After switching to a fruitarian diet that consisted of 75% fruits and 25% vegetables, a diet inspired by Michael Arnstein, one of the world’s top endurance athletes, American Geoffrey Parker felt so energised that a backpacking trip around Southeast Asia at the age of 70 did not sound like such a bad idea. It would also be something to occupy his time having recently retired from publishing a community newspaper in Bellingham, Washington. And so, after making a visit to his daughter who resides in Perth, Australia, Parker packed his bags, took an almost six-hour flight and landed in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
While in the capital city of the Land Below the Wind, the septuagenarian who originated from Pasadena, California found volunteering opportunities on the internet. His first job was as a landscape worker with a hotel near Mount Kinabalu. Of his backpacking adventure, Parker explained, “I didn’t want to just travel but to proactively look for chances to assimilate with the locals.”
This plan took Parker from Sabah to voluntary positions at a yoga retreat near Sungai Petani in Kedah, a Hare Krishna centre near Mentakab and as far as Baguio City in the Philippines, Kratie in Cambodia as well as Myanmar’s Mandalay. After a short stay in Kuala Lumpur, Parker read online about Ipoh. The city’s reputation of being a place where many millionaires lived plus old photos that depicted a ‘Wild West’ atmosphere intrigued him. The new-found adventurer decided to take a bus north to Ipoh.
“By then, I was already tired of the packing and unpacking moving from place to place. As the bus rolled into the city, I was greeted by a clear blue sky accompanied by fresh air. It was such a welcoming feel that I thought to myself that this is where I shall take a break from all the travelling!
“Having lived in Ipoh for close to two months now, the blue sky is gone and I have discovered that there IS pollution here, after all. Nonetheless, I have no regrets spending time here and plan to stay put for at least six months.
“My initial attraction to Ipoh may have waned a little but overtime, I have grown to love some other aspects of the city. It is small enough to get away from chaotic traffic, allowing people to jog easily, yet, big enough to offer its residents organic food at supermarkets. I already have my favourite place to buy large plastic sleeves of cool tropical fruits for only a Ringgit each.
“I enjoy admiring the jagged limestone hills far off in the distance yet experience the weekend crowds in Old Town. I really like seeing the contrast in architecture between upscale residential areas and heritage buildings such as the train station,” added Parker.
Not long after his arrival, the affable Parker has already made friends with some locals. “One of them invited me to join his group to hike on Sunday mornings. I am still discovering the many nature adventures that Ipoh offers just outside of city limits.”
Much as Parker now loves his newly-adopted city, he feels that Ipoh would improve drastically if it had dedicated bicycle lanes. Parker, who procured a secondhand bicycle in Ipoh for RM500, has discovered that it is not as easy to move around on his bike as he had initially thought.
He went on, “It would also be great if there were more recycling bins all over the city. The authorities should also think about providing major tax incentives for individuals or companies who go the green way, such as install solar panels in their properties.”
Another thing that Parker is still trying to get used to is the difficulty in accessing really healthy food. He explained, “I busted my fruitarian diet the moment I became a backpacker two years ago. I am still looking for a place that offers totally plant-based meals. There are so many delicious salads that I can’t get here. It doesn’t help that there is no kitchen where I currently live. That’s what I miss the most although I have no desire to return to the United States.”
After six months in Ipoh by the end of the year, it is probably time for Parker to move on. He has a few options in mind: the provinces of Hainan or Yunnan in China or back to Myanmar to volunteer. “I hope to find a place where there is no pollution, where I can care for the environment by using alternative energy and grow my own organic produce; a place that doesn’t put turning a profit first,” he added.
Note: An edited version of this article [Wanderlust at 70] was published on 23rd July, 2016 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.