Monthly Archives: May 2014

Giving: The Final Language of Love


Ru: Our Angel in Disguise

They say there are five languages of love – that is, mediums people use to express their love. They are: Gifts, Time, Words, Touch, and Acts of Service.

I would like to propose a 6th: the language of Receiving.
To receive and to accept love, kindness, and acts of service, is in itself a language of love. In order to receive, we must humble ourselves – bow our heads equal to the weight of the acts of charity we are receiving.

This thought was inspired by Ru.
Ru is an Angel who disguised herself as our first Warm Showers host in Butterworth, Malaysia (Warm Showers is an online free hosting forum for touring cyclists. It’s epic, check it out).

We arrived in Butterworth by bus early in the morning. We entertained ourselves with ukulele jamming and getting lost before finally making our way to Ru’s parents house on the North side of Butterworth.
According to her birth certificate, Ru is a 41 year old Chinese-Malaysian. She is sure that the doctor (and her mother) mixed up her year of birth. At heart (and in body and mind) she is a budding 22 year old, excited about the world, enthusiastic, open, adventurous, curious, innovative, hopeful.
She has lived in Malaysia her whole life, save for two years when she lived in India and Eastern Europe while working for a non-profit Innovate for Change. She currently works at a hipster book shop still in its infancy on Penang Island.


Our culinary endeavors in Butterworth


The Ru Pose

Ru drove us around Butterworth, showing us her favorite secret eateries and some of oldest bike shops. She shared her story and her thoughts openly, and was eager to hear ours.

Ru seems to embody many of the ideas I can access only as abstractions. She is completley unpretentious in her belief that ‘everything happens for a reason’. She believes whole heartedly in giving and ‘Paying it Forward’. She shared her life philosophy equation: Surrender + Truth = Love. She has faith that everything works out for people who believe that it will. She also gracefully embodies ‘femininity’ in her trust in intuition and empathy.

She is actively minimizing her attachment to possessions. She is learning to play the guitar, the ukulele, and the Guqin. She takes wood carving lessons just because. Her words of advice to us are: “Just go, start now!”

I’m quite certain I’ve never met such a child like adult before. I am inspired.


Setting off!

At one point in our almost too-perfect day with Ru, I realized that I would actually never be able to express gratitude enough to match her kindess. This realization made me uncomfortable. What does one do with excess giving? How does one respond? Does Ru expect something – if so, what? If not, how?

Finally, at the end of the day, Ru asked us one favor.
We had just finished a dinner of delicious Laksa and Mee Goreng at a very ‘ulu’ restaurant outside of Butterworth. Her father had treated us to dinner, and I felt somehow guilty that our langauge barriers made me unable to say anything but ‘thank you’. After dinner, her father (in his late 60’s) briskly left the restaurant to return to his work at an electronics distribution outlet. When he was walking away, Ru smiled and said “Please give my Father a hug.”
We all quickly ran after him and gave him hugs and Thank-yous for our meal. He looked slightly taken aback, but mostly grateful and pleasantly surprised.

Later that night, Ru asked that we hug her Mother as well.
“My parents have given us love for our whole lives. They don’t know how to get it back, though.”
She explained how she cannot give them hugs because it would be too sudden of a change.
“But you can, you can show them how to change”.


Ru woke up at 5 am to make us Breakfast

This simple act of reciprocation made me really question the act of giving. Giving cannot be a one-way street. Successful giving requires a receiver to accept the gift.
Ru is full of giving, all she needs is people in need who are open to receiving. If we can exchange anything  for the wisdom she passed on to us, I am happy that it be gratitude.

I often feel I am not doing enough to say Thank You. I am only now beginning to understand the power of Reception, the final Language of Love.


The Invisible Driver


While we were cycling along a busy main road today, I gazed at the neverending whiz of cars flying by and likened them to sushi on a sushi train, but moving a hundred times faster. If sushi moved a hundred times faster, you won’t be able to see the sushi inside anymore – you won’t know whether it is unagi, tuna sushi or an empty plate that some douche placed back on the conveyor belt. You’d probably only be able to see the colour of the sushi plates (they charge by colour) and guess roughly what is inside. It felt the same with the cars – you see a blue car, black, silver, silver, van… but you hardly ever get to see the people inside. You guess but you never know. It may be an old Chinese uncle. It might be a young Malay couple. If it is a shitty driver, maybe a female driver(Oh no I didn’t). The drivers are invisible.

When we cycle, we think of cars as merely cars. They are not the people inside driving them. Instead, they are a threat to us, things that we might die by. Cars are screens, opaque; they are walls, impenetrable. I tried to imagine the human beings inside those metal cages. I stripped away the car frame, the mechanical stuff that makes it work, the windows, the seats, the dashboard, and then the steering wheel. Imagine that. What was left was an androgynous humanoid, floating in the uniform position that a driver would be in (half squat, arms extended). I did this for all the cars I saw and got a picture of floating human bodies, all staring straight ahead in that uniform driver position, flying by.

Imagine that…

Going Slow

When you go slow:


1. You see squashed, trodden, flattened, dried, run over, abandoned, dead animals by the side of roads

The first time we came across a dead animal (what was it? A bird?) I swerved around, avoiding the poor animal. What the f***! Did y’all see that? And then there were rats, monitor lizards, cats, dogs, maybe a crocodile – sometimes you just can’t tell anymore. You smell them and feel this sick grumble in my gut and try to avoid it every time you see one. But after a while you don’t anymore. You get used to the sight and smell; it doesn’t feel as gross anymore. Sometimes it just looks like some dried leaves with little branches, brown and dried up; you save the trouble of avoiding such harmless things and then realise that that might have been a bird. Then you start playing a game because you are bored – what is the next animal?


2. You find yourself with time to interact with people

Early this morning while cycling along the main road, with cars whizzing past, I spotted a Chinese uncle cycling in the opposite direction on the other side of the road. I looked at him, and he looked at me. I raised my arm, waved, and shouted, “Uncle zao (good morning uncle)!” He smiled and waved back. We shared a moment in that five seconds along a busy road, both travelling, both getting somewhere. Sometimes you see uncles and aunties by the side of the road. Hi Encik/Macik!  And they nod and smile back. Let’s say you’re heading to Merbok, and you’re not sure that you’re going the right way. Uncle! (Pointing) Merbok? (Nodding) ah ah Merbok! You don’t get these moments going fast.


3. You get to watch nature


The same paddi fields gently caressed by the gradually rising sun.

The birds rising from their sleep, setting off and then changing formations as they dive and swoop.

The cock in mid-cockadoodle.

The butterfly that follows you for a whole minute.



4. You see cars and other vehicles pass by

You become aware that you’re going slow, and then feel pressured to go slightly faster. Sometimes they are so fast that you hardly notice them; they whiz by, too close for comfort, and you feel in danger. You are exposed and vulnerable to physical and also verbal abuse. If you are a Caucasian girl in tights and short sleeves you might get stared at and whistled to, maybe even followed; then you are left in the wake of their speedy vehicles. You are nothing to them, a mere second in their lives, and they will never see you again.


5. You forget that you are passing by as well


The Story of Zul



I type away at a workdesk in a bike shop in Alor Star, Kedah, Malaysia. Thin metal shutters separate this world from the world outside of puttering motorcycles, roaring trucks, and skinned shins and elbows. It’s been only three days, but this ragtag crew of iternerant cyclicsts has expereinced enough to know that this is not our place, nor is feeling welcome a privilege that we deserve, much less expect. We merely pass by. The trucks that rush by continue their taunts, the flies that get into our food do so as carelessly they have been, the good makciks and enciks still find no reason to speak your language, and the directions that they give can confuse, mislead and frustrate you, and none the worse for them. That world is the world that we have come to expect, but that is not the one that we have found. The world that we find ourselves snuggled up in for past two nights – be it separated by metal shutters or residential fences – has been one of warmth, generosity, and of home. Today, we are in Zul’s home/bike shop/both at once.

My fellow chakrayan chums lay sprawled around me on the mattresses that have been inflated and laid out for them on floors freshly mopped. Marcus is still nursing a perpetual food baby only made bigger from the bird’s nest susu (apparently only found in Alor Star) that Zul specially got for us. Meal times for Anshuman are a matter of getting money out of his fanny pack as quick as possible to intercept Zul paying for them. Kei’s bike wheels are clicking behind me as Zul works in the dark (so as to not wake the others) to fix her uneven spokes. “What is sleep? I don’t sleep. Tomorrow your bikes will be ready” says Zul.

All our bikes have been serviced and maintained by Zul and his father for free, despite the obvious service charges chart hanging on the cheery orange walls – prices that we would have never considered with the budget that we have. Without any airs, they took it on their own to make sure they were road worthy – always refusing to be paid, and without expectation of return.




“When was the first time you decided to help people?”

Zul goes into a long rambling annecdote of the first time he saw a German cyclicst get scammed for replacing a dented rim. I’m not sure I got all of it.

“Why are you so helpful?”

“Sometimes I see tourers get tricked. In Malaysia got a lot. So I go with them and follow them, up to Perlis, sometimes even to Langkawi, so they don’t get tricked. “

“Have you always been like this?”

Zul smiles politely. He doesn’t seem to quite understand the question. Eventually he nods and says yes. He explains that he grew up watching his father (another fantastic man that helped us with our bikes) help other people as well, by welcoming other travellers to stay with them.

Zul is quite the character. Zul used to compete for road and mountain biking for the state, and his bike shop has been in business for 7 years. Zul vigorously recommends us to get pepper spray to ward off wild dogs, drunk men (and drunk ladies, in his case) in Thailand. Back at his shop, Zul shows us the dynamo he straps on to his touring bike. This dynamo charges up a batterey which lights up a bulb, charges his phone, and even powers a portable fan. He says he has never seen anyone else do it before, but just thought it would be a good idea. In the next immediate moment he pulls out a electric stunner and turns it on with a loud crack. He explains the only time he has used it before was on a man he shocked because he tried to kiss him. He laughs bashfully when I ask him to pull the evilest face he can manage, and then chases Anshuman around in mock purusit.



Don’t mess with Zul and his favourite electric stunner


Zul brought us to the Alor Star cutural mueseum


The story that I am telling is of Zul. But Zul is not the only speaker for the soul and humanity that we have seen in our short time, and will continue to see in the next 10 weeks. Zul is escorting us halfway up to Kangan, Perlis on his motorbike tomorrow (his father says he would have brought us the whole way if it was a public holiday). As I join my chums and rest for the night, Zul’s light behind me continues to shine brightly on.



Zul and his human powered lightbulb


*Posted with permission from Zul, who will be checking out this blog soon*



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