I sit on Manly Beach and watch three cocky young men play in the shark-infested water. It's cold in Sydney. Winter. But "winter" and "cold" mean fifteen degrees. The city is preparing for the first heat wave with bushfires. The smoke hangs in the air, and I can hardly believe that such a "healthy" city burns so many plants. I feel infinitely far away from Malaysia, and yet, I find aspects that remind me of it wherever I go. They burn garbage in Southeast Asia, not biomass. It's a thousand times worse, but the smoke is there as well. The beach seems clean, and yet large pipes lead into the sea, and signs suggest that in heavy rain the water would be polluted and unsafe for swimming.
Kuala Lumpur is big and crowded. From the bus stop to my hostel I take a taxi, which I share with a New Zealander and two Britons who rode in on the same bus. That's one of the things I've learned by now. It's likely that tourists stay in the same places. It always pays to ask and most of the time the other person is grateful that you dare. What scared the hell out of me two years ago, is the most natural thing in the world today.
In Malaysia, I relax when I realise that there are women on the streets. I see them with or without the headscarf, with or without the burka, with or without children, accompanied by their husbands or on their own. In its diversity, it reminds me a lot more of Dubai than of Iran. I'm relieved, and at the same time, I realise that this doesn't have to mean anything.
The flights from Rome to Bangkok go smoothly, for the exception that I've brought a big European cold with me. I'm sure, when we get out of the (second) plane after ten hours, I gave it to everyone else. I don't know how I get from the airport to my hostel, but I fall asleep four times in the two different metros and a bus. For two days, I stay in my bed. I can't even go downstairs for the delicious breakfast. But, although I can't move, the thought of going home doesn't come to me. I'm here. I put one foot in front of the other, even if it feels like I'm dying.
The first thing that strikes me is the fresh morning air when I leave the plane. It's almost cold enough to get my fleece out, almost. The luggage takes a long time, but everything is there undamaged eventually. I buy my first cappuccino and make my way to the train. I drive past familiar old and rundown terra cotta multistory houses that make up most of the Roman dwellings. On the last chilly days before the summer heat hits, I'm lucky enough to see Rome at its best. We are old friends.