Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Truly Asia? Part 2

On a hot and muggy Wednesday Bob left for meetings and I took a walk through some construction areas to get to Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex. The complex sells batiks, clothing, and all manner of touristy wooden craft. Beyond the florescent lights and high price tags, rests a small garden where several artists' huts reside. I wandered around till I found a Malaysian woman making beautiful batiks. She and her sister went to art school, then applied for a hut to sell their batiks, and for $20 ringits, let visitors make their own. Eager to sit out of the sun I plopped down at the table, picked a design, and got to work. Batiks are made by 'drawing' hot wax on a piece of cotton or silk. You then paint the canvas, with the wax keeping the colors from mixing. When finished the wax is removed and colors set. Because I am artistically challenged, I had to have a little help with the wax (my lines would have made a 3 year-old blush with embarrassment). But in the end I made a beautiful piece of artwork that looks a lot harder than it was because it would have been if I hadn't cheated.

Bob returned with the afternoon rainstorm. We hopped in a taxi and took the 20 min ride out to Batu caves. I was really excited to see the limestone caves, dotted with statues of Hindu Gods. We arrived in a light downpour, walked past the massive golden statue of Lord Subramaniam, and made our squishy, rain soaked way up the 272 narrow steps to the temple cave, only having to skirt around one monkey.Within the cave were various statues and shrines.Though the cave was really impressive, I was expecting a sacred feeling, with the massive natural caves adding to the spiritual effect. I was not expecting tacky tourist shops blaring music, flashing light trinkets, and scaffolding and bags left haphazardly around the caves. Bob and I caught our breath (from the stairs, not the sights), passed the ice cream man and his freezer of snacks, and headed back to the taxi.
That night we met Jim and went to a street filled with food hawkers. We ate at a plastic table set up by the curb, ordered some Tiger beers, and ate some yummy food while ignoring the man that tried to sell us the same basket and blinky green light three times. After a few beers Jim asked me what time it was. I looked at my phone and said, "It's two past midnight." "Happy Birthday," he replied. And holy crap I was 30.

We walked around the corner to a massage place (open till 2am incase you feel the need) and Jim treated Bob and me to a good but painful couple's massage. I had a rather large lady punching my back and as I lay there trying not to squirm and wondering when it was supposed to feel good I heard SSSsssnnnnooorrre! snooooore! I lifted my head, looked to my right and found Bob completely asleep and snoring away.

I started laughing into my pillow, the lady massaging me started laughing, then the one massaging Bob. My lady asked, "Oh, so sorry he snore all the time?"

"Yes," I replied, "All the time."

"Ohhh, tsk tsk."

Bob woke up at the end of the 45 minutes and said, "That felt good, but it was so short."

The next day I wrote at the Sky Bar while drinking mojitos and eating sushi, two guys tried to take my purse (they failed) when I walked back from the mall, and Bob, Jim, Brad, and I went to a nice Malaysian restaurant and had more mojitos. Jim was getting a cold so he left after dinner while the rest of us went out for more drinks. We were supposed to meet Jim at 7am to head to the rainforest. Due to accumulated drinks and age we didn't make it till noon. It was a fun birthday.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Truly Asia?

Slogans of "Malaysia, Truly Asia" pepper the angular, architecturally pleasing airport. Two passengers disembark from Singapore Airlines. The male worries about his meeting the following day. The female's elbows are sore from jabbing a sexist man that had sat beside her, thinking that because she was a woman she deserved no leg, arm, or breathing room. She smiles knowing that the ignorant man will have sore elbows too,and perhaps a sore rib or three.

The couple gather their bags packed with 6 days of clothes, step out of the airport, and, promptly, get bitch-slapped with a wall of humidity. But first, the backstory:

One week before my 30th birthday Bob came home with a hopeful/horror-stricken expression. He sat me down and said, "I have some bad news, but possibly good news."

He was told by work he had to visit Kuala Lumpur for a week. Unfortunately he had to go during my birthday. Not great timing. I called my boss. She was awesome and encouraged me to go, the pups could wait. Bob and I looked at tickets that night, but they were too expensive. Two days later, with a gargantuan stroke of good luck and a great deal, I got to tag along!

I had less than a week to learn about a country. But even more daunting, I had less than a week to try to get Bob and his brother Jim to be decisive. Putnam boys are not know for decisiveness. They're more of the "go with the flow" mentality. Which is normally great, but needing to make travel plans with companies without websites or telephone numbers takes a bit more forward thinking.

The week flew by and on Monday morning we left our home and cats, telling Darwin to be nice to Dingo, and Dingo to be nice to our house and not pee on anything.

A cab playing, "Eye of the Tiger" drove us haphazardly into the muggy, Kuala Lumpur night. A silver skyline glittered on the horizion, the elegant spires of the Petronas Towers welcoming us to the modern wealth of KL. We arrived at our beautiful hotel, then met Jim, who has been working in Malaysia for two months, and his boss for dinner. I was groggy from the 9 hour flight and dramamine, so I don't remember much of that.

Tuesday I went to breakfast with Bob. I was amazed by the varied dress of women. Depending on their religion (Islam is the official religion in Malaysia) women wore burkas, headscarfs, modest clothing, or fairly skimpy outfits. This wide scale of apparel was seen all about the streets of KL as women headed about the city. I chose to go with modest capri pants and three-quarter sleeves. Modest enough I was unlikely to offend anyone, cool enough I was a little less likely to pass out.

Bob headed to work so I took a cab to Thean Hou Temple, dedicated to the goddess, The Heavenly Mother. On either side of her rested Guan Yin, Goddess of Mercy, and Shui Wei Sheng Niang, Goddess of the Waterfront. I examined a painting on the outside of the temple and decided these are some handy goddesses to have around...particularly if you're being attacked by a tiger.

After admiring the temple, and the oddly tacky sculptures guarding the parking lot, I headed to Menara Kuala Lumpur. The tower rests within a small rainforest boarded by the bustle of downtown. I took in hazy views from 276 meters in the sky, then wandered by the "KL tower pony rides" to walk in a bit of rainforest. I strolled the paths for a short while, until the soggy trail, biting bugs, and oppressive heat reminded me I was unprepared for a hike in the mud. I went back to the tower, grabbed some water, and met Bob for lunch at the base of the Petronas Towers. There I had to withhold the temptation to sit on the escalator because, apparently, it was illegal. Bob had to work on the computer that afternoon, so I swam in the hotel pool and drank a martini, rough life, I know.

That night we met Jim at Central Markets where we perused aisles of souvenirs made in China. Jim expertly haggled with a cab driver that was trying to rip us off, then we shortly arrived at the dilapidated wonder that is the Coliseum Cafe & Hotel. A friend recommended the hotel to Jim as a great place for steaks. Built in the 1920's I don't think it had been repainted or cleaned since. I sat at our grim table, trying to not look like I was fearing for the life of my digestive track. We ordered 3 tiger beers, then our old waiter shuffled up. Turns out he'd been working there for over 40 years. He took one look at us, flipped past the 4 pages of mains, and stabbed his pen below the list of steaks. In rough English he asked, "Which one?" We promptly and politely ordered our pepper steaks, and another round of tigers.

Sizzling griddles were rolled out on a cart and our steaks, rare, medium rare, and well done (guess which one was mine) were plopped on our respective plates then doused in enough gravy to sink a boat. The boys dug right in. I took another swig of beer, looked at the cobwebs in the corner, then took a bite of the best steak I've ever had. So equally summing up my first two days in Malaysia: different than I expected, but hidden with pleasant surprises.