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.
Malaysia is the country I experience the least authentically. I'm exhausted, not genuinely interested and focused on what awaits me on the other side of the plane. Although I'm in some lovely places, I'm leaving without plans ever to return. It isn't the first time on my trip (Dubai, Laos, Thailand), but it's still a rarity. All I have to say about this country is overshadowed by my bad mood and the desire to finally arrive somewhere.
Georgetown surprises me with some carefree afternoons in good company and beautiful surroundings. The old town is a street art park designed for tourists and a highlight for all travellers in my circle of acquaintance. I make a friend. She is ten years younger than me and processes her farewell from India. She spent a year volunteering in a village school. Although so many years separate us, we have the same frame of mind. Our heads are full of experiences far too big to put into words. That's what makes us comfortable with each other's silences. We meet in the middle, are supportive and yet completely independent. We have photo sessions in front of beautiful old doors and houses that make this city so charming. We devour South Asian food. After Thailand, the variety is striking. Once again, I'm particularly partial to Chinese cuisine.
The art on the walls of this city is in various stages of decay. The walls crumble, the mould is hiding in the crevices, and the colour fades. I like it. I have taken more pictures today than in the last two months combined. I float in a lifestyle bubble and except that I won't be seeing the "real" Georgetown. I have given up looking for authenticity, and with that, relaxation returns. If it doesn't happen, it doesn't. Simple.
I don't see much of Islam. Of course, I walk by the mosques, which protrude at regular intervals from within the ordinary houses. The call to prayer by the Muezzin is part of the pleasant background noise that makes up the soundscape of this place. I don't enter any mosques. I'm spared glances, shouts or other contacts with overreaching men. Islam is different here than in Iran and Dubai. The Malays I talk to are friendly, relaxed and curious. The separation of the sexes doesn't seem to be quite as harsh as in Iran and Dubai, but, of course, I don't actually know anything on this subject. Just a Tourist.
In Georgetown, I meet not only two German girls, but also an American woman who, fleeing from Trump, has returned to her roots, only to discover that these roots don't exist. Just as my new acquaintance is American, I am German. These are the nations in which we grew up, whose school systems shaped us and taught us right from wrong. Even though her great-great-grandfather comes from Malaysia, she can neither speak the language nor has she grown up in the culture. She is discovering this country and learning Malay as I have learned French. Just because I can speak the language of a country, have travelled in it a lot and believe I understand part of the national identity, that doesn't mean that I am German-French. Her discovery that she is an American through and through amuses me. She isn't the first American I meet on my journey which tells me she is "not just American". I never quite know how to react.
On the one hand, I'm amused that somebody claims a nationality that they don't know much about. On the other hand, it seems to be more of a racial, than a national thing. I realise that the American perspective on immigration is historically grown. I wonder though, how useful this terminology is if the only Asian thing about these Americans is the shape of their eyes.
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