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Hello, Ciao,안녕하세요, Hallo, Hola, Selamat tengahari! My name is Rachael and I am a travel enthusiast. Ever since I can remember, my parents have taken my brother, sister and I on good ol' American road trips. It's safe to say that was where my interest in new places, people and experiences was ignited. As my parents always encouraged my siblings and I to explore and ask questions, I developed a sincere curiosity for new adventures. In addition to seeing much of the United States with my favorite travel companions (my family), I had the opportunity to spend a semester in Rome, Italy, as well as a semester in Seoul, South Korea during my college career. Now, I am honored to be taking part in a Fulbright ETA Scholarship to Malaysia for a year! My family's favorite motto is "Life is all about the journey, not the destination." I invite you to join along in my journey of cultural exchange and mutual understanding in Malaysia! After all, the more, the merrier.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Chesley's Malaysian Adventure: Besut

After our tour around Kuala Gandah, Taman Negara and Cameron Highlands, we headed for my village in Besut. On our way to Besut, we rode in a crowded white van with two other couples from Europe. On more than one occasion, we made stops along the road in order for the driver to pray, as well as for us to eat. At one point, we were driving along the border of Malaysia and Thailand, and we stopped at an outdoor restaurant. I encouraged my family to get out and enjoy some roti canai (Indian flatbread served with curry). They were surprised how unhesitant I was to purchase food at this rough around the edges food stall on the side of a road. For reference, there is no way it could have ever passed health code in the United States. However, my family claims it was some of the best roti canai they had while in Malaysia. We still like to laugh that they never would have eaten at a place that looked like that in America.

My family hanging out in my kitchen! It was always
pretty hot in there!
After a six-hour journey, we approached my village. I became overwhelmed with a sense of excitement to show my family my house and the temporary environment that I had been living in. My family stayed in my house with my roommate and I, and Christina and I were ecstatic to have our house full of people and noise.

In Besut, my family experienced my local night market, as well as the local beach. Going to the night market by myself attracted enough attention, so when it was an entire Western family, it attracted more attention than you could ever imagine. The local people did not try to hide their stares and wide eyes. My family definitely experienced a taste of the daily attention I received during my time there. While walking around, I saw many of my students, and one little boy in particular saw my “very tall brother” and froze in fear and ran away. In a nutshell, a half hour at the night market was not only a once in a lifetime experience for my family, but for the entire village of Besut.

Hiking Bukit Keluang in Besut near the beach!
My mom and sister looking out
over the ocean.
A trip to the local beach also generated a great deal of attention. In my village, beaches are not meant for swimming or sun bathing. It is an area to relax in normal clothes, have a picnic and hang out. As my family sat on the sand looking out at the South China Sea, young children kept trying to throw their soccer ball our way. In this way, they would have a reason to come over and say hello. As time passed, the children became more comfortable, and soon enough, four young boys approached us. At first, they simply stared at us as if to say, “What the heck are you all doing in Besut, Malaysia?” After we exchanged some words in English, as well as Malay, they pointed to Hannah and asked “Can we take picture with she?”

A chicken sate dinner that we enjoyed in Jerteh!
On another occasion, when my roommate, family and I decided to go to the local town, Jerteh, we never anticipated the difficulty that would be involved with transporting six people back to my house. We took two taxis into the town. However, for the route home, we could not find a taxi. After at least an hour of trying to hunt down a taxi and barter for prices, I approached a lady and asked her if she knew anyone that I could call to drive us home, because we had absolutely no options at this point. She told me to wait, and I waited hoping that she would provide phone numbers to other taxis. Instead, she came back with two middle-aged men.  “They drive you,” she exclaimed. Christina and I looked at each other and were a bit unsure. Seeing as though this was our only option, we decided to take down this lady’s phone number and wrote down the license plate numbers of the strange vehicles we were all getting into. Obviously, getting into cars with strangers is not something that is encouraged, but we were stranded. We divided ourselves up between the two cars. Christina drove in one and I drove in the other. During our twenty- minute drive home, we texted each other to make sure the cars were following one another. Everyone made it back home. Moreover, in the beat-down car I drove in, the strange man had a flip down TV that featured Baliwood dance videos with women shaking and dancing in outfits with beads and sequins. Judging from the outside of the car, that is the last thing I would have expected on the inside. The topic of conversation after that unusual and bizarre experience was, “Did we just drive in cars with strangers in a foreign country?” “Yes. Yes we did.” Overall, my parents could not believe how much work it took for Nina and I to simply go about our day-to-day lives in a foreign country. My family witnessed that simple things, which require hardly any hard effort in one’s home country, take so much more time and energy in a foreign setting with a foreign language.

The batik factory of Besut. 
Batik factory will large pieces of fabric and an adorable
little Malay boy who was keeping himself busy!
On one afternoon, my good, taxi driver friend, Amir, drove my family and I to a batik (fabric) factory in my village. The batik factory was home to beautiful fabrics with gorgeous material and prints. As we walked through the dust and sand that lined the ground, we took in the large sheets of fabric hanging all around us. There were rubber boots, gloves and buckets everywhere to be found, as well as oversized, wooden weaves and fabric stretches. As we approached an artisan, who was in the midst of painting intricate details on a piece of batik, my mom could not help by notice a little Malay boy playing in the mud on the ground with a stick in his hand. He seemed perfectly content there below the large pieces of colorful batik in his family’s factory, while stirring mud into some sort of concoction.

During my family’s week in Besut, it was my sister’s 17th birthday! For her birthday, my mom made an Asian stir- fry with awesome soy sauce as well as with anything that could be found at the local market. She also made a birthday cake from mix she had brought from the States. For the celebration, Christina and I invited fellow Fulbrighters Nick, Jordan and Michael to join, and they were excited to spend time with my American family. It was always refreshing to have visitors around! The food was delicious and such a treat, and the birthday cake literally tasted like the best thing on earth. As my mom prepared the food and cake in the un-air conditioned kitchen, the temperature rose to at least 110 degrees. My poor mother commented that she felt as though she had been beaten to death by the intense heat. Although the heat of the house caused the birthday cake frosting to quickly melt down into something of a colored butter sauce, it was still an occasion to remember. 

My mentor's family hosted us all for dinner one night!

My sister, Christina and I with our Malay friends from Besut!

My family and local Malay friends enjoying roti canai together at
Nasi Kandar, my favorite restaurant in Besut.

My mom and sister watching the man make roti canai at my favorite
restaurant in Besut, Nasi Kandar!

My mom and sister at a local baju kurung shop in Jerteh.
The girls that work at the shop were very excited to meet them!

Teachers from my KHAS class took my family and I to a
restaurant with karaoke. The owner even say 'happy birthday'
to my sister!

The artisan explained in Malay the art of creating batik.

Amir guiding my family through the factory. They normally did
not get American visitors, so it came as a huge surprise to the artisans.
My family posing with the time-chain Christina and I made.
It counted down the days until their visit. 

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