When is the last time you did something you thought you would never do?
When I arrived in Malaysia one of the first things that caught my attention was the road side vendors selling food, actually rice with toppings. I asked driver Din about these little stands, he told me ‘don’t eat there, they are too close to the road, you’ll get dirty and rocks in your food’. After a closer inspection (actually hanging out a window looking) I knew I would never eat there, they don’t use gloves, and they don’t cover the rice or toppings, these stands look like a serious breeding ground for parasites. Another thing I was never going to do was drive while living here. The scooter drivers over here are 2 gallons crazy in a one gallon bucket. Seriously nuts, there is no safety culture in place.
Fast forward to the end of Ramadan and into Hari Raya Puasa (this celebration signifies end of the fasting month). Driving home I mentioned something about wanting to learn how to make the nasi lemak (coconut rice and sweet curried anchovy paste wrapped in a banana leaf), apparently not as easy as you would think, driver Din tells me, ‘I’ll take you someplace to sample it’. As a rule Din can be trusted to show you some interesting local entertainment, he took me to see a cow being butchered (interesting), so I wasn’t sure what he had in mind, but was willing to trust him. We ended up at a road side vendor, the very type Din warned me about. I looked at him and said ‘Really Din, you’re taking us to a road side vendor?’ ‘What about the dirt and rocks?’ Din smiled and said, ‘Trust me’. This vendor was unique in they didn’t work out of the trunk of their car like many do, this one had several tables and stalls set up. It was quite the operation. One stall had a wild monkey (on a leash) on their tables (thank goodness we didn’t stop at that one). The one Din chose made sticky rice, very similar to nasi lemak but stickier. It’s a long process so I understand why they only do this once or twice a year. They make the rice then roll it in a banana leaf, the rolled leaf is inserted it into a hollowed out bamboo shoot, then set in a smoking pit, so it can cook for 4 hours. This vendor made his own coconut milk too. He grates the coconut with a little homemade machine then presses the coconut to get the milk. The guy in charge of grating picked up a handful and squeezed it to show me how much milk they get out of it, then back to grating. Did I mention he wasn’t wearing gloves, or that his hands were a bit dirty? My heart sank, I wasn’t sure if I should try it, but my two co-workers (Welder Dave and Welder Ray) both insisted that my system could handle it, I’ve been eating here for months. So I did, I bought a leaf full of rice and some curry mix to go with it. Check this one off the “I won’t do it list”. It’s done and I didn’t die, but I will probably never do it again.
The next thing on my “no way list” was driving. My company insists that all expats take a defensive driving class. I really didn’t want to take the class but it was required. I’ll share a secret with you, since being here I can no longer tell my left from my right. We drive on the right hand side of the road and turn right across traffic. This is very confusing to a person who has driven in America for a lot of years. I took the class and continued on my way. HR Brad’s kids came to visit and this was my turning point, I saw his 16 year old daughter driving and my competitive nature kicked in. I’m old enough to know that a 16 year old isn’t as wise or cautious as most grown-ups, but at that moment it didn’t matter. A few weeks later when one of the managers offered to leave his car with me while he traveled, I said yes, you bet. To be honest, as I drove it home the panic set in. These drivers (scooter and car) are crazy and when someone said turn right my instincts wanted to turn left which is really right, are you confused, because for the first few days I was a confused mess. My co-worker finally just pointed, turn this way. Trust me, when I tell you right turns across traffic are tougher than they look. But with a little coaching from a couple of the guys I did it, I drove, and survived. The first weekend reminded me of many years ago when my dad coached me along, I finally figured it out. I’m still not a huge fan of driving and willingly let someone else take the wheel, but at least I know I can do it. I am able to drive in this backward country, and I feel pretty confident that at the end of the day we’ll survive.
I’m willing to step outside my comfort zone, I’m willing to try new things. Some like the road side vendors, I’ll probably pass next time, but driving, I will stick with that little adventure while experiencing life in Mountasia.