On a tropical island in a Muslim country in Asia, Christmas carolers sing in English near a rainforest, and partygoers drink German beer at an Oktoberfest by a balmy beach.
Expatriates bring events reminiscent of their native lands to Langkawi, Malaysia, and they can find out about them from a calendar of activities on a facebook page in English.
Perhaps following the beat of her own drum, Vanessa Workman created the page, Island Drum of Langkawi. She refers to her 7-month-old Island Drum as an experiment to find out what would happen if given a mouthpiece. The mouthpiece might feature upcoming parties, a lecture for a "greener island," an inquiry about pottery classes as well as a reward for a missing dog.
|Oktoberfest waitress, Beach Garden Resort, Cenang Beach|
Both are US natives, a minority among the “expats” of Langkawi. “So many Americans I know are afraid to come here,” Vanessa said by e-mail. “It is a culture so unfamilar to them.” Far more of the “expats” from the western part of Earth are Brits, Scandinavians, Germans, and other Europeans. Australians and New Zealanders are also well represented.
Some of the “expats” say they like the easy communication with the local population. English is widely spoken. Malaysia was a British colony for more than 150 years, and the Malay language contains many English cognates. For instance, English speakers might recognize words like epel (apple), teksi (taxi), miziam (museum), polis (police).
|Expat hangout: The Pier Restaurant by a mangrove river|
“Yachties” are among other retirees living on the island. From their boats they first saw Langkawi emerging in the Andaman Sea among other hilly islands covered with greenery. Gudrun from Norway and her British husband got off their boat in Langkawi and stayed for six years. They had lived in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore, and Nigeria when her husband worked for an Iraqi oil company.
I met Gudrun when she was selling calendars door to door for the Langkawi Ladies Charity Club. With an armload of calendars featuring photos of Langkawi’s birds, she knocked on Gitti’s door.
On the other side of that door, Gitti from Germany was telling me she feels “stateless.” She married a Malaysian 29 years ago; much of her family lives in Australia, and she worked in Singapore for 17 years as a pre-school teacher in a Geman school.
She and her husband, “Bond,” both in their 50s, moved three years ago to Langkawi from Johor Bahru, Malaysia. “We are not going anywhere else,” she said emphatically. In Langkawi, Gitti wrote a book to be published in German about her grandmother, a free spirit who let gypsies camp in her yard.
|Dragon fruit on a porch: local produce is abundant.|
Reliable figures for the “expat” population in Langkawi were not available. However, whatever the numbers may be, there are enough foreigners to support several “expat” hangouts, such as Yellow Café on Cenang Beach and the The Pier Restaurant located by a mangrove river.
The expat population is also large enough to warrant importing products, including processed foods, such as spaghetti sauce, and health foods. Several shelves at Bellis Spa are lined with organic products, such as tahine from Australia, miso from Japan, and black rice from Sabah, Malaysia.
In spite of their diversity, at the end of the day Langkawi’s “expats,” share a ritual. Many of them photograph the sunsets or simply admire them. After all, in Langkawi the sun sets on their days with intense colors, crisp blue and turquoise mixed with shocking pink and crimson.
Story & photos by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter, Copyright, 2010
TO BE CONTINUED...Part 2 to be posted in 2 weeks