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.

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