It’s nearly 6:30 a.m. and I’ve been up for an hour. It was my bladder that woke me, but once awake, I could hear the distant call to prayer from the local mosque. Judging by the headscarves worn by women, about half the population is Muslim here in Johor Bahru (JB), Malaysia. The Muslim women dress in many bright colours and some wear pants. There are whole kiosks that sell the head coverings that one just pulls on over the head and other whole kiosks that sell jewellery to accent them—often long, dangling and glittery pieces that are pinned just under the chin. I’m tempted to buy one but I’m not sure how I’d wear it.
It’s also raining outside—pouring, actually, and the wind was quite strong when I got up and looked outside, though it seems to have calmed for the moment. It’s still dark; the sun won’t rise until about 7:30 or 8:00. I’d like to be in a place with a lot of light but Tom is still sleeping beside me and Bena’s brother, who so graciously gave up his bedroom for our visit, is sleeping on the couch so the dining room is not an option. I really don’t want to wake him. He and Bena are Hong Kong residents (though they live in JB) and, as such, are eligible for the Hong Kong government’s handouts of $1000 CAD. “Boy” just returned late last night from collecting his and probably needs his sleep.
Yesterday was an eventful day. The only thing on the schedule was for Tom to go to a tailor to get a suit made. The rest of the day was free, so I suggested that after the tailor, we go to Singapore, which borders this city. There are several places I want to go there and chose the Changi Museum. According to the guidebook, this is a former Japanese prisoner of war camp from World War II. I’ve read so much about the POW camps that it would be very interesting to see the remnants of one and learn more. I can’t remember, but I wonder if this is where James Clavell’s King Rat takes place. The plan was that Ma Mu would take us to the tailor’s—someone from her church—and then drive us to the border, where we could catch a bus to the Singapore rail system.
The tailor’s shop was closed and wouldn’t reopen for another 45 minutes and Tom wanted to go look for jeans so, calculating how long it would take him to choose cloth and style and then be measured, not wanting to tag along for jean shopping and eager to walk, I suggested I go off on my own and meet back at the tailor’s in an hour and a half. We were at Holiday Plaza, the largest mall in JB. The place is quite long and has four levels so I wandered about, looking in the shops and kiosks, trying to stay conscious all the time of where I was in relation to the tailor’s shop so I wouldn’t get lost. I even ventured outside for a bit and walked there.
It had been pouring rain when we first arrived at the mall; perhaps “deluge” would be a better term, accompanied by much thunder and lighting. The winds were so strong that the McDonald’s sign had partially fallen, hanging upside down, with half of the hard plastic of the sign smashed across the entrance to the mall’s indoor parking. When I went outside for my bit of exploration, I saw that I wasn’t far from the sign and went to take photos. Someone was cleaning up the last of the mess on the road, however, so there was less drama to photograph.
When I returned to the tailor shop, I found Ma Mu sitting in a small restaurant nearby. Tom was still busy so I sat and joined her. Laid out by the counter were a variety of fresh vegetables. I wasn’t sure how it worked but I was hungry so I asked Ma Mu. The idea is that you choose a bowl (she handed me a family-sized one) and then pick out the veggies you want, put them in the bowl and then hand it to the waitress. She cuts them up, cooks them in a broth and then brings the soup to the table, where she is paid. I chose three different kinds of greens, a tomato, a skewer of mushrooms, fish patty, and deep-fried tofu. It was very tasty! It was also a relief to get so many veggies in such a diet-friendly manner, because veggies seem rather scarce in the diet here. Or maybe it’s just that they come accompanied with things I can’t eat.
While we were sitting there, Ma Mu saw a friend whose husband, besides being the pastor of a church, operates a Chinese medicine clinic. Apparently, he can feel your pulse and find out all sorts of things about your health. How much does it cost? I asked. Nothing. It only costs if you buy the medicines he recommends. Eager for adventure and new experiences, I said I’d try it out. I had nothing to lose.
The pastor-doctor looked very official—white shirt (and tie, I think), dark pants, business haircut, and a wide, friendly face. First he took my blood pressure with a digital device (my family doctor still uses the squeeze-the-pump-and-watch-the-column-rise), which was acceptable. After feeling my pulse, he gave me a clean bill of health. Tom had joined us by then, so he went in and came out being told that his blood pressure was dangerously high. He was rather alarmed at this because back home his blood pressure has been fine however, he had just contracted to spend (for him) an astronomical figure to get the best suit he could and since he worries about even lesser purchases, it’s quite possible there is a connection.
While he was seeing the doctor, Ma Mu and I were invited to have a “Feet Herb Sauna.” The sauna device is a wooden barrel, with the top and part of the side missing. We each had one in front of the chairs we sat in, lifted our feet into the barrels (I should have taken my knee braces off but I wasn’t sure what to do) to rest them on a wooden rack and had a towel laid across the tops of the barrels and over our knees. Steam was fed into the bottom of the barrels and there we sat for half an hour. It was hot! There was a sign listing all the health benefits of doing this and the cost was roughly $1.65 CAD for 15 minutes, though because we were friends, we were given the treatment for free.
The doctor’s wife asked if I would like a foot massage. A poster was up on the wall, showing a reflexology map of the foot (all in Chinese); I’ve always been leery of things like this, not knowing how much of it is connected to Eastern religions, but this was in a Christian pastor’s clinic, Ma Mu’s friend and someone she trusted, so I figured it was safe and agreed to submit myself to whatever was to come next. For the next forty minutes and $8 CAD, I leaned back on a reclining couch and alternately relaxed and winced, depending on the pressure the man used. He not only massaged my feet, but also my legs and knees. I felt pampered and wouldn’t mind going again.
Between the heavy rains, Tom’s lengthy time with the tailor and our visit to the Chinese clinic, the idea of going to Singapore was scrapped. There wasn’t enough time and the rain would hamper our plans, so we headed home. Despite my hour’s walk in the mall, I was still itching to walk more. Ma Mu reminded me about the night market not far from the house and so I dragged Konrad and Tom along with me. It’s the first time we’ve done any substantial walking outside and I quickly became drenched in sweat. The night market was an interesting place—a street lined with umbrella or tarp-covered stalls selling fresh fruit and vegetables, fish and seafood on ice, cooked meats, breads, and various snack foods, clothing, toiletries, cosmetics, jewelry, toys and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
I was hungry—it was 5:30 when we left the house and all I’d eaten were a few small pieces of chicken back with minimal meat and the broth with veggies—but I didn’t dare trust the food being served at the market. Who knew how long it had been sitting out in the heat? Bread and rice-based foods would be safe, and Konrad and Tom had some, but my diet won’t allow it so after we’d passed through the marketplace, we stopped at a restaurant where I ordered some lamp chops (not as good as the first ones a couple days ago) to carry home.
We were concerned about an impending storm. The clouds were darkening and we could already hear the thunder (it’s funny that I never associated thunder and lightning with tropical rainstorms) so we wanted to hurry home to avoid getting wet. I believe God was with us and kept the rain at bay until we walked through the door, at which time the clouds finally burst forth. It was hard going and it pushed me to my limits, but I made it! My knee and feet were killing me, my clothes and hair were drenched in sweat, but I did it! I figure I must have walked about three hours yesterday (including standing and looking time) and felt invigorated when it was done.
I can’t get over how well I’ve been doing and how much energy I have.. I’ve been sleeping well each night, not needing naps during the day, eager and excited with each new experience and possibility. I realise that this may not last but I’m enjoying it while it lasts and thanking God for such blessings.