13 March 2014

Sons of the Sand

It was my first evening in Langkawi and the sun was setting beautifully before me. I've never seen the sun so massive and calm before. Steph was having what she described as "the best coconut drink ever," and Lulu was cradling a cat who had come to sit on her lap, however allergic she was. We were at this coconut place by the beach, in all its red and yellow panel set-up, and though the beach was bustling with people and their drinks, the noise was somehow muffled, distant. There was a certain stillness in the air that I like remembering whenever I think of Langkawi.

Across from us, there was a girldeep-brown haired with waves like the water's. Skin so dark from the sun. Wearing a sarong tied at the back of her neck. And her face, beautiful, with strong features, and eyes that tell stories from all the places she's been. She spoke with an accent I didn't recognize. She was playing the guitarsweet, melancholic music that sounds something from a distant past you've once heard of but swiftly forgot. It was unfamiliar yet familiar at the same time, which is exactly what I could say about Langkawi, too.

And then there was a man. The caretaker of the bar, a big dark guy in long pony-tailed dreadlocks, talking about the life in this island he calls his home.

He spoke so ardently about Langkawi. The people, their livelihood, the sea which is as an intrinsic part of them as the air they breathe. I found solace in his words and unabashed outpour of love for this quiet rasta island.

Langkawi left me so many wonderful, unforgettable memories. But much more than that, was the wisdom it left me that in every place, however ordinary they may seem at first, is a covert quality you would only be so luck to see if, ironically enough, you don't simply look. It takes openness, and kindness, and light. I didn't know that when I first got there. As a young spirit taking her first steps into this wild, stirring world of wanderers, there were a lot of things I didn't know how to understand yet then. I came to Langkawi blinded by the hope that what I would see was a majestic beach like the ones I know of back from where I am from. That I would be impressed. I wasn't. And for the first day, I was disappointed. I expected. And that was my biggest mistake.

photo by Stephanie Chan
No, Langkawi doesn't boast of fine, powdery sand and clear turquoise water. The beachfront doesn't quite come alive with lights and merriment as soon as dusk perches the shore. But in my time spent there, I have come to know this island's best quality. A quality that will touch you, move you, and leave you a little differently than the person you were before you came to know all of these.

Langkawi's charm, as I have discovered, is in its people. The people you meet in their little craft shops. The people who will greet you with a smile so warm it will bring a smile to your own face as well. The people who will make you laugh with witty jokes though you've only met them ten seconds ago. The people who will help you settle in, feel at home, answer your touristy questions. They will be very generous, and kind, and welcoming. They will tell you their stories, and you will be humbled, amazed, and saddened all at the same time. It's the people. The island is the people.

They are the people who love music. These people roam the island with music in their souls. And you will love this music that they love. At night, people from all walks of life come out to watch them play on the sidewalk—men with their dreadlocks and their Rastafarian hearts, equipped with their guitars and wooden percussion. And don't forget their big smiles; they always have that on. Somebody will be dancing in the middle of it all, and you will find yourself dancing, too.

photo by Stephanie Chan
The island will be swarming with young, reckless beings who have all left their comfortable lives in the hopes of finding wisdom and purpose you can only find on the road. You look around and though everyone looks different, talks different, the same pursuit running in your veins make you all the same. And you will know that you belong. You will not know anyone, but at the height of the night when everyone's loud and happy, you will realize you must have already met about twenty people just by queuing for the toilet at the far end corner of the local convenience store, which is right beside 7 Eleven, but everyone prefers anyway.

You will learn how to start conversations and ask multiple questions though back home you were known to be quite shy around strangers and a little insecure. You will play countless guessing games with your new acquaintances. "Where are you from?" "Guess." "How old are you?" "Guess." "How long have you been traveling?" "Guess." Guess, guess, guess. You will recognize people wherever you go, and you will smile, nod, or give each other high-fives for the short second that you run into each other though you can't really remember their names. Or did you even ask? But you stay in the same hostel, he said. Which makes you practically family.

By the end of the night, you will have made friends. Friends whom you will hang out with for the next days up until the last moments before you have to painfully bid farewell. Friends you will hope to see again, or plan on seeing again. These people, these free-spirited souls, they're quite difficult to keep up with, but you hope. You can always hope.

photo by Stephanie Chan
There is this popular quote that goes, "You can shake the sand from your shoes, but not from your soul." I have found this to be true. I know, because this is what happened to me even after I've left Langkawi.

photo by Stephanie Chan
On my last day, I was lounging at the beach although all dressed up to go. But the sun beckoned, and so did my new friends, so I threw my cares into the wind and made the most of what few moments remained. I checked in at the airport with sand on my knees and grains all over my hair and shirt. In the plane, looking over the beach beneath, I tried to dust the sand off. But I couldn't. It just stayed there, clinging on to my skin.

photo by Stephanie Chan
The big guy from the coconut place was talking about the life in this island he calls his home.

"The people here, our whole life is Langkawi..." he trailed off. I could see him sweeping the sand with his foot, looking down with a smile as if remembering a good memory. The sun-kissed lady stopped playing her guitar and looked at him intently as he said,

"We are born from the sand."

The wind blew, and the sand danced away into the sunset. And then I understood.


  1. This is such a beautiful post! The way you write about your experiences made me feel like I was there :)