I’ve come to Malaysia from Hong Kong and China where I didn’t know anyone and felt pretty isolated in a big, foreign, unfamiliar place. While I met some good friends, figured things out and got along just fine, I certainly didn’t have any ground support personnel – I was on my own. Not the case here.
In this post I’m going to introduce you to my friends in Malaysia and you’ll know who I’m talking about in the next edition of Travel Notes. I’ll share a little context but will save most of the happenings for later.
Kishore Suppiah was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur (KL from here on out). An Indian Malaysian, he did his first two years of university in Malaysia before coming to the US on a study program to finish his degree, choosing Fresno State because it was the least expensive option in California. He arrived during the academic year 2001-2002, and little did he know he would be sucked in to joining Sigma Nu Fraternity. I was his Candidate Marshal, or “new member educator,” and during our two years together in the fraternity we became great friends, or life brothers as I like to say.
Kishore works for Tune Hotels, a relatively new model of budget hotel, offering the absolute lowest base room rate and charging a la carte for everything else: internet, TV, air conditioning, even towels and accouterments. Their model is, “if I’m not using it, I’m not paying for it.” Fortunately for me this doesn’t really apply since Kishore has sorted out all of my accommodation so far. After staying in four to eight person dorms and cramped hostels over the past 10 weeks (with a few exceptions), having my own hotel room with bed and bathroom is luxury living.
I’ve spent most of my time in Malaysia with Kishore and his friends and family so far.
Michelle, Kishore’s girlfriend of three years, has been with us much of the time as well. Michelle is Kadazan, an ethnic group indigenous to the eastern state of Sabah, and having spent a good deal of time in London, she’s hip, knowledgable and up-to-date on KL; not to mention her keen fashion sense. She has researched the restaurants (with timely ratings and reviews), attractions, sites and activities and has been generally planning and directing each of our little outings. Kishore drives us there and provides color commentary.
Firhana Fathil is another Malaysian who went to Fresno State. She and I were both business majors and were in the Craig Honors Program together, during which we became great friends. After Fresno State she worked in San Francisco for several years before moving back to KL about two years ago.
Khai Chong, a Chinese Malaysian, moved into Homan Hall #201B in January 2001. Poor guy had no idea what a fraternity was until he was pledging, pretty much within a week from arriving in the US. His first time at Sigma Nu, and we were about to “do shots,” he quickly left back to the dorms. I asked him later why he left so fast; he thought “doing shots” was administering illicit drugs intravenously. Lost in translation.
I haven’t seen Khai since he graduated and left the US back in 2003 or 2004. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like we’re going to connect on this trip. He lives across the South China Sea in Sabah, a three-hour flight from KL. It’s too bad as I’d really hoped to see him, but it just might not happen on this one.
While volunteering in Ishinomaki, Japan, I met Eugene Amigo, who was also volunteering there for a couple of weeks. We connected immediately; he’s a businessman, entrepreneur and world traveller, working at home for a few months at a time and saving money to go and travel again. He would stay in Ishinomaki longer than me, but before I left we made plans to connect back in Malaysia, where he would be by the time I got there.
Camille is a young French Canadian lady from Quebec who I met in Australia about two months before coming to Malaysia. We chatted on the patio at Dingo’s hostel the night before I left for Fraser Island and I hadn’t seen her since. Just after arriving in Kuala Lumpur, I randomly saw that she was in nearby Singapore. As it turns out she was heading up to KL the next day with her new travel partner, so we made plans to connect.
You should sit down for the story on G and Ray. Rewind to mid-January, just before I left Fresno about 100 years ago (i.e. three months ago), when I took a little trip over to Fresno State and the Craig School of Business to say goodbye to a few friends. There I spent an hour or so chatting with Micheala Ford and Debbie Young (and subsequently Dr. James Highsmith, former college professor who connected me with Khalid Shafar), two of my favorite people on campus (and who both helped me immensely through my college years).
Debbie told me about her nephew, who had been traveling through Asia for almost three years with a longtime childhood friend, keeping a travel blog along the way: www.operationbackpackasia.com. When I got home I checked out the blog and read a bit about their travels.
Fast forward to the slopes of Hakuba Goryu in Nagano, Japan, where I met and skied with my new Australian friend Joel. Several days after skiing, I get an email through the ‘Contact’ page on my blog from just “G,” apparently a friend of Joel’s. She explained to me that she had been traveling with Joel during the past year and they were great friends and such.
G had read about the prayer that I subscribe to on my blog: “God, please bring me today on my path the people that can help me in my journey, and bring those that I can help along theirs.”
In her message she told me how appreciative she was that I had connected with Joel that day, thanked me for helping him along his path and wanted to introduce herself, say hello and offer any help along my way. Apparently she and her childhood best friend had been traveling across Asia for almost three years and had been blogging about it….www.operationbackpackasia.com. No freakin way.
Yes way. Sure enough, G’s travel partner, Ray, is Debbie’s nephew. One of the most amazing coincidences I’ve experienced, I explained this to G over email who was equally shocked. Furthermore, G and Ray, in their last month before finally heading back to the US, are spending their final weeks in Malaysia. Living in Penang, about three hours drive from KL, we made plans to connect when I arrived.
And finally, the extraordinary Palencia Family. Let me introduce the main characters and describe their roles.
Jennifer is the figurehead, the centerpiece, the matriarch, the guiding force and the spiritual web that connects the family.
Underground Supper Club: http://www.facebook.com/jensundergroundsupperclub
Cooking Academy: http://www.facebook.com/jenshomegrowncookingacademy
Mia is the established talent and pride of the family. Her professional singing career took off 12 years ago when she partnered with professional guitarist Roger Wang. Now studying in Australia, she comes back to Malaysia on singing tours with Roger a few times a year.
Natasha is the manager, the hospitality, the secretary of state, the facilitator who connects this family with their friends, fans, students, patrons and guests. Shortly after high school Natasha spent several years working in the hospitality industry, seemingly perfect training for when she would come back to support the family businesses.
About to turn 18, enter college, and record his first EP, Christian is the young, aspiring talent. Singer/songwriter and guitarist, he has a vision for a successful musical career.
Brabon is the father; quietly and patiently sitting in the background, Brabon is the man of the house, the solver of problems; the inner strength and the backbone of the family.
I’ve found a number of things quite extraordinary about this family. First and foremost, they are genuine. Secondly, they have a very strong family business operation. But most importantly, all of their businesses and all of their activities support each other and others.
From Mia’s music, and eventually Christian’s I suspect, Natasha’s ability to connect with people, to Jen’s cooking academy, underground supper club, books and blogs, with Brabon Entertainment supporting the entire operation, the family has learned how to monetize their passions while also impacting and benefiting others. Through music and cooking, friendship and connection, this family has a positive impact on everyone who they encounter.
They have also captured the understanding of promoting, building a name, brand image and networking. “Everyone who comes through these doors, we stay in contact with them. Our fans become our friends, and our friends become our fans.”
More about my interactions with the Palencia’s to follow.
With so many great friends and connections in Malaysia it almost feels like I’m “spending all my money in one place,” but it has been really fantastic, making for easier living and a special experience. Without all my friends here, and especially Kishore, I’d be staying in a budget hostel in Chinatown eating guess and check cuisine at tourist prices, trying to figure out where the hell I’m going and what the hell I’m doing.
Here’s to great friends..