Flesh eating fish....

Trip Start May 31, 2008
Trip End Jul 14, 2008

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Tuesday, July 8, 2008

July 6
Have you ever heard of Garra rufa?  Well they're these little fish that love to gobble up the dead skin off of your body.   And they are the latest body therapy.  This all originated in Turkey and apparently people there submerge their bodies in the streams that these fish live in to feed the fish....with their dead body cells that is.  Now there are shops in Kuala Lumpur with these big fish tanks loaded with fish ...you soak your feet in them and....there you have it...healthier feet!  So how could one resist trying it....there are three shops in the city...we see this one in the middle of Chinatown...you face out into the throngs of people combing the street for bargains while your feet are being denuded of dead tissue.  Hardly seems a relaxing therapy.  But we go to a Garra rufa shop in Bangsar...this sort of up and coming neighborhood...it's got a shop that's clean and according to Jasmin, our couchsurfing host, the fish just look healthier. 
We pay our 38 ringitts (about 13 dollars) to have our feet exfoliated for about thirty minutes.  You first have to scrub them in the tub...get off all the oil and road grime...then you sit on a nice little pillow, and stick your feet into the water.  I see this man sitting calmly while the fish work on him....and then there is a family in the smaller tank on the side of the room.  Takes me a minute to stick my feet in there ...when I do the fish immediately come over to see what I've got to offer them.  And it tickles and feels weird and is kind of gross....you cant help but laugh and get a bit shkeeved out.  You feel them nibbling away...at all the corners, between your toes, under your feet....the big ones are especially intense...sometimes the stimulation is too much for me and I have to shake off my feet...disperse the fish and start over. 
But after a while, I kind of get used to the sensation...I kind of like it...it's almost meditative.   I watch the other people around me go thru a similar transition...getting absorbed by the sensation...  So we spend our 30 minutes in the tank...take lots of photos because this really does seem like an absurd act...and then we're done.  Our feet are healthier?  More translucent they say... there's now room for more healthy tissue to grow?  Truth is it would take probably a year of daily treatments for those little fish to consume all my dead foot flesh...but I examine my feet closely out in the light.  Basically the same...a little cleaner and softer....but then they've been soaking for quite a while fish or not. 
Worth it?  Well I've had the experience and it was delightful but I don't imagine that I'll ever have to repeat it.  But I do think about how a shop like this on 5th avenue would really be a hit.  Very little space needed....a few tanks...some fish imported from Turkey...an easily saleable concept...plenty of inquisitive walk-ins...lots of money to be made.  All I need are some people to put up the front money....any investors out there???
July 8
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia...an exotic name like this...I'm expecting some ability to feel it's history...but this is a bright shiny city...as modern as NYC except for the structures...everything here has been recently built...there are skyscrapers, there are malls, and there are highways..  Our CS host says the KL has first-class facilities but a third-world mentality.  It's obvious that there is good money in this city...the "golden circle" and the hip Bangsar area make you feel like you could be in any thriving city.  But then there are the other parts...the ethnic, old-world-like parts...the multitude of Indian or Chinese open-air restaurants/markets.  Jasmin wants to make sure we try all the foods possible (seems we're eating around every corner), and see all the sights.  She diligently escorts us around the city...until I feel like I'm ready to drop from exhaustion.  But I do feel like I see the city pretty thoroughly.
I've got to admit, one of my favorite days is going out to the Batu Caves.  I'm thinking I'm going to see a cave loaded with bats but then Jasmin reminds me it's not Bat Caves but rather Batu Caves, a highly spiritual place...has nothing to do with bats.  But...the area is loaded with monkeys...and plus the caves are awesome...serious stalactite action.  You've got to climb far too many steps to get into the caves and up inside is a Hindu temple and cool rock formations (check out the photos).  This is the place the ritual of Thaipusam begins, the ceremony of Hindu penitents.  Kind of like Good Friday in Quito, people pierce their body and pull things around...they're entranced, feeling no pain, but the pictures of it look pretty wild...and it draws mobs of people.  But it's not happening right now...a different season.  Got to settle for beautiful caves and monkeys. 
One high point comes afterwards, when we're cooling off with some coffee and fancy pancake/curry-like Indian food in the café below...the waiter is into demonstrating some coconut hair oil so we provide that opportunity...get a head/oil massage, a new hairdo and a welcome shoulder massage.  These guys are quite entertaining, I feel completely refreshed and well nourished...a perfect end to our enthralling visit to Batu Caves.

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