest x-ray and prove that I didn’t have tuberculosis for the last five years.  (From now on I lie on all visa applications…)  For the rest of my life, without a doubt, “Chest x-ray in Singapore for an Australian visa” will be remembered as the more ridiculous things I’ve ever done on the 4th of July.

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My birthday celebration the night before will similarly be remembered as one of the most bizarre.  Heading out for the evening with a random guy from California I met at the hostel, we met up with some strangers from CouchSurfing at a famous food hawker center (Lau Pa Sat) and started the evening with plates of the fantastic and ethnically diverse food that Singapore is famous for.  (Side Note: Singapore has some of the best buttered crab and chili crab ever…)  We later transitioned to a private-party/marketing event/work party hosted by one of the CouchSurfing people we met only an hour earlier, …and took advantage of the 2 hours of free Hennessy being offered.  As the night continued things became increasingly more and more ridiculous – by the time the night ended I was on the 84th floor of a hotel dance club drinking $20 drinks with a group of strangers that included a pole-dancer and eating free cake from a random Malaysian girl that also came from CouchSurfing.

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For as many things that I did in Singapore, there were even more that I would have liked to do …had I not been watching my money.  Singapore is an expensive city, and at this point I was fully immersed in a part of my trip that I hadn’t planned or saved for.  I would love to go back and ride the largest ferris wheel in the world, visit more of the islands around the city, spend at least an hour in some of the bars the specialized exclusively in Whisky, play craps in the most expensive casino in the world, or spend an afternoon in the infinity pool that sits on the very top of the building.

Eventually I received an email from the Australian Visa agency stating that they had read my medical report and I didn’t have TB.  Less than 12 hours later I had a flight to Australia booked and was heading to the airport to start my Australian walkabout – now referred to as the biggest mistake of my trip due to the completely absurd level of planning I hadn’t done.

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