Saturday, December 13, 2014

The Drive to Kuantan

"Hey, do you want to drive to the other coast of Malaysia?"
PS- It really is Kuantan not Kuanta. The sign is broken.
My husband and I rented a car in Malaysia for one month. Before surrendering it, we decided to drive to Kuantan to see the other coast. If you are wondering, Malaysian road maps are crap. Perhaps it was just the English map we used, but the map did not give any useful information. It preferred to brag about the "beautiful" spot rather than show the roads to actually get there. In addition, we could not rely on Google Maps because neither my husband nor I had smart phones with data plans. We were at the mercy of confusing road signs.

AWAS means "Caution."
With other mishaps from this awful road map fresh in our mind, we knew to take the promises of beautiful Malaysian East Coast beaches with a grain of salt. However, I still was determined to see them. Unfortunately, we made a few mistakes on this adventure. Our first mistake was trying to travel during the month of Ramadan. Everything was eerily closed.

At the rest stop half way. No food during fasting hours.
We also left the safety of a major international city. Kuala Lumpur was very tourist friendly. Kuantan was not. While KL harbored people from all over the world, we were clearly the only non-Asian tourists in Kuantan that day.

I found kittens! They liked me.
I would like to point out that this was not the my first experience of traveling internationally as the obvious non-native. However, this was the first time I felt to be in such a hostile and unsafe environment.

A group of Japanese tourists saw that I had cheese and that the cats liked me.
I shared my cheese and they tried to make friends with the kitties as well.
I got such soul piercing judgmental glares from the few locals once we did find a beach. When I was retelling the experience to a native Malay coworker the next week, he just laughed at me. He informed me that Kuantan is located in one of the most religiously conservative states. The locals did not appreciate what they assumed was my blatant lack of modesty. I was dressed modest according to my standards, just not according to their standards. My coworker also pointed out how my naive blunder was made even worse by visiting during their "holiest" month. He explained that during Ramadan, they are supposed to purposefully abstain from all sinful thoughts and desires.

I have no idea what this sign on the beach says.
But I do know from the hateful glares that I was breaking their dress code.
I arrived in what they considered a completely inappropriate outfit. Their women are required to wear long sleeves, pants, and hijabs. I'm in a sleeveless shirt, bright blue shorts, and a baseball cap. My coworker could not stop laughing at me as I realized how I had goofed up. I honestly did not know any better. This was another learned lesson. Be mindful of local customs and cultures. It can help alleviate situational stress.

At least the stray cats were kind to me.
I felt so uncomfortable on that beach that it started to make me physically ill. On the drive back, I had a headache that was rapidly turning into a full blown migraine. By the time I reached the elevators of our hotel, I was shaking and afraid I was going to vomit. I did take extra HC, load up on gatorade, and take a zofran in a desperate attempt to stop a full blown Adrenal Crisis. But I was still knocked out for the day well before 8:00pm.

We saw it. We saw the other coast.
We dipped our feet in the water.
The emotional stress of the day zapped my cortisol. I felt judged and uncomfortable. I did not feel safe. After that experience, I flat out refused to travel to any other area of Malaysia that I was not already familiar with. Malaysia might have some supposedly beautiful landscapes, but I had absolutely no desire to see any of them. The spoons required were not worth it.

I have spoken about emotional stress previously and how I was able to handle it. What changed? Our adventure in Kuantan was much different because I was not prepared for it. It caught me completely off guard. I did not pro-actively increase my dose, and honestly I did not realize how bad I was doing until it was almost past the point of no return. I was at the onset of a crisis.

That's perhaps the trickiest thing about emotional stress. It sneaks up on you.

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