Monthly Archives: January 2012

Update 4: Que habla Ingles?

Monday January 30th, 10:20am MYT, 1:20pm AEDST

We’re on a train! We left KL Sentral at 8:45am, and will arrive at Butterworth by around 4pm Malaysian time (we hope) so we can catch a ferry to Penang. The only other long-distance train trips I’ve done have been of the painful Sydney to North Coast variety, and these trains are (so far) much more pleasant than good ol’ CountryLink.

Friday was a bit of a chill out day, just finishing off some website-y things and talking to a few people during the day, and then that evening Jamie and Michael drove us around Putrajaya. We were told as we drove along that it was kind of like the Malaysian version of Canberra in terms of parliament, but we were astounded by the eerie aesthetic similarities between the two cities. The main difference we did note was the stunning architecture of almost every single building; everything seemed to be a work of art, it was beautiful. We started with a tourist’s tour of the city; the palace of the Sultan, Prime Minister’s office, etc. and then wandered around some side-street night markets (a terrible idea whilst hungry) before grabbing dinner on our way back.
Oh yeah, and that day I got bitten by a dog! It’s okay mum, I’m totally fine. It was one of Jacop and Bridget’s, and it bit me on the thigh (it only broke the skin a little) as I was walking back from their front door, which I’d done multiple times before. Maybe I looked extra tasty that day? Anyway, Eric took me to the “klinik” (phonetics ftw) and I got an injection, as well as a course of antibiotic tablets and cream. However, the bruise is approaching the magnitude of that time in year 8 when I fell off my bike and ruined the nerves in my left knee… Mum, I’ll show you pictures later. Jas is documenting the spread, it’s quite the rainbow.

We got up early Saturday morning (in the dark, again!) and had breakfast with Jacop and Bridget. They took us to a smallish building crammed with about four thousand tables and even more people, where no one spoke more than a few words of English; this was fine with local friends accompanying us, but we had some trouble later on in Bukit Bintang. Lots of hand gestures and head movements. That morning was our introduction to roti… Delicious fillings (in our case, generally banana or cheese or kaya – coconut jam (best idea ever? Almost as great as nested brackets) – or vegies or a combination of everything) in very thin, naan-like bread (kind of like crêpes?) dipped in all kinds of curries. I don’t even. I so desperately want a cold glass of Australian milk — the milk here has a disturbingly long shelf-life for “fresh” milk, and a bizarre plastic-y taste. It’s kind of made up for by the sheer volume of ridiculously tasty food we’re consuming every day, but I do love a good glass of milk. Perhaps Thailand will be different…? I’m wistfully hopeful.

After breakfast we returned to the orphanage to collect our bags, and Michael drove us back into Chinatown to our hotel. We checked in, ditched our bags and dived back out into the humidity to explore the markets again. Holly’s new tool for repelling hawkers is to deliver a torrent of our limited Spanish in an apologetic or questioning tone (¿Dónde está el baño, por favor? Lo siento, no entendí eso!), whereas Jas has decided to run with the “I’m a foreigner and I’m a little bit slow” approach — “Miss! You want to–” “HELLO!” “Hello…?” by which time she’s away, much amused. We made a point to ignore anyone who refers to any of us as Lady Gaga or Shakira, which is disturbingly often. Jas knows more Bahasa than either Holly or me, and it’s come in handy a few times; a hawker gave us a price in English and the Asian lady next to us a price in Bahasa, which was almost a third of the price he gave us. We had to smile at his subsequent hasty adjustment, but we just smiled and left. I’ve picked up various common words like exit, street, danger, stop, ladies, etc. (mostly from signage), but a tonne of words for different kinds of food; I count this as way more useful than boring things like how to get places. Pshh. A lot tourist-related Bahasa seems to be a kind of phonetic English, like teksi and bas. I also know the word for dog now… We got massages the other day and I think the woman thought I’d been abused or mugged or something.

The only problem with the markets (besides the trash and the hawkers and whatnot) is that it’s so freaking difficult not to buy all of the things. It’s so cheap that you kind of think, oh, I should probably just buy one while I’m here… We always end up spending more than intended. Holly and I were overjoyed when we discovered a street lined with tea shops, and it took a lot of logical persuasion to convince ourselves that trekking around South East Asia with new, very breakable teapots was a bad idea.

We spent Saturday night in Bukit Bintang. Dinner was at a little eatery similar to breakfast’s, and this time without the help of any Bahasa. Just as we’d finished struggling our way through our order, an elderly Chinese man sat at the table next to us and kindly offered to translate for us — we just laughed at our excellent timing and said we’d sit tight and hope for the correct food. We had a Australian-priced cocktail each at bar in the main street of Bukit Bintang, which was very Western. We avoided it for dinner, but wandered through afterward; people-watching from the balcony of a bar is always a good use of one’s time.

Yesterday we had breakfast at a Western-ish café for lack of a better option; we’re trying to avoid spending time doing things we could be doing at home, but it’s an experience in itself to eat in Malaysian “Western” cafés. Chinatown’s a ghost town in the morning as well (the sun won’t rise until about 7:15am anyway) so that didn’t help our food endeavours.

After breakfast (and some wanton purchasing) we decided to walk in the general direction of North East and end up somewhere. It was much fun, and we even ended up somewhere — back in Chinatown. As we headed away from Jalan Petaling, we saw a group of people dancing in a hall that opened out onto the street, and before we knew it we’d been forcefully ushered inside, fed, blessed, invited back and ejected back onto the street. We spent about fifteen minutes watching groups of people practice for a Valentine’s Day dance that the company (a dance studio) were putting on before we continued on our way. The generosity and welcome we received seemed out of place on the dirty city street. Anomalies hide around every corner.
We continued to walk for a few kilometres, with no real idea of where we were going. The sun disappeared behind storm clouds at some point and took with it our indicator of north, so the wandering became mostly aimless. We ducked into Capital Square for a look, but almost every single shop was closed — and they were all tech stores! Rather disappointing, I must say.
Taking lefts and rights on whim whenever we came to an intersection, another large shopping centre presented itself. The sky spent all its rain whilst we were indoors investigating clothes and coffee, allowing us to move on unhindered an hour or so later. We came to an intersection with the street we (thought) we wanted stretching into the distance in both directions, took an “educated guess” and walked for aaages. Our moods fluctuated between ultra-confidence in our amazing navigation skillz and cries of woe at our utterly unknown location. Whenever you don’t want a taxi, there are five or six people trying to shove you into theirs. As soon as you really need one…
We stopped for recovery roti and realised that we actually recognised the restaurant in which we were eating! Trekking through the streets with renewed vigour returned us to… Jalan Petaling! We ate some more, slipped through the slowly dissolving night markets and went to bed satisfied with our day.

This morning we got out of bed and caught a train. It was eventful.
We’re planning on staying in Penang for three or four days, and then heading up to Phuket. We think. We’re not sure if we’ll stay anywhere on the coast between here and there, but it’d be nice. Flights from Chiang Mai back to Kuala Lumpur are quite cheap around the end of February, so that’s an option. So many unmade decisions… It keeps things interesting.
I think I might skip coming home and go hole up in Scotland or somewhere cold.

 


Update 3: Butterflies and Foreigners

Thursday January 26th, 11:04pm MYT, 2:04am 27th AEDST

Today was, well, long. We resolved to leave the house by 7:00am, and were held to it by Jacop’s offer of a lift in to the nearest train station. It’s still dark at 7am here! Pre-dawn. It looked like an Australian 5:30am, it was bizarre. Regardless, we crawled out of bed, showered, climbed into the car and hurled ourselves into the wonderful world of the local public transport.

We spent half an hour on what we considered an incredibly crowded train. Good joke… We realised exactly how wrong we were when we were coming home during peak hour. Chaos. After reaching ‘KL Sentral’, we hesitantly changed trains and headed out to KLCC to visit the top of the iconic twin towers. We wandered around the shopping centre for a bit (and discovered the Discovery Centre! …which was closed) before decided to pass on the towers until Saturday. Personally I’m more excited for the Discovery Centre than the towers; for science! We’re thinking we’ll go back on Saturday morning, after we leave the orphanage and stay a night or two in the city.

Unsurprisingly, nearly everything in the neighbouring shopping centre was closed (Chinese New Year strikes again) so we grabbed the nearest taxi and headed over to Merdeka Square (AKA Independence Square) where in 1957 the Union Jack was lowered for the last time. Or so we hear. We came into the middle of a “celebration for the king” in Merdeka stadium; we know very little Bahasa, but our helpful taxi driver described it as such. We saw a marching band — twice — and spent some time in the Kuala Lumpur Gallery, from which stems our bountiful knowledge of its foundations. We got a lot of “Welcome to Malaysia! Where are you from?” from the people with whom we crossed paths — surely we’re not that obvious…? The warmth communicated by so many strangers definitely shows up Sydney.

After the museum we took a meandering stroll through a nearby park/garden — think Botanical Gardens, but bigger, more rambling and less manicured. After much deliberation at one fork in the path (do we want Bird Park and ‘Deer and Mousedeer Park’ or the Butterfly Garden?) we decided butterflies were more worthy of our time (and Ringgits). Brilliant choice. Basically a giant greenhouse filled with, in ascending order of volume, lizards, frogs, fish, people, turtles, butterflies and humidity. We felt like we were wading through the air, but it was worth it. On the way out there was a bit of a museum section full of terrariums/tanks/display cases containing various wildlife, both alive and preserved, as well as the obligatory gift shop (Aladdin pants: check). “A little shop! I love a little shop.”

After deciding we’d had enough of butterflies and damp air, we retired to the air-conditioned cool of Central Market, north of Chinatown. Lunch was a mixture of crispy bread with banana and chocolate, toast, iced drinks and soy noodles, as well as a distinct lack of Internet… The free wifi is almost always a lie. It’s rather disconcerting not having the Internet at my fingertips to check maps, trading hours, train times, etc., but it’s so much more enjoyable being thrown into an unknown world without any help; I learn so much more about where I am and how to get around when I’m not asking Google to tell me what I’m supposed to do. After lunch we navigated the twisting corridors of the markets, finding little to buy but much being sold and much to observe.

On our walk from Central Market to Chinatown (similarly directed by an overly helpful taxi driver), we were approached by an Australia guy asking if we were lost — we weren’t, but he was nonetheless lovely — and got caught for over twenty minutes in a conversation about travel; the best and worst airlines, the quickest routes, the most stunning Greek islands. He recommended a few hotels which we investigated later in the day; if all goes to plan we’ll have accommodation in an attractive hotel in the middle of Chinatown. At the moment we’re planning on leaving the Shepherd’s Centre Foundation lunchtime Friday, so we might stay Saturday and Sunday night in KL, and then head up to Penang on Monday, and then maybe Phuket. We might travel up the west coast of Thailand… Holly and I want to spend some time on Thailand’s beaches; I can’t remember the last time I went on a beach holiday as a tourist. What a novelty. Jas is keen for Chiang Mai, by which time we might fly back to KL to fly home. I’m glad we decided to come for the full month; it gives us so much more freedom to casually move around, instead of having to stick to a schedule.

Chinatown was thoroughly enjoyable, albeit a tad sweltering. Streets upon streets of shops and stalls, piled high with unreasonably cheap stock. The later it was in the day, the more persuasive the hawkers became; their sales pitches often sparked a few interesting conversations. We met a Dutch couple over dinner at a street stall selling roti, on their fifth of seven months of their worldwide backpacking trip, who are staying a street or two over from where we’ll be next week. When we went to check for vacancies at the hotel we’d decided upon, we met our travel-obsessed Australian friend Ian in the lobby, which amused both parties. If we ever feel like travelling to the Greek isles, I suppose he’ll come in useful.

The train trip back was unbelievably crowded; the train we were planning on catching filled to bursting point almost as soon as it pulled in, leaving about a third of the hundreds of people packed onto the platform to wait for the next one — the train was full to the point of doors closing on the people on the outer edges of the crush inside the carriages. We, bemused trio, waited it out for fifteen minutes, but it wasn’t too much better the next time; standing room only, amidst a crush of bodies and heat the struggling air conditioning system couldn’t handle. The humid air never felt sweeter than the escape out into the night air of Kajang.

Tonight we spent a little while working on the website, with hopes to finish as much as we can by tomorrow afternoon. We won’t be able to get the site live until we get back to Australia due to the appalling consistency of Internet here, but we want to get as much content proof read and approved as we can, to minimise lengthy email communication when we get home. Apparently Michael’s going to take us on a bit of a tour tomorrow evening, so we’ll be staying until Saturday, rather than Friday as originally planned. The Discovery Centre will just have to wait until Sunday… I probably won’t miss the Chinese New Year crackers — which, apparently, are illegal? You’d have no idea from everyone’s behaviour — but I’m going to miss this friendly little village.

We’re all curled up in bed now; Jas and Holly watching Jumanji (of all things) and me typing away. I’m loving it here; the freedom, the differences, the sheer number of possible plans. Splendid.

P.S. Feel free to email me! I enjoy updates from home. I hear it’s flooding on the North Coast? Surely everyone is surprised and no one is prepared, right…


Update 2: Grape Fanta! (And Actual Work)

Wednesday January 25th, 12:36pm MYT, 3:36pm AEDST

Yesterday was a productive day! The main reason we’re here is to design and build a website for the Shepherd’s Centre Foundation, and it’s going fairly excellently. Jas mocked up a potential design on Tuesday night, which I set about creating; we’ve got the structure and design of the site down now, but we’ve no content except what we pulled off the current website which is about three years old. We’re meeting with Pastor Moses today to talk about what he’d like, so hopefully we’ll be almost done by tomorrow.

Yesterday morning we were informed that Pastor Jacop and Pastor Bridget were going to take us out for a Malaysian breakfast, and to be ready in half an hour. We were, and we waited. For a while. Around three hours. Turns out that we weren’t being picked up as we’d originally thought, and so each party was waiting for the other; around lunch time we were brought some food from the kitchen, which we hastily ate and went to make our apologies. The beauty of multi-language communities… Instead we spent the morning getting the design of the website up to scratch (and eating sugary things), so it wasn’t all bad.

Despite our suspicions that the thunder and the blue-black clouds filling the sky didn’t herald dry weather, that afternoon we did a bit of exploring around Semenyih. Unsurprisingly we cut it short to avoid drowning in the tropical storm. We wandered down the main road (a mildly adrenaline-filled adventure — the nonchalance of the other residents strolling through the cars was a bemusing sight, but I think my favourite part is the distaste for lane markers) and looked through a few of the shops. Unfortunately due to Chinese New Year almost everything is closed, except for a few food stalls and the occasional convenience store. We came across a giant warehouse full of second-hand clothes; I’d post a photo of Holly in lurid pink high heels but I promised I wouldn’t. We also found bottles of grape Fanta for RM 2 (about 60c), which isn’t officially sold in Australia anymore. Score.
We did a loop and walked back through ‘suburbia’. We saw many Chinese families celebrating the Year of the Dragon, and everyone asked us where we were from; Austrahlya! It’s really cool being the ones with the interesting accent. The warmth and friendliness of the surrounding neighbourhoods is so different to home, for the most part. We were advised against talking to anyone who looked like a local drug addict, although we kind of had that down already. As we arrived home we came across a guy on a motorbike selling ice blocks! Of course we couldn’t not buy them in the humidity.

After we got back we chilled out for an hour or so (at least the ludicrous humidity means that everywhere is well air-conditioned) before being picked up by Bridget and Jacop. We drove into town and found a Malaysian restaurant (one of the few open during the New Year) — if I’m going to miss anything about Malaysia, it’s the food. I don’t even. Pastor Jacop told us that given the choice, they’d go out for Western food; I guess that’s basically what we do in Australia — why go out for something you can eat at home? Malays are apparently big fans of the whole breakfast-for-dinner thing, so Holly and I are right at home.
It makes a difference having ‘locals’ show you around; Bridget and Jacop talked to us about everything, local traditions, politics (Bridget said that their government works so hard to do what’s best because the opposition ‘keeps them on their toes’ — we couldn’t help but marvel at how differently Australia treats the government), their childhoods, the orphanage, their visits to Australia… It was fascinating. The segregation of Indians, Chinese and Malays is so defined, very different to home; any support you might get from the government is dependent upon your race.

I think we’re going to explore Kuala Lumpur tomorrow, possibly with Jacop & Bridget’s daughter Jaime. At the end of the week we’ll probably spend a day or two in KL, and then catch a train up to Penang, Phuket, and then maybe head up the coast… We’re not sure yet. It’s bound to be a little bit interesting.

Jas is also blogging! http://jasmineparer.wordpress.com/


Update 1: Long Flights and New Languages

Monday January 23rd, 7:10pm AEDST, 4:10pm MYT

We have arrived without dying or getting lost. I count this as a success.

We flew out of Gold Coast airport yesterday morning at 9am Australian time (it feels like half a week ago) and settled in for an eight-hour flight. We were kind of over waiting by the time we’d waited in all four thousand queues, but the anticipation helped a little — that and the occasional nap. Our flight consisted of intermittent sleeping, reading, listening, eating and laughing, and the odd question about high-altitude insanity. Unfortunately we were perfectly positioned to hear all about the emotional ups and downs of the five girls in the row behind us (although really, how could they possibly get through all of it in a mere eight hours?) but otherwise the journey was pain-free.

Arriving at KLIA was a bit of a shock after the jumper-worthy temperature of the aeroplane, but wasn’t any worse than your average North Coast summer (99% humidity, Dad?). Thanks to the earnest insistence of family and friends that Malaysia’s equatorial location would result in an experience somewhat akin to the Saunas of Hell, I was a touch disappointed, but generally pleased that we’d not be drowning instead of breathing.

We were picked up from the airport by a group from the Shepherd’s Centre Foundation in Semenyih, the orphanage at which we’ll be staying for roughly the next week. We’re staying in a little two-storey house a few streets over from the main part of the orphanage, which is comprised of a street of buildings. They own almost the whole street bar a few houses in the middle, which (I think) are currently being used as a recording studio, of all things. They’ve turned these houses into the core of the orphanage; church, school room, kitchen, dining hall, a house for the girls, a house for the boys, etc. The staff (volunteers) live in the neighbouring houses and streets; Pastor Jacop and his wife Bridget live in the house opposite the one in which we’re staying, which is generally given to visitors here.

Feeling pretty hungry and tired (we arrived at 3:30pm MYT, 6:30pm AEDST) we quickly checked out the house before raiding the kitchen and chilling out with some cereal and tea and a good book each. We spent some time on the balcony upstairs looking over the rooftops of the rambling houses surrounding us and enjoying the early Year of the Dragon festivities; the crackers and fireworks and atmosphere were all really cool, and we’re looking forward to the rest of the celebrations.

This morning we wandered around the orphanage (the no shoes rule is my favourite part), which included getting to know some of the kids while we helped chop vegetables for lunch. We spent some time talking to a guy on the staff called Michael, who told us how he came to be a Christian and working at the SCF, before settling down in front of the Disney Channel with a handful of kids before lunch. There are around 97 kids here without including the local college kids, which made for an interesting (noisy) lunch experience in the dining hall, which was, incidentally, delicious. The lunch, not the building. It’s a bit disconcerting not being able to communicate with a lot of the people here, but makes for interesting communication. Bridget told us that they speak four or five languages to the kids because of their varied backgrounds; one sentence might contain a mix of English, Bahasa and Chinese, to help the kids communicate more easily with each other.

At the moment we’re sitting in the main office, using one of their ancient computers to check our emails (and attempt to convince Optus to let me use my phone.) We’re investigating the available wi-fi, so hopefully this will get posted online soon enough.

The generosity shown by everyone has been amazing, we feel so comfortable here. I’m looking forward to getting to know the kids better, and we’re all really excited to explore for the next few weeks!