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Beach Bumming – Pulau Pangkor (Malaysia) | We're Not There Yet

We only stayed one full day (plus an afternoon and morning on each side) in Pulau Pangkor. I was hoping for a white-sand beach and clear water, but the weather wasn’t cooperating, so we contented ourselves with some fantastic fresh fish, lots of lounging time, and a nice afternoon at the beach. I had to catch myself to not feel too disappointed that our beach trip was not up to my expectations; it is quite a privileged life we lead when I start to complain about my sub-par tropical island getaway. We caught the first ferry in the morning, but it was the wrong one and took us to another island! We were sent back from where we started and made it painlessly to our intended destination. We weren’t even charged for our bonus island cruise.

Goodbye, Pulau Pangkor!

We have been trying to teach ourselves a little bit of the local language through textbooks, internet resources, and practicing the little bits we learn with real, live people. The problem is that everyone here seems to speak English. We’ll ask a question in Malay and we’ll get a response in English. It was actually a big help today, when navigating the ferry system, and turned out to be a good thing for meeting locals, too. We sat down next to a young Chinese man who wasted no time in starting a conversation. We talked for the whole 3-hour ride about the country, his favorite places to go, his trip to New Jersey (he has an uncle who lives there), his work (he’s a car salesman), and local food. The guy, Jameson, spoke pretty good English as well as Mandarin and Cantonese, but struggled with Malay, even though he is third generation living in Malaysia. The fact is that there are so many cultures represented that each speaks their own native language (typically either Chinese, Tamil, or Malay), but the language of currency is English. On a few occasions, I have noticed Indian and Chinese people talking to each other in English or a Malay person ordering food from a Chinese restaurant in English because it has somehow become the common denominator. I can’t complain, because it’s handy for us, and often the locals that we talk to are more comfortable speaking to us in English than listening to us struggle through our beginner-Malay. Still, it is a feeling of accomplishment when we actually learn the local language, even if we might not need to. We’ve been told that we’ll eventually come across communities where it will be helpful to know a bit of Malay, so we won’t give up yet, but it has been an unexpected and a little disappointing discovery for us. Of course, it didn’t stop us from getting on the wrong ferry.

We took the right ferry to a bus and then caught another bus to the Cameron Highlands, which is a big stop on the ‘Banana Pancake Trail’ (a succinct description, courtesy of Lonely Planet, for the backpacker circuit through Southeast Asia). We made it in a little after dark and reserved a room that was a bit more than we wanted to pay with fewer amenities than it should have had at that price, but we had been frightened into thinking that accommodation would be in high demand. We dropped off our bags and wandered down the street to find a big sign advertising a better-equipped room for half the price we had paid only two blocks away. We arranged to move the next morning, but I couldn’t help but stew a little bit over what I though of as overpaying for a room. I’ve got to clarify that I am talking about prices lower than $20 per night, but it is amazing how quickly one can adapt to a new budget when visiting a new country. I managed to work through my buyer’s remorse with a stellar (and cheap!) plate piled high with some unexpectedly good Indian food.

That’s a full day of travel by boat and bus, going from island to cool highlands, hanging out with an English-speaking Chinese man and ending with an Indian feast. All in a typical day in Malaysia. I love this country!

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