I returned from Laos a rested, relaxed, and refreshed Mr. Matt ready to get back into the classroom. It was exactly what I needed after the stressful month of July. My kids returned from their holiday elated with Hari Raya fever, and the duit raya that accompanies it (adults give children money as they go from house to house during Hari Raya). I was able to continue this excitement with the announcement that my mother and sister would be arriving in just a week’s time. We spent the remainder of the week making cards/posters, and preparing some questions to ask them in English.
With butterflies in my stomach I met up with my mom and sister in Kuala Lumper, Malaysia on July 31st. They were screams of joy elicited from the hotel room after I knocked on the door. It had been seven full months since I had seen any member of my family. Emails, facebook, skype, instagram, and phone calls can’t compare to the joy I felt hugging them. I had a wonderful but busy itinerary planned for them so that I could show them as much of Malaysia as possible without overwhelming them. In Kuala Lumpur we went to the Batu Caves (see earlier post) and ate lunch in KLCC, which is located in the bottom levels of the famous Petronas Towers. That night we flew to the island of Penang, which is located off of the west coast of Malaysia. Penang is home to one of the most famous Buddhist temples in all of SE Asia. The Kek Lok Si temple is a thirty-minute bus ride outside of downtown Penang. It stands towering over the valley below; decorated by intricate, symmetrical carvings, and bright Buddhist statues and symbols. It was an impressive complex, made even more impressive by the fact that it is found in an Islamic nation. In Penang I introduced Caroline and my mom to some local foods like Nasi Kandar and Satay and we explored the street art scene that dominates parts of Penang. In my mind this was the perfect buffer between the industrial KL and my more rural, underdeveloped home on the east coast.
After two days in Penang it was time to bring my family to my home and school. When we arrived at SMK Bukit Diman we were greeted by form four and form two students, teachers, my principal, and a procession of students with hand drums. My mom, after hearing endless talk from me about gender boundaries and Malay culture, walks right up to my principal and shakes his hand. My principal, visibly stunned, accepted her hand. As I glanced around at the shock on some of the teachers’ faces and my students I hoped that this wouldn’t be a deal breaker only seconds after arriving at school. Thankfully everyone was able to resist inflaming the situation, understand the difference between our cultures, and put it behind them. The rest of our time at school was tremendous. I know that my mom had been looking forward to watching me teach, whereas I had been anticipating my female students being able to spend some time with Caroline, a young western female. The students loved practicing their English, and asking all sorts of questions like ‘do you have a boyfriend?’ and the ever favorite ‘what do you like about Malaysia?’ Outside of school we were fortunate enough to be invited to the houses of my principal, a teacher at my school, and my neighbors. It was wonderful to expose my family to the culture of Malay people and have them witness firsthand the hospitality as well as the importance of food here. Everyone was sad to see us go after only two days, but it was all that could be allotted of the ten days my mom and Caroline had in SE Asia.
Our final stop during our trip was Thailand. I brought them to many of the places I had been during my trip (see Thailand post), and even went to a few new ones like the floating market.
After so long it was great to be reunited with some members of the Tibbitts family. Just as it is here in Malaysia, family is everything. I was very proud of my mom for venturing out of her comfort zone and trying new things in Malaysia. At times her frustration was visible, but she was a real trooper. I remember how hard it was for me at the beginning of my time here when no one speaks your language, the food sometimes only has the spicy or really spicy option, and the currency is foreign. SE Asia is a difficult place for your first trip, and it will only get easier from there. My sister Caroline, on the other hand, continues to surprise and impress me. I knew she had done her traveling in Europe but I was anxious to see how she would handle Asia. She never missed a beat. She ate everything that I put in front of her, quickly mastered the art of haggling (and when I say art I mean it), and kept up with my pace for the duration of the trip. There is no doubt in my mind that she will take Italy by storm next year during her study abroad and I only hope that I have the financial means to visit her.