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Relocating My Malaysian Identity: A European Dig

London Graffiti

I should have known better.

Yeah that’s what has been chiming in my head the past few days when this certain realisation hit me. A year later after it happened no less too for that matter. Ah, God works in mysterious ways indeed.

While I was moving around Europe, I stumbled upon an interesting pattern. One I love repeating the story to others but never actually connecting the dots. It all started when I was in Shephard’s Bush, London. We were walking back from Jamie’s Italian for an early dinner (you’re best at reserving a table in advance) and I came across a Ukrainian who pointed out about my cheeks which had red streaks due to the dry weather and issues with blood vessels. While on normal terms, I wouldn’t be so open to trying new things, for some reason I just felt like I should. I knew Dead Sea and Himalayan Salt are very good for sensitive skin but never got around to use any.

His name was Mario. I remember because of my favourite childhood video game. Upon knowing I’m a Malaysian, he instantly spoke to me in Bahasa Malaysia. Delightfully at that. In my head, I was amused, speechless and dumbfounded because..well I’m thousands of miles away from Malaysia and here I am having conversation with a stranger who has never been to Malaysia in Malay.

If I didn’t know any better, I’d say he has good PR skills. Which is partially true too.

But then again, given how London is, someone’s bound to pick up Malay as a language because this city is filled with them anyway. It kinda sorta made sense to me .. I guess. Still, of all languages in the world, I had to get to know people who speak it. The main reason why Mario learned to speak Malay is because many of his clients are from Malaysia. It made the connection easier for him and in many ways, I admire his courage to learn something new and willing to improve himself.

Again, of all languages. I can understand if it were French, Italian, Mandarin or Spanish but I’ve not met anyone who isn’t living in Malaysia willingly learn Bahasa Malaysia as their third, fourth .. language.

London Millennium Footbridge

A while later, as we were making our way across The Millennium Bridge to the Big Ben, someone asked me if I could take a picture of him with the background. Once I did it and we exchanged a few words, one more person spoke to me in Malay when “from Malaysia” came out of my mouth. This time, he was from Lithuania (I think). It was a short conversation, a brisk one but it got me thinking, what are the odds that I get to meet these people? ME of all people.

Let’s back track a little here in case you have no clue why I’m making a big deal out of this. For decades, I’m known to be that kid who has no affinity with Malaysia. Heck, the first place I felt like I belonged somewhere was Jakarta on my first visit (and then subsequently Haarlem and Roma). I’m also that kid who had planned to migrate to Italy and make a life there. The idea was to make my way to RUFA.

It also has a lot to do with how easy I feel to just be me and engage with strangers along the streets in Europe.

Of course, that didn’t happen but that feeling of being an outcast still throb in my heart but slower as of late.

Anyway, I didn’t think much of bumping into foreigners who has never been to Malaysia speaking Malay although the joy they show when speaking the language made me feel like we in Malaysia might miss something, that spark that makes it special. Or maybe it’s just me. I could somewhat relate to that feeling when I get to speak (rusty) Italian with people but I never viewed (what is supposedly) my Mother Tongue as part of that euphoric experience. We tend to take things we have for granted right? So that was me with my birthplace. I suppose, no matter where I go, I can’t escape from my root. No matter how badly I wanted.

Which reminded me of one time when I was in Jakarta, at my favourite music shop in Plaza Salina. While going through the cds I plan to bring back (ended up with a dozen), two Indonesian kids were at the counter asking for Siti Nurhaliza’s albums. At that moment, I was like “Of all times and places!”. To those who doesn’t know, Siti Nurhazila is one of Malaysian’s biggest artists, especially in the late 90’s and 00’s.

So you see, God has a wicked sense of humour when it comes to things I try very hard to remove myself from.

Coloured Shadow

Then, while we were waiting for Guilia, my childhood pen pal who I was very lucky to meet for the first time a day before she moved to London, we dropped by Hard Rock Cafe Roma to kill time. There were some demonstration happening down the street so we thought, might as well take cover till it settles down for a bit.

As I was about to pay for my t-shirt at the counter, I greeted him the typical way any Italians would.

“Ciao! Di dove sei?” he asked while giving me this unsure look. Got me wondering if I had pronounced something wrongly (chances are I might given how long I’ve not put it to practice).

“Io sono di Malaysia..” I was a little bit hesitant to say since I wasn’t sure if he would know where it is. Oh how wrong I was.

“Oh! Malaysia! Kamu apa khabar?” All bouncy and happy in perfect Malay intonation mind you. Trying to wreck my brain deciphering his accent, as I would think it’s sorta normal if it has some Indonesian influence but nada. Zilch.

For the longest seconds ever, I didn’t manage to answer him. At all. Suddenly my brain just shut down and turn into mush. Of course, the fact that he looks like an Italian version of James McAvoy didn’t help make me feel any better.

I was awestruck by the fact that he’s cute (hello James MacAvoy long lost twin!) AND speaks perfect Malay which made me look more like a fool. Blergh. Way to go Dian!

“Hello?” Reality finally hit me, blankly staring at him while he titled his head, giving me this adorable look like he didn’t believe I’m a Malaysian. Yeah, what a dweeb I am right?

“…..err khabar baik..”

He was so not buying it. He said it himself. “Are you sure you’re from Malaysia? How come it took you a while to answer?” smarty-pants wearing the lopsided smirk didn’t make this surreal conversation any easier for me.

I couldn’t tell him that I was lost for words because of him. So I said what came to mind,

“Been away from Malaysia for a quite a bit”.

Yeah right, it was only four weeks since I left. We both broke out in laughter soon after and continued talking about our different cultures, what got him to learn my language and his with me. It was like looking at your reflection, just a different version of you.

That I found him very cute when he was counting numbers in Malay made my day even more endearing. Ah Italians, they just know how to charm you without even trying. Totally forgot to take a photo of him was something I regret a little bit. Just a little.

So what was Francesco’s reason? Bahasa Malaysia/Malay is the easiest to learn because it’s similar to speaking in Italian, you spell the way you pronounce it. I never really thought of it that way until then. Never really got myself to see it from another perspective about my country, the language that I never think too highly of. That’s also probably something many of us don’t get to see too, not because we don’t want to but perhaps too jaded by the current affairs and the on goings of Malaysia to see the beauty that lies behind being a Malaysian.

Rome Train

I find it strange, so strange that the past few entries has been about me finding my identity in Malaysia. Finding my place and voice in the country I’ve lived all my life. And maybe that’s a good thing, that things are happening the way it is because I always believed that in order to appreciate something you have, you have to learn to see it for what it is and what you can do to make it better.

So about me wanting to remove myself as far away from Malaysia is slowly diminishing (for now) because I feel like I have a task to do here, a purpose He’s given me, even if I can only make one person’s life a difference in Malaysia, that would be enough for me.

I’m still going to travel wherever I want to but I use that to see how I can contribute back to this place that needs a lot of like-minded people to hang on. Hang on to any good faith you can find deep inside and do our best to be the change we yearn to see.

Got this off The Single Woman

And in this case, being crazy might just be the antidote to our conundrum.

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Travel Tips: Food for Thought

Food for Thought

When you’re on the go pretty often, the one thing you should always have with you is emergency food. Be it biscuits, instant noodle or chocolates.

I couldn’t stress out how important it is to have food within grasp.

There were instances when our instant noodle saved our lives during our trip. I had my first taste of Korean instant noodle the moment we checked in to our apartment in Amsterdam. Wasn’t sure what happened but I felt dizzy and nauseous and it was starting to pour outside. Syiks didn’t asked, she just went to the kitchen and made me some to eat.

Korean Noodle Amsterdam

Times like this, critical moments – you’ll learn to appreciate the simple food in life. While I agree, having instant noodle everyday is bad for you. Having 3-6 packets for emergency in 31 days is indeed the best decision we’ve made.

Also, considering we stayed mostly in apartments in many of the cities we were in – it made it that much easier to eat. I remember we opted to stay in on our last night in Paris. It was a beautiful night that day, as we eat our meals by the window overlooking other neighbours playing guitars and chit-chatting at Rue Cremieux. It’s so lovely, reminded us a lot of Notting Hill. But that’s another story to tell on another post.

Kitchen Paris

So yeah, sometimes it’s good to just take a moment and have it to yourself. Always remember to take care of yourself first before you’re able to do it to others.

Oh and while walking, grab some fruits along the way. It’s the best kind of food to munch. Mia Market at Via Lucio Papirio, Trastevere Rome was another gem we found when I first met my childhood pen pal Giulia. The plums were so fresh, I could remember how crunchy it was and sweet too! It’s an organic shop for your everyday groceries AND also a place you can eat.

I also remembered buying a box filled with strawberries for 2 euros because it was in late afternoon and the market was closing in Frankfurt. You can find fresh goods at discounted price towards the end of the day.

I think eating 6 times a day is a good thing, provided that you’re eating good stuff. So my in between meals were usually of fruits and a gelato. You need all the energy to do all that walking.

Remember to include food in your check list when you’re preparing for a long journey. You’ll never know when it comes handy.

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Wangen am Untersee, Germany: Skipping Rocks

Wangen am Untersee, Germany: Skipping Rocks

The End?

Run, run as far as I can
I won’t see, can’t see, will not see
This path I’m going,
The furthest I’ve been

Crawling in the tunnel
Time is ticking,
Sun is appearing
Will this be the beginning?

Reaching out,
holding onto the last string of hope
And here I am, praying
for you to let me go.

In that moment, everything stopped
like a piece of history getting caught
being replaced and erased
with emptiness and possibilities.

Can’t look back, won’t look back
“Here’s your blank canvas”
He pushed me up,
“Ready for an unwritten journey?”

We were on the way from Rheinfall in Schaffhausen, Switzerland when Renée and Mitha decided to stop by here. Little did we know, Renée is quite the champion in skipping rocks. It was a simple thought, gesture, idea yet sharing their special place with us made it so much more awe-inspiring to say the least.

He taught us how to do it and for a while there, neither Syiks nor I got it. Then I managed to do it once or .. was it twice? An indescribable feeling when I achieved it making the rock skipped. What’s the tip? Find a flat rock with round corners.

Btw, Wangen am Untersee (funny enough, when translated in German..it’s Cheeks to Submarine) is a dock for sail boats. Remarkable view of the sun setting isn’t it? One could sit on the rocks and just have this view for dinner.

Yeah, I wouldn’t mind it.

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Brussel Zuid: Hello New Friend

Brussel Zuid

I tend to have a question in my head the moment I wake up. It varies from “What to eat” to “What the heck did I do last night?”. This morning, Leeds popped up without notice. Maybe because, this new old city has a certain charm that I find peculiar – much like Haarlem, Bingen and Ludlow. Those little place, there’s just something about it.

It was our third city for that Euro trip we went. Frankfurt and Amsterdam were the first two  (by now you’d prolly figured that I’m not writing chronologically). While I like things to be in somewhat order, feelings dictate otherwise.

This was quite a bit of journey, one that didn’t sunk in until we were moving about. From Amsterdam, we went to Brussel Zuid. At first I thought this was the station I had stopped 7 years ago when I went to Brussels but it turns out they switched the transit station and I was slightly surprised to see the other side of Brussels.

Zuid in Dutch means South (or Midi in French) and it’s probably like the ‘hood side to the colourful and chocolate-laden city of Brussels. It was also my first time encountering a beggar on the street who were very persistent (didn’t help that she was sitting in a wheel chair along the main station). It’s relatively gloomy on this side, somewhat grungy too in terms of character and mood.

And here I got Syiks all excited to check out Brussels for 2.5 hours during our transit. Well, she was disappointed it wasn’t the Brussels we were all accustomed to. Nonetheless, we walked around anyway. I mean, considering we have so much time before departing for Kings Cross St. Pancras..might as well eh?

Brussels_Zuid_Colours2

Nothing was opened at 9ish morning, that and I think this area isn’t really the place for tourists anyway. But I guess, in years to come, this place would look better since Brussels Zuid is the biggest train station in Belgium, considering everyone transits here.

When we walked out, no map what so ever, just..simply walk – I spotted this

TinTin

Tintin acted as my beacon to navigate through this unknown place we wandered. If you’re out here, you won’t miss out on Le Lombard‘s iconic sign up the building. What is it you might asked? This is THE comic publisher for Tin Tin 🙂 You’ll definitely find Tin Tin all over the city, especially in Brussel Centraal but this was the one thing that stuck in my mind. Who would’ve thought, being here in a place you don’t know and you find a piece of Belgium’s history. Oh that kid in me jumped for joy over this discovery!

Murals, Brussels Zuid

Like most places that shares the same character as Brussel Zuid, you’ll find the heart in your face. Centraal is filled with beautiful art splattered everywhere. Some commissioned art but a place like this, the raw talent is released tenfolds without restriction. It’s there because there’s a story they want to tell. That’s a quality I find more expensive, one you can’t just buy anywhere. The colours very much jives with the other murals I’ve seen along the way. Unsure if it were by the same people but I suppose it’s the colours that represents them.

I don’t know how I spotted these since it was high above but I’m glad I did, just enough to know that you can find beauty in any place, any nooks and crannies. It doesn’t matter how established or developed the place is, there’s always something unique. And this is Brussel Zuid’s.

You don’t see Cubism painted on walls for public to see but this is what that is. Brussel Zuid is their public gallery for their artworks.

Graffiti, Brussel Zuid

While I initially started off to write about Leeds, there’s something about Brussel Zuid that’s pulling me to dive in further. And I like how this has turned out to be. The unassuming places, those places you pass by not knowing that there’s a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.

So what’s the moral of the story?

Even when you think a place does not fit in your world as you expected, take a chance and get to know this new place. Make the most of what you have and rock it out!

Thank you Brussel Zuid, for at first I thought it wasn’t much of transit trip but hey, looks like I actually did see some things I didn’t get to all this while. Kudos!

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La Martellina, Firenze: That Enchanting Home

La Martellina, Firenze: That Enchanting Home

The word enchanting popped up when I thought of La Martellina, then I went to the website and that’s exactly what it’s described. Either that’s the feeling or I’m predictable?

Either ways, this 1200 over years old Italian villa is a hidden gem in Tuscany, build right next to the Arno river. I’m totally in love with this place, so big..it really felt like home. I wished we had stayed here longer than 3 days.

The one thing I overlooked during my stay here in Firenze is that, it’s a helluva more fun renting a car too. La Martellina is somewhat outskirt from the city but it’s all good. It was where I wanted to be. There’s so much to talk about this place, one I will be in time to come.

Just that right now, woke up early morning and was thinking “What’s the one thing you’ll want to rewrite experience in the trip?”

And this was it. I’ll plan to come back, I’ll plan to stay longer and I’ll plan to brush up on my rusty Italian. I’ll even ask Claudio to teach me cook some of his amazing food.

One of the storytellers I’ve came across during the trip, so full of life, like like a true Italian. Of course, watching him interact with Emilio, his super adorable, most wonderful and friendly hug dog will always put a smile on your face.

I’ll forever remember Emilio who always walked us to our bedroom from the gate.

Yep. I will make a return and I’ll rewrite this experience into a heck of a getaway.

Click on the photo and it’ll fly you to La Martellina’s page 😉

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Getting the Right Travel Buddy

That Jumble Rumble

For today, only today
This is how I see
You and me
Far from everything
Yet so close to something.

For today, only today
Life turns into some jumble-wumble
About me, you, they, them
Little things we never give a damn
Suddenly, it all made more sense.

Tomorrow, maybe later today
This will all unfold
Those little things we hold on to
Will grow into something oh so wonderful
Something..more meaningful.

I didn’t know how to make a comeback, not that this is a comeback per se. I went back, 10 years back thinking how did I got around to do it then, everyday, sometimes two-three posts per day. Then, it all came back. Always go back to where you feel best, most comfortable, just at ease.

I’m no poet, not by a million miles that’s for sure but I find putting words thrown from my head somewhat like a therapy. It used to be THE therapy when I didn’t know how to express. Writing poems was all I knew. The ironic part was, I refused to write one (the very first one at 14 years old) when my English teacher asked us all to do for our homework. That poem, don’t know where it came from, entitled “When I Was A Kid” got quite a bit of words from her. Submitted somewhere too. That was when it all started. No. It started, then died for 4 years then it became a habit.

But that’s not the point of this post. Far from it. Oh dear fingers, can you go back on track..

That poem was the kickstart to everything that danywhere.com is right now. The poem I dedicate to my very dearest friend Syikin Harris about our journey when we travelled together last year around Europe. I didn’t know how to write, insisted I have to write, more like a need. It’s been bugging me since..at least 6 months and that was the result of the 2 minute free writing practice.

Bregenz_Friends

I know I want to write about my trip, every trip. But right now, this very moment – this precedes everything. That one of my biggest journey when travelling is the friendships I have with me, be it strangers or long time friends. My one month stint was truly about the people I’ve connected and reconnected. So expect some sappiness along the way. Sniff.

The thing about travelling is that, when you opt to travel with someone else (or more), it’s really all about make it or break it moment. If you blend well with each other, your trip will be even more awesome. If you don’t see eye to eye with your travel partner,..Houston we have a problem.

It’s almost common knowledge among my close friends that I’m very selective when I travel with other people. It’s just a matter of vibe, maturity, fun and all around complimentary. And that’s exactly how I would describe my super awesome travel buddy Syiks – complimentary. In every way possible.

Where I go left, she goes right. We balance each other out. We bicker A LOT while travelling too but after the first week of frustrations, we learned to embrace each other’s strengths. I dragged her for a Bali trip 4 years back on my birthday, which turned out to be her first travel plan and 4 days wasn’t enough to know the nitty gritty stuff about us but it gave us an idea who we are.

I’m that go with the flow kinda girl and she’s the OCD one.

And for this particular 31 days Euro trip we didn’t do detailed planning but we had the skeletal laid down. I throw in suggestions, ideas, places to go, to see and do while skyping and before you know it, Syiks turned my train of thoughts in excel spread sheets. I settle the entire transportation, she booked for accommodations and Coldplay concert. It was really a team effort although I felt like she put more effort in making everything laid out so that she can sleep in peace pre and during the trip.

I have to admit, it did came in handy tho that excel sheet of hers. But I also appreciate the fact that she went with opened mind knowing that traveling with me consists a lot of going with the flow stuff. The routine was, when we end up in one city,

“So any idea where will be going these few days?” she asked.

Then that’s where I come in, open the map, look at notes I had in mind then go from there. The trip was 50% early planning (you save a lot when booking for accommodations at least 3 weeks beforehand) and 50% play by ear. I don’t know why but I know Syiks is the type who likes things in order and for some reason she felt like she could trust me being in a continent she’s never been before (kudos for going through 21 hours flight straight!). I’m honoured.

Main HBF Frankfurt

I also remember, before meeting up at KLIA where Syiks arrived from Sydney 2 hours before our flight to Frankfurt that night, we talked a lot about the what ifs.

What if I get frustrated, what if I needed space, what if you can’t stand me, what if …

We made sure that we have an open communication with each other as I knew there’s no way to be fully prepared being with each other that long without losing our minds. And we did on a few occasions but it only made our friendship even stronger than before.

We bickered like nobody’s business, almost to a point like having a sibling really. The first week was tough because we were in a new place, in each other’s face all day and night and for some reason what she said and I said just never made any sense.

It took another good friend of mine, Hafiz who we met in London and then joined us in Paris pointed out why we were having such tensed moments when arguing. Then it all made more sense – we were not on the same page. D’oh! (There will be a post where Hafiz will pop up again)

We decided to make a friendship bracelet with both our names on it in Frankfurt. Now safely in Sydney.

We decided to make a friendship bracelet with both our names on it in Frankfurt. Now safely in Sydney.

Yesterday, we caught up a bit via imessage, preparing for my trip to Australia after 16 years and we looked back at our moments. We laughed about it but ultimately we knew whatever it was during that trip, changed us.

Changed us to be better people. Better communicators. Most importantly, changed us to be better friends to each other.

“Why then are you so picky with who you travel with? You love to travel, isn’t going with strangers part of the package?”

True. I do go out with people I hardly know on trips but mostly I make conscious effort that the vibe’s right. Travel to me is something sacred. And I don’t want to ruin anyone’s journey just because I’m a bit crazy. To each their own right?

Lindau

I can’t stressed out how important it is to find the best people to travel with, and when you do..hold ’em close ok?