This is the third post in a series of blog posts about my travels as a single 40+-year-old woman travelling alone in Asia. You can read the other posts here.
My quiet weeping didn't last long
And anyway, I've come to realise that crying is a great process - the remarkable liberation of emotions arising from hoarded tension, or just being tired.
Babies and toddlers sob when they're knackered, it's a perfectly natural human response, but we're conditioned very early on to suppress our emotions.
Particularly our tears, nobody likes to see another human cry. If it's someone we love it's agony for us, we'd rather feel the hurt instead and unburden them.
If it's a stranger, it makes us uncomfortable, we shift our feet from side to side and look around anxiously. What shall we do? Should we comfort them? Do they need a hug? It's awkward, isn't it?
We're more tolerant when women cry, after all, we're expected to be irrational, overemotional beings. Ok, I admit that once I did cry over some wholemeal bread crumbs when someone *very selfishly* left them on the kitchen worktop after I had spent five years scrubbing it, but that was a one-off. I did also apologise profusely for screaming at said person.
We're not so forgiving of male's, are we?
I've often heard the phrase: 'Nobody likes to see a grown man cry.'
When really, there's nothing more appealing than a man showing that he is an evolved and emotional being - like Leanardo Di Caprio before he started dating 20-year-olds? Demonstrating that he does feel and that he is engaged with those emotions, and that he knows it's acceptable to cry. With the male suicide rate at a record-breaking high in the UK, we need to get this critical message out as a matter of urgency.
Please, can you do me a favour? Next time you feel like crying, when you feel that overwhelming surge welling up in your throat, please don't hold back the tears, don't fight them. Go somewhere (private if you need to) and let it all flow out - see how relieved you feel afterwards.
Sorry, I'm off on one again. Let's get back to Malaysia.
Eventually, before I died from malnutrition, fatigue and self-pity, the host turned up and let me into Lucy's mansion. Turns out it was my fault that he wasn't there when I arrived as I'd told him the wrong time! Quelle surprise.
Mark (the host), was a well-dressed Malaysian guy with a prematurely grey beard, and a welcoming smile. I later discovered he had the most extensive collection of pristine Nike's I have ever seen in my life which I was admittedly envious of.
The mansion, that I thought wouldn't be a mansion, actually was a mansion. BOOM.
From the outside, the house was deceptively small, little did I know I was entering a genuine tardis. The house was a real-life version of the celebrity homes pages in Elle Decoration.
The entrance hall alone was more extensive than my entire loft apartment back in the UK. I sashayed through to the next room, gin and tonic in hand (not really, but it sounds good!), to a place as big as the dining hall at my junior school - enormous.
The dreaded vegetarian table
I don't have many good memories of that dining hall. When I was seven, I told my parents I wanted to be a vegetarian as I found the taste of meat revolting. My decision meant that I would have to sit at the 'vegetarian table' at school. Vegetarian table, how cool, how hip, how modern? Let me tell you, it was none of these things.
Firstly, I was the youngest person at the table, and I was so petrified that a word never left my mouth in the whole four years that I painfully sat there.
Secondly, the food was disgusting, nobody knew how the hell to cook vegetarian food back then, we were lucky if we got an egg rather than some unidentifiable slop. I'd stare enviously over at my friends who were sat together laughing while enjoying deep-fried spam fritters, the lucky bastards.
Finally, all of the other kids were hippies, I distinctly remember one of the girls having a pink dyed Mohican with shaved sides, at 11-years-old. I was sat at the loser table, the place for weirdos.
Nutella cravings started early on
Unfortunately, much to my despair, I was a hippy kid too, I used to wear rainbow wellies, and my dad baked his own bread. But even at that age, I was already rebelling. I wanted nothing more than to be like my friends, who's homes I was fascinated by. Their parents had matching three-piece floral suites from DFS (3 seater sofa, chair, and poof), polished smoked glass ashtrays, and they were allowed to each chocolate spread on Warburton's Toastie for tea. I mean, why couldn't my parents smoke and let us eat Warburton's? How bloody selfish.
Anyway, again I digress. Sorry.
This room was a world and five lifetimes away from those memories.
I could smell lavender incense, fresh coffee, and refined pleasure. The floor was covered in intricate ceramic tiles designed to keep the feet cool, an array of palms and ferns were dotted around strategically and there were two large ceramic bowls containing real carp, real carp! My animal rights instincts did ponder at this briefly, but I was too caught up eyeballing the Chaise Lounges, of which there were plenty and the 'occasional tables' which were everywhere. Finally, the room contained the most exquisite selection of antiques, books, curios, cultural crafts and statues from around the world. All in all, the whole place was classy AF.
If you've ever managed to have an 'occasional table' in your home at any point in your life, then I'm very proud of you. What are they? Well, they're a table with no purpose whatsoever, other than to look sophisticated. It's never used for anything, not even occasionally. The table itself, usually antique mahogany, contains carefully chosen items that are explicitly placed for visitors to perceive you in a certain way.
I once had a 1970's mahogany table that I rescued from my Gran's, which I tried to fashion into an occasional table. One foot was missing, so I sellotaped an orange cordial bottle lid in its place, and then rested it against my living room wall, where it balanced precariously.
On my new table, I strategically placed a bowl made out of a coconut from Thailand (well-travelled?), a Tim Morris fashion photography book (arty?), a pink vintage glass vase (stylish?) and a niche literary magazine printed on brown kraft paper (intelligent and well-read?). I must say my friends were very impressed and my self-esteem increased tenfold at the time.
However, nothing lasts forever. It needed cleaning regularly, and I've never been one for domesticity, not really, so eventually, it annoyed me. I gave the table away and placed the items back on my bookshelves. I like a well-organised and spotless home, I do, but not enough for me to put the effort in to ever to achieve it. Not when I can be reading, writing, or procrastinating.
Luckily, my daughter has far higher domestic standards than I do, so she always maintained the order at home. In return, I made her tasteless, but regular food, did her endless washing and kept her in 'mom' jeans and 90s inspired shoes from Urban Outfitters. It was a mutually beneficial agreement.
The mansion, of course, was spotless.
When I first caught sight of the chaise lounges the only real question in my mind was why on earth I hadn't brought my 1930's silk navy dressing gown with fluted sleeves and cream lace trim that I've had for ten years, but never worn. How completely stupid and short-sighted of me.
In any case, it was dark, it was getting late, and I needed to eat, but I was back to the problem of having no mobile internet (no maps) and no Malaysian money. I asked Mark where the nearest cashpoint was.
I've never been very good with maps or directions. One year in Barcelona, before smartphones and when we still used the maps from Rough Guides, I walked for roughly 45 minutes under the sweltering sun in the wrong direction. I'd read the map upside down. The friend who I was with wanted to kill me, I couldn't blame her. I often wonder how I managed, and indeed how I have managed to travel Asia on my own.
Mark saw my frown, reached in his pocket and gave me 100 ringgit (roughly £20), and told me to give it back 'whenever'. I liked this guy.
As I set out into the night, I was feeling high. High from being in a new place, in beautiful surroundings, with a new adventure on the horizon.
I headed to the tourist area in George Town, via a ten minutes walk through the city streets.
'Fancy a free drink Madame'? One of the touts from outside a bar said as he danced alongside me down the road. I love being called Madame, it makes me feel super sophisticated and Parisian, but I didn't want a drink in one of these cheesy places. I needed food and a sim card. I found a 7-11 store which sold an unlimited data sim card for 30 ringgit (£6). I got the teenage boy in the shop to register it for me, and I was good to go.
On the side of the main road outside a restaurant called 'Mr. Shawerma, Middle-Eastern Cuisines', I saw a sign saying 'hummus', and I did a double-take. I hadn't eaten any of the good stuff for eight months now, and I was frothing at the mouth. I sat down at one of their metal bistro-style tables immediately.
I ordered a pot of hummus and a Zaatar which is flatbread covered with thyme, sesame, and extra virgin olive oil. It was absolutely disgusting - greasy, over flavoured and far too salty. I ate it all.
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I'm Hannah Anstee.
A Women's Empowerment Coach & Writer.
My mission is to help women stand-alone and enjoy life as much as possible.