THE AUTHOR

Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC.

He is a columnist for Bloguin's The Outside Corner. Previously, he was a MLB lead writer for Bleacher Report, and has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, SB Nation and MLive.com. 

You can also find him on the Twitter and the Facebook, where he craves your attention.

Someday, he'll get around to writing that novel.

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Entries in Malaysia Diaries (3)

Tuesday
Mar132012

Malaysia Diaries: In search of kimchee and a nap

someecards.com - I'm really swamped with things I shouldn't be spending time on right now.

So maybe you're thinking, "Ian, are you ever going to actually write about Malaysia?"

You could also be thinking, "Dude, it's been two weeks since you've written anything on your blog, let alone anything on your Malaysia trip. I don't care what you do anymore; I have an NCAA Tournament bracket to fill out." 

OK, that's fair. I'm not happy about it, either. I was kind of hoping to be done — or near done — with The Malaysia Diaries by now. But I've been preoccupied with some stuff, which I'll probably be writing about in one form or another. 

Anyway, I'm getting to Malaysia. But first, I have to get there, if you know what I mean. And I can't let our 10-hour layover in Seoul go without writing a little bit about it. 

We arrived in Seoul at about 5:30 a.m. local time. The airport was quiet and virtually deserted that early, which suited our dazed state of mind following a 14-hour flight from the States pretty well. (Although finding a place that was open to serve some coffee wouldn't have been bad.) 

With the sleek white-and-silver motif of the terminal, it felt sort of like being in a science fiction movie. If only we were floating. Physically, I mean. Mentally, we were totally floating. 

Going in, we knew a 10-hour layover would be rough. I would've loved to write about a food-hopping, booze-soaked trek through Seoul, like the ones Anthony Bourdain does on his new show. But the idea of going through immigration to leave the airport, trying to navigate a completely foreign city (which is who knows how far from the airport), getting back, going through security (and probably immigration) again, all while completely zombified from lack of sleep, held little appeal. 

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Besides, it was also really cold in Seoul. Like 24 degrees. There was snow on the ground and ice on the windows. I never knew it got that cold in Korea. I guess it stands to reason, given where South Korea is located in the hemisphere. But I was surprised (and surely naive), nonetheless. 

Knowing we would have 10 hours with not a lot to do, and preferring not to try and sleep on the rows of seats at the gate, we reserved a room at the airport transit hotel. (Although if we'd opted for sleeping on seats, Seoul's airport apparently expects this, because the seats don't have armrests. You can actually stretch out, if you prefer to piss off your fellow travelers by taking up three seats while they're looking for a place to sit.) This might be one of the best decisions we've ever made.

We reserved a six-hour stay at the transit hotel (12 and 24 hours are your other options), but if we checked in before 7:30 a.m., we'd have to buy a 12-hour stay. So we had about an hour to kill. 

If there was anything reassuring about our layover in Seoul, it's that many travelers were in the same circumstance. Maybe that's a slogan Seoul can use: "Asia's transit stop." At least one area is devoted entirely to people who need to take a load off and rest during a layover. As we walked down the concourse adjacent to the hotel, we saw several people sleeping (or trying to sleep) on the ledges of flower beds. If not for the sleek interior design, you might think this was a homeless shelter.

I wonder if those people were just so tired that they flopped down on the first bed-like surface they could find. Perhaps they couldn't take about 20 more steps. If they had, they would've found what we found. A cafe! (Coffee! Water! Diet Coke! Pastries!) And next to the cafe was a lounge. With lounge chairs. At least I think that's what you'd call these. 

There was only one chair open, so I let Mom have it. Besides, I wasn't exactly comfortable sleeping around a bunch of strangers. Also, I was afraid that if I went to sleep there, I wouldn't wake up. So I opted for checking e-mail, sucking down coffee and water, typing journal entries, and taking unsolicited snapshots of my sleeping mother. It's OK, Mom — you look fine. And you weren't snoring. Much.

Finally, we got our room. I wish I had a picture for you, but the space was so small that when I raised my camera, I was practically hitting the other wall. There were two single beds in the room, but close enough together that Mom and I were almost sharing a bed. Honestly, I didn't care — so long as I could sleep. Any time I tried to roll over, I almost fell off the bed. But I got five good hours of slumber. 

The room had a TV on the wall, upon which I could not find the Super Bowl. However, as cool as it would've been to watch the Super Bowl on an international channel, I wouldn't have stayed awake for the game. Also included were a small desk in front of a mirror and a mini-fridge. Oh, and a bathroom, of course. And after 14 hours on a plane, a hot shower was extremely welcome. 

It was kind of a letdown that the Seoul airport didn't include many restaurants with the native cuisine. But that might be for the best. Do you really want to sit next to someone on an airplane who's just eaten a spicy stew with kimchee? Or do you want to be trapped on a plane for seven hours after eating spicy stew with kimchee?

There was one place that sold fried rice and noodles, but when we stopped there at 6:30 a.m., it was sold out of seven of the 10 dishes on the menu. Seriously. Maybe they just hadn't been prepared yet. So as disappointing as it was, we had Smoothie King. In South Korea. But I ordered a red ginseng smoothie to give it an international feel. Take that, Bourdain. 

OK, we're going to Malaysia in the next post. I promise. 

Thursday
Mar012012

Malaysia Diaries: Dramamine wishes and murderous dreams

One of the first questions friends have asked me when talking about traveling to Malaysia is the length of the flight. Yeah, it's a doozy. About 24 hours on an airplane. That doesn't include the layovers and transfers, either.

I don't remember exactly how much layover time we had four years ago, which probably means it wasn't much of an issue. (I do remember having some time to hang out in Los Angeles International Airport, where I watched the Pistons lose to the Celtics in the NBA playoffs. Wasn't that a long time ago, Pistons fans?) Transferring flights wasn't a problem either. We just got off the plane in Taiwan while it refueled and cleaned up (aired out).

Yeah, not so much this time.

The trip began with a 5 1/2-hour layover in Atlanta, an airport that charges for wi-fi. (I know; most of them do.) Food courts and newsstands are only so interesting, so if not for the wi-fi provided by Sojourner's Cafe, I probably would've gone nuts. However, that's not exactly free, either. You have to order some food and drinks when hunkering down at a table for a couple of hours.

From there, the trip really got started with a 14-hour flight to Seoul, South Korea and a 10-hour layover awaiting us. Thinking about that much time ahead, during which it feels like you're not really doing anything, plays with your mind a bit. At home, with 24 hours to kill, you could clean the house, watch TV, run errands, cook dinner, get some work done or whatever else you might find to occupy yourself before going to sleep.

But what about when you're trapped on a plane? And later, in an airport terminal? Sure, you brought books and magazines to read, music to listen to, movies or TV shows to watch. But can you really lose yourself in those distractions and not think about how much more time you have to get through?

Of course, there's also sleep. I looked to that as my anchor, the thing that would get me through this long passage. My ability to sleep on an airplane is always something I've relied on. Four-hour flight to Seattle? No problem; I'll snooze through most of it. Just give me a window and a pillow to lean my head on.

Four years ago, I slept through a big chunk of the flight from Los Angeles to Taiwan (much to the envy of others in our travel group). I even slept through caffeine withdrawal, though I do remember waking up in a clammy sweat with a dull headache at one point. But even when I'd look at the flight path on the monitor and see that we had, say, six hours to go, I just thought, "Okay, I'll go back to sleep" and off I went.

Oh, it all sounded so easy. But apparently, my body had other ideas.

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I should've followed my mother's lead, popped a Dramamine and fallen into a drug-induced slumber. But I didn't take a Dramamine because I don't get motion sickness. Yet there was Mom, enjoying the side effects of drowsiness. God, I wanted those side effects.

Especially because I had an aisle seat. Nothing to lean my head against. And if I dared lean out a little bit, someone would walk by and jostle my head. Even if it was a petite Asian flight attendant, it was enough to wake me up. Also, for reasons I can't even comprehend, the guy sitting across the aisle from me felt the need to frequently stand up and get something from his carry-on bag in the overhead bin. Oh, and when he sifted through that bag, he'd stoop over and bump into me, waking me up again.

I truly came to hate this man. The fifth or sixth time he woke me up, I wanted to shove him into the closet-size bathroom and give him one of those quick neck-breaks, like they do in the movies. That's happened in a movie, right? Or was it just the one I was making in my mind?

Also, if you are sitting in front of me on a plane, I hate you too. Mr. or Ms. Lean Your Fucking Seat Back all the time. The damn thing only reclines two inches, but it's enough to lean down on my iPad while I'm trying to watch a movie. Or trying to eat. Oh, and does it bug you when I lean forward and rest my forehead on the back of your seat because it's the only comfortable position I can manage? Really, you can feel that? And it makes you want to move your seat back up? Give me at least 10 minutes of comfort, you sack of shit.

But back to having to the aisle seat. I always want the window, but I'm not sure how I feel about that anymore. Yes, I can lean against something and that will probably help me sleep. But in the four years since my last overseas flight, I've developed the need to pee more frequently. Hey, I'm trying to stay hydrated.

Not to mention that it's just healthy to get up every couple of hours and walk around to stretch your legs and get the blood flowing. And I sure as hell wasn't going to develop Deep Vein Thrombosis or a blood clot that could eventually travel to my lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism.

Although if I did have to die, at least it might be in the arms of one of the cute Asian flight attendants. Please bring me another hot towel, too. Just give me enough strength to kill the guy across the aisle before I leave this mortal coil.

So yes, I think I now prefer the aisle seat on any flight longer than seven hours. At least if I won't be taking any drugs. (Over-the-counter medications, of course. Well, maybe some of the good stuff only a doctor can prescribe.)

Tuesday
Feb282012

Malaysia Diaries: Prologue

No one wants to hear about your vacation.

Is that really true? I've always liked hearing about the trips people have taken, maybe because I haven't traveled all that much and figured I could get some vicarious enjoyment. But I get that people who have been slogging through work and haven't been able to get away don't necessarily want to hear about all the fun you had.

So if that's the case, you might not like my blog over the next week or two.

It's taken me a week to get my stuff together after getting back to the States and resuming a regular sleep schedule. (Malaysia is 13 hours ahead of the eastern time zone, so night was day and day was night for the first couple of days back.) But I think I've got myself right again and am finally ready to write about my two-week trip to Malaysia with my mother.

Four years ago, I visited Malaysia for the first time. It was an eye-opening experience, one in which I learned a lot about myself. Unfortunately, I didn't write very much about it.

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With prompting from my friend A., I made sure not to make the same mistake on my return trip. The trusty iPad was brought along, and I jotted down plenty of notes and journal entries which I'll be sharing. There's a seed of doubt in my mind that says anything I would've written four years ago, along with the photos I took, were better then. But I guess we'll never know.

Having visited Malaysia before, I was much less nervous this time around. I knew most everyone we'd be seeing. I was familiar with the food. I knew how it would go with taking a shower and using the toilet. I knew the heat would be oppressive. I knew the driving would terrify me. And I knew I would occasionally run into the language barrier, even though I'd had four years to learn some remedial Chinese.

Above all else, I was looking forward to being off the grid, tuning out all the noise of my regular life, and relaxing. We wouldn't do as much traveling this time around, but that was fine with me. Give me some nice scenery, the sun, an occasional cool breeze, and a book I hadn't taken the time to read, and I was going to be happy.

Besides, the point of this trip was for my mother to see her mother. My grandmother is 94 years old now and in deteriorating health. This could very well be the last time my mother sees her. And that cast a bit of a cloud, not to mention some uncertainty, over this visit. I think it's one reason my mother frequently procrastinated in arranging the trip, which is completely understandable.

Or maybe she dreaded spending almost 24 hours on an airplane for the flight to Malaysia. I know I did.