Sunday, November 7, 2010

First few days in Malaysia

The following is a copy and paste from something I wrote on Word while I didn't have internet to post on my blog:

I was in Penang for 2 days, a part of Malaysia known for good food and some nice beaches. I was able to eat some great food, although I didn’t get a chance to eat any laksa, which is a really yummy soup I ate for breakfast the last time I was in Penang 14 years ago. I decided to go for a walk as I figured out that the 3rd largest reclining Buddha statue was located about a 1 minute drive from my hotel, so I figured I could walk there easily enough. I followed the directions that Google maps gave me, but still I didn’t find it, just a beautifully ornamented Burmese temple complex taking up a corner each of 2 blocks opposite to each other. I got some good photos of that. When I returned to the hotel, I thought I would use Google images to find out what it looked like, and it turns out, the Burmese temple was the location of the statue, only I didn’t know that it was inside the temple. In any case, I wouldn’t have known where to enter to see it, and the couple of monks I saw looked like they didn’t want any visitors at the time as one of them closed the main gate on one side. I could still have entered by the parking lot, but then I didn’t know I needed to do so anyway.

The following day, I didn’t see anything in Penang because there wasn’t really time for me to see anything in the morning before my midday appointment, and then in the afternoon, I would have had to carry around my laptop as the hotel wouldn’t really let me check out late. They would hold on to my luggage, but I still don’t want to take my eye off my laptop like that, so I decided it was safer just to stick around despite the fact that I had about 3 hours to wait before heading off to the airport. Sometimes these things happen.

I flew into Kuala Lumpur (henceforth known as KL) and have been trying to take advantage a bit of the couple of days I have free before a very hectic week. I wanted to go shopping to this market that I went to last time I was in KL, but I didn’t know where it was as my aunt had just taken me there. I asked at the info booth in the train station (KL has excellent LRT and train services now), and they told me I could get off 2 stops from KL Sentral called Masjid Jemak, so I hopped on the train and went off, not sure what I was going to find. I started walking around, not really seeing an open air market that the info people said was there, but I just continued winding my way around because at least the streets were interesting. Here and there, I did see some tourists, so it seemed to me that something interesting must be nearby, unless they’re people just like me who don’t mind wandering aimless and taking photos of daily life in the places where they travel. Finally, at one turn, I happened upon this place where I saw a lot of tourists at the restaurants at the entrance to what turned out to be Petaling Street, exactly the market I was looking for! I wanted to get these shirts for my brother that he really likes, and that’s the only place I know of in KL to get them. I was so excited! Petaling Street is in Chinatown, and basically it’s like knock-off central where you can buy knock-offs of bags, scarves, clothing, watches, and other items made to look like the designer brands. But there’s one stall that sells these particular shirts that my brother likes, so I was able to find them, so I was really happy.

Sunday, I decided to go to the Batu Caves, which, as I’d learned the day before by being in the train station, now is accessible by trains. It’s easy to get there from KL Sentral (where my hotel is), too, just one train for 1 ringgit Malaysia one way (for some reason, it’s 2 RM to get back). There are almost 3 RM to the Canadian dollar, so basically for about 33 cents, I was able to get out to the Batu Caves, which are considered to be one of the largest Hindu shrines outside of India. There’s free entry to the caves, so it makes for a very cheap afternoon excursion, but you have to be willing to walk up the almost 300 steps to get inside. I did count them, as is my habit, but I actually lost count when I stopped to take a picture of a monkey on the railing. There are lots of monkeys around, and of course, people feed them, but it’s kind of sad because I saw people feeding them cream filled cookies, like vanilla Oreo-like cookies. Otherwise, they eat from the garbage at the restaurants and that which is generally created by tourist refuse.

The funny part about the Batu Caves is that when you get to the top, there’s this sign with big, red letters that reads NO MORE EXERCISE FROM HERE! I think it’s meant to let you know you’ve made it, and I thought that meant there would be no more stairs, but it wasn’t to be. The sign is just there to toy with your emotions. There was yet one more set of about 25 steps to reach the second main part of the cave, making the entire trip of stairs you need to climb just over 300 by the time you step up a couple of stairs on the way back to the entrance, which is also the exit. Yes folks, that means you need to go down about 275 stairs, meaning that there is certainly more exercise if you ever plan to leave the place! In any case, going down is always easier, but a word of caution if you ever go there: it’s hot and humid in Malaysia all the time, so you want to make sure you’re well-hydrated here because this would not be the place to get dizzy from dehydration as it would be very dangerous in case you fall. There are lots of stores at the bottom selling juice and water, so make sure you bring some with you if you think you’ll need it. Outside of that, the place is kind of cool inside. I like caves generally, and it reminded me a little of the Grutas de Garcia in Mexico, only that the Grutas are bigger, but they have Catholic religious figures in there instead of the Hindu ones here at the Batu Caves. If there were no people inside, it would be even cooler because you would have silence and be able to appreciate the water dripping down from the top and the slight sound of the faint wind that manages to make its way through the cave.

One additional note is about staying at hotels. The mini-bars, for example, contain insanely over-priced snacks. Most of you already know that, but what gets me is that there’s no point in eating it when there are places really close by to get the same things for much cheaper. You really have to be very lazy or desperate for some reason not to go get them. In the KL Sentral train station, there’s a 7-11 where you can get most of these items. In the mini-bar, a small package of Oreos containing about 10 cookies costs 12 RM. In the 7-11, I paid 2 RM. That’s a pretty insane mark-up, and the train station is really so close that there’s almost no excuse no to take 10 minutes to go down to the store! I knew stuff was marked up, but this is ridiculous! Another funny thing I noticed just Sunday is that they were showing a movie on TV which was about Jewish people in Hungary getting interned during the Second World War, and the movie was in Hungarian with no subtitles or dubbing. I just thought that was really weird because they even subtitle a Malay show on the Disney channel, and yet for a Hungarian movie, there would be no translation. Fun times!

An addendum on Indonesia

I can’t believe I forgot to mention the really funny part about my city tour the one day. I kept getting stopped by groups of university or high school students who were there for a field trip or something and were asked to approach English-speaking tourists to ask them questions so they can practice their English. I got stopped by 3 different groups of people, and they just asked questions like why was I there, what was my favourite part about Indonesia so far, questions like that. But it was just cute because they would then take a group photo with me after, too. I guess I might be famous in Jakarta!

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