A few weeks before I came home, I flew to Malaysia to renew my visa (I didn't know I would going back to the States so quickly afterward). At this point in my journeyings, I was rather adventurous, and had become comfortable living outside of my comfort zone. When I left for Malaysia, I had no clue where I would be staying, what kind of money they used, where I would get my Visa, etc. I think I had hoped that there would be free internet access at one of the airports and that I could plan out my trip when I got there. No such luck. I asked for a map of the island (I flew into Penang) and walked out the front door without a clue of where to go.
I chose a bus that was heading to the "touristy" side of town and got in line. At the front of the line, I realized that, though I had exchanged my Baht for Malaysian "Ringit", my bills were all too big for bus fare. A kind, black man (I don't remember his nationality, but I think he had an English accent) behind me offered to pay my fare which I graciously accepted. The kind man and I sat in the back of the bus next to a white-bearded American wearing an aloha shirt and some bermuda shorts. As it turns out, they had both come to Penang from Thailand in order to avoid the week long holiday known as Sangkran. This is the yearly Thai water-festival in which locals all over the country engage in a giant water fight. NO ONE is safe. Adults and children alike carry around large buckets of water and pack hefty water-guns both to defend themselves as well as to forge attacks against neighbors, friends, and complete strangers. I was sad to have missed the festival, but both gentleman assured me that it was simply insanity, and I was lucky to have avoided it.
I asked both men if they knew of any affordable places to stay on the island, and the American told me he was heading to a district in which there were lots of hostels and restaurants, etc. When we got off at what MUST have been the last stop the bus was to make before going back to the airport, he offered to pay for a cab and show me some places I could stay. I accepted his kindness and was soon walking down a street called "Love Lane." (I'm kind of impressed at the details that my trusty old-brain has remembered up to this point)
After turning down a few rather sketchy looking hostels, I decided on one named the "Red Door Inn." The front desk staff was friendly and spoke English (Most Malaysians speak English as it is one of their national languages) , they served a continental breakfast, and I had the option of requesting a "Female Only" room. As I was checking in, a rather large Malaysian man who spoke stilted English (and who I later found out was the owner of the hostel) enthusiastically told me that I could have free coffee in the mornings. He seemed slightly surprised when I told him that I don't drink coffee, but assured me that it was ok because they served free tea as well. When I told him that I don't drink tea, I think he took it as an insult and he huffed, "Do you drink WATER?" I smiled and nodded, and he seemed slightly put out when announced that they also offered free drinking water. I think he was slightly drunk because he kept saying " I love YOU" to me as I edged past him to the hallway beyond.
After booking a two-week stay, I put my luggage in my room and set off to find something to eat. An American who was using the computer downstairs told me that the Red Garden wasn't too far from the hostel and had some of the best food on the island. He pointed me in the right direction and I confidently walked out of the hostel. On my way out, a man who managed moto-taxis in the front area of the hostel, called me beautiful, and told me to meet him for dinner the next night at 5. I think I just smiled and nodded and took a mental note not to be anywhere near the hostel at 5 the next night.
I walked in the direction that I THOUGHT the Red Garden would be in, when a rather nice looking car pulled over the side of the road in front of me , and a rather nice looking young malaysian man popped his head out of the window and said "Are you from America? Where you going? I take you there! No problem!" At first, I just ignored him and kept walking, but he only repeated his question louder. I smiled and assured him that I liked to walk and was just going to the Red Garden which was right down the road. He laughed and said I was walking the wrong way (it was cruel of him to play on my lack of directional sense...despite the fact that I really WAS going the wrong way.) He told me that he knew the way and it was a bit of a walk, but he could give me a ride "no problem." I told him again that I preferred to walk, and he again asserted that he could give me a ride "no problem." Now before everyone that has seen "Taken" starts freaking out, I want you to realize that up to this point, I had been trusting strangers in Malaysia because that's all I had TO trust (which is why I will never travel to a foreign country by myself again.) So far, everyone had been extremely helpful and kind, if overly enthusiastic about my blonde hair. This guy really just seemed like he was trying to help, and I said a little prayer to ask for the spirit to warn me if I shouldn't let him give me a ride. This is the part of the story where my mom says, "the Spirit doesn't help stupid people."
I got in the car. He smelled SUPER good, so I figured I was safe (I joke....kind of.) Once I got in the car he bombarded me with questions. "Are you American?" "Do you want to go clubbing with me tomorrow night?" I told him I don't drink alcohol (yes, ANOTHER thing I don't drink), and that I was in the country with friends (maybe I'm not TOO stupid?) I kept saying "This is NOT the way to the Red Garden" and he kept soothing, "Don't worry, don't worry. I know a short cut. I take you there, I take you there." ...right. He asked if he could come eat with me, and I told him that my friends were expecting me and that they would be upset if I didn't come soon. He seemed a bit crest-fallen, but before I knew it, we were pulling up to the Red Garden. Before I got out of the car he asked for a kiss--I flatly refused, but I did succumb when he asked if he could just take a picture of me because I was so beautiful (A LOT of people in Malaysia asked to take my picture--men and women alike, so this wasn't as creepy as it might sound. In fact, it used to happen to my family when we lived in Hawaii too.)
It was rather a relief to eat by myself that night. The food was incredible. The biggest problem resulting from me catching a ride and taking a "short cut" is that it took me about two hours to find my way back to my hotel that night. But find it I did!!!!