Since I've already mentioned the most interesting characters I met in Malaysia, here are the nicest ones. These are in either the order I met them, or the order they appear in my diary.
(Days 1-3) Jimmy: you read about him in the "most interesting characters" section too, because he had all kinds of stories and comments about travellers from all kinds of places, who'd stayed at his place. He earns his spot on the 'nicest' list because he did all kinds of legwork/phonework to help us book our trip and our place in Langkawi Island, as well as helping us see the beach on Penang Island, recommending a place to eat near there, and taxiing us there and back.
(Day 5) Emma, the Kiwi (Kiwi:New Zealander = Canuck: Canadian) we met at the seven wells (or was it seven springs?) mountainside. It was our second day on Langkawi Island, we had rented a car and were driving around to some of the landmarks. We climbed about five hundred steps to get to this spot where there were pools cut into rock by a stream channeling its way down to a big cliff/waterfall, and they created chutes and gulleys where we rode natural waterslides, and while there, I started a conversation with a young lady and her father. They were both extremely well-travelled in Asia, the father was a teacher, and the daughter had just started university. This was the first lengthy conversation I had in Malaysia with another traveller who wasn't part of our own group. We'd just gotten our bearings on Langkawi Island, and it was a very pleasant to have a little chat about where we'd been and where we were going.
(Day 6) We took an island-hopping tour that brought us around to a freshwater lake, a grove where we could watch eagles and sea eagles feeding off the tidal pools, and finally to a DIFFERENT sun-drenched beach than the one where we USUALLY sat. On the boat was a honeymooning couple. The new wife had this fantastic glow about her, a light headdress (Malaysia is mostly a Muslim nation: headdresses were everywhere), and she spent the whole trip chatting with, and totally charming, our travel-mate Amy, asking her to take picture of her with her new husband, etc..
Something I noticed: look at the woman's feet in this picture. I saw that same foot stance a handful of times when I saw Malaysian women posing for pictures. Maybe it was just coincidence, but it's a good pose, and it made me smile every time I spotted it -- you know how sometimes you just notice something, and from then on, it makes you smile when you notice it again, like a friend's little mannerism, or some quirk in the way couples talk to each other, or whatever. (Conversely, ever notice something and immediately wish you could un-notice it - like a friend who's a noisy chewer, and once you've noticed, you'll ALWAYS be annoyed by that friend's chewing.)
Anyway, here she is.
Also on day six, on that same beach, I met Theresa and Raiden. I'd brought my juggling balls to the beach. (Juggling is almost as good as having a puppy in terms of "meeting people" tools -- except that puppies attract cute females, while juggling attracts kids and other totally random people [with cameras] -- any age, any type, unpredictably, from super-cool folks to bedraggled parents of young kids.) At the freshwater lake, I'd noticed Theresa and Raiden standing on the dock because she was wearing a very bright orange dress, draped and tied in a way I hadn't seen before. Then, at the last stop on the island tour, I started juggling, and they approached me, asked about juggling (I gave them a mini-lesson), and took pictures with me after we chatted about seasons, Canada, Korea, and Kuala Lumpur. Also, she's the one who told me to try Laksa soup, and I'm glad I did.
Here're Theresa and her boyfriend Raiden with me on the beach.
Also at that beach, I had a nice chat with an Indian couple who were also travelling; the wife was an educator, so we shared notes on education-y stuff, and the husband got a juggling lesson. He approached me with the line, "Are you giving busking lessons over here?" They were very sweet -- big smiles and approachable manner. The husband's smile reminded me of my brother-in-law Frank. (In fact, I saw Frank's Malaysian twin on the ferry back to Penang Island -- he was sitting on the ferry's deck and looking seasick, but his build, his hair, and his mannerisms were identical to how I'd imagine Frank, if he were seasick. And Malaysian.)
(Day 7) The next day, I had a really neat chat with the tour guide on another tour. He was ridiculously knowledgeable about the area's wildlife, the island's history and natural features (rich in limestone: we drove by a cement factory on this resort island, that TOTALLY threw us for a loop, but then I learned that before it became a resort island, its primary industries were limestone (concrete) and marble). He was really well-spoken and full of interesting knowledge, and made me think of my days as a tour guide, how I took a real pleasure in knowing, or finding out, the answer to any question the tourists could throw at me. We went through a bat cave (the sound of a camera's film winding disturbs bats, but we could take digital pictures), and saw a mangrove swamp. Mangroves are trees that adapted to salt water, and they have roots that come up about two or three feet above the water level, so that it almost looks like a tree on stilts. Neat trees. We went to a fish farm, and archer fish (fish that shoot a jet of water to knock bugs off low branches, into the water to eat) shot my thumb when I put it on the rail and wiggled it. They can hit a target at two metres!
In fact, this random clip from the internet looks like it was taken at exactly the place where the fish shot MY finger!
There was a family on our tour boat, from the Netherlands, no less! As the tour continued, I started a conversation with the parents, and by the end of the tour, the two daughters (Bee, seven, and Ella, nine -- exactly the age I teach) were chatting and asking me questions, too. They asked my age and I told them I'd say a number, and they had to guess if my real age was higher or lower. They agreed to play, so the first age I suggested was 161. "Lower!" "OK. Seven." "Higher." With much giggling, they found out my age. The younger daughter especially took a shine to me, asking me questions and telling me endless stories, and at the buffet lunch that ended our tour, she told me, "I want to take you with my family for the rest of our vacation." It was very sweet. The family lives in Japan, and the girls go to an international school there, so I asked them if they know any Japanese.
"OK, how do you say 'Goodbye'?"
"Very good! How do you say 'stop biting my elbow or I'll cough on your shoe!'?"
"I don't know."
"How do you say, 'Hello'?"
"Excellent! How do you say, 'Can you call the police? I think my puppy ate your bicycle'?"
"I don't know."
"Well you should study more! My goodness!"
Much fun. I don't have a camera, though, so none of them are represented on film. Sorry. I remember what they look like.
(Day 8) Rachel was sitting on the beach when I went out on my last morning to take my last dip in the water. I walked over and parked myself beside her and we had a lovely chat. She teaches dance to children, and she had a really nice, gentle way. She was there with some friends from her church group, and all their names were biblical names starting with R-- there were Rachel, Ruth and Rebecca. We joked that we got along because my names starts with 'R' too. We had a good, little chat about finding our way home, and wrote a very nice e-mail to me, to boot!
Here are the four things my friend Rachel loves the most about Malaysia.
1. It's really diverse. As a former English colony, and because of its geography, you'll see (some) English, Indians, Thai, Chinese, and Malaysian, all with regularity (and you'll also see all those influences on restaurant menus). This means most people are versed in many languages, and they all generally get along peacefully.
2. It's really easygoing -- everybody there's really laid back. That's nice.
3. Because so many cultures are represented, there's always a holiday or a celebration taking place, and all the special days -- the Muslim holidays, the Chinese ones, the Indian ones, the Western ones, and the Malaysian ones, are observed by their respective groups. The day after Christmas, we saw a Chinese parade in Georgetown, and near the end of our stay, we saw a lot of shops closed during regular business hours, because Muslim Hajj period ended -- the Muslims who took the pilgrimage to Mecca are supposed to have come back on that day, or week.
4. GREAT food.
Here's the drawback:
Every Malaysian I properly chatted with said they wished they could have four seasons. The sun there was so nice, and they all pined for snow! They even mention it in their e-mails! When I think about it a second time, I realize that it's true for me, too: I LOVE seasons. Fall and spring are my favorite things, and the cold of winter really sharpens me. Summer's probably my least favorite season (unless I'm on a beach or a walking trail), but it's true. Seasons are great. Don't take them for granted: especially if you live in a place where leaves turn red in the fall.
Oh yeah. Can't forget about this:
I met this lady on day three, Christmas Day, and she gave me some tongue within five minutes of my meeting her! Some of you may think that's a little fast, but once you see her picture, you'll understand why I had no choice but to go along.