Jalan petalingBy Erin D’Amelio

I walked into a food court of sorts Monday on Jalan Petaling, the heart of China Town in Kuala Lumpur (KL), surveying the open stalls with sizzling curry, pungent sauces, and unidentified meats, and I wondered to myself how adventurous I would be that night for dinner. Only a few days into the Malaysian world, I couldn’t boast much brazenness; my most daring choice in terms of food before I got here was adding a couple of drops of Tabasco sauce to a taco. I wove carefully in and out the tables of Chinese Malays already munching on their pork rolls and fried rice and eventually decided upon a stall with a small red-shirted man working a steaming wok underneath a sign of his fare. I scanned the list of choices on the yellowing sign. Chicken and rice, pork and noodle… but then something caught my eye.


The man in the stall matched my curious tone, though far more interested in if I would buy. “Stingray?”

A few other ETAs around me questioned my curiosity. “Are you really going to try that?” “I’m not going to be as adventurous as you…”

When in Malaysia, I told myself. Thus I confirmed my choice to the man. “Stingray, please.”

“Okay,” the man said, “go sit down.”

The plate arrived before me with a plate of rice. As I intermingled the various food items, the heat emanating from the dish hit my face immediately. Unfortunately, my only drink was water, so washing down the heat was, let’s just say, unpleasant. The fish itself was tasty, akin to any white fish, though perhaps a bit denser, but the spice… I had to power through it.

While the stingray wasn’t the spiciest dish that I’ll have here, I definitely need to learn how to deal with spicy food; I really can’t avoid it. I’ve actually become more courageous in trying various types of curry for breakfast at the hotel us ETAs are staying at (yes, curry chicken is offered alongside omelets here). But that’s part of the fun that I get to have while I’m here: exploration is the main goal, the essence de vivre, and it deals with everything here, including the food. Especially food, since it is the single most important aspect of Malaysian culture. If I only clung to my American burgers and milkshakes for the next ten months, I wouldn’t actually be doing a very good job of living in this incredible country.

There’s plenty to deal with, though. This entire first week here in Malaysia has been a sensory overload. As soon as we got out of the airport, us ETAs were immediately hit with 8o° weather and haven’t stopped sweating since (sorry all you freezing Lehigh Valley folks). The city shares its scents with other major cities, what with the smog and exhaust of continuous traffic, but we get the additional pleasure sudden bursts of rain. The air right before becomes still, hesitating for a moment before drenching us all with pungent raindrops, only to leave us with the invogorating afterscent (which wordsmiths lovingly call petrichor). The thud-thudding of rain upon the roofs and the ground adds to the rhythm of a city well-acquainted with the daily, yet brief, downpour. To be honest, I, along with plenty of Malaysians, shrug off the arrival of these showers; it’s fair more refreshing after having walked/sweated for what seems to be an eternity.

As for sights, well, obviously everything is new to my eyes, but there are surprising glimpses of the country and its culture that don’t necessarily come to an American mind. For one, KL has plenty of modern skyscrapers (just check out the Petronas Towers for reference). Swinging cranes peppered throughout the city indicate that the city itself is ready to expand and move forward in the modern world, but the plethora of trees and other various flora are markers of its Southeast Asian heritage that distinguish itself from the New Yorks of the world. I’m constantly being bombarded with new things each day that knock me out by the time I go to bed. It’s hard keeping up with it all, to be honest, but it’s the best type of problem with which to be overwhelmed.

My name is Erin D’Amelio and I’m going to Malaysia for ten months as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant. Over the next 10 months I will be submitting regular journal entries of this incredible adventure, documenting my thoughts and experiences. The views and beliefs I will present in these articles are my own; they do not reflect those of the Fulbright Program or the U.S. Department of State. Below are the articles, in order of publication. Just click on any link and continue the journey with me.
An Unforgettable Journey

How Does One Get a Fulbright, Exactly?
And Then We Wait
Sensory Overload