Finally the words rush forth: It’s 3 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon and I’m stripped down to my skivvies, writing furiously in a pocket notebook while propped up on two elbows, my body splayed out across this threadbare bed. It’s hot as hell and I’m trying to transcribe my memory cache as quickly as I can. The Park Lodge’s bungalows here in Taman Negara are comfortable enough, save perhaps for the oscillating fan that doesn’t oscillate and the adjoining half-bathroom I’ve learned to avoid, whose corrugated-metal walls and roof do little to keep out the ravenous mosquitos. An hour ago I saw a pair of crested fire-backed pheasants foraging in the wild, 15 feet from where I stood on the trail, and this singular experience seems to have galvanized my languid hand.
So what have I seen in Southeast Asia? Is any of it worth writing home about? It’s a vastly different world here, full of incongruities and painful ironies. I want to record it all, but I know I’ll need to pick and choose before these memories become outdated, overridden. And what of the things I’ve missed, things I possibly would never again have the opportunity to see, smell, taste, feel? Should I be concerned about not experiencing enough of the stimuli here? Maybe, but I’m doing my best, given the circumstances. Three and a half weeks offers merely a glimpse, a snapshot of this convoluted world. I’ll certainly be back, hopefully for longer. As one can imagine, time and money are awfully fettering to travel, to say nothing of homesickness.
Speaking of memories, I’ve got a handful of favorites so far: snorkeling in the Andaman Sea amidst Sergeant Majors and Moorish Idols, the sea fans and staghorn corals like an alien landscape beneath me; frolicking in the surf with Rara, a three-year-old female Asian elephant; walking the streets of Krabi at midnight, drunk off Chang beer and cradling a tame gibbon that literally crawled into my arms. Everywhere we go, the food is phenomenal—especially the fruits and vegetables. Fish, also. I’ve actually been taking pictures of people too, instead of just flora and fauna. And simply having my cousins here has made for some truly unforgettable experiences. In short, I’m enjoying myself.