Families On The Move Meet-Up: Penang, Malaysia Adventures

October 11, 2012 in Asia, Malaysia, Thailand, Travelogue

I lay on my back in the azure ocean, the temperature of a warm bath and listened to my own heartbeat.

Beyond that, the soft tinkle of the bell and charms that I wear on a silver chain that had drifted off of my chest to hang below me. Beyond that the muffled giggle of children splashing around me. I felt the slippery eel of a boy accepting the challenge of diving down and swimming beneath my floating body. Deep breath in. A slow exhale. Time slowed.

There are moments in life that are perfect, in which I manage to be fully present and in which I am blissfully aware of the cosmic tapestry of threads that weave together over generations and millennia to lead to a particular moment in the history of the world in which I have been given the gift of participation. This entire week was one gift after another, after another.

When we started traveling full time we knew very few other families doing similar things.

Over the past four years, with the explosion of Facebook and social media there has emerged the most beautiful group of fantastically diverse families who are doing what we are: traveling as a lifestyle, educating their kids in the great big world, and swimming against the stream; doing it “their way.” We’ve found ourselves members of a beautiful community of fellow adventurers, most of whom we’ve never met, but who we number among our friends, nonetheless.

This week, in Batu Ferrenghi, on the island of Penang, Malaysia, we were all privileged participants in the great serendipity of a multi-family meet up of traveling families.

People I’ve “known” for years sat across dinner tables for the first time. They laughed at me Monday night, as we all sat at the longest table in the history of BBQ Nights and celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving together.

“Just think!” I gushed, “The entire history of the world has conspired to bring us to this moment, all of the threads of all of our families for generations have carried us to this moment, on this beach, to celebrate this day together… how cool is that?!”

We laughed, counted our blessings, enjoyed the miracle of one another’s company and watched the sun melt into the ocean one more time.

There is so much that could be said…

  • I could tell you about the foam party and how Tony picked Hannah up and pitched her, bodily into the pool of bubbles and how I aspirated the foul stuff into my lungs and nearly vomited.
  • I could tell you about the surreal moment of standing in a roomful of people who I’ve known only through their blogs and realizing that this is my life, one foot in the real, one foot in the virtual worlds.
  • I could tell you about watching little children find a tiny dead baby sea turtle and have a moment of science study together at the Green Sea Turtle Sanctuary; world schooling at its best.
  • I could tell you about the gale of giggles from two tiny toe-headed little girls as our boat bounced across an impossibly azure bay towards monkey beach.
  • I could tell you about cramming 14 people in our rental car in a torrential rain
  • I could tell you about collecting shells in every iridescent shade of white, brown, black and hot pink to make a sailor’s valentine after our picnic.
  • I could tell you about how we celebrated little Spencer’s fifth birthday in grand style with fairy bread and songs on the beach.
  • I could tell you about precious Sophie laughing and screaming her way down the wavy slide in her amazing Daddy’s arms, proving that even children who face significant challenges can benefit and even thrive from a life lived in the world and on the road.
  • I could tell you about hugging Amy and bursting into tears at the sheer joy of the herculean effort they’d made to push through some huge obstacles to be in the first week of their big adventure, and the privilege of getting to celebrate that monumental accomplishment with her in person after years of online correspondance.
  • I could tell you about the testosterone loaded boy fest that exploded in every direction 24-7.
  • I could tell you about Dylan and Gabe catching a HUGE crab on Monkey Beach and grilling it with some native dudes, and eating it, of course.

But instead, I’d rather tell you about the people:

Bohemian Travelers: The Hickcox family was largely responsible for organizing the meet up, for arranging wonderful apartments for us at rock bottom prices in their building and for unending cheerful energy in keeping the party moving forward. Our boys fell into instant bro-mance. Dylan and Gabe have been online friends for a while… we’ll definitely meet these people elsewhere. Mary and I became instant friends. They’ve lived abroad for about six years and have been traveling full-time for about ten months now. They wrote Monkey Beach and More about the experience.

Travel With Bender: Erin, Josh and their two littles are some of the most joyful travelers we’ve met. Relatively new to the travel lifestyle (about six months in, I think) they seem to have a knack for making the most of every moment. Erin has an infectious laugh and Josh wins the award for being the tallest dude I’ve had the privilege to feel short next to… and that’s saying something! Erin called us Strangers Partying in Penang!

A King’s Life: The most striking thing about the King family, upon meeting, is their eyes. They ALL have eyes the color of the Andaman sea and smiles just as sparkly! They hit the road about two and a half years ago and are currently based in Bali for the foreseeable future. They wrote A Perfect Storm in Penang, about this week.

Going Anyway: Jill and I have been long distance friends for quite some time, since before they hit the road with their five fabulous kids, from Banjo, who’s about a year and a half old, to their nine year old triplets, with a sweet five year old sandwiched in middle like the best kind of cheese. Meeting them in real life was the icing on the cake this week. They’re chosen family material, that was clear inside the first hug. Their family breaks every stereotype, shatters every “I can’t” and, above all else, inspires. Their quiet hearted joy is infectious. Plans are already in the works to connect with these folks again in the New Year. They wrote about their return to Penang that it was  Same, Same, But Different.

The Gabell-Davenports: Have the distinction of being non-bloggers. We fell in love with their sweet family when we were road tripping northern Thailand. Spencer is among our favourite elves and getting to celebrate his fifth birthday on an island beach with their family was a rare privilege. We’re hoping hard they find an excuse to take a quick vacation in Phuket before we move on in December… but if not, it’s already agreed that they’ll meet us in OZ when we get there.

Worldschool Adventures: I really did cry when I gave Amy her first big hug. I’ve been following this family’s progress from afar for several years as their dream has taken shape, they’ve pushed hard to make it happen and adjusted their expectations to overcome the obstacles that have been thrown in their way. There was actual cheering on our side of the world when their house sold last month! To get to meet them on day 8 of their odyssey was more than I could have hoped for. The best part? They’re coming home with us!! We’re hoping to be neighbours for a month or so while they get their feet on the ground in their new life. Did I mention that they’re Canadians? Icing on the cake! Amy wrote about Our Week in Penang on her blog.

Tami DeLuca & Rio: Travelers, sailors, world schoolers, followers of our blogs, but not so much bloggers themselves. Rio is 15, a musician and the first girl in Hannah’s age group we’ve run into in a LONG time. Needless to say, there was guitar playing to be heard.

Sarah Weber & Dakota: Long term expats in Penang and members of our online travel community, Sarah and Dakota rounded out the group with great senses of humor and joyful participation in dinners and pool parties. It was fun to meet someone who’d spent a bit longer in the area and had some perspective on what living in Penang longer term was like.

We’re in the van headed for Phuket this afternoon.

The Malaysia-Thai border was a breeze (I love it when I can write that about a border crossing!) The children, even the little ones in their second week of travel, and mid Asia-Adjustment-Syndrome, are doing great. Movies are being watched to pass the marathon 12 hours. School is being done, books are being read, plastic airplanes are dive bombing the back seat, and it’s beginning to look more and more like home. It’s been a long month away for me. I’m ready to be home for a few weeks, to hang out with new friends and enjoy extended community after our meet up.

I feel like we won the prize at the end of the week by getting to take Worldschool Adventures home with us!