A Kuala Lumpurfect Day

Trip Start Feb 15, 2011
Trip End Aug 20, 2011

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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Monday, July 11, 2011

It was a cold, crisp day in Rome, Italy when Aaron and I first met Dexter Chan. We had opted to do a free walking tour of the Vatican where the two of us, Dexter, and an Australian made up the only participants for the two hour tour.  As we walked around Rome, straining to understand our guide's heavily accented English, we had time to get to know each other a little bit.  Afterwards, we parted ways at St. Peter’s Basilica and had a brief, chance encounter in the City Center later that day.  During our light-hearted chat, Dexter told us he was from Kuala Lumpur and we should give him a call if we were ever in town.  We warned him that we were actually flying to Kuala Lumpur in 5 months’ time, so he’d better be careful what he asks for – but he insisted and we exchanged email addresses and that was that.

Fast forward five months and Aaron and I fly into Southeast Asia without much of a plan of what we’re doing, where we’re going, or how we’re doing it.  So on a whim, we emailed Dexter to a) remind him who we are and b) see if he had any good suggestions about food we should try while in Malaysia or sights we shouldn’t miss.  He emailed back right away with a top food list as well as his phone number, telling us he was between jobs and would be happy to show us around when we got to Kuala Lumpur.  It was an offer we couldn’t refuse, so Aaron rang him up and we arranged to meet him at 2:30 the next afternoon.

To be totally honest, I nearly backed out on what turned out to be a highlight of our entire trip so far.  I wasn’t feeling well, so I wasn’t in a good mood, and the prospect of walking around KL in the steep humidity and mid-day heat didn’t entice me.  But the ever-prescient Aaron reminded me it would be a shame to miss an opportunity to see the city from a local’s perspective, and I sucked it up.  The second we shook hands with Dexter in the lobby of our hostel, I knew I would be glad I didn’t wimp out.  Not only was talking to Dexter like talking to an old friend – but he brought his air conditioned car!!  This was no walking tour – this was a luxury guided tour on four wheels!

We started out by driving just outside the city to the famous Batu Caves which houses the world’s largest Murugan statue inside its limestone caverns.  It’s a steep stair climb up to the top of the Hindu shrine, but the frolicking monkeys distracting us the entire time made it pretty enjoyable.  Inside the cave was not only a beautiful respite from the day’s heat, but also a great view of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline.  Unfortunately, due to extensive crop burning in Indonesia (illegal in Malaysia), a constant haze shrouded the view a bit, but Dexter was still able to name the major building and structures we could see in the distance.

Back in our air conditioned car, we drove into town to the impressive Petronas Towers – at 490 meters tall stood as the tallest in the world from 1996 to 2003.  According to our knowledgeable guide, the twin towers were commissioned to different architects – one Japanese and one South Korean – and it was a race to see who would finish first.  It’s probably no surprise that the Japanese architect won, though only by a few minutes.  We spent time taking photos and walking through the City Center nearby, and had our first introduction to Malaysian food at a local eatery.  Dexter treated us to a local specialty known as nasi  lemak – a coconut rice dish with peanuts, chili sauce, boiled egg and anchovies.  It would soon become a staple of Aaron’s and my diet.  Off we went again to see a few more sights of the city before Dexter dropped us off at our hostel around 5:30.  To our surprise, he invited us out to dinner with his family at their favorite seafood restaurant on the coast.  Because apparently taking an entire day to show us around and paying for parking, tolls, and snacks for a couple he’d known for only a few hours apparently wasn’t enough?  We were honored to be invited out with his family, but fearing his over-generosity, we tried to insist that we would only go if we could pay.  He flat out refused and somehow convinced us that it was something the whole family really wanted to do, so we graciously accepted.  We drove out to the KL suburbs to meet the entire family, then headed towards to coast with his wife Sherry and daughter Denise.  And what a feast we had!  Without looking at a menu, Sherry ordered a spread of shrimp, crab, vegetables, rice, and buns – all accompanied with various sauces.  And as Aaron and I sat with the Chans, engaging in conversation as if we had just re-encountered long-lost friends, gorging ourselves on delicious and fresh seafood, looking out over the Straits of Malacca, we realized traveling doesn’t get much better than this.  This family took us in as their own  for no other reason than they are just truly kind and generous people, treated us to a tour and a beautiful banquet at their favorite local restaurant, took time out of their busy schedules – and not to mention footed the entire bill – just to introduce their country to a couple of humble, average backpackers.  An amazing day with a truly remarkable family.

Before leaving on the night train the next day, Sherry and Dexter drove all the way back into the city so we could treat them to lunch – though we had to make Dexter promise not to sneak away and pay.  We headed to Chinatown, grabbed a large table, then walked around ordering various dishes from various stalls, then proceeded to sample all that we could.  Our lunch feast paled in comparison to the seafood the previous night, but it was still a lot of fun to try all the amazing local dishes and attempt to repay their kindness from the day before.  They even had time to answer all our Malaysia questions: "Why are people rioting in the city?", “Why does everyone ride their motorcycles with jackets on backwards?”, or “Where can we buy alcohol in a conservative Muslim country?” (answer: Chinese pharmacies.  Nice).  After our lunch in Chinatown, Dexter drove us to our final sight-seeing location: the Royal Palace.  We didn’t spend too much time there since the gates are locked, but it was a nice wrap-up to our extensive tour of Kuala Lumpur and all of its sights, sounds, food and people.  As we said our goodbyes to Dexter and Sherry, I must say my faith in humanity had been restored.  After spending months and years on the road, you become accustomed to people trying to “nickel and dime” you everywhere you turn, trying to give you false information knowing that you don’t know any better, and get their hands on your expensive iPod or camera.  But it’s nice to know that for every crooked or dishonest person that we encounter, their antithesis exists– as the Chans have extensively proven.   Dexter and family- thank you again and even if you never make it over the US so we can return the favor, just know that it is being paid forward to someone else.  
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Mike on

Well, I have caught up on your adventures. Having never been to any of these countries, I can say your appraisal of India is pretty much what I expected. Although I think there are more beautiful spots in India, I salute you for taking the "real road to India". Hard to imagine that it could potentially become the second largest economy in the world. By the way, you are missing all the fun here. The Federal Government is about to default on it's debt and the Tea Party couldn't be happier.
Singapore sounds almost too nice. I get nervous in the Ala Moana Mall in Honolulu. But what a great way to visit Kuala Lampur. By the way, if you come back by the Pacific, you know that we will put you up and tour you around the Big Island of Hawaii. open invite.
Quo vadis nunc?

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