Having conquered my fear of suffocation in the undersea world (see 10 Days in Paradise), I decided to spend some time above water and explore a bit more of the Malaysian Peninsula. Traveling from country to country, from culture to culture, you expect certain things to change as you cross the border: different food, different languages or accents, different dress, different music, and so on. But there are always things that you would never consider in advance- unpredictable cultural differences that form the mise en scene, the background, the gestalt of a place. Like cats. Mangy dogs roam freely throughout India- truly some of the most pitiful creatures on earth. But you rarely see a cat. In Malaysia, it’s all cats.
At first I figured they were just island cats, hanging out on the jetties, munching on fish heads. But they are all over the peninsula. Lounging, yawning, licking themselves. For the most part, eastern peninsular Malaysia is gentle like that. Laid back. Like a lounging cat. The western cities are a different story. Kuala Lumpur in particular is a very busy, very modern city. But much of the rest of Malaysia is full of mellow Muslims. That smoke. Everyone smokes cigarettes all the time- while listening to earnest American hard-rock ballads from the ’80s with wailing electric guitar solos and plenty of love-torn angst. Or they listen to contemporary Malaysian rock, that sounds exactly like earnest American hard-rock ballads from the ’80s, except they are sung in Bahasa. The mellow Muslims also enjoy eating durians, the most disgusting fruit on the planet.