Yes. It has been more than two months. And since the last time I posted on this blog and now, my life has turned a corner and showed me a hundred new beautiful things: things that I now wish I had taken the time to write about. But in all fairness, this post is not about those hundred new beautiful things as much as about, well yes, the people.
“It has always been about the people” must have by now become my signature dialogue. One that I say each time someone asks me how I like a place. Back in Vietnam, too, it had been about the people. Thanks to my deceptive looks, being greeted in Vietnamese was something that I had gotten used to. Be it random people I met in the lift, or taxi drivers wanting to practice some English, the people never made me feel like an outsider. Like this lady taxi driver I met during my CELTA who would come pick me up from my apartment every day at the same time, and would play beautiful English songs on our way even though she didn’t understand them. Or my lovely young maid, who was studying in a university and moonlighting as a maid just so she could pay her course fees, and had one day started sharing her dreams and desires with me in broken English, and then reverted to Vietnamese half way through even though she knew I didn’t understand her. There was something about the people in Vietnam that tugged at my heart strings, and made me realize that sometimes you don’t really need to understand the language to be able to communicate. Gestures and emotions, are after all, universal.
I had always found people easier to love if they laugh easily. I think by now I can say the same for a country as well. I have realized that I find it easier to fall in love with a place if it looks relaxed and easy-going. And when it comes to relaxed and easy-going, I guess nothing fits the bill better than Malaysia, except maybe Vietnam. Coming from a very small hometown where everybody knows everybody, I was used to smiling at and greeting people each time I stepped out of the house to go somewhere. So imagine my happiness when on the very first week of moving in to our new apartment, I discovered that things weren’t that different here as well. Say, when I met this beautiful Iranian lady with a gorgeous baby in her arms in the neighborhood supermarket, and I told her that she has a cute baby, she smiled and said thanks and actually asked her baby to pop a kiss on my cheeks! From then on, it was just one pleasant instance of reassurance after another. Like being asked by the salespeople in the nearby frozen yogurt shop to drop by anytime I felt lonely or wanted to use the internet (we didn’t have our internet connection back then). Or a helpless mother giving me a smile as I walked by while she tried to handle her kid who, in turn, was in the middle of a full blown tantrum. Or even acquaintances formed by chancing upon each other for two or three times, and on the fourth time, striking up a conversation. Even something as simple as being greeted like long lost family in the nearby Pakistani restaurant makes me feel like I belong. That even now, when I step outside our house, I will see familiar faces, and I will be greeted with smiles. These might sound like trivial things, but for someone who’s spent eight months in a country without being able to have a conversation despite wanting so much to, this is a refreshing change.
Just the other day, when I was on my way in a taxi to run an errand, it started raining quite heavily and I didn’t know how I was going to make it without an umbrella. But as I was about to get out of the taxi, the taxi driver offered me an umbrella, insisting that he had one to spare. It took a lot of convincing on my part that I would be okay, before he conceded to let me go without his umbrella. Later that same day, while waiting for a taxi on my way back, I suddenly found myself standing under an umbrella that seemed to appear out of nowhere, and turned around to find a lady smiling and holding the umbrella over me. It is small things like these that make me love this country more and more. The people are ready with a smile, and it looks like this country and I have a lot in common.
I am writing after what seems to me like ages, and now that I come to think of it, maybe I haven’t been able to quite convey the immense gratitude and warmth I feel for this place. But this will do. Until next time. When I will write about making new friends, and how I joined and then left a job as a teacher (yet again!), and how I learned to pancakes from scratch (Saturday breakfast ritual now) and also, on an unrelated note, to flap my arms and move under water (won’t exactly call that swimming), and about my students who each kind of found a way to squeeze themselves into some corner of my heart. And if I feel unusually chatty, I might just blabber about the grand plans we have for going home after a whole year of getting married, and the rainbow of emotions I feel about staying there for a WEEK.
So long, then.