From Mr. John to just an American guy in room 1514

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Oct 17, 2008

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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Friday, September 12, 2008

Let me preface this entire journal entry by saying I have some really neat pictures of Kuala Lumpur and the Petronas Towers that I wanted to upload.  My camera card has decided to act up and I can view the pics on my camera but they won't transfer.  I've been to three camera stores to see what is wrong and it's my card.  I had some great ones from the observation level at the Petronas Towers, too but can't revisit it as the allotted tickets for the day have already been taken.  So we went to the Kuala Lumpur Tower (big tv tower) and got some good ones there.   I've got a backup card so we'll be back in business soon.  I may have lost all my vacation pics on the first card though if I can't get them printed out or uploaded somehow.  It's all stored in my mind though so it's not a total loss if I can't fix it. 

My accommodations I've slept in so far have been as diverse as the countries I've gotten a glimpse into.  They've run the gamut from a dirty midrise with cardboard replacing some of the window panes in Amman to absolutely spotless $15 a night guesthouses in Cambodia and Laos where you aren't even allowed to bring your shoes past the lobby.  In KL my hotel du jour happens to be a highrise Quality Hotel (same chain as in the US) smack dab in the middle of the financial district.  It's easy on my wallet, too at $22 a night. It even looks like the room has actually been renovated this decade and an actual tub lets me for once not shower under a waterhead right above the toilet (you quickly learn to hide the toilet paper after you watch it disintegrate down the drain a few times).

At my disposal I have a pool, gym, restaurants, doormen and even a karaoke bar thrown in for good measure.  There's even a green arrow on the ceiling of my room pointing the way towards Mecca should I ever become so inclined to take a kneel towards Allah, and my big picture window provides an amazing view of all the skyscrapers.  Sounds great, doesn't it?  All the comforts of the US.  Aaahhhh, paradise found and an oasis amidst all the charms of Asia. 

Well, honestly, I feel like I am on an overnight for work in anywhere USA.  Every few minutes I hear the clickety clack of the elevated train, and if I close my eyes, I could almost imagine I am in Chicago.  The transition to where I am now has been abrupt and I feel like I am suddenly off my world tour.  What has happened here?  From the description of the hotel, doesn't it sound to you like I am back home all of a sudden?  It may just be a case of KL being a world class city that uses our alphabet, English is widely spoken (making my life here way too easy), the city looks vaguely American downtown, and I am not having to look at non-Roman lettering for the first time since Amman.  About all that reminds me I am not at home are the scarf covered women and the Malaysian flags everywhere I turn.

Maybe those backpack purists I talked about do indeed have it right in some ways.  They take a week in battered buses bumping along potholed roads to make the gradual transition back to big city life.  I just got quickly catapulted right back into it via an Airbus rather than their intercity bus.  Now that I sit here thinking about it, that Airbus still is more my style, don't you think?

So far in places like Delhi, Vientiane, and Siem Reap I've stayed in very small locally owned places where the owners and staff went out of their way to make sure I got the most out of my stay.  As soon as I checked in they knew me by name and remembered me.  Even the dirty run down place in Amman provided me with a five star level of personal service that even the Ritz Carlton couldn't match.  The owner there would entertain all the backpackers and added into that motley mix me in his office nightly over tea and coffee.  We would share our travel experiences and tips and he would tell us how to reach our destinations in Petra, Syria, Jerusalem and beyond.  Try that in a Hilton manager's office at 10pm.

I haven't been able to walk through a lobby without someone calling out "Mr. John, how was Taj Mahal" or "Can I get you some water Mr. John?"  They wanted to know all about the US and my life there and I was able to get a small glimpse into how they lived there (I wish now I had taken a lot of pictures of friends, family and Atlanta to show them).  I wasn't the big evil American but just some regular traveler from an exotic far away place known as "Mr. John." 

Now I am in KL with this nice huge $22 room and it's killer $1,000 view, but you know what?  I think I would rather be back in my small hotel in that run down cramped Delhi back alley where I could savor the atmosphere from the rooftop using all my senses.  Looking at KL through a plate glass window to me is more like watching a zoo animal  in a cage.  I can see it for sure but I can't smell, hear, taste or feel anything from behind that glass.  Those $22 certainly did not drain my wallet but they sure did drain my senses.

Yes, in the blissful short span of a few airconditioned hours, Air Asia flight 813 along with the Quality Hotel have transformed me from Mr. John to just that American guy in room 1514. This morning I woke up in an American style hotel room (not a wood floored room with actual 1970s Brady Bunch furniture like in Bahrain), rode the modern elevator downstairs (not that tiny one in Amman I got stuck in), walked past the front desk without so much as a glance (no "Mr. John, how you sleep last night?" like in Vientiane), hailed a cab myself (no "tuk tuk mistuh?" cries from everyone in Bangkok), rode along modern streets in a Malaysian made Proton (no back of a tuk tuk that went only 5mph through flooded streets and broke down like in Siem Reap), and made my way to the gleaming Petronas Towers (nothing lowrise and run down with character like in Delhi). 

Like my identity, my whole travel experience has been transformed as well for the time being.  In KL, I am back to the anonymous life I so desire in the US just like most of us.  Traveling through all these counties has taught me that if you take your foot off the gas pedal just a bit, life won't pass you by like it does back home.
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