Our trip began on December 21st. Tauro, Sam’s latest boyfriend, kindly offered to drive us to the Miyazaki Airport, where we were to catch a flight to Fukuoka. There, we would then hop on another plane heading to Kuala Lampur, Malaysia, where we would spend the night and hop on another flight to the island of Langkawi in the morning.
Seemed simple enough.
Tauro, being an even greater “Patty Paranoia” than myself, insisted that we arrive at the airport two hours ahead of time. Neither Sam or I chose to argue because we figured we could check in, have a leisurely lunch at the airport, and then be off to our island paradise.
As a matter of fact, we had just been served that leisurely lunch I spoke of when an announcement came over the airport speakers. Sam and I couldn’t make all of it out.
But Tauro did.
Suddenly a look of, “If I tell them this bit of news, I’ll never live to see tomorrow!” came over his face. Apparently, our plane had broken down and there would be no flight to Fukuoka that day.
“That’s not funny, Tauro,” we repeated several times, refusing to believe they would cancel a flight just like that. And not just A flight, OUR flight.
Sam and Tauro went to the ticket counter to confirm the bad news and I stared down at the table of food, no longer in the least bit hungry. The cancellation was confirmed and our only choice now was to try to find a cab that would take us to Kagoshima, two hours away. From Kagoshima, the next flight we could take to Fukuoka – in order to make our connection to Kuala Lampur – was leaving at 3:05 p.m.
It was 1 p.m.
With the speed of Nike, we found a cab willing to make the long trek, threw our bags in back and began what would prove to be the most nerve-wracking two hour cab ride in my life.
Every so often, Sam and I would look to one another for support.
Only to find a face filled with anxiety. And a glimmer of the rage and despair which might ultimately unfold if we missed the flight.
I checked my watch every minute or so; while at the same time demanded the cab driver assure us we would make the flight.
Obediently, and with a strong sense of self-preservation, he answered how we wanted him to. Yet each time, his answer seemed a little less convincing.
The clock ticked away.
Our bodies continued to tense.
Our halfhearted smiles finally disappeared without a trace.
At 3 o’clock – on the dot – we arrived at Kagoshima Airport.
Racing through the corridors knocking innocent bystanders from our frenzied trajectory, we reached airport security. The clocks in our heads muffling everything and everyone around us, including the security guard who was asking for the second time to look inside Sam’s luggage.
The vision of the plane leaving the runway without us was now clear and unmistakable.
It seems the security guard who had chosen to prolong our nightmare either held a grudge against all Western tourists, tall blonds, citizens of the United Kingdom, or simply found life more difficult after that lobotomy, because he began to take every item out of her massive carry-on…one… by… one…
I’ve never been so close to killing a man.
And then proceeded to p-u-t…e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g…b-a-c-k…i-n… t-h-e…s-a-m-e…m-a-n-n-e-r.
We couldn’t take it any longer. The two of us were simultaneously on the verge of a total mental collapse. Which certainly would have extended our visit with the security officers indefiitely. So, we grabbed the bag, all of Sam’s belongings, and stuffing them back in (leaving all fallen items up for grabs), ran toward our gate.
The furthest one away.
Sweating, panting, cramped and threatening to vomit up the lunch we didn’t eat, we finally, at long last, with nothing left to give, arrived at the gate.
Only to find the plane had been delayed for half an hour.
We threw our bags down where we stood and decided that this would not be a good day to quit smoking.
In Fukuoka, we met up with Maria (who was joining us), as well as Madeline and Robert (also with the JET program) who were traveling to Malaysia as well. I’m happy to report there were no more travel mishaps to speak of and by the following afternoon, we had made it to the lovely island of Langkawi where we happily began our two week sojourn into slothfulness.
At Robert’s suggestion, we went to the area known as Pantai Kok, a quiet, undeveloped spot on the beach and found a beachside cabin at the Kok Bay Hotel. Now when I use words such as “cabin” and “hotel,” let me assure you, you must erase any visions of Club Med you might have conjured in your head. Our cabin consisted of a double bed, a single bed (more like a slab of concrete on a frame), a fan, the ever-popular florescent lighting apparently adored in this part of the world, and a dimly lit toilet/shower (all in one, mind you) that looked like something out of a mid-century modern torture chamber.
But for the equivalent of about $10 a day, we quickly got over the initial shock.
Sam also decorated our temporary housing with some tacky Christmas decorations which warmed up the place considerably, and once we caught sight of the ocean, which lay a mere 50 yards away, and the mountains, which hovered behind us, we knew we had discovered our home away from home.
We were especially pleased with our lodgings after tasting the first meal prepared at our “hotel restaurant” – a shack at the end of our row of cabins where the woman who owned the establishment (always with a couple of babies hanging from her hip and hand) cooked the most outstanding, savory, spicy, delectable meals we could have imagined coming out of a single wok.
Maria stayed with us the first few nights, but much to our relief (more on that later), moved to her own cabin across from us for the remainder of the trip.
Much of our time was spent doing little of anything.
We got up. We went to the beach. We ate. We slept.We read. We listened to music.
We ate. We swam. We ate. We swam again. We went to bed.
However, we did manage to brush off the sand long enough to explore a little. On our first day, we got a ride into town from a local taxi driver, named Zaki, who was so very kind, equally honest, and who would become our main mode of transport for the remainder of our visit.
At first, we felt he was way too nice and that there had to be a catch, but after having many conversations with him during our 20 minute trips into town and hearing him say things such as, “In being nice to people, you have nothing to lose.” and really mean it, he soon gained our trust and admiration.
And never once let us down.
We were so immediately charmed by the Malaysian people we met and the places we saw that we formed a plan for the future. Sam was going to open up a coconut plantation, using the husks and shells to create tacky tourist souvenirs. While lounging at the beach, she closely studied the palm-tree climbing techniques of the natives and was ready to give it a go… had it not been for her apparent war wound from “The Big One.”
Maria was going to open “Maria’s Personally Relevant Religious and Feminist Symbols Gift Shop. And, as Sam planned it, I was to marry Zaki and spend the rest of my days having beautiful babies and cooking from a wok.
On our first full day, we went into town to do some shopping – disinfectant being the main priority considering our in-ground toilet and shower shared the exact same space – and soon discovered how incredibly inexpensive things were. This turned our errand run into a shopping frenzy.
Having become accustomed to the outrageous cost of living in Japan, we felt downright greedy and even a little guilty – as if we should be offering the local shops and stalls more money than they were asking. However, we soon learned that this gesture would have been quite a cultural no-no due to the fact that bartering is a custom here. Before understanding this, we couldn’t fathom why we seemed to be routinely shocking salespeople when we handed them full price.
They’d look at us… pause… and then lower the price of the item before we had a chance to argue.
On Christmas Eve, we sat on the porch of our cabin with a couple of beers and watched the sun set over the mountains. So did most of the people staying in the cabins all around us. It was like a strange community of nomads from all over the world who came to this small island to settle, if only temporarily, into a state of complete and utter calm.
At about 9 p.m., all of the electricity on our side of the island went out. A few moments later, hotel proprietors made their way from cabin to cabin with candles, which were placed on each porch, creating a warm glow that wove itself into the soft breezes and gently sweeping waves. We softly played Christmas songs on our cassette player and enjoyed the peace and harmony that the blackout had created among the cabin dwellers.
That is, until Maria decided that too much peace and harmony was a bad thing.
I must preface this by explaining that before we came on holiday, the three of us had decided that each would bring something to enhance the holiday season. Maria brought Christmas pudding and a bottle of whiskey. Sam brought decorations, party hats and poppers. I brought each of us underwater goggles, as well as star, heart and butterfly-shaped sunglasses for the beach. This, or so thought Sam and I, would be our presents to one another. Maria thought differently.
That night, she presented us with additional gifts. But certainly not in the spirit of “tis better to give than to receive.” Somehow the subject of New Year’s resolutions came up, and after spewing off some ridiculous promises Sam and I knew we’d never keep, Maria discharged her resolution with such malice it made both Sam and I speechless.
“Well,” she spat out, “I know what my resolution is. I’m going to stop giving presents to people who don’t deserve them!”
Suddenly, the celebration didn’t feel very joyous anymore. As if Christmas had just been sucked into a big, black hole.
Now normally, I pride myself in being able to recover rather quickly from such negativity, but this was the proverbial straw which broke the camel’s back. For some reason or another, Maria had been taking stabs at both Sam and I from the onset of the vacation. Actually, Sam received the brunt of Maria’s wrath and my only guess as to why this might have happened was because of our close friendship.
Which Maria seems to take offense to.
Sam and I made wholehearted efforts to salvage the remainder of the evening. To regain that sense of love and harmony.
Maria would have none of it.
Neither Sam or I wanted to make a scene and decided to call it an evening. Maria went to her cabin (which she had procured that day) and Sam and I slipped into ours, trying to make sense of what had transpired. We soon tired of the conversation, closed our eyes and attempted to sleep.
The area of cabins where we were staying had quieted down by 10 p.m. or so, with only an occasional utterance from vacationers returning to their rooms for the night. Our cabin was dark and still, except for a grumble and toss from Sam and an old ceiling fan that shakily squeaked, clanked and clattered around and around and around.
The sounds were just beginning to form a strange, methodic rhythm that was lulling me to sleep when we heard it…
From the way it resounded through the room, I was sure that whatever the creature was must surely have been the size of Mothra.
I stiffened and every single hair on my body raised to attention.
“What the devil is that?” Sam asked with a shiver.
“Who the hell do I look like, Marlin Perkins?” I whispered into the dark as I slid the covers over my head.
Sam was about to ask just who the heck Marlin Perkins was when-
“Go turn on the lights and see what it is,” Sam commanded.
I suddenly found myself flashing back to my childhood. When my sister, Mia, who always climbed in bed last, would insist on my climbing out of bed to turn the lights out.
“YOU turn on the lights, Sam,” I insisted. “After all, you’re the one closest to the door.”
“Yes,” Sam shot back, “but the light switch is in the middle of the room.”
“Yes,” I maintained, “but we’re both, more or less, the same distance from the switch.”
Sam scooted her position on the bed further left.
“Not anymore,” she replied.
I couldn’t see, but I could just tell she had a grin from ear to ear.
“You’re so damn immat-”
“And just what am I supposed to do once I’ve turned the light on?” I whined.
Now Sam, obviously the brains of this operation, thought long and hard about the question.
“Find that THING and get it out of the room.”
“The Nancy Drew mysteries were based on your life, weren’t they?”
“Never mind. All I know is that I’m not going to be able to sleep until I find out what’s making that noise.” With that, I mustered up my courage and, putting one foot on the wet and sandy floor, stretched as far as I could to reach the light switch.
Feeling eerily like Elastic Man, I found the switch, “click,” and jumped back in bed.
Flicker-flicker-flick went that damned florescent light. Our eyes readjusted and scanned the room for any strange, slimy, icky, exotic, creepy-crawly things.
Both our heads spun to the light above the bed.
“It’s hiding,” Sam whispered.
“Are you sure you’re not related to Sherlock Holmes?”
Sam was just about ready to rebut, when she spotted something out of the corner of her eye.
“It’s COMING OUT!” she screamed.
I spun around with terror in my heart and cowardice racing through my veins.
AND THERE IT WAS!
… a tiny, green chameleon about the size of my index finger.
“That’s what’s been making all the noise?” I laughed.
“Now’s your chance, Anne. GRAB IT!”
“I’ll do no such thing,” was my reply.
“What are you talking about?”
“Those things are like our own little mosquito trap. It won’t do us any harm. Let it be.”
“Are you telling me you’re just going to let that strange creature spend the night in this room?”
“You’ve had worse spend the ni-”
“No need to get nasty.”
“No really. It’ll be fine. Now, why don’t you turn off the light so we can get some sleep.”
“You turn off the light… You turned it on.”
“I don’t believe you,” I grumbled as I stepped out of bed, yet again, to switch the light off.
A few moments passed.
‘CROOOOOOOOAK-clickety-click-clack-pop,” sang our little lizard friend.
Now comforted by the acknowledged size of the beast, I began to fall into a peaceful—
“BUUUUUUUUUUUZZZZZZZZZZWHIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRR!” came a sound out of no where.
“BUUUUUUUUUUUZZZZZZZZZZWHIIIIIIIIIRRRRRRR!” came the sound again as it swopped down around our heads.
“Are we to be plagued by every night creature in Malaysia?” bellowed Sam. “This one cannot stay. There is no room at the inn!”
I climbed out of bed.
And turned on the lights to see a beetle the size of the car named after it, circling the room, ready to dive bomb again.
“For God’s sake, kill it,” yelled Sam.
At that precise moment, a downpour began outside.
“I can’t kill something that size,” I winced recalling my recent run-in with the spider in my apartment as I threw the switch back to off and jumped back into bed and under the covers.
“Maybe it’ll go away… Maybe the lizard will eat it.”
“Or vice versa,” Sam whined.
“Shhhhhhhh,” I urged my yellow-bellied friend. “Do you hear that?”
“It’s not flying anymore. I’ll bet the lizard ate it.”
“Maybe you’re right,” my friend replied with little conviction.
“Of course I am. It’s the law of nat-”
Sam wept and moaned from beneath her covers.
I had had enough.
Once more, I was out of bed, switching on the lights and scanning the room for the maker of the new sound.
I looked for the tiny chameleon.
It was no where to be seen.
But… the beetle was within range.
Grabbing one of the party hats Sam brought, I climbed on the bed.
I inched my way toward the winged automobile.
“I can’t do it, Sam.”
“Of course you can, Anne,” urged my candy-ass friend. “Now be brave. You’re a woman of the nineties!”
With that, I cupped the creature within the hat, against the wall. As it thrashed against the sides, I shouted for Sam to hand me a nearby brochure so that I could cap off the hat.
The creature was mine.
Slowly, I moved toward the door. Just as I was within reach, Sam let out a blood-curdling scream, “LOOK!”
I looked to the window on our cabin door and saw before me an incredibly large iguana suction-cupped to the glass with its long, taloned feet.
My imagination registered a lizard the size of Manhattan. In actuality, it was about two and a half feet long.
“What do I do? What do I do!” I squealed still holding the beetle in the party hat.
Sam merely mumbled unrecognizable sounds from beneath the sheets.
The rain was now thundering against the tin roof.
The beetle was beating itself against the walls of the hat.
The lizard was still hanging around the florescent light, like a green-skinned coward.
The Iguana remained where it was. Its scaly belly pressed menacingly against the glass.
I slowly approached the door, rattled the doorknob with my trembling free hand and prayed. The lizard peacefully slid away into the darkness.
Flinging open the door, I tossed the beetle – party hat and all – into the torrent of rain and slammed the door behind me. After turning off the light for what I hoped would be the very last time that evening, I jumped into bed – worn out.
“Screw it,” I mumbled as I closed my eyes and fell asleep to the sounds of Langkawi nightlife.
And the whimperings of Samantha.
And I didn’t even touch upon our encounters with the water buffalo and wild boar!
On Christmas day, Rob and Madeline came to Pantai Kok and we had a very laid-back celebration, followed by an incredibly delicious dinner in town that night. At the restaurant, we met up with two girls whom we’d met on our shopping excursion and it was decided to meet them (and their sailing acquaintances) the next evening for drinks.
The following day, we hiked up the mountains behind our cabin to see some waterfalls we were told about and there we spent half the day swimming and sliding down smooth rocks into cool, clear mountain pools.
It was heavenly to be surrounded by so much green and such good company.
When we returned to our beach that day we found that Maria had found what appeared to us to be a holiday romance with a German girl named Andrea. Much to our great joy, this meant that Maria was now able to enjoy her vacation, which left Sam and I unfettered and free from guilt at a friendship gone awry. When Rob and Madeline left a few days later, we found ourselves spending much of the rest of our time with our new friend, Ian, and his 16-year-old son, Adrian.
Ian, a full time, nomadic, Australian, sailing-type was taking his son on an adventure of a lifetime; traveling from sea to sea together on their boat “Silver Lining”.
Going where the wind blew them. Making money by offering tourists, like us, the chance to sail around the islands.
It was certainly a romantic notion – to go where the tides take you.
While on Langkawi, we met a lot of these wanderlust sailors hailing from across the globe – Germany, New Zealand, Finland, Australia, America. All doing their best to permanently avoid what all of us were there to only temporarily escape.
On New Year’s Eve, Sam, myself, and several of our new friends, decided to forgo the festivities being planned by various resorts around the island. Instead, we lit a bonfire on the beach, bought some champagne and beer, and had a little party of our own. It was here I met Tom and began a very brief, rather uneventful, holiday romance.
Brief side note: I’m sorry to say, I haven’t heard from Raymond for months and although I keep hoping to be pleasantly surprised by that long-awaited letter or phone call, I have to be realistic and have wretchedly resigned myself to the idea that this romance was never meant to be. Big… long… broken-hearted… siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh.
Now back to the story at hand.
Tom, from what I’ve been told, is a rather well known sailor. As the skipper of his boat, “Nine Tails” he was the first man ever to circumnavigate the world in a catamaran. Tom is a handsome man of 48 – although I have to say that his demeanor was sometimes that of an 84-year-old. Maybe our age difference was a bit intimidating for him, or maybe it came from spending so much time alone.
I have to say that the “seven seas” sailors we kept encountering on Langkawi were undeniably charming and interesting folk. But strangely sullen.
And, most certainly, out of touch.
You’d ask them how long they’d been at sea and they’d reply, “What year is it?”
Tom was no exception.
At first, I found it all very romantic, but the more I listened, the more I heard them relay their hardships, disappointments, failures, misgivings. Just like all us landlubbers. Ironically, they set out to avoid what no one can truly escape.
And to top it all off, these hale and hardy seafarers had thousands of stories to tell, but often only passing acquaintances to share them with.
I found this particularly sad.
Nevertheless, there was something alluring about Tom and I just couldn’t help but be enticed.
At 16, Adrian was certainly getting his share of the sailor’s experience. He had dropped out of school to join his dad on this adventure, but one could tell, and he was quick to admit, that he was starved for companionship and the real world. For this very reason, Sam and I took him under our wing and gave him the little brother treatment for the remainder of our stay. He ate it up like a banana split.
So lovely was Adrian that when it came time to say good-bye, I couldn’t help but feel deeply saddened. I’ve always found it very difficult to part from someone – no matter how long you’ve known them – with whom you’ve shared wonderful experiences. And it NEVER gets any easier.
Our seaside New Year’s Eve celebration ended with wedding festivities. That’s right, Sam married a French man named (and this must be said with an “outrageous accent”) Lauran. The nuptials had first been discussed during one of our recent sailing excursions, which included Lauran, who became immediately smitten with Sam. So, after leaving the beach for a local bar, our merry entourage gathered together the necessary items for a proper wedding – a bouquet, a groom, a bride, and Captain Ian to perform the ceremonies.
Ian became far too drunk to complete his charge, so I took over.
Now Sam and I can say we’ve each been married in strange foreign lands to strange foreign men. I did tell you I got married a few months ago, didn’t I? It was after a community athletic festival. Kuranaga-Kacho performed the ceremony at a small after-party consisting of 20 men and myself. After my office papa-san consented to the marriage and was even willing to give me away (as well as perform the ceremony) I was wed to a young man, Miki.
I haven’t seen him since the reception.
Well, all in all, my vacation in Malaysia was one of the best of my life and leaving the beautiful island of Langkawi – and all the lovely people we met – was a bit gut-wrenching.
However, reality – or at least Japanese-reality – awaited and as tempting as the offers I had to become a crew member on several different sailing vessels were, I had to refuse.
My love to all. I hope your holidays were happy ones and may your new year prove to be one filled with mystery and surprises, except for the insect and reptilian kind that make strange noises in the hidden recesses of a florescent-lit room, during a heavy thunderstorm, on a remote island in Malaysia, while your lily-livered friend hides under her covers, expecting you to eradicate them all.