Category Archives: Adventure

Finding Malacca

My plans have shifted somewhat over the past few weeks, and I now find myself in Singapore, waiting for my flight to Vietnam tomorrow. I left my place of work in Malaysia a month ahead of schedule, favouring more time to travel over extra money. Before crossing the border into Singapore to apply for my Vietnamese visa, I made a quick detour through the fabled Malacca.

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Malacca is a city steeped in history. In the 15th and 16th centuries, it was the centre of the Malay world, until it was seized by Portuguese traders in 1511. The city was subsequently colonized by the Dutch, the British, the Dutch again, and then the British again before Malaysia declared its independence in Malacca at last in 1957. This layered cultural history is evident in the city’s architecture and infrastructure.

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I spent two nights in Malacca, and used my time walking around the beautiful streets and historical sites, exploring the famous Jonker Walk, and sampling the delights of the city’s bustling street food markets.

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Malacca is a charming city, but it is filled with tourists and that always makes me feel self conscious. One morning, I awoke early and went for a stroll to see if I could find local Malacca. I walked across canal bridges and through dirty backstreets to find it, but find it I did.

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Eventually it was scenes of elderly men reading newspapers and women washing clothes outside back doors that made me finally feel connected in Malacca.

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I picked up a kopi to go from a little Chinese corner restaurant, and as I strode through the streets, swinging my kopi packet along with me, I felt like I had made friends with Malaysia. There’s nothing that says you’ve become acquainted with a country quite like the realization that you enjoy slurping strong coffee sweetened with condensed milk out of a plastic packet through a straw.

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No durian, no peanuts, no duck!

Sometimes adventure comes disguised as pain and discomfort. Sometimes it appears in the most unexpected forms. In Malaysia, I had an adventure that took me to a doctor’s room in the town near the lodge, a doctor of Chinese medicine.

I’ll spare you the details of the events that necessitated my visit, suffice to say that I spent two days looking like C-3PO, trying to teach riding lessons – where the students generally circle repeatedly around their instructor – with almost zero mobility in my neck. A colleague recommended the services of a certain Chinese doctor, and I was desperate, so I agreed.

My colleague must have a sadistic streak, because, having been to see this doctor himself before, he knew full well what I was in for. And yet, all he said was, “He’s really good, you will see.”

After some winding through dingy back-alleys after work, we finally found the doctor we were looking for. We presented ourselves at the reception window. Behind the receptionist, rows of dusty manila folders lined the walls, with tatty cardboard tabs in orange and green categorising them by letter. The thought that entered my mind at the sight of them was, “Many people have come before me, it must be okay”. I produced my passport, and the receptionist filled a fresh patient card with my details. Another one to add to the rows. We sat on the bench, watching the LED sign on the wall, which read ’36’.

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’37’. We entered the doctor’s chamber. Patient number 37 for the day? For the afternoon? From the moment I stepped through the doctor’s door, everything happened very fast! A small man wearing a face mask welcomed me into his room, sat me down on a small wooden chair and, standing behind me, asked me where I felt pain. I reached for the source of the pain at the base of my neck. Without hesitating, he grabbed my upper body firmly and started eliciting the most excruciating pain in places I didn’t even know were painful. With each muscle that he clutched he said, “you have pain here, but not here”, and he would grab the same muscle on the opposite side, which, as he predicted, was not in pain. It was debilitating, but I was in raptures because it was so phenomenal to me that he could know all of this with such precision when all I had done was briefly point, inaccurately it would appear, at a place between my shoulders. With each pair of muscles, which ranged from behind my ears to my forearms, and right down to my lower hip area, I blurted out a squawking Yes, in confirmation of his statements. After about six tortured yeses he said, unmoved, “Acupuncture”. Somehow I suspected it was not a question, so I responded with “Okay”.

I felt the same way I felt right before I bungee jumped: I knew if I thought about it, I might not do it, so I just let it happen. Before I had a chance to ask any questions, still sitting on my wooden stool, I was presented with a sealed needle; a routine demonstration to assure me that the needle was sterile. I have to admit I didn’t really know what was going on at this point, and it was probably better that way. The doctor stood behind me, and I could feel a strong, warm sensation down the right side of my neck. In my mind’s eye I could see him wiggling the needle in several points down my neck. And then it was over. Or so I thought.

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No sooner did that end than I was transferred over to a bed and told to lie on my stomach. What came next had me squealing and kicking my feet wildly as I tried to endure the pain. It was the kind of experience that, when I think about it now, the memory appears to me in anime. The doctor is a super fast karate hero, manipulating my body at lightning speed and leaping into the air with every exaggerated movement as he cracked my bones and twisted my muscles. My face appears with big crosses for eyes, a huge, gasping mouth, and drops of water flying off my checks as I scream in pain in a high pitched yelp. The doctor didn’t let up. My desperate pleas did not move him; he just kept on cracking.

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When my torture was finally over, I returned to my stool, tried to straighten up my face and awaited further instruction. “I give you herbal medicine,” he said. “If it’s still painful in three days, come back.” Right, I thought. Alright.

I had questions, so many questions. How did you know so quickly what my exact problem was? How did you know all the places where it did and didn’t hurt? How did I develop this pain; has it been accumulating for some time, or did I hurt myself suddenly? The only one of these he chose to answer was the last. He stood behind me again, and started up with more poking, this time more analytically, comparing the left side to the right. “Six months,” he said. And that was it.

Then he told me, “Also, no durian, no peanuts, no duck.” What? “Why?”, I asked. “Very very toxic. I’m sorry”. “Right,” I thought, “no durian, no peanuts, no duck”. And with that, I was dispatched to the reception again to collect my piles of nondescript, secret recipe herbal medicine. For all I know, for the next three days I could have been an unwilling supporter of the rhino horn trade and the thought made me shudder ever time I took my prescribed dosage.

I really don’t know what happened that day in the doctor’s room. I have no idea how he figured me out so quickly, what he did to me, or what was in the pills he gave me afterwards. The only thing I do know is that as I walked out of the reception and turned to wave goodbye, I realised that I had full mobility in my neck again. Already! All the muscles the doctor had poked and prodded were a little tender for two days afterwards, but as soon as that went away I was as good as new. It was astonishing.

I’m not sure I’d be brave enough to go to just any Chinese doctor on a street corner somewhere, but my experience of this particular Chinese doctor not only cured my pain with the most phenomenal speed, it also sparked in me a new fascination with Chinese medicine and healing techniques. And it was a little adventure all of its own.

An Afternoon on the River

The best adventures are often just around the corner, especially when you live in South Africa. This one took shape on the Kleinemonde river in the Eastern Cape, something of a second home for me. The sky sang, and the water listened, and all the answers danced in the breeze.

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Kodak 200, LC-A+

Bathurst: A Dusty Treasure Trove

We sett off as the sun was peeping over the hill.

Snacks in our saddle packs, the wind at our backs,
We cycled through the winding passes,

Grass whipping past, hearts beating fast,
Whistling through the crisp morning air.

An uphill here, a downhill there,
We rolled up to a dusty intersection.

Slow breakfast,
Introspection.

And a treasure trove of someone else’s dusty memories.

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Bathurst is a small farming village in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. A concentration of creativity, it epitomizes the word quaint. My favourite spots are the Wiles Gallery, home to the work of the lovely Lucy Wiles, and her creative ancestors and offspring; The Corner Gallery, playground of the endearing Tori Stowe and her eclectic craft team; resident potter, Richard Pullen’s Open Studio; and The Workshop, a warehouse-style collective space for established and aspiring local artists. It’s also home to a few adorable antique stores, the quirky and bizarre Big Pineapple, and the famous Pig ‘n’ Whistle, South Africa’s oldest pub.

The thing I like most about Bathurst is that it reminds me that you don’t have to be an acclaimed artist selling work to top national galleries in order to make things. It challenges me to be less afraid of my own desire to create.

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Fujifilm 100, LC-A+

South Africa, Beloved Country

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Camps Bay, Cape Town (Kodak 200, Sprocket Rocket)

Whenever I’m abroad, I am reminded of just how incredible South Africa is as a travel destination. From high end tourist types to grungy, hippy backpackers and dreamy nomads, I find myself telling all types of people that I meet on my journeys just how wonderful my home country is, and how appropriate it would be as their next travel destination.

It’s not a conscious thing, I don’t actively promote tourism in South Africa for any particular reason (although the benefits of tourism to any country are real), I simply keep finding myself in conversations with people where they’re describing what they would like from their next adventure, and feeling like Mzansi can offer them all the experiences they’re yearning for, and more. I find myself getting so excitable and passionate as I regale them with elaborate descriptions of the opportunities awaiting them in SA, and I get a real thrill when I watch their eyes sparkle as my contagious enthusiasm for my country takes hold of them.

I have flights booked back to South Africa in December, and I’m so excited to be heading back to such a vibrant and unique country for part of the summer. Visiting home aside, I feel as lucky to be returning as I would to be travelling for the first time to any exciting new country. There’s always so much exploring and discovering to do in SA, and so many old favourites to keep returning to. The more I travel in the world, the more I learn to appreciate just how fabulous South Africa is. How lucky I am to love my country so much!

I recently got a whole lot of photos back from the lab, all of them taken back home. Yes, that’s right, I’m still shooting film. Going through the pictures reinforced these feelings, and reinvigorated my passion for exploring South Africa. Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing them with you, celebrating some of the little adventures I had in South Africa in the months leading up to my departure. I’m a fervent advocate of spontaneous or planned local adventure (read more on my views on this in my piece for Urban Times), and South Africa is wonderfully rich with hidden mysteries and intriguing gems waiting to be discovered; I’m really looking forward to popping in again for a little visit. Mzansi, ndiyakuthanda*.

*Mzansi, ndiyakuthanda is isiXhosa for ‘South Africa, I love you’.

Pasar Malam di Malaysia

I’m a real market junkie, and there’s nothing better than an open air night market in a foreign country to feed my addiction. A pasar malam is a traditional Malaysian night market, and in the town near the lodge there’s a very cool one every Tuesday night. After dinner sometimes, I like to stroll around in the cool evening air amongst the families doing their weekly market shopping. The local pasar malam is a multicultural market; there are Indian, Malay and Chinese stalls, selling traditional products and food items alongside one another. It makes me happy.

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A Story is Brewing in Malaysia

“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it. It’s only afterwards that it becomes anything like a story at all. When you are telling it, to yourself or to someone else.”
—Margaret Atwood, Alias Grace

I’ve been in Malaysia for two months now, and although I’ve been working busy, six day weeks, I’ve somehow managed to squeeze in a few whimsical adventures and make the most of a some priceless opportunities to explore my surrounds.

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I’ve been generously welcomed into the homes of my Malay colleagues to share food with them and celebrate the end of the fast; I’ve dined in style with friends in the city; and I’ve sampled the local Malay and Chinese cuisine whenever I’ve had the chance to do so. I’ve been on wandering drives in the cool evening air though the kampongs and the palm oil plantations; and I’ve spent time exploring night markets and back alleys on foot. Now and then, we steal away to a strange outdoor Chinese karaoke bar, where we unwind with a few bottles of Tiger beer, and giggle incessantly at the constant wailing of deluded wannabes that sing with far more determination than talent. Sometimes we get a little more than we bargained for.

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Teaching riding here in Malaysia has been both challenging and enriching; sometimes purely puzzling. Guests pass through from all over the world, most of them living as expats in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur, but some of them locals too. They range from absolute beginner to riders who have significant competitive experience. I’ve met some really interesting people, and enjoyed the constant flow of stories that come and go at the lodge, but most interesting has been the story that I find myself part of in this unique place. I’m not quite sure how to tell this story yet, but in the moments when I manage to take a step back and reflect on the strangeness of it all, can feel there’s something brewing.

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