Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Crossing International Borders

The great thing about being a TCK (third culture kid - google it, its a real term ) is that you have friends and family all around the world. International borders are merely traffic lights at an intersection. Those of you who know the Townshend-Sisters, know that once we are in your lives - we never leave. Fortunately or unfortunately (depends on how you look at it!) for the Ishak family - they have been stuck with us for almost a decade! My sisters and I don't call these two Malay parents of ours by their first names. They are simply Ma (mom) and Ayah (dad). Within the years that the three of us have ventured on our own journeys, these two and their children (Iman, Ashraf & Jo) have welcomed us into their home. Some of the most hospitable and genuinely caring people I know, Ma and Ayah have always treated us like their own daughters. As soon as I let them know that Kurt and I were flying into Singapore, they insisted that they pick us up. This doesn't seem like it is a grand gesture until I tell you that they live in another country, 5 hours away.

"Ayah what car will you be driving?" I texted him earlier in the day as we made arrangements to meet later that evening. This is a valid and important question to ask - as Ayah has TEN vehicles. We were informed that he would be driving his black BMW 7 series - Plate number : ADS13. Kurt and I look around the Hyatt lobby for a black BMW. Nothing. I turn around to see Ma waving her hand out of a silver BMW 3 series! So much for ADS13! First things first - those precious three words we all long to hear from our parents "Have you eaten?"

We make our way to Arab street where we befriend the owner of the restaurant, a Lebanese man who happens to live in a border town in Malaysia, Johor Baru (where we were headed). The story of how we ended up at this restaurant is for another day but let me just say that being PALEO in Asia - is not easy. We ask our new friend how he manages to avoid the traffic at the border crossing and we learn that he feeds all the traffic cops at his restaurant and therefor speeds down the bus lane without ever having a problem! Since we were obviously now family, he invited us to follow him in his "express lane".


"Soooooo... " Kurt looks over at me once we have reached Ma's fathers house in JB (Johor Baru). It is much more enjoyable to split the drive to KL in half by staying the night in JB. I had informed Kurt ahead of time that we would be sleeping in separate rooms to respect the religious beliefs of Ma's parents. Kurt stands in the the hallway big-eyed and patiently waiting to hear which couch was his for the night. Ma, then surprises us by looking at both of us and says "this is your room". Confused and sure that she has misspoken, we stand there awkwardly until we realize that she meant to put us in the same room. Still unwilling to accidently offend anyone, we wait for Ayah to come in from outside to triple check!
"Ayah? Are we staying in the same room?" I mutter under my breath. There is a mini-debate that occurs between Ma and Ayah and they come to the consensus that it is one in the morning and everyone just wants sleep. We didn't complain! 

As we passed a view of the border line the next morning, we joked that we would still be there if we hadn't taken the bus route! On the drive to KL (Kuala Lumpur) Ayah insisted that he stop to pray and say hello to a friend. Tired and hungry, Kurt and I hoped that the visit with the friend wouldn't be too long. To our delight, it was a wonderful visit. The friend that he introduced us to, is a remarkable artist whom once was the resident artist of ...... Like a true artist, paint brushes were scattered around the house, paintings stacked up against the walls and art exhibition pamphlets peaked out from under water colors - an organized chaos if you will. I was inspired to hear that he prefers to stay clear from art dealers. He would rather sell his art at a lower price to someone he knows will appreciate his work and simply enjoy his art. Kurt and I were surprised to hear that he doesn't have a website and want to change that for him on our next trip back to KL! More photos of his incredible work to come!


I glanced at the clock, it read noon. We had about one hour to reach the bus station where we were meeting Kurt's step dad, Pat. We had plans to take a bus to Pangkor, an island off of the west coast of Malaysia. We had agreed to meet at the station at 1PM and figured that an hour would be plenty of time . As quick as we sped down the freeway, we just as quick came to a stop. Taking into account that it was a Saturday, Ayah was sure that traffic would not be bad. In proper Asian fashion -  a parade, protest or simple gathering managed to appear from nowhere in the middle of the city, causing gridlock traffic. Easy going and always uplifted, Ayah reassured us that we would get there on time. As cool and collected as Ayah is, i knew that we were running tight on time from the frequency that he checked his watch.
"We're going to have to run.." Ayah says calmly as he parks the car on the side of the freeway.
"What?" Kurt and i look at each other wondering if he is serious. As Ayah gets out of the car, holding his tablet (something he is rarely without) we understand that he is serious! Dodging cars and trying to keep up with Ayah, Kurt and i run through downtown KL. As Kurt had not seen any of the downtown area before, Ayah ran and pointed out different parts of the city!
"And that is China town!" he would yell back to us as he waved his hand towards an area we passed.
With literally FIVE minutes to spare - we reach the station and find Pat. Excited to see Kurt's step dad half way across the road - we are SO thankful to have had Ayah with us that day. 


I feel very fortunate to have introduced Kurt to my Malaysian family. As i could only imagine, Kurt fell in love with Ma and Ayah. I thank my lucky stars for blessing me with so many wonderful people in my life. If wealth was measured by love, i would be a billionaire. This photo says it all!

All my love!


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