Journal 56: Back in Southeast Asia


Kuala Lumpur's Patronas Towers.

Kuala Lumpur’s Patronas Towers.

Well, I am finally back in my favorite region of the world, Southeast Asia.  This trip represents the fifth or sixth time that I have been to Malaysia.  It will be the first time that I have lived there, but I like to think that I am familiar enough with the area that I will adjust quickly and adequately.

This year has been a very active one for me.  And what I have done this year will hopefully win your forgiveness for not having kept up with my blog as I have wanted to these last eight months.

Along with having done a lot this year, I am also emerging from probably the toughest year in recent memory.  In just the last three months alone I lost the love of my life, I forfeited the opportunity to be a full-fledged Guatemalan expat, faced tragedy on the home front, nearly got mugged in one of the most violent countries in the world and was forced to leave probably the best shot at earning a Ph.D. that I have ever had (and that was completely paid for).

On the other hand, I also had some of the most amazing experiences of my life.

Since May, I have lived in Taiwan, the U.S., Guatemala and back to the U.S. where I moved from Maine to Virginia. Then I had a visit to the Middle East and started a new chapter in Malaysia.  And in the interim, I put myself through film school, visited five New England states, produced almost a dozen short documentary films, lived in the Mayan capital for the 5,000-year anniversary of the turn of its calendar, made some amazing new friends, published two ebooks, released two full-length documentaries from three countries (with a third coming soon) and traveled around the world for the third time.

It’s been an eventful year.  And even through some staggering losses and unimaginable challenges, I have resurfaced with new insights and am more sure than ever that I will be making this year one of my best ever.

My goals for this coming year are not so much numerous as they are important.  I have started a new position teaching at a college outside of Kuala Lumpur.  So while I am ecstatic about the idea of working back in the college setting and rekindling my love of instructing on the post-secondary level, I am also very sanguine about living in a place that I will be using as a hub for my photographic exploits in the coming years.  And my goals are befitting not only my passions in writing, photography and film, but also in my professional life as well.

With that in mind, the first thing I would like to do is to finish editing my newest film from Taiwan.  It should (hopefully) be released by the end of this month.  But if I am not settled until later in January, I will have to move the release date back to February.  This film is going to be really something.  I traveled to many of the islands around the country including Lanyu and the Penghu Islands.  I climbed way into the mountains and visited a giant gorge that seems so large that it cuts the earth in half.  I went to a fireworks festival where an entire town literally shot them at one another in a very dangerous, exciting celebration.  And I even saw this amazing festival of lights and lanterns.  This was a trip that enveloped the entire country; coast-to-coast, mountains and cities, and north-to-south.

After that, though, I will finally get to tackle the giant list of photography that I have yet to edit.  I have galleries from Java and Sumatra in Indonesia’s two largest stand-alone islands; a gallery of photos from Kota Kinabalu and Brunei on the island of Borneo; a huge list of photos from all over Taiwan; and I even have a few that I took around Guatemala in August and September this year.

The job that I will have here (which is awesome, by the way), along with only four teaching hours per day, affords me three day weekends every week.  So after I finish editing the film and going through all my unfinished photos, I will be heading out on every weekend and holiday that I can to get lots of footage of the best things to do in Malaysia.

This next film is going to be awesome.  Those of you who have been following my photography and this blog for a few years know that I already have many photos from Malaysia.  So I will be showcasing a lot of footage from the places that I have visited already and adding in many more highlights along the way.  I will also be adding a lot more travel tips and country-specific advice. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from my wonderful readers.  And people seem to like the shorts that accompany the longer films in-country.

For those who have been following my travel documentaries, you know that I have had a lot of recent success with my doc on the Philippines and in Hong Kong and Macau on my Youtube channel (which now totals more than 17,000 video views).  But if you watch these films, they were produced before I went back to film school over the summer.  So I plan on utilizing all the lessons that I learned this past year in creating better aesthetic, stronger composition and I will also be adding more of an “informing” feel to the narration.

I hope that my efforts will be rewarded by more views.  And if you like these films, please pass on the links and share them with others.  This, to me, is the best success I could ever hope for.  To know that people are genuinely enjoying what I am creating in an effort to share the amazing experience of travel is very gratifying for me.  So in the coming months, look for my best work to come.

First on the list of new films (after Taiwan, of course) will be Malaysia.  I will be hoping to get out to a new destination every other weekend.  This means that, along with jaunts through the cities, like Kuala Lumpur where I will go to the top of the famous Patronas Towers, I will also be going to amazing places like Penang, where the food and culture is like nowhere else in the country (or the world, for that matter).  I will go and be a part of the sacred Hindu festivals held within the limestone caves just seven miles outside KL known as the Batu caves.  I’ll take in some sun and forget about time at the majestic Perhentian Islands.  I’ll trek through the Taman Negara National Park where they have the longest canopy suspension bridges in the world.  I will see the world’s largest flower and hang out in orangutan-populated primary rainforests in and around the Cameron Highlands along Peninsular Malaysia’s central mountain range.  And I’ll even go over to Borneo where I will travel around Sabah and climb Mount Kinabalu, Southeast Asia’s tallest peak.

I might even tackle a longtime goal of mine to go skydiving.  I’ve already done a little homework, and it looks like the highest jump goes from about 12,000 feet, reaches vertical drop speeds of 190kph and I can do it just about any day of the week for less than $400.  The last time I was investigating it, I was too heavy to go tandem.  But since I’ve lost about 20 lbs., I’m good to go!

Whatever I decide to do, I will be making this next documentary an amazing one.  It will be full of cool information, tips and advice and I will also have tons of additional footage that I will release after the film is produced.  I will also be following it up with my latest book, Moving Stills Volume Five: Faces of Religion in Malaysia, which documents and discusses the many facets of religious diversity throughout the peninsular portion of the country.

Beyond that, I will be able to do Singapore, Indonesia and possibly even East & West Timor by the end of the year.  I don’t want to put too much on my plate, but I definitely want to leave something enticing to look forward to in the coming months.

So look for those to come soon and feel free to watch all the films that I produced throughout the year on my Youtube Channel.

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