In 2013, after a three month bicycle tour in Southeast Asia, my girlfriend Mary Catharine flew back to the U.S. from southern Thailand. I had a few extra weeks, so I decided to continue on through Malaysia. During my first day alone I managed to get spicy curry in my eyes, eat shrimp, to which I’m very allergic, and take a “shortcut” on a deserted single lane road into a jungle full of monkeys with questionable intentions at best. There are two events I’ll never forget during those last 700 miles.
The first was on a busy highway a day or two ride from the Malaysian border. A massive golden statue of a Buddhist monk rose out of the jungle. Directly beneath it, amid rushing traffic, lay a stray dog in a splattering of blood, biting at its intestines. I thought about trying to pull it off the road but I was worried it would bite me or a car would hit me.
The second was Mohamed Miqdad.
Some people back home warned me not to travel through Malaysia since its population was predominantly Muslim. I’d never visited an Islamic country and didn’t know what to expect. In northern Laos, MC and I had befriended a Hungarian honeymooning around the world on their bicycles. Their favorite country they’d visited in the year and a half they’d been traveling was Iran. Each day dozens of people invited them to meals and to stay the night at their homes. They never once were able to pay for a place to sleep.
I’ve bicycled across Canada, the U.S. and made three other long rides in North America. Granted, I look like a bigger and meaner version of Charles Manson, but I can count on one hand the number of times people asked me to a meal or to stay the night at their house in those countries. One man had been a predator. Another invited to “have me for dinner” at his castle — maybe he didn’t actually want to eat me but I decided to be cautious and declined his offer.
In Malaysia, as I rode down the west coast, I was impressed with the industrial sprawl, delicious food and the kindness and welcoming nature of people. When I was a day’s ride from Kuala Lumpur, a car pulled over on a busy highway and a young man got out and introduced himself as Mohamed Miqdad. After a pleasant conversation, he invited me to have dinner with his family.
“Thank you, but I … I was hoping to make it to the next town,” I said trying to think of any excuse to avoid a potentially awkward social situation. I’m an introvert, and a shy one at that. An hour later I was sitting on Miqdad’s couch being entertained by his 3-year-old son. His wife and their infant daughter joined us and listened in disbelief as I told them about Alaska. They told me of their lives, hobbies and hopes that the IT business Miqdad had recently started would grow so they could travel more. When we figured out a rough estimate of what it would cost to visit Alaska, Miqdad and his wife exchanged hopeless looks. Once again, how privileged I was struck home. Dinner was amazing. They’d gone to the market and splurged on a specialty fish and made a delicious nasi lemak in honor of me being their guest. I was offered eating utensils but elected to follow Miqdad’s lead and eat with my hands. Afterwards we talked a few more hours until I was vacillating between almost falling asleep and trying not to wonder if I would become roadkill when I tried to bike around Kuala Lumpur. Miqdad apologized for not having room for me to spend the night and drove me to my hotel.
“I wanted you to experience a simple Muslim family,” he said.
Thank you, Mohamed Miqdad. Someday I hope I can repay you.
• Bjorn Dihle is a Juneau writer.