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"RESORT" LIFE: Malaysia
                                                                By Diana McLeod                                        2017

        Paradise has its moments. Brilliant tropical sunshine, filtering its way through the palms, the crystalline sea, a perfect crescent beach, with the softest, cleanest white sand ever to caress my toes, the buoyancy of pure salt water, glittering in shades of bright turquoise... Our choice of beach destination had all this and more, but every earthly paradise also has limitations.

        We booked a beach bungalow "resort" on the island of Redang, off the coast of Malaysia. The island was smaller than the most famous destinations, and it was isolated, accessible only by ocean ferry, and part of an underwater national park.

        Since most resorts are booked by a mix of folks from around the world, we naturally expected the same, but this one was packed with Malaysians, along with a smattering of Chinese tourists. We were the only Westerners, and we certainly didn't fit in. The locals were a mix of college students on holiday, honeymoon couples and families with hordes of young children. Almost all of the women wore Islamic dress, even on the beach. When they went in the water they wore specially designed cowled black swimsuit "burkinis" with full arm, leg, and head coverage. Only a few of the Chinese women wore regular swimsuits or shorts and tee shirts. My very modest American swimsuit "skirtini" was still quite scandalous for a few of these folks.

        The ladies were miserably encumbered by their heavy black clothing. One young woman, whose husband was exceptionally conservative, even wore a veil over her hooded swimsuit. I'd seen her at dinner, wearing a full chador, even at table. I have no idea how the poor thing was able to eat like that, with all that fabric over her nose and mouth and down her chest. She must dribble food down her front, all of the time. Certain foods, like soup, must be off limits whenever she dines in public. How could she possibly manage noodles? The logistics baffled me. I already spill, far too often, and I can at least see my spoon.

        Almost everybody went on the resort's scheduled twice a day snorkeling trips. Dave and I tried one of these excursions, once, and we were amazed by the chaos of it all. Everyone except us wore life preservers at all times, because, with one exception, none of them could swim. The tour boat anchored at the Marine Park, along with six other snorkeling boat, each carrying hordes of lifejacketed passengers. The water soon became a churning mass of flailing arms and legs, scaring away anything worth seeing. Some species of fish endured the invasion, but only because they were bribed with handouts of stale bread.

        At one point, a Titan Triggerfish became agitated by all the splashing. Triggerfish are one of the most aggressive species on the reef, and they are known to attack people if they swim too close to their "nests." I thought about the hysteria that would overwhelm the mob if somebody got bitten, so I decided to move in with my flippers to kick him away if necessary. I didn't want the Malaysians drowning each other in a mad scramble to get away from what they would surely think was a shark attack. Luckily, the triggerfish backed off, and none of the snorkelers ever had any clue about the menacing monster right below their bare toes.

        Conditions in our little corner of paradise were mixed. The first room they gave us reeked of mold, and the second one was better but still musty. Pictures of resort rooms on the Internet never warn you of what happens when air conditioning meets the moist, hot tropics. Food was another thing. All of the resorts on the island had three buffet meals included, which meant dining in one noisy common area and with only five or six greasy steam table selections on the menu. On several evenings, the only protein available was goat. Luckily, the goat was pretty good. There was no alcohol offered, because the resort's owners were Muslims, but the souvenir shop sold beer. (thank goodness). With Malaysia's horrendous liquor taxes it cost over three U.S. dollars a can.

        I gave up on snorkeling with the tour boat, and instead found a nice little house reef nearby where I could snorkel on my own while Dave went diving. I was rewarded with a sighting that has always been on my lifetime bucket list: I saw sharks in the wild. Blacktip sharks! I was so thrilled to see my first shark that I forgot to be afraid, even though I was all alone in the water. In fact, I followed him closely as he cruised the reef, watching him glide effortlessly through the corals.

        Later on, I learned that I had, indeed seen an adult shark, and that Blacktips are normally shy, but, when stimulated by the presence of food, they have been known to attack humans.

        Would I recommend this island? It was very beautiful. Our "resort" was much funkier than most Americans can handle, but, in the end, it was a good experience. Especially because I GOT TO SEE SHARKS!

       

        Thanks for reading, Diana McLeod


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