Malaysia is a funny place when you step back and compare it to the US, and I know I shouldn’t, but it’s quite inevitable to compare the two. The laidback, can’t-be-bothered attitude drives me crazy at times. Drivers either straddle both lanes of the highway or speed down the shoulder because traffic makes them impatient. Doctors appointments take literally all day because scheduled times don’t exist no matter what they tell you on the phone. Immigration is very strict in this country, yet run your luggage through a security scanner and I guarantee hardly anyone is looking. I like Malaysia, but it took time to get used to the quirks that keep this country marching to the beat of its own drummer.
First stop: Japan. The airport is calm in comparison to most, uncluttered by relentless advertisements strewn across the walls like other airports in the world. The whiteness and blankness of the walls shocked me. What shocked me even more? There was artwork on them. Beautiful artwork. Not for sale, just for beauty’s sake. Once I got to immigration, groggy and happy to stretch my legs, I chuckled when I noticed that the only people being reprimanded were Malaysians refusing to stay in one line. There’s no room for cutting or hastiness here; people here are nice but they mean business.
And from Japan to California I went. I notice I’m getting closer to home just by observing the stewardesses on the LA-Dallas leg. Eager, friendly, yet somehow dull: the ladies seem to strain genuine smiles. They wear their fatigued and worn out feelings on their sleeves and I feel like I’m bothering them with every request or interaction. After being in Asia, I’ve become spoiled me with the level of genuine kindness and service. There’s usually sunshiny faces on all flights easing the drudgery of traveling such long distances; this is the first change I notice when traveling back.
Once I’m on American soil, it’s an exciting feeling of relief and exhaustion. Landing in Texas is a wake up call in some ways to who I am and where I come from, because being in Asia I sometimes forget what it feels like.
But this time I realized how funny my home state might look to an outsider.
It’s always a bit weird to see American faces again, and when I look for any Asians at all, I’m never successful. It always strikes me a bit strange. Nethertheless, my fellow Americans are happy to engage me in endless small talk whether I’m buying a magazine or coffee, and when I see the abundance of all the brands I took for granted and had forgotten about (Chic-fil-a!), I feel the urge to spend. Men wearing baseball caps, heavy rugged jackets and boots, speaking with that lovely southern draw surround me. Definitely in Dallas. It’s like being on my wavelength again, like putting on that old comfy sweater. I feel even more at home once I finish my fourth flight and reach San Antonio.
This last time back a particularly funny moment occured when I was speaking to a customs officer. Typically, when I come back from SE Asia I get a slew of questions and a slightly suspicious eye. Why are you there for so long? Is there anything in your bag we should know about?
Since I was already nervous and anticipating the questions, I fumbled my passport as I reached to open it. As I leaned over to pick it up off the floor, I dusted it off and said sorry twice. Typically American I thought, so apologetic! Quick as a whip, the tall wall of a Texan man leaned in with his stern leathery face, looked at me and cracked a wide grin.
“Hun, the only things that need to be sorry are flies on FIRE! Welcome home!”