I can’t believe that after three years I’m back in Malaysia. Back where it all began. Back in the first country outside of the U.S. that I ever visited. This time, however, things are drastically different. I’m arriving older, wiser, and more traveled. My friend Tommy from West Hartford is also joining me for the first few weeks of this trip. We have a filled itinerary that should keep us moving and entertained. Just the way I prefer to travel. Cram in as much as possible because you never know when you might get another opportunity in this part of the world. I’ve planned for us to spend a few days in Kuala Lumpur adjusting to Asia and then flying to Nepal for a week. There we will do some trekking before returning to Malaysia and heading to the east coast. We will land in my former state, Terengganu, and take a ferry out to the Perhentian Islands. From there Tommy will return back to the States and I will continue on. I’ll visit my old school, SMK Bukit Diman, and then join my sister in Sarawak for a couple of weeks. The final stop will be in Kuching, the capitol of Sarawak, where I will mostly be scouring the city for the best batik fabrics to have some more shirts made. I intend to be blogging throughout.
Kuala Lumpur appears the same on the surface but a lot of change is occurring. There are new subway lines, and a myriad of new skyscrapers joining the skyline. They are also having their first election in some time as Prime Minister Najib attempts to retain control despite various embezzlement scandals. All that aside, we arrived on Tuesday morning and made our way to the hotel. The first day I hadn’t planned a whole lot because I knew that the jet lag would hit us like a ton of bricks in the afternoon. We ventured over to Chinatown and the central market where Tommy bought his first batik. A milestone in one’s life and I believe that he made an excellent decision. Besides the market we explored a Hindu and Chinese temple. For dinner we ate Shwarma. The food is just as delicious and spicy as I remember.
The second day was a bit more ambitious. We left the hotel in the morning and made our way the Batu Caves, which are a subway ride north of the city. Guarding the caves stands a giants statue of Lord Mahugan. Behind him are several hundred steps that bring you to the entrance of the cave. There we found more construction as well. They are in the process of building several more Hindu temples that will add more color and culture to the caves. Presently, the main attraction in the caves are the monkeys. They are a combination of Curious George and Planet of the Apes. They appear cute on the outside but are conniving thieves when given the opportunity. I’ve seen sunglasses and food snatched from countless unsuspecting tourists. We were able to feed the monkeys some peanuts, which was definitely prohibited but still enjoyable. On our way back we stopped at my favorite Indian restaurant in the world, Najib’s Corner. I ate with my hand and left with burning fingertips (from the spice) and a full belly. After returning from the caves we spent our afternoon at the hotel pool. That evening we met up with some of my former Fulbright cohort. We saw former ETAs turned coordinators Becca and Marcy (who is now Caroline’s coordinator) and Dr. Jim the former head of the program. He was ousted this past year as the embassy made a power grab in the midst of a depleted State Department. Over beers we caught each other up on the past few years, reminisced about our Fulbright experience, and laughed at Dr. Jim’s endless sarcastic commentaries. We spent the remainder of the night bar hopping with Marcy and meeting people from all walks of life.
Thursday was our final day in KL. We woke up later after having been out until the wee hours of the morning. Nonetheless we were productive as there was still plenty to be seen in the city. We made our way over to the National Mosque and the Islamic Arts Museum. Much to my surprise, the mosque was undergoing construction as well but we were still allowed to walk the grounds and peek inside the main prayer hall. The museum has always been a favorite of mine in KL due to the 30 or so to-scale replicas of famous mosques from around the world that they have displayed. I wanted Tommy to experience something Hindu, Chinese, and Muslim during his time in KL to fully appreciate the diversity this city, and Malaysia in general, has as opposed to the rest of Southeast Asia. About a fifteen minute walk from the museum is the KL Bird Park. During my time in Malaysia this was one of the few KL tourist spots that I had never visited. Most likely it was due to the relatively high price, and at the time the majority of my budget was going towards food and nightlife. This time around, and after talking to a few people, I was convinced that the bird park would be a worthwhile investment. It sure was. It is one of the largest open air aviaries in the world. The total area is about 20 acres that are completely covered by netting allowing most of the birds to roam free within the park. It was fascinating to get so close to various peacocks, parrots, flamingos, pelicans and more. The only minor incident was a pelican flying towards me while my lens was extremely zoomed in causing me to stumble backwards into an unsuspecting Malaysian man. Thankfully I remember how to say sorry in Malay.
For our last event of the KL portion of the trip I took Tommy to the Petronas Twin Towers. Presently, they are still the tallest twin towers in the world although there are others in construction that will soon dethrone them. We ate inside KLCC where there is a food court with about thirty different places to buy food from. Afterwards, we sat outside and took in the nightly light show that takes place in the shallow pool outside the building. With the towers lit up as our backdrop, and Celine Dion’s my heart will go on blaring, it was a magical scene. Everywhere we walked this week brought back some memory. I’m sure Tommy was sick of my stories but he humored me. These few days have made me even more excited to return to my school in just a couple more weeks. I’ve spoken with a couple of the teachers and students and they share in my elation.
For now, we are off to Nepal to bask in the grandness of the Himalayas.