malaysia/singapore 2004

More Malaysia and Singapore

well, i'm in the process of heading home now and am reveling in the delights of the seoul business class lounge.  i have just taken a quick shower (cushy cushy) and am now availing myself of the free internet (as someone who has paid anywhere from 3 ringitt/hr (less than $1) to 28 ringitt for the first 15 minutes (robbery!  "but it is a high-speed connection", the hotel said), free sounds mighty fine. 


the trip's been a good one.  quite interesting, more on a cultural level than on a scenery level (although rolling tropical hills studded with a variety of palm trees is always good, especially when you throw in the occasional coastal view or winding river - btw, i learned that they're developing a coconut palm that's very short so that it will be easier to harvest the coconuts.  apparently, this will also help cut down on injuries due to coconuts dropping on people's heads.  ouch.).  it's been really interesting to compare the thai with the chinese malays and the malay malays (muslim). 


i had a fascinating chat with a muslim girl on the train a couple of days ago.  i have to admit to having been a little leery of women in head scarves as it seems to be a symbol of female repression to me although i realize that this is grossly unfair.  i guess one of the reasons we (i?) travel is to get a better understanding of people who are different.  anyway, my seatmate was headed down to her old boarding school to give a chat on what it takes to be successful.  they'd asked her to come because she's been awarded a gov't scholarship to go to australia next month to study engineering.  her sister also received one and is currently studying in, of all places, indiana!  quite an adjustment for her i am sure - from blisteringly hot and humid to piles of snow, from a land where most restaurants do not serve pork to a place where bacon seems to come on just about everything and, biggest of all, i am sure, is to come from a place where headscarf wearing is very normal (although in no way ubiquitous) to a place where it is something that sets you apart.


it's funny, malaysia is a very developed country, so it made it all the more interesting to see the quirky things that are different.  like the special little toll lanes for motorcycles.  the highway signs for prayer rooms at reststops and the other signs for rain shelters for mortorcyclists (a little umbrella with raindrops on top next to a drawing of a motorcycle).


when i was in thailand, a snake slithered across the road and my guide said that it is considered to be good luck when a snake crosses your path (i can't help but suspect that that was dreamed up to make people feel better about an icky situation, like when they say that rain on your wedding day is good luck.  sure).  anyway, i'll take all the good luck i can get, so that worked for me.  but what, i'd like to know, does it mean if your car runs *over* the four foot snake that is slithering across the road?  it did cross your path...


speaking of which, i read in the paper here that they have found a python in the jungles here in malaysia which is (i kid you not) FORTY-FIVE FEET LONG.  oh-my-god.  needless to say it breaks the guiness book of world records "longest snake" entry (yick) by something like +30%.  and it weighed something like 250kg....i also read a really interesting interview with the new deputy prime minister's wife.  she said that she didn't find out about his appointment until reporters called her with questions THE DAY AFTER THE APPOINTMENT WAS PUBLICALLY ANNOUNCED.  apparently, her husband knows she doesn't like to talk politics and had not bothered to mention it when he came home from work.....


so after the train ride and saying good bye to my new friend, i got off the train dragging my copious bags stuffed full of new textiles.  a man immediately approached me wanting to know if i wanted a taxi (the train station was about 45 minutes from my destination).  i said yes, we negotiated a fair price (all relative, of course.  desparate woman in middle of nowhere indonesia is very willing to pay 35 ringitts for a 45 min taxi ride.  no air con.  compare this to the 17 ringitt train fair for a 2 hr, air con train ride with reclining seats).  he then introduced me to his non-english speaking friend who'd be driving me.  it occurred to me, as we rocketed along (slowing down only to do a number on the aforementioned 4-ft snake, not to be confused with the FORTY FIVE FOOT SNAKE) that even something as simple as taking a taxi can be a real act of faith when you're traveling.  here i am, all alone, with someone who doesn't speak english, driving through the very rural countryside, trusting that he will, in fact, deliver on his promise to take me to my destination.  which, obviously, he did.


some things i did in kuala lumpur:

- went up the petronas (pronounced, i now know, PETRO-nas) tower when i have yet to go up either the sears tower or the hancock building.  while i hadn't planned on it, i have to admit it was very cool.  you go to the sky bridge  between the two towers on the 41st floor and walk across.  yikes.  high speed elevator.  it took us 41 seconds to go up to the 41st floor.  cool.

- visited the islamic museum.  who'd a thunk it?  but, again, what's the point of being here (there) if you don't try to learn about the people you're visiting?  it was an amazing museum.  very peaceful and full of incredible jewelery, textiles and calligraphy. 


finally, one of the other way cool things that i did on this trip.  i was in northern thailand (the city of nan).  i'd just arrived, it was evening and i was hungry.  it was 8:00, to be exact.  and, apparently, by that time virtually everything around my hotel which served food was closed.  i wandered pathetically around the market near my hotel, hoping to recognize something that i might want to eat for dinner (which reminds me, last night in singapore, i was at the food hawker's stalls and one of them had a sign informing people that intestines cost extra.  yummmy.)  anyway, so i'm pathetically wandering, and a girl at a flower stall starts to chat with me.  a little bit, as her english was quite limited.  she had a friend with her whose english was even worse (but both spoke way more english than i do thai). 


for giggles, they asked the american lady to go somewhere with them but, given the language barrier, it was unclear where, however it had something to do with new year's.  they were both young-ish (early 20's), seemed really nice, and, in the spirit of my brother, i figured "what the heck, an adventure".  so i went with them into the night, the 3 of us on the friend's motorbike.  well, they took me to the main temple in the city, wat phumin, where there was a thai opera.  it was so cool.  i counted almost 50 performers at the final bow.  there were amazing costumes and singing and music.  the girls left me there & promised to come pick me up at 9:00.  i figured, either way, i could find my way back to the hotel and they had clearly taken me to something really neat, so i'd be okay.  and they did come back to get me, as promised.  i still hadn't eaten and by this time, i was incredibly hungry.  i asked them if there was a noodle shop or something where i could grab something.  they whisked me away on the motorbike.  we stopped, the one girl got off, told me to wait there, came back, handed me a bag of "thai noodle" - pad thai to us - wouldn't let me pay and, by 9:30, i was back at my hotel, with dinner in hand, having seen an incredible performance.  awesome :)


okay, time for me to get on the plane for leg number 2 - seoul to vancouver (oh the joys of flying for free).  thanks for reading, happy new year again and i hope to chat with you live soon!



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