If you follow me on twitter, Facebook, or my other group blog, you’ll know that my time in Malaysia started out on the wrong foot. We landed safely in Kuala Lumpur, but my suitcase didn’t make the flight. Luckily, I had a backpack with one change of clothes for our presentation that night, but that was about it.

We all piled into the van for the 2 hour ride after keeping our driver waiting while I spoke the the lost luggage people. Its not easy to fill out paperwork in a country you’ve just landed in, when you are then heading to a stranger’s home in a town 2 hours away, without a phone number of your own to give out. But that’s what we did. We then arrived at our meeting place to meet up with our hosts and have lunch, but my host wasn’t there. I later found out he was in a meeting, and others knew this, but it hadn’t been communicated to me. I was starting to feel a little self pity. Anyway, my host came, drove me to his house, room me upstairs to my room and shut the door and said he’d be back to get me in 2 hours. He had another meeting to go to. This is when the pity party set in. I had no clothes, and was all by myself in a country I didn’t know, and felt stressed.

A few minutes later, things changed. My host called his eldest daughter who was at the house, and told her to take care of me. She knocked on my bedroom door and gave me all the stuff I needed to shower and clean up, showed me around my bathroom and set me up on the internet. (The bathrooms vary over here, some are like home and some are different – with showers that have separate heaters, etc…) She was so nice. I then felt silly for having such a pity party earlier.

I had a few more pity party moments that day when my host was at a meeting and someone else had to drive me home when is hadn’t met anyone else at the house and was stressed to go in alone, and when I tried to buy water and soap at the 7/11 but had no cash and they only take cash… But, in both instances, nice people, saved the day. The person driving me home bought my stuff for me at the store, and my host’s son was there to let me in that night. He was also very nice.

Malacca was my first real struggle with not being able to control my surroundings. And in every challenging instance, I was lucky to have nice people step in to help me out. After the first day, all was good, and I was comfortable in my surroundings. I had my suitcase back and was getting to understand the dynamics of the house I was straying in. The first night, I was thankful for being put in a tougher situation because it reminded me of how nice people are in general. While the family was much more distant than what I am used to in Canada, they were just as willing to help, once I learned to ask for help. I enjoyed getting to know them, and was a little sad to leave. 

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Reacting to Changes

I’ve been following the headlines about the conflict in Malaysia since I first heard about it a few days ago, and was hoping that I’d hear that it was all settled. I don’t know what I expected. Maybe that everyone decided to stop the violence and just live and let live? I know this isn’t necessarily realistic, especially not in that time frame. 

We got news this morning that because of the uncertainty, they have changed our itinerary, and we will be staying away from Sabah. This made me a little sad, though I agree that it was the right decision and I am happy that they are putting our safety first. Sandakan is only 120km from the conflict zone. 

When my team and I first met, we were each given areas to research and Sandakan was one of the places I was assigned. I spent some time researching the town and the surrounding area and was really looking forward to seeing it all in person and meeting the people. Instead of visiting, I will now be hoping that the people in that area stay safe. I will still be following the news and hope that the conflict ends soon and there are no more deaths. 

But on the plus side, we now get to go to Kuching, Sarawak! I have heard amazing things about Kuching, and I think it will be a fantastic place for us to spend the last few days of our time in Malaysia. I think I see some research in my future this weekend to start to get (even more) excited about this change in the itinerary. 

Should Fear Affect International Travel?

I was searching the news sites this morning when I saw an article on google news from Brisbane that talks about the conflict going on right now in Sabah, Malaysia. Hundreds of Filipinos made their way to Sabah a few weeks back to try to claim the land back for the Sultan of Sulu, and over 25 people have been killed in the conflict. It made me start to think about travel and how you can be putting yourself in some interesting situations when you travel to foreign areas where you don’t have a clue what issues might be brewing there. Should fear stop you from travelling to foreign places?  

I’m not concerned for my safety at this point (obviously, since I’m still in Canada), and I’m not overly worried about myself and my group related to this current conflict. I have faith that the Rotary International organizers will adjust our visits if this situation escalates or is still not over by the time we visit. But it sheds a whole new light on reading international headlines. I can only imagine how much more interested I’ll be in the battle for Sabah once I’ve been there and have met some of the residents. I’m already thinking about the people that I haven’t yet met, and how this whole situation is affecting them and their safety. 

I’m happy that my mother isn’t overly interested in international headlines, and that she doesn’t know much about where I’m headed other than I’m going to Malaysia… If she heard this news, it might worry her unnecessarily. However, it very well could have happened in a few months time when we are scheduled to be there, and still could be happening, or happen again. 

So, how safe is it to travel internationally? How much research should a person do on the areas that they are going to be visiting? I find this an interesting topic as I’ve always had people who don’t travel much telling me to “be careful” when I take a trip.

The first time I went to Asia, I’ll admit that I was terrified. I’d only know little bits of about the places I was visiting, and was afraid of pretty well everything. It was my first trip outside of North America, and I was terrified that there would be a language barrier at customs and I’d get put in a prison somewhere. (This is thanks to watching the movie Brokedown Palace and seeing Claire Danes’ character go to jail in Thailiand for smuggling.) But I put all my faith into my friends who lived in Hong Kong and would take care of all my concerns while I was visiting, and I’m glad to say that customs was not at all intimidating. 

I’m still full of fears about traveling. I’m always afraid I’ll run into strange wild animals. This was not at all helped by a fruit farm guide in Malaysia getting fruit for me from a bush that cobras are known to sleep in. And the bumblebees in New Zealand are terrifying. I’m still nervous every time I go through customs. Mexico terrified me when I heard that you push a button at customs to see if you get an extended search or not. However, things are never as bad as I think they will be, and so far not worth any of the worrying I do before hand. 

So, I’m worried about going through customs, and wild animals that I’ll likely never see, but I’m not worried about the big issues like standoffs. Why is this? What about the rest of you travelers? What concerns you before you travel to international destinations?