Ramadan Lite the Malaysian Asian way
Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
53Trip End Oct 17, 2008
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The Air Asia ride to this predominantly Muslim country was for the most part uneventful. At the airport in Vientiane you wait for your plane in a big room with hard black plastic seats and grey walls. One whole side of the room is glass and it lets in just enough sun to bake the entire contents of the room. After you've simmered for a while in it you walk outside to get to your plane, skipping the jetways that seem to be rusted into place.
My first memory of Malaysia will be stepping onto that plane and hearing Donna Summers on the PA. It just seemed so out of place on an foreign Airbus at a third world airport. So cool and so unexpected. I can also report that Asian children on planes are just as much the same spawns of Satan as in the US. Air Asia has open seating so we chose the emergency exit row of course for more room. A few rows back the little hellions were settling in for the 2.5 hour flight with mom, dad and grandpa. The kids sang, cried, yelled, banged on everything and were flipping around all around the cabin. I just wanted to walk back there and do the parent's job for them. Do parents just become immune to their own kids' noise?
At one point I turned around just to see what the racket was and one of the little girls looked right at me and put her index finger up to her lips to shush me. Me!! I hadn't even said a word to her but right then I was ready to put my own middle finger up in the air and aim it two rows back at the mother. Little girl, I'm not the one making all the racket in this tiny aluminum tube. Why don't you put your finger up to your mouth again, look in the mirror and shush yourself?
About halfway into the flight the kids back there got awfully quiet and I was smiling at the peace. Next thing I knew mama was yelling "Sku plea, sku plea." at the top of her lungs at the flight attendants 15 rows up. People around her were trying to show her how to press the call button but that just made her yell even louder. Now since the flight attendants were Malaysian they understood right away what sku plea means. For those of you who are uninitiated and only speak the American version English, shouting "Sku plea" at the top of your lungs roughly translates as "Ma'am, Excuse me please. I desparately need your help."
Now I don't know if those kids were Malaysian or Laotion so it was either Buddha or Allah who finally silenced the brats by causing them to all unleash a volcano of vomit on each other. Thanks to a higher power we finally got some peace and quiet and the little hellions got a taste of their own medicine. To think that the little girl had tried to shush me. Who's shushing who now?
After a finally peaceful hour in the air, we arrived at the Kuala Lumpur Low Cost Terminal which is separate from the main terminal. In the airport customs area there was an ancient brown tv from the 70s complete with dials playing some mullah singing Muslim stuff. That reminded me it's Ramadan and I was dreading what that meant in terms of eating. Much to my surprise I saw people eating and drinking everywhere so obviously in Asia it's Ramada Lite. I am glad that this is a culture that values food and drink more than Mohammed's vision to go without when the sun is up. What a difference from a week ago in the Middle East where you can go to jail for breaking the fast in public. But have no fears everyone, next week we will be back to reality in Tunisia and back to the hard core version.
The Air Asia bus for the hour ride from the airport to the city is about $2 and worth every penny. It arrives at Central Station where you go to a taxi desk to get a flat rate taxi to your final destination for about another $2 (do you see a $2 trend in my travels). By the way, you pass actual forests of dark green low to the ground palm trees on the way into town which was absolutely amazing to see against a perfectly blue sky. Those forests eventually give way to highrise apartments that turned suddenly into skyscrapers downtown.
If you aren't careful on arrival at Central Station and don't educate yourself ahead of time it would be so easy to go with one of the taxi drivers who mob the bus when it arrives. They charge about $15 for the same ride that should cost two while getting right in your face and trying to take your bags from you. Let go of your bag for a split second and it's in the trunk of some gypsy taxi and away you are whisked albeit $15 poorer. These guys were actually asking people which bags were theirs in the hold of the bus and reaching for them before the owners could. Now that's brazen. Once the taxi driver had them, they weren't giving them back until that person hopped in the cab reluctantly. Some unlucky people who were slow getting off the bus already had their bags collected for them. One guy tuied to grab mine right out of my hands but I just bowed up my chest and pushed him out of the way with my shoulder. Man was he pissed but so was I that he tried to take what is mine.
I wish I could just peacefully make my way around the world without scamsters but I guess it's the small side price you pay when you take the $2 route everywhere you go. Honestly though it just adds a little color to the day even though it's annoying at the time. I have traveled in places like this enough to know the drill and we watched our bags like a hawk. All it takes is weaving your way inside past these drivers, going up an escalator to that taxi desk and you have saved $13. I hate that travelers get ripped off by aggressive locals. I like to keep money in my wallet where it belongs rather than some rip off artist's.
As for the city, picture the hottest, muggiest Altanta afternoon and you have Kuala Lumpur (or KL as it's known locally). It was so sultry looking around this afternoon and I just need a good shower now. I think I smell like those migrant workers I told you about at the Bahrain airport. Some person is now talking about me like I talked about them I am sure. Despite the heat walking around is the best way to take in the vibe that KL gives off.
By the way, this is probably one of the least internet connected cities I have EVER been to in my life and finding the internet was a game of cat and mouse. Everyone would just tell you go over there to that building. People in that building would point down the street and tell you to go there. You would end up there and those people would point you back to where you came from. No offense to any Malaysians who may be reading this, but my God, you people have got to be some of the strangest people on earth when it comes to giving directions. Don't just make stuff up and point a foreigner off into the blazing sun and heat. If you don't know, say so!! Three hours, a gallon of sweat and a ton of cursing these people out in my head later, I am finally able to let you know about my first day in Kuala Lumpur via an internet connection on the second floor of an ancient hotel/shopping building.
Walking around for hours just exploring this vast place was amazing. Since it's a muslim place the people are extremely reserved and keep to themselves. They aren't the friendly outgoing types like in Laos or Cambodia. It could be to that KL is just like any other big city around the world. I don't know. All I can do is report how I perceive it. The elevated train was even worth a ride for a few stops. At about a 33 cents a ride, it's the best bargain in the city. Add to the cheap price some a/c and it gives your feet a rest, too. The whole city just kind of pulsates in the heat and life takes place outdoors in tiny market stalls and in tiny little storefronts open fully on one side to the streets. There are even a Little India and a Chinatown if the homogeneity (did I even spell that right?) of KL has become old, and those were fun to poke around in, too.
At sunset I experienced something I don't think I could have anywhere else. While I heard the evening call to prayer coming from distant mosques, I had to make my way from one street to another. That involved cutting across a tree lined side street. That sounds normal enough, right? The problem here was that up in those trees there must have been thousands of birds making all kinds of noise. Thousands of birds equal thousands of potential poop bombs I am thinking. My friend and I made a dash for it and we could hear the tiny missiles exploding on the sidewalk around us. I think both of us made it unscathed but then again, I once heard getting crapped on by a bird brings good luck. The sound of thousands of birds combined with Arabic chanting piercing the humid air (along with poop hitting the sidewalk) is one of those only in Malaysia experiences I hope you can visualize in your minds at home.
This city comes alive at night with hundreds of food stalls selling the most delicious smelling food. It's like a mix of peppers, chicken, fish, charcoal, wood, gyros, kebabs, curries and anything else you can think of. Your mouth salivates as much as the heat makes your body sweat. It's absolutely amazing to see all the food stalls lining the streets. I think we may take our chances with some of the food if we can find a clean enough looking restaurant. It will be great to sit there and watch the world pass by while trying the local, spicy cuisine. Seeing Asian women with Muslim headwraps is definitely different, too. How cool is it that a two and half hour plane ride brings you from old Asia to the new and from one whole culture to another?
I can't wait to explore this colorful place again tomorrow and show you guys some pictures of the place. One of the main reasons for being here besides dirt cheap Air Asia flights is the Petronas Towers. They give out a couple of hundred tickets for free (you know I like free) but the catch is you have to be in line by 7am. I hope it works out and I will let you know if we get to go up in what was until recently the tallest building in the world.