Saturday, December 31, 2011

So This Is the New Year...

Well. I guess this officially makes updating my blog a New Year's Eve tradition. I thought about going out, but then I thought about how much I wanted to avoid this song (warning: not a good song):

Instead I've got this blog, whatever's on TV tonight, the Criterion 3-disc version of "Brazil" and the second-cheapest spumonte available at HomePlus. I'm not sure if I'm going to make it up to the roof by dawn to see the sun rise, but since I did it last year and this year has been fairly good, I feel like if I don't do it this year I'm setting myself up for bad luck. I'm not really that superstitious but with certain charms and jinxes I feel like it's most pragmatic to defer to Pascal's Wager and just go with the flow. Or maybe I'm just intensely paranoid. Whatevs.

I'm not feeling quite as philosophical as last year tonight but I am feeling good about leaving for my vacation in roughly 48 hours. As you may know from following this blog religiously as if your life depended on it - as I'm sure you all do - I've been planning a vacation to Malaysia for roughly, oh, let's say, a year. Last year I was a little disappointed at vacation time because I realized that flying out of Korea without planning well ahead is expensive and vacationing in Korea is, well, not as cool as vacationing somewhere with beaches, monkeys and tropical weather. So I started saving my money and buying travel guides so that I could make my winter  vacation this year worth it. So why Malaysia, you ask? Well, first, when I was in grade school, there was this:

Along with this annoying segment, 3-2-1 Contact showed a lot of interesting stuff about the unique animal, plant and traditional human life in Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. That was probably the first time I became aware of Malaysia and the amazing biodiversity in Borneo, although I didn't really know anything about the economic development going on in the country, which would soon have us talking about Petronas Towers instead of proboscis monkeys when people mentioned Malaysia. I'd also heard a few things about Singapore over the years - a lot of stuff about shopping malls and chewing gum being illegal, admittedly, but it still seemed like an intriguing nexus point in the global marketplace worth exploring. Then, last year at the end of either the spring or fall semester I had some class periods to kill so I showed the kids some of the BBC's Planet Earth documentary, which featured more of Borneo. "Hey," I thought to myself, "I bet Borneo isn't that far from Korea," once again falling into my old habit of believing that everything in East and Southeast Asia and Oceania is right next door to Korea. (As it turns out, Kuala Lumpur is approximately the same distance from Korea as Los Angeles is from New York in the USA - in other words, not close. Discovering this was about as surprising as when I realized, as the crow flies, that I would be flying approximately the same distance to visit New Zealand from here as I would if I were going there from Los Angeles. That was pretty much the death knell of my quixotic dream of trekking the Milford Track on my way back home in 2013.) So anyway, in addition to agreeable weather and educational television, I heard good things about Malaysia and Malaysians from everyone I met who has traveled there (unlike a certain nearby island nation that will remain nameless, cough cough Indonesia). Beyond that, it just seems like an engrossing little juncture in the world, with the Malay, Chinese and Indian populations combining all their different influences in the culture, not to mention the historic influence from Islamic and European traders over the years. Also, when I called the hotel in Kuala Lumpur to ask about their luggage storage policy the first guy I talked to spoke excellent English, so that's a good sign. Plus, their flag looks just like the US flag but with a star and crescent. What's not to love?

I really want to find a t-shirt with this on it to piss off the unwitting Islamophobes back home.
The funny thing is, I've been looking forward to this vacation for so long that at this point the anticipation has almost burned itself out and now I'm more concerned with the little, day-to-day concerns, like what it's going to be like being in yet another foreign country (two, if you count Singapore separately) on my own for 17 days, whether this endeavor's going to be more expensive that I anticipated, whether I'm packing too many pairs of shoes (my plan was to wear boots and bring flip-flops for the evenings and beaches, but then I realized that I wanted to rent a bicycle in Singapore and biking in either boots or flip-flops is not a good idea) and how strictly AirAsia is going to enforce their 7kg carry-on luggage allowance. I suppose I've also been feeling a little less trapped here with my vacation time coming and with the school year shifting into Finals Mode weeks ago. (I haven't taught a real class since the first few days of December. I think my students have learned a few important things about Batman this month, though.) I'm sure all the little nagging worries will melt away as soon as I get off the plane and it's warm and I can go, "Hey, there's Petronas Towers," and take pictures of Petronas Towers and enjoy myself. Besides, I may never get the chance to take a vacation like this again. I've got hopes and vague plans to go to Japan and Thailand/Vietnam/Cambodia (and maybe Hong Kong on the way to Thailand) before I leave this job but God knows vacation time in the US is a rarity and I've got a lot of catching up to do on the corporate ladder before I can count on having the time or money to do extensive globetrotting again. Also I suppose there's a chance that I won't be interested in carrying all my luggage on my back and staying in hostels once I get too much further beyond 30. Well, personally I don't believe in dwelling on the things you can't do or might never do in life when you could be focusing on what's good in the present, so for now I'm just going to concentrate on getting some good photos, some street hawker food and some sand between my toes.

Oh, before I go - you're probably wondering how things are here with the Dear Leader of our crazy neighbors up north shuffling off this mortal coil and the funny fat kid taking charge. I guess I would describe the attitude here as equal parts anxiety and resignation. I don't think anybody thinks things are going to be imminently less crazy above the DMZ, but I don't think anybody's anticipating an immediate invasion or anything either. I mean, the Kim dynasty and the North Koreans have always been crazy, opaque and unpredictable - is it really going to be much different any time soon with a baby-faced 28-year-old in charge?

So, 2011? Not bad. The Bills won a few games. I bought a new camera. The job's good and the people are nice. And I'm going to Malaysia. I mean, there was also the Gulf oil spill and the tsunami and earthquake in Japan and the flooding in Pakistan and Thailand and the stupid stupid stupid US government and stuff, but all that stuff mostly happened to other people. So all in all, a pretty good year. Cheers, everyone. "Should auld aquaintance blah blah blah, dah dah dah Auld Lang Syne..."

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