Christmas 2016 is just a few days away. As with many places around the world, lights and tinsel seem to be in full swing. I chuckle as I walk through shopping malls and watch young women in hijab taking photos of each other in front of large Christmas trees with their fingers flashing the peace sign. I desperately want to take a photo of them taking a photo. That is what it is all about. Peace, acceptance, tolerance. The spirit of the season.
I have been asked a few times what it is like to live in a Muslim country. I have to really think about the differences against a cosmopolitan city like Toronto. Penang is probably the most diverse part of Malaysia – with many beliefs accepted. According to Wikipedia:
“Malaysia is a multicultural and multi-confessional country. As of the 2010 Population and Housing Census, 61.3 percent of the population practices Islam; 19.8 percent Buddhism; 9.2 percent Christianity; 6.3 percent Hinduism; and 1.3 percent traditional Chinese religions.”
Fundamentally there is not really much of a change in our lives. There are restaurants that don’t serve alcohol, some that are just vegetarian or don’t serve pork. There is the sound of the call to prayer that I hear as an early riser with my windows open along with the chirping of a large flock of birds that wake up below my window.
As far as fashion, some women cover their heads and one very rarely sees a woman fully covered in a burka. Unlike my experience in the UAE, we never see the men in thobes. I have observed some more traditional Indian clothing as well – which looks far more comfortable in this hot climate that any Western clothing.
There are many holidays here – for all groups. Diwali has just finished as we move into Christmas, and then Chinese New Year. In between we have had public holidays for Mawlid. A public holiday just means more people on the roads, kids off school, and a plethora of fantastic decorations. Fireworks are a thing – and they are seen and heard constantly. When we first arrived I asked what they were for. I was met with a shrug and an overall “holiday – someone celebrating”. Seems one does not need too much of a reason to have sparkly lights and big bangs.
The overall feeling here is live and let live. There is interaction between all people, and no real fuss. What is evident is that there is always a reason for people to get together and celebrate life and love with one another.
And isn’t that the spirit of any season?
So I know we will soon have visitors and will have to play tour guide. Problem is – we are still discovering things for ourselves and have not hit every highlight.
I discovered this awesome blog “Oh My Expat Life” by Cimeron Morrissey and she has outlined 3 Perfect Days in Penang. Rather than reinvent the wheel, with her permission I have added her link. I will admit to also having peeked at a few other tips and tricks – and it has made a huge difference in our discovery of what our new home has to offer.
I have an amazing view of the Straits of Malacca in Malaysia from the condo that we are renting. I frequently just stand on the balcony and watch the weather unfold in front of me. I’ve started taking timelapse videos of the weather and have created a Youtube channel where you can view the images. A typical timelapse takes 2-3h to take depending on how long I want the final video to be. The videos created to date varying between 2-4 shots per minute. I’m also posting them on Instagram (jrg_1963) along with casual photos.
With new found friends, John and Connie, I went birding about 2h away from Penang in a town called Ipoh where Connie lives. Compared to birding in Canada, tropical birding is hard but rewarding work. On a typical outing in Canada, I could count on anywhere from 30-125 species. My best day so far in Malaysia was 27 species. A gallery of the pictures from my last trip can be found at http://photos.giraud.com/p1063241653.
I have been trying to think about what I have been feeling as we have settled in to our life here in Malaysia. A year ago I read a book called Planet Boomer as winter was bringing in its chill in Canada. It was a pie in the sky idea that we had formed many years prior – “what if we retired overseas and explored a different life?” Planet Boomer was yet another book that fed that dream. Less than two months later – we decided to execute on that dream – and a year later we find ourselves in SE Asia.
But then what? After the plans and organisation (greatly detailed in this blog), the MM2H Visa application, the selling and completion of most of our worldly good, the goodbyes – then the hellos and set up of a new life here…what next?
Both of us have lived and worked abroad a number of times, and we have embarked on long journeys of exploration and travel. We have stories we bring out at dinner parties to entertain that are comical and crazy, where we try to convey that despite differences around the world – a laugh is a laugh and we all want to feel we are needed and loved.
I was sent this link to a blog and somehow it spoke to me. The author so clearly lays out many of the feelings I have been unable to put down here myself – and frankly I could not do justice. So read on – and do get a feel for where my head is at – even if it is in the clouds! 17 Things that Change Forever When You Live Abroad, by Angie Castells