Round the World Travel - Making Friends

Meeting Up With Old and New Friends While Traveling ‘Round the World

I met Dr. Fauziah Ahmad in 2007, during my first ever round-the-world trip. We happened to be on the same city tour of Hanoi, Vietnam, and bonded when we had to fight to get a portion of our money back because the tour operator failed to deliver on promises to take us to see the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum. We later attended a performance at the Water Puppet Theater, followed by dinner, at the end of which we exchanged contact information and she invited me to visit her in Penang, should I ever make it to Malaysia.

Dr. Fauziah Ahmad and husband, Ahmad Shukri Yahaya

Over the years we’d exchanged a few emails, but hadn’t been in regular contact, so I held off contacting her until I knew for sure my arrival dates. Once I had arrived and recovered from my horrible experience in China, I emailed to let her know I was in Penang. Realizing it was short notice, I told her I’d understand if she didn’t have time to get together, but I underestimated the bonds of friendship made during travel.

The following week, Fauziah arrived at my guest house and whisked me away to her home for the night, where she set me up in her guest room and introduced me to her lovely family. But that was only the beginning; she had plans for me…

Sitting in on student's practice presentation to Dr. Fauziah Ahmad

Fauziah is a geotechnical engineer specializing in soil stability, landslides, and ground improvement, and a full professor at the Universiti Sains Malaysia (Malaysia University of Science). She had timed my visit to coincide with the Hari Raya Adilfitri, one of the high Muslim holidays, and insisted that I accompany her to the University the next morning, where I would sit in on a presentation by one of her students and afterward attend the school’s Hari Raya celebration.

But if you don’t mind, I am going to dress you for the occasion,” Fauziah said the night before. Apparently my khakis would have been inappropriate.

The next morning my old friend dressed me in a floor-length two piece shimmery gown, gorgeously embroidered with gold lame, and finished me off with long beads and a glittering brooch at the neck. I felt like a queen as I settled onto the couch in her office and listened to one of her students practice a presentation to be given at an upcoming conference, where he would introduce a new ground stabilization system that Fauziah has developed utilizing old tires.

Hari Raya Adilfitri feast

Afterward, Fauziah and her husband, Shukri, who is also an Assistant Professor at the University, escorted me through the doors of a large hall, where everyone I was introduced to grasped my hand between theirs and then touched their fingertips to their heart in the traditional Muslim greeting. I was honored to sit at the head table with other professors and, along with a couple hundred engineering students, share in a delicious feast celebrating the occasion. Later, I was given the go-ahead to take photos and the moment I raised my camera, students rushed to be included.

Civil engineering students ham it up for the camera

Young men in traditional Malaysian dress rushed to have their photo taken with me

Two days later I had a second opportunity to meet up with a friend on the road, David Hogan, Jr., owner and editor of the popular travel blog Malaysia Asia. David and I “knew” each other because we are both Lonely Planet Blogsherpas, part of a group of hand-picked travel bloggers whose destination articles are imported into the Lonely Planet website. Although we’d never met in person, we’d exchanged emails and tweeted and communicated via Facebook, so when he was scheduled to be in Penang for a government sponsored travel blogging conference during my stay, we made plans to get together for dinner.

David brought along Lex Liang, the only other Malaysian Blogsherpa travel blogger, and introduced us all to the delights of New Road, the best local hawker food court in Penang. After dinner David and I headed for the streetside cafe at the Straits Collection Hotel, where the manager insisted we sample every dessert on her menu. I resisted for about three seconds, but when plate after plate of goodies appeared before me, including my favorite, cheesecake, I relented and dug in!

David takes photos of desserts served up by manager of Straits Collection Hotel & Cafe

Meet-up with fellow travel blogger David Hogan, Jr.of Malaysia Asia blog

More and more, my travels are focusing on people rather than visiting famous sights crammed with tourists, where no sign of the local culture is to be found. I count my friends from all walks of life, but those I’ve met on the road are kindred spirits who enrich my travel experience in a way no attraction or sightseeing tour can. Thank you David and Fauziah; I carry you both in my heart.

14 Comments on “Meeting Up With Old and New Friends While Traveling ‘Round the World

  1. I’ve always found it’s better to see a place through the eyes of someone local and go where they go, do what they do than to make for every top tourist site in the guidebook. Muslim hospitality is legendary, glad you got the best of it.

  2. Nice post. Wow a wonderful opportunity enjoy with old and new friend.I love that you give such a great example of how much better your travels can be when you connect with the people who actually live there.

  3. Its always great to immerse yourself in local culture and mingle with the locals. That’s what travel is all about!

  4. I love this Barbara! Since you love meeting up with locals – I think it’s another reason you should try couch surfing! It’s great that you hooked up with a Blogsherpa! I have to remember to look them up next time I leave the country!

  5. One of my favorite aspects of traveling and what really makes me love Twitter, Facebook, email, etc. so much. It’s so easy to communicate with people from all over the world and of course technology lets us quickly (and safely) reach those places as well.

  6. Many travel friends are brief acquaintances on the road, but a treasured few are friedns for life bonded by the beauty of travel. What a great tale of staying in touch and people treasuring the chance to share their own life and culture with you. Great article.

    • Thanks Mark – glad you liked it and glad I decided to write it – I debated
      because it wasn’t my normal piece but the comments are rewarding me 😉

  7. Connecting with local people is definitely what makes global travel so awesome. When I think back on the various countries I’ve been, the first memories that come to mind are not memories of monuments and statues; they’re memories of the friends I made there. When I think of Paris, for example, I think about the young Polish couple who had me over for dinner in their tiny apartment and told me all about their dreams for a better future for their newborn daughter. I think of the family at the Louvre that adopted me for the day as we wandered about the museum and talked about their life in Marseille. I love that you give such a great example of how much better your travels can be when you connect with the people who actually live there. The pictures – especially the one of civil engineering students hamming it up for the camera – give me a peek into the Malaysian culture I would never have gotten from reading about a monument or other tourist attraction. Thank you for sharing your touching experience with us!

    • Hi Anis: Thank you SO much for your comment. I debated over whether I should
      write the post, only because I didn’t know if anyone other than me would
      find it interesting. But in the end I decided to do it because, as you say,
      it’s not the famous sites that create memories, it’s the people, always the
      people. The longer I travel, the slower I go, the less interested I am in
      the major tourist attractions, and the more interested I am becoming in just
      sitting in local coffee shops or wandering the back alleys to discover the
      true essence of places.

  8. What a great story Barbara! I’m heading to Bangkok in a week to meet a friend I met in Jordan and Berlin in two weeks to meet up with a friend that I met in Kenya. The world really is small 🙂

    • It sure is, Wandering Sole! I’m more amazed every day by just how small.

  9. What a wonderful opportunity. I love those meetings because one gets so much closer to the culture. Beats every sightseeing opp or souvenir. I call it ‘memory making’ 😉

    • Fida – I love the term “memory making” – thanks for sharing that!

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