10 November 2012


Paul’s birthday was way more fun than my birthday, even though I planned my festivities well in advance. At least we both got what we wanted, right? What did Paul want to do for his birthday? One word: nothing. That’s right, nothing. So we did absolutely nothing.

I did not go into the RDA.
I did not go to the store.
We did not leave the house at all.
We did not even open the door.
We napped, I’m pretty sure.

Then I came back from Seussland and made us some dinner. After a bit of time in front of the TV, we went to bed. It was a truly uneventful day, and it was exactly what Paul wanted.

The next day, however, would have a super stellar surprise. At least it would have had I not been sick all week. Not having had solid food in a couple days, I did not feel comfortable confirming my presence in a small plane the next morning. Yeah, I said plane.

Thanks to Paul’s amazing family, we were able to rent a Piper aircraft, a small, four-seat, single-engine prop plane that Paul could fly, with an instructor present, around Malaysia. Thanks to my sickness, we had to postpone the trip for 10 days, but we did it.

Paul is a professional pilot who spends hours a year in a jet. What he misses, however, is the ability to “fly low and fly slow.” He misses flying just a couple thousand feet above the ground at just a couple hundred miles an hour, taking whichever scenic route he wants, being led only by the potential thunder clouds he wants to avoid. We took quite a few trips in small planes while we were dating and then engaged, but it had been five years since Paul sat in the cockpit of a single-engine aircraft.

We were accompanied by Boon, a Singaporean who did some of his pilot training in the U.S. To be honest, Paul had more time in the Piper aircraft than our instructor, but it gave Paul and opportunity to show his expertise. I laughed when Paul was explaining how to avoid thunderstorms. “You just look out the window and say, (pointing), ‘There’s one, there’s one, there’s one…I’m going to go this way.”


We started the day in Singapore’s Little India, where we were told we could get a $60 taxi directly to Johor Bahru, Malaysia’s Senai Airport. Well, because we were white, we were charged more than that, even though I stated we had already been advised that the fare would only be $60. We crossed two border checkpoints and received another passport stamp – side note, I can now count my passport stamps on two hands!

Once at the airport, we were advised that we needed to wait an hour for the fog to clear before we would be allowed to take off. Paul let the flight school staff check the plane and then he was advised that he could climb into the left – pilot-in-command – seat. Paul and Boon called out the checklist as I situated myself in the back. I had to make sure that all of the goodies in my bag were secure and that my headset was comfortably placed on my head.

I brought sunscreen and sunglasses for good weather, an umbrella in case it rained, water bottles, a zip-up hoodie in case I got cold, our passports and wallets, the camera and, of course, three pairs of shoes. That I blame on Paul. I wore flip flops for comfort and brought along a pair of heels since we were to be enjoying lunch at a golf resort. Then, just as we were about to leave the house, Paul requested I bring a pair of tennis shoes and casually slipped in, “…in case we end up in the jungle.” “Um,” I replied after thinking a few seconds. “Do you mean in case we happen to land in the jungle?” “Yes.” At that point I might have reconsidered my great idea to rent a plane.

Being in the back, I had a headset that allowed me to listen to the boys’ conversations but prevented me from speaking. Paul thought this was genius. I was fine. I sat in the back and took photos and videos.

Paul took off and only made a slight mistake that was nowhere near life-threatening. He took control well and remembered what it was like to actually have to fly a plane. We got to look out the windows and see Malaysia like this:

Our route to Tioman Island, locally Pulau Tioman, had been prearranged. We followed a path that led us to Malaysia’s east coast and flew north overlooking the water. I tried to capture as many photos as possible but, after a while, found myself in a spot where there wasn’t much else to see. The fog had come in and I was convinced I had some time to flip through my camera to review my captured photos.

I happened to look up and out the window to my right I was surprised to see mountains behind the fog. I don’t know how but we suddenly found ourselves approaching Tioman, a large, tree-covered island (only compared to the small pop-ups we had passed to that point). And, yes, I realize they were not mountains but the tree-covered peaks were beautiful.

We landed next to a school, which was somewhat amusing. It was also fun to learn that the runway paralleled the water and there were mountains on either side.

The view down this side (the direction in which we landed)

And the view this way (in which we took off)

Paul laughed at the sight of danger…literally. He thought this was a pretty funny place to put a runway.

Instead of the nice golf club we were promised, Boon took us to a local place where cats roamed under the tables and cleaned the plates when customers left. This restaurant also made me take note that the next time I visit this island, I need to bring my own napkins, my own soap and yes, even my own toilet paper.

After our 20 U.S.D. smorgasbord that filled the table and attracted all the cats, Paul and I wandered off on our own for a bit. We walked down to the beach where we saw a small boatload of scuba divers coming ashore. Unlike Singapore, the sea was calm and not filled with boats as far as the eye can see. The only boats we saw were parked in the marina.

We walked in the water and I was beyond excited to know that I was walking in the waves of the South China Sea. I felt so blessed with so many opportunities in my life, including the ability to be standing in the South China Sea on a beautiful day.

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