The Big Blog Exchange

By Jeremy Fowler / Hostelling International

A Tale of Two Countries

Back in March, Hostelling International began a search for 16 bloggers from all over the globe who would swap lives with each other during the Big Blog Exchange.

Hundreds of bloggers entered the competition in the hope of becomingone of those lucky bloggers to take this trip of a lifetime. Canadian Jeremy Fowler was one of those lucky bloggers—he swapped places with Chee Ching and headed to her native Malaysia, while she came to Canada to experience our amazing country. The competition will be running again in 2014, it is open to ALL types of bloggers from around the world–so if you have a blog, be it about food, fashion, hiking, biking or even cupcakes, you can enter at bigblogexchange.org

The Other Side of the World

My alarm went off. It was 2 a.m. I was on my friend's couch in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. In 30 hours, I'd be on the other side of the world.

Nothing was open when I arrived at Halifax Stanfield International Airport. This was the first time I was leaving the continent, my first solo international travel, and the furthest I had ever been away from home.

As I sat alone in the airport, I thought about the loneliness of the trip. I wondered why I would ever want to leave home for certain death. I had no idea what illnesses and airborne bacteria I would be subject to there. I could get hepatitis from ice cubes or brain swelling from a bug bite.

I flew from Halifax to Toronto and ran to my connecting fight to Hong Kong. My excitement had turned into nerves. The trip was finally real.

I never thought I would go to Malaysia. 

To be honest, I could not even point out Malaysia on the map. My road to the trip started three months earlier while I was walking my dog near my apartment in downtown Fredericton, New Brunswick. We passed the local hostel and I realized that I had never stayed at a hostel, nor had I even seen the inside of one. So I Googled it when I got home and found an advertisement for The Big Blog Exchange.

The Big Blog Exchange was put on by Hostelling International. 

They sent out a call for bloggers who were inspired to change the world through blogging and international travel. I signed up and started getting my friends to vote for me. After six weeks of voting, I was ranked fourth in the world, and was shortly thereafter selected to participate in the exchange. My exchange partner was in Malaysia. Next thing I knew, I was in the Hong Kong International Airport, trying to get my connector fight to Malaysia.

It was in Hong Kong where I developed the skill of getting through airports. Navigating through the Halifax and Toronto airports was easy because I spoke the language and have been through both of them before. I have never seen anything like the airport in Hong Kong. Then I found myself in the position of having no idea where to go, I found it best to look as though I had no idea what I was doing. Usually a nice person wearing a tie would look at my boarding pass and send me in the right direction.

When I landed in Malaysia, it was night. The rain was heavy and I was overwhelmed by the heat. 

My breath was sucked out of me as soon as I stepped outside. My guide, Noh, directed me to the car where I had my first culture shock experience. I discovered that traffic drives on the left side of the road.

Malaysia was once ruled by the British and is still part of the Commonwealth. Noh explained to me that Malaysia gained its independence peacefully and how the ruling government party has not changed since independence.

Over the next five days, Noh and my second guide, Mimi, showed me the sites. We travelled all over the countryside and saw elephants and monkeys. I have never seen wildlife like that. Elephants are absolutely breathtaking, they seem like really big dogs! We explored Kuala Lumpur. We climbed the stairs at the Batu Caves and watched the KL Towers at night from the Sky Bar. Mimi took me out on a walking tour one day to Independence Square, several museums, and religious sites.

Most people asked me how the food was: though I did enjoy it, I didn't think it was anything to write home about. 

I did particularly enjoy two chain restaurants: Papa Rich, which had the largest hot and cold beverage menu I have ever seen; and  Old Town White Coffee, which is kind of like a cross between Tim Hortons and Wendy's.

After the first couple of days, I had the privilege of visiting Singapore, where I met up with Sophie, the Big Blog Exchange winner from Great Britain, and Jo, the HI representative in Singapore. Jo met me at the bus station and took me to some sites around the city. We went to see the Merlion statue in the park, and walked around the Gardens by the Bay.

Singapore is a breathtaking country. The country is so small, yet every inch of it is designed; every tree was engineered to be in a certain spot, and once they ran out of space they began to build on the water. I got a panoramic view of the country from the Flyer. The Flyer is a big Ferris wheel except that the open air benches have been replaced by small climate-controlled glass rooms.

The following day, Sophie and I went to Pulau Ubin, the last undeveloped island in Singapore. We took a walking tour of the island. Our guide explained that it's the last bit of nature Singapore has to offer and that the government is pushing to develop it.

Sophie and I went back to Malaysia for two days to the historical city of Malacca. We saw a traditional lion dance and went to the night market. We found a couple of different places to grab a beer and the following day we went to the beach.

The beach is where it all hit me—I was sitting halfway across the world. 

Yes, there were a lot of differences, but there were also a lot of similarities. Everything in Southeast Asia was not going to kill me. People are the same wherever you go. I met some incredible people from around the world on this trip that I would not have any other way. No matter where you go, you will be able to find these caring people if you look hard enough.

That was my first trip abroad and I am already looking forward to the next one. Thanks Big Blog Exchange!



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