Monday, April 12, 2010

Part One: Selamat Datang and Happy Writing

Hey all,

As promised, here is the first of my three part series about my writing retreat in Malaysia. I had such a wonderful time, and over the course of five days wrote 85 pages which translates to about 45,000 words give or take. I was able to do nothing but write, and for me that was truly a gift. Jonathon gave it to me for our anniversary--a special bit of love that was very well received.

So, let me start from the beginning...

Jonathon and I had been thinking about me going on a retreat when I found I was having trouble finding the time to do the writing I needed. The third book in my series, Second Chances: Life's a Dance, was coming due, and I didn't think I'd be able to finish when I wanted to. So he suggested a few days alone in a place where all I would do was write.

Now I've thought about doing this before. Had some mini retreats in the past, but this was the first time I'd ever taken a big chunk of time and given it over to doing nothing but write. And oh...was it wonderful.

No kids. No husband-God love him. No pets. No worries about sightseeing or what I should do so I don't miss anything. Just the pure enjoyment of getting into my story and letting it all flow out on the page.

It was a dream come true.

Our adventure started a couple of days before. We wanted to visit Malaysia and when this writing retreat was discussed, we'd found the perfect resort to do it. More on that later.

We packed a bag and Jonathon took his backpack and we jumped first on the MRT and then on a bus for Johor Bahru, Malaysia. And that was an adventure in itself...

To go to Malaysia from Singapore, you can take a train, taxi, plane or private car. But the cheapest option is by bus and while it can be a bit tedious, it wasn't hard at all.

First you jump on what they call the Causeway Bus which will take you out to the Singapore Immigration Port. You get off, carrying your luggage with you, so one small wheeled bag is just great, thank you very much. You go through customs and then get on another bus that will take you over the Causeway Bridge to the Malaysian Customs Depot.

You get off the bus again, luggage in hand and deal with their customs. Then, you jump back on yet another bus and make your first foray onto Malaysian soil on the way to the main bus station.


It sounds hard, but it really isn't. You buy a ticket at the beginning, and show it each time you get on the bus. It only costs a couple of bucks, easy and cheap, so it's totally worth it.

Once we arrived at the Johor Bahru Bus Terminal, we got on the last bus of our journey which would take us to the coastal town of Pontian. The trip to this small town was the start of our adventure. The scenery was interesting and diverse, and we gawked at the countryside and cities we traveled through.

We got to our hotel... Hotel Pontian before noon. We were able to drop our stuff and head out again to look around this small fishing town. It sits on the ocean, but instead of beaches, they have mud flats which were interesting for us Floridians who are used to more of a sandy look to our coastline.

But it was the town that was so mind boggling. I don't know if I can explain to you all how it feels to wander through a place where you can't read the signs, don't understand the language and everything looks totally different from what you're used to. Singapore, while being a foreign land, is very cosmopolitan and it feels as if you are in Paris or New York a lot of the time. But this...this was different.

And to be the only foreigners in sight? Me being blonde, it felt like everyone was staring at me all the time. I had remembered to bring a shawl and wrap it around my shoulders. At least I was covered in a way they couldn't fault. LOL Here are some pics of the town.

This is the outside of our hotel. Not much to look at, but it was pretty comfortable inside. Wireless internet which was a huge plus as we planned our trip.

Here is a picture of the river where the fishermen and their families live. Amazing isn't it.

And these are the mudflats. Mudskippers and long legged birds are everywhere. It's isn't as pretty as a beach but it is a unique habitat for the animals that live there.

This is a good picture of what the town looked like as a whole. A bit shabby, but colorful. Stands of fruit, shops with gorgeous material (I went crazy and bought tons!) and restaurants everywhere.

We walked along the shore, then went inland. We watched fishermen unloading their boats and they were so enthralled watching us they kept missing when the fish were being tossed to them! You could see small houses on the river and while an American might think it unclean, after a while you see that it's just the way it is and no one seems the worse for it.

After spending the early afternoon wandering around Pontian, we decided to take a taxi and go visit one of the national parks in the area. With our taxi driver as an enthusiastic guide, we headed off to Tanjung Piai. This park is considered the southernmost tip of the Asian mainland and has quite a bit of charm to it. Here are some pics...

This rock sits at the entrance of the park. As you can see, it's huge. Not a stone you'd be skipping across water any time soon!

This is one of the paths built through the park. You can hear cicadas, birds and many other creatures. When we were there a thunderstorm went through adding to the ambiance.

Another path, this one running along the water. Asian otters are often seen here, along with water monitors and snakes.

This is the marker at the southernmost end of mainland Asia. We love this sort of thing and when we met these schoolkids down there, we all got together for a big group picture! LOL

After we were done at the park, we decided to take a look at one of the places I'd thought about staying at for my retreat. A tiny little village called Kukup down the coast from Pontian. The area where I would stay was a kulong village called Air Masin.

This place was an eye opener. To our western eyes, it was difficult to take in at first. Extremely poor houses, trash everywhere, skinny dogs and cats lounging around left and right and the stench of rotting food permeating the area. And all of this--roads, houses, temples, walkways, stores and restaurants all sat on stilts out over the water.

But, after a while, I was able to see a certain charm about it. This was a community. They may be poor. They may all live in houses above mud and water. But as we walked around, we saw families, kids playing, people praying and lovers kissing. How is that any different from New York, San Francisco or Orlando? Check out the pics below...

This is the sign at the entrance of Air Masin.

The main thoroughfare. Pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles all use it to get around in this tiny village. It can be a bit scary. Especially when you realize if you jump off the path to get out of the way, you wind up in water! Remember...this road is on stilts!

The first house I saw. You can see the mudflats below it, as well as the debris and trash.

But while below may be a bit messy, you can see they take very good care of the village itself. Colorful houses, beautiful temples and comfortable community areas were everywhere.

A sunset from one of the porches in Air Masin. This village may be poor, but God has blessed it with all kinds of beauty.

Unfortunately, the places I'd seen online to stay weren't open. And, Jonathon wasn't too comfortable leaving me there, so we decided to move on to plan B. And what was plan B you ask???

Eat some of the best seafood on the planet. And OMG...let me tell you. It was fantabulous!!!!

We found this little restaurant on the water and looked at a menu. Since it was all in Malay, we had to decipher our order by using the pictures. And we did a damn fine job!!!

We had fish and when I say fish, I mean the head, tail and everything in between. LOL And something that soon became my favorite treat of all...these sweet little whole baby squid that tasted like crunchy bacon. Yummy!!!!

Then it was back to the hotel. We couldn't get a cab, the village was so tiny, so these guys Jonathon was talking to on the street offered to drive us back to Pontian. They charged us a little more than a taxi would, but was either that or sleep in the street. And since the drive was still less than 10 dollars, (the American dollar is REAL strong in Malaysia) we're not complaining!

On the way back in, we saw a night market and of course had to stop. LOL We ate again. Not too much because we were so full from the seafood, but there were so many new things to try. And we wound up taking home steamed peanuts for dessert!!!

Anyway, that's all for now. I'll be back on Friday with part two about my writing retreat and holiday. And stay tuned on Wednesday for another guest blogger, Qwillia Rain!!!!

Hugs to all,
CJ England
Follow Your Dreams


Phylis said...

Sounds as if you had quite the adventure! So are any of those areas going to be in future stories?

Anonymous said...

Hey CJ,
What are great enterprise you two are on! Can’t thank you enough for sharing!
Sara J ~ : - ]