When one thinks of a beach holiday in Southeast Asia, the usual suspects come to mind: Phuket, Bali, Koh Samui, or for those who stick to the regular backpacking circuit, Koh Phangan. Beaches in Malaysia usually come as an afterthought.
And when one finally does think about Malaysia, just about every other tourist ends up in Perhentian Islands, Langkawi or Sipadan in East Malaysia. As a local, I knew better but despite that fact, and having escaped to many islands on the east of Malaysia (not just the ones mentioned), Pulau Kapas was strangely never on my radar.
My mother-in-law looked pale as she made her way to the arrival hall of Penang International Airport. She still didn’t feel very well but decided that she couldn’t bear to stay another day in bed. Also she didn’t like the idea of us leaving them alone in Singapore, so she mustered all the strength she had to journey on with us.
The dense and sticky air filled our lungs as soon as we walked out of the sliding doors of KL International Airport. Chris, no longer used to the humidity, felt like he is hit by a ton of bricks.
It was still the middle of winter when we left Germany for Kuala Lumpur. Only fourteen hours ago, we were covered in scarves and three layers of clothes. We’d been dreaming about Malaysia’s tropical climate for a while now. I’d plodded through the snow-decked streets, daydreaming about the day when we would wear shorts and flip-flops.
The blissful warmth and sunshine that played out so wonderfully in my imagination was quickly erased by stark reality: the real 32°C deal was less pleasant than I thought.
People who know me personally call me animated, exuberant even.
Okay, I admit I can get pretty talkative when it comes to talking about things I care about or to people that I connect easily with. Yup, I’m one of those people who just can’t shut up once triggered. My voice raises a few decibels higher (this is embarrassing normally, especially in a public place), my facial expressions move in sync to match the speed and the passion of my speech, while my hands gesture wildly to complement the whole conversation in action.
So imagine, when I first toyed with the idea of enrolling myself in a 10-day silent Vipassana retreat, friends arched an eyebrow quizzically.
“Really Ying? Why torture yourself?” I pretended they had only my best interests in mind.
So I did it and survived. That was almost a decade ago. Till this day, I still could recall vividly the lessons that I’d learned while struggling through the entire duration. It was one of the ten hardest days in my life. I was almost reduced to tears. But while I didn’t find answers to any life’s mysteries, I caught several moments of clarity. These moments of clarity also helped me stay present and mindful while travelling.