It has been a year since we exited Canada to become expats, setting up our new life in Penang, Malaysia. It is hard to imagine the process we went through to sell up and move out – but as I read back on the blogs I am reminded of the arduous task of completely changing our lives.
As we woke up this morning and looked over the Straits of Malacca – we asked the inevitable question – are we happy here? The answer was a resounding yes! The follow-up question was “Is this what you imagined”? The answer was a resounding no!
In fact, despite our planning and research, our travels to the region (though not specifically to Penang), and the great people who answered our questions before we arrived – this place, this life, is nothing like we imagined.
While we could envision living in a different country, we never thought we would find a place that has such incredible diversity. The cultures, religions, beliefs, and people here intersect on a daily basis. I was sitting at a stoplight the other day watching Hindu devotees carrying bowls on their heads and fronds in their hands dressed in lovely colours of orange and red. They took their time to cross – and I sat and waited – wishing I could join them in their walk. This morning I awoke as I do most days to the sound of the muezzin do the early morning call to prayer from the mosque close to our home – the reminder for me to wake up and get the foster kitten so he can have morning cuddle and play time. This past week we saw cars, houses and money burning in the streets – all paper of course! The Hungry Ghost Festival was just wrapping up as Buddhists and Taoists paid homage to their deceased ancestors.
In this diversity, there is a live and let live philosophy. No one stresses if one has decorations up, and everyone seems to take advantage of every holiday with sales, time off, or celebratory meals. It is an opportunity to celebrate, educate, and benefit from the commerce.
With the diversity also comes food of any type you could imagine. This morning while going to our local outdoor market, I passed by all the interesting fruits and vegetables, beans and rice, and stuff I still know nothing about. I love the interaction with vendors, who are more than happy to tell you what this or that is. Language is rarely a barrier as we find ways to convey our needs. My egg lady provides me with kampung (local) eggs that have the creamiest yolks ever. I see the same older couple selling fruit who know I always ask for mangosteen – even when it is not in season (though they were delighted when it was as I was their best customer). Today I discovered a woman who has a great variety of dried lentils and beans and she pointed to each to tell me what they were. As I bought some yellow lentils a Chinese woman asked the shopkeeper what I use them for. Daal she answered. I giggled…I have no clue how to make daal but perhaps that will be my next experiment.
This is the “mundane” part of our everyday lives rather than the highlight reel. The part where the newness of the first year has worn off and we are down to the business of just plain living. It is not what we planned and it is better than we expected.