When we walked down the ramp of the Fokker Friendship, we were slammed by a wall of heat. Once inside the tiny Kuching air terminal, we were ushered into the VIP Lounge, where all four of us--my brother, my mother, my father, and I were given baskets of orchids. They were delicate flowers, graceful wands with tiger-striped, salmon, and sky-white blossoms floating from them. In my almost 16 years, I had never seen such celestial blooms. Along with the orchids, we were handed glasses of water.
The second day after our arrival, my mother took me to the market in downtown Kuching only a few minutes from our spacious, low, open house on a hillside of fragrant bushes. As we walked into the main market street--a narrow alley of cramped, open store fronts--it was as though the scents of East Malaysia had entered my body and sucked up all the air. The smells of incense, greasy cooking, and animals, along with the crush of bodies and the shrieking of high-pitched Malay and Indian music mixed with Jefferson Airplane made me woozy. I grabbed my mother's arm. "Can we go back, Mom?"
I spent the next 3 days in bed, habituating my body to the heat and smells of East Malaysia. I came to love the market best of many fascinating aspects of Kuching, but that first week I was truly shocked by the culture.