It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
The east coast of Malaysia spreads out against the southern shore of the South China Sea. She is studded with gorgeous tropical beaches and for many of my Malaysian friends, a deep source of hometown pride and joy.
As I stood with my pale white toes in the warm eastern waves, I completely understood their passion.
It's hard to capture the all-encompassing beauty of the seaside in a series of photos, but I tried. Here, first, is Kelantan's Tumpat Beach, near the northern border of Malaysia which bumps up against the southern end of Thailand. It's a popular destination for the locals, and the warm, clear waves and golden sands are typically full of happy families enjoying their natural treasure.
A few days later and an hour to the south, I paid a visit to another lovely spot in Terengganu. More soft sand, warm waves and tropical bliss, but almost no people. The undercurrents are too strong for swimming so this beach is much less popular than busy Tumpat.
Sadly, I must confess that these photos hide an ugly truth.
The second beach, at Terengganu, is every bit as beautiful as these photos suggest.
But the first beach is living a lie.
I am sorry to say it, but Tumpat Beach has a big problem.
A litter problem.
Every square meter of that glorious oceanside playground in covered in litter.
Plastic carry-out bags.
Empty water bottles.
Foam clam shells.
Plastic drink cups.
I could not bring myself to photograph the mess in a truthful light; most of my photos were carefully framed to avoid the trash. But if you squint at this shot of the kite-filled skies over the upper beach, you'll see the teltale white speckles across the Tumpat landscape.
It's a tragedy, isn't it.
As I wandered across these two beaches - one filthy and the other utterly pristine - my heart ached with sadness for sweet Malaysia,and my thoughts kept circling back to this:
People caused this litter problem. And people need to fix it.
And somehow, I think that I want to be part of the solution.
There is prodigious strength in sorrow and despair.