Familiar Places, New People

Our last stop in Thailand, Ko Lipe, was enjoyed by all. The party atmosphere yet small island living is appealing. This is like Ko PiPi was 25 years ago; a few small bars along the beach, cheap and fun restaurants, dive shops and a variety of markets. I stopped by the dive shop we visited on the way up and the girl, who remembered me, told me the dive guide we had known had just left. 

We did the dive that I remembered, Stonehenge, known for its brilliant coral. I commented last year that the vibrant purple is exactly like my dear Grandmother’s favorite color. I thought of her on the dive and wonder whether King Neptune called on my Grandma to decorate this site, hahaha.

I revisited the one bar with live music; a couple of Thai boys were playing some cool songs with a guitar, bass and congas. They asked me to do a set and seemed to love my Bob Dylan tunes. Again I was in heaven, playing music with sand between my toes with good people.

Next we headed to Langkawi, the first stop in Malaysia. This is familiar ground for me and a cruisers ‘paradise so I was sure to see some old friends. After the check-in routine we pulled anchor and moved to one of my favorite anchorages, a picturesque spot nestled between two tall islands away from other traffic. The girls did a kayak trip around one of the islands and came back with tales of soaring eagles, brilliantly-hued kingfishers and monkeys.

We then headed to Rebak Marina on a small island just west of the main island of Langkawi. This marina and luxury resort boasts one of the nicest swimming pools in the area. Rebak Marina is super safe, friendly and cheap so it has become a long-term stopping-off place for cruisers. It is common for people to spend many months there and it’s a good place to leave your boat if you must fly away. The cruisers form a tight community and usually that includes some other guitar players.

the swimming pool at Rebock is a favorite

Having just gotten a new amplifier and all the fix ins needed for a one man show, I was anxious to try them out. I set up my gear at the Hard Dock Café, a small separate restaurant just for the marina, and went through my song list. I played for two hours, the longest I have ever done a solo gig. I burned through my song list way too fast: must learn some more! The cruisers seemed to enjoy my 60s tunes and some even joined in.

The next day we joined another findacrew friend, Julie, rented a car and headed to the main island for a road trip. We drove to the top of a mountain with an amazing view then stopped at “Sunny Beach” for lunch, which cost us about two bucks each. Next stop was an exotic set of waterfalls. We hiked to the top with a few other sightseers. Langkawi is a vacation spot and known for honeymooners. It is especially popular for Saudi couples and we walked up the steep path with three such pairs. The women were fully covered in traditional burkas. Most of them avoided us completely and shunned eye contact, but one couple seemed more open. I came upon them on the path and he was taking her picture as she had lowered her veil. Bounding up to them, I offered to take both their pictures, somewhat expecting a negative reaction. The lady quickly replaced her veil but seemed willing to be photographed, so as they posed I took some shots with their camera.

At the pool the cultural differences emerged as the Western and Islamic people negotiated taking a swim. We were all very aware of the Islamic sensitivities and tried hard not to offend, a much harder task for our usually bikini clad girls. The Furthur crew swam in modest attire under the gaze of the burka clad Islamic girls but with only their eyes showing, emotions were hard to gauge so we could only hope we had not offended. Of the three couples on the side of the pool, the ones whose pictures I took seemed to be really having fun and I would have loved to engage them in conversation, but the opportunity just did not transpire. I watched them play for a while, he in the water posing and splashing about loudly and she at the water’s edge, taking photos. I tried to put myself in their place and understand the emotions they were feeling, but just could not comprehend their experience. Meanwhile, we all had a blast in the cool water and headed back down the path.

I have encountered, shared life with and immersed myself in many cultures. I always seem to come away with a different point of view and understanding. From Tahiti to Thailand, I have grown with the cultural experiences and been able to accept some peculiar customs without judgment. This is one of the most cherished parts of my voyage. I have spent Ramadan in Muslim countries twice and have many Muslim friends, yet I have not been able to really share the experience nor gain an understanding of some of their more radical customs. I yearn to actually talk to a woman in a burka and get her perspective along with an Islamic husband, but that door has not opened yet.

I admire their dedication to faith and tradition, and wish we had more in our culture, but I cannot comprehend the extreme views when it comes to women. It would seem the traditions are valued by the women who practice them and they certainly solve many of the problems Western women face, such as what to wear? Does this dress make me look fat? Lipstick? More fundamentally, an Islamic woman has a greater degree of certainty in life; her place in society and the world is definite, her role in it clear. It would appear Western women lack that degree of certainty and their roles are foggy at best. Is this a good thing? Time will tell. I am sure a traditionalist Muslim would point out our staggering divorce rate, substance abuse and obesity as signs our system is flawed.

Watching the Islamic couples, it is hard not to judge. The women struggling uphill in walking tents with only eye slots to peer out of, not to mention how unbearably hot they must be – it is hard not to wonder why. We could see the men adjusting the garment to ensure coverage, and dictating behavior. Yet these appeared to be happy couples, probably on their honeymoon and beginning their married life. Their beliefs will present them with big challenges yet they will avoid so many of the obstacles faced by their Western counterparts.

I know I should not judge nor take my life as better, but give me a loud, laughing, free thinking girl in a bikini any day!