Sunday, January 27, 2008

Journey Far West

Ever since my trip to Japan & China I’ve always wondered when my extreme-west journey is. For some reasons, both Japan & China has been extreme-east for me – partly their geographical location and partly their culture influences.

Born and raised in Malaysia, I was told that I am a Chinese and naturally, I behave like one. Lucky me I lived in a small village, hence the interaction with other races became more like a daily chores that you can’t missed, or avoided. Over time we get used to it. We assimilated to each other’s way of living, talking, eating – our culture that we brought from our ancestors – our mind has taken it up or else things would have been really difficult (for me).

That’s when life throws you another big question: Even my dad found little connection to Hainan, Southern China where grandpa came from. So, where do I stand? Do I really know China, or of being a Chinese? Hainanese? And, does it really matters? Because when I was in China, I was like “Oh, this is definitely not me. Not us. Not Malaysian.” How true, and difficult – because we may not want to end up like, say, American Chinese. It’s not resisting. But maybe it will finally arrived – just a matter of time.

I met some Japanese friends in Malaysia first – but to see them in their own aparto, joining their public bath, picking up the ball in their park etc. actually offers a totally different perspective of how you view your friends, and probably of you to them. You’d never know how you will react to certain things - no matter how prepared you are – until your life crossed path with it. I realize this back in Hunan province when I was chewing a piece of snake meat that tastes like chicken. And I like it (I mean the subsidiary to chicken!).

As rest assured that we, all of us here, are heavily influence by western cultures and values at different levels. In this sense, Malaysia is particularly outstanding in this region. For instance, and maybe second only to that of our separated toe, Singapore; English is a language that we speaks almost naturally – we have English papers, radios, Hollywood movies, rock bands, borrowed words to Malays languages, etc. I suddenly felt lucky because my mother language didn’t use alphabets.

Perhaps other than the late Tan Sri Dato Seri Dr. Lim Goh Tong, majority of the successful business and political figures here are well-educated in the West – from our first Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman to Karim Raslan. You could tell. They don’t write half-cooked English like yours truly. And I always thought these kinds of people will forever change the face of Malaysia. We can’t live as jaguh kampung (a.k.a. hero from a village) or have that kind of policies forever.

So with that kind of thought, I took my flight to Sofia. As much as I can offer, there are still more to learn, understand and take action.

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Okay, let’s finish that of inner struggle and move on to something more cheerful, perhaps. I’ll roll up some pictures, and the vivid memory follows…

Our meeting venue, Hotel Club Vladaya situated in a magnificent 85 ha park, Southern slope of Liulin Mountain. About 100m a.s.l., it’s amazing that this heaven is just some 12km from the centre of Sofia. But this is no Lapland so I am glad that the sun rise around 0730 hrs, instead of 1100 hrs – just enough time and light for a morning walk (and photos) before my breakfast. My note says it is around 2 oC – but without windy gust it feels like comfortable 15 – 20 oC.

Walking out from the double door to the patio, I instantly make friends with a local – a beautiful “man’s best friend”. She left thousands of foot prints before me; her presence simply washed away that little uncertainty that I have on this alien landscape. For first couple of morning I would stroll within 300 yards from the building compound – that’s how far she follows. By the time I am “strong” enough, I would walk extra 500 more to take this picture: Hotel Club Vladaya nestled in Liulin Mountain – without my faithful new friend.

Occasionally the owner of the hotel would travel out, probably getting more food supply for 40 over city-monkeys. The road freezes over the cold night, making it nearly impossible to move on wheels – thanks to that I know now what Daniel can do with some ashes, if you don’t feels like chaining your wheels. They probably use it to clean wok like my mum did – but splashing it onto the floor is the last thing we’d think of.

After breakfast we would stick on the chair for the next 5, 6 hours. The meeting was boring yes but if you have delicious meals and timely tea break in between, things are pretty well balanced. In fact this is first overseas trip (I never had business trip-lar) that I ate very fine local dishes, complete with appetizers and desserts.

And if the tea is not good enough, we’ll have Hungarian-Chinese language lesson in the meeting…a brief one, anyway.

Thanks to Vanya’s smses I manage to buy my Sofia-Plovdiv bus ticket. Initially I was delighted to finally found the bus station after walking for a hour or so but to my surprise, all ticketing country labeled with Cyrillic writings (and of course)! Beautiful things about Vanya’s sms is not only it clearly state which counter & platform (number) I should buy and board the bus, I should also look for 'COFNA-PLOBNB' which is close to 'Sofia-Plovdiv' in Cyrillic, except you have to reverse the letter 'N'. Interesting. It’s like doing a treasure hunt in Sofia, ended up in Plovdiv.

And then there was these toothpicks on the table of a traditional Bulgarian restaurant - I was having dinner with Vanya and few other AIESEC members of Plovdiv. They are surprise to see a Malaysian here, but even more curious on the taste of coconut cake. My ‘toothpicks surprise’ turned theirs when I use it to spear the coconut cake – good thing is they picked it up fast enough just in time for the next surprise – durian cake. To their disbelieve I told them the real durian smells stronger (and taste better), and it’s Malaysia’s King of Fruits.

I spent my final morning in Old Town of Plovdiv, one of the oldest cities in Europe ruled by the great Thracian before their fall to Roman Empire. Even till today Bulgarian kept unearthing Tharacian treasures. My guesthouse is just a stone throw away from the famous Hisar Kapia archway, once the heavily guarded original gate to the old town. Today parents sent their kids to kindergarten crossing the archway on daily basis.

My Bulgarian friends are delighted when I said I like their country. I would felt the same if they (or anyone) visit me here, and after I showed them the Malaysia that I know - the good, bad or ugly.

More like how I missed the last morning in Plovdiv, Bulgaria.


At 3:18 PM, Blogger Pandabonium said...

Thanks for sharing your innermost thoughts and great pics.

FYI the AIESEC link doesn't work, it has your blogger address mixed. Did find the intended page at .

The picture of Plovdiv was interesting. How many people have walked that cobblestone path over the centuries I wonder.

Durian cake! Must have been a real shock, though I have to confess I have yet to taste that delightful? horrible? fruit. :)

At 3:23 PM, Blogger Pandabonium said...

Oops, I meant:

At 4:43 PM, Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@ said...

Hey pandabonium...
I've just corrected the link...thanks for bringing it to my attention :p Ah, I'm getting slow on blogging now ain't I? Haha!

Durian...hmmm you should try when chances come. But I'm sure they will not serve it as dessert in anywhere. You just have to hunt it down :)

At 7:26 PM, Blogger Happysurfer said...

Surprised they serve durian cake. Interesting.

Thanks, Low, for showing us more of the world.


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