Saturday, February 09, 2013

Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur = Awesome. But it is goodbye


We shall get to all that title nonsense later, but for now a bit of, as PG Wodehouse might say, F-ing in the B (Not what some of you weirdos might think).

What did happen in Malaysia?

An unfriendly suggestion
First night we stayed in a bed-and-breakfast one train station from KUL. A nice enough place, but in the middle of nowhere. We had a glass of juice and turned in. The next day was a lovely breakfast and a conversation with a Canadian couple who were doing pretty much the same thing we were – hitting KL late at night, then hopping up to Langkawi the next day. Then it was off to a bus and to LCCT, one of the most chaotic airports I’ve ever been in, with masses of people milling about. No major problems though, and shortly we were on a plane to Langkawi. Once aboard Yvonne began a campaign of attrition against my stance we wouldn’t need a car. She alternated whining with shorter bits of whining, and then a bit of whining to mix things up. As I had no driver’s license with me, I was kind of against the plan (for reasons anyone familiar with Yvonne’s driving history might guess), but by dint of superior… well …. whining, she prevailed. So we got a small car and began our adventure of teaching Yvonne the difference between the right side of the road and the left, since Malaysia drives on the opposite side of the road from what we are used to. One other strange thing, the rent a car is turned over to you with the gas-tank meter already in the red, and the warning that you must “first get petrol.”  This was an adventure on at least two levels, the first being Yvonne’s right-left dyslexia, and the second being we had no idea where the hell we were, or where the gas station might be.  A couple of stops to confer with friendly locals, and had 30,000 ringgit of gas in the tank, which turned out to be enough for the entire island stay.

Excelsior!
Then it was off to Oriental Park. Like many 3rd World-ish places, Langkawi is flocking with motorbikes and scooters, many driven by tourists who don’t know where they are going and are unused to driving on the left. The roads are also a bit narrow, so this was a “fun” thing to do that I don’t hope to soon repeat.  We got minorly lost a few times, but the island is small enough that we made it safely to our hotel, which was quite nice.

We had time to burn that afternoon, so we went up the Langkawi air-tram. Going up was kind of scary as it was a bit windy, and Yvonne was reduced to making little grunty noises of fear, while I pretended to not be on the verge of huddling in a fetal ball and whimpering my way to the top.  But we made it, and the views were certainly worth it. The tram stops at the first peak, where you can get off for one set of views, then makes about a 30 degree swing to the left, over one last appalling precipice, and then you reach the top, top.^^

Going down the tram was much easier as you were basically looking off to the far horizon, and not down and into the pancake-like death that awaited in the ravines below the cable.
A breakfast of some kind

Then back to the village, a bit of dinner, and 4 channels of really bad TV.

The next day we headed into Pentai Cenang to meet with a friend who was in Langkawi, coincidentally, “seeing a man about a thing,” a description that was intentionally vague enough that we didn’t really ask any questions. We searched for a bookstore, but one was closed for vacation, and the other was inexplicably closed. So, it was off to the stunning (by which I mean the heat stunned us insensible) beach, which gave awesome views of blue water, boats, islands, and bikini clad babes, whom Yvonne ogled with shocking lack of concern for getting caught at it.^^

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After a couple of hours of that, we headed back to Oriental Village and the hotel.

The next day we headed up the 7 Wells Waterfall. We left relatively early to avoid the heat. Oddly, no one else seemed to have thought of this strategy, and we were basically alone on the trail. We got to the top (a bit over 500 stairs at the last bit), and wandered around taking pictures. On the way up we’d spotted a couple of the bigger, brown monkeys on the island, who were swinging through the trees. Then down to the bottom of the falls (conveniently about halfway down the stairs), which presented a much nicer photo op.  On the way down we ran into a guy with three older women, who were laboring at about step 100. He asked us about the path, and we recommended they just go to the bottom of the falls, since the view from the top was a lesser version of the view from the top of the tram and neither, really was worth the myocardial infarctions his team of angels would suffer, nor the bad back he would get dragging their corpses down the stairs.

Next stop was off to feed the Macaque monkeys, which I let Yvonne do, as all the typing my job requires means that I need all 10 fingers. The non-macaque monkeys are browner, larger, and much more shy, but the Macaque are small, relatively friendly, and extremely, extremely interested in what you might have in your bag because, after all, it could be delicious. The "friendly" thing would turn out to be in distinct contrast to some monkeys we would meet later.

Yvonne wanted to go to “Book Village” (her addiction, again), which was on the map, but a closer scrutiny of reality (by me, of course) showed that it had been out of business for at least two years. Yvonne is Republican in the sense that she does not believe reality should impinge on what she wants, so it took about 45 minutes of…er… discussion(?) before I could persuade her that it would be a waste of time to head off across the island to see something that no longer existed.

Babylon on the beach
After that, back to Centai Penang and the Starbucks where, predictably, Mike was hanging out. I then headed to the beach-bar (Babylon, baby!), while Mike continued to drink coffee and Yvonne went out on another fruitless search for an open bookstore.

Eventually we all re-convened at Bablyon, drinking and chatting. About halfway into it, we saw a bizarre apparition. Three people came from the road. Two were women, in shirts with sleeves that ran to their wrists, pants that ran fully to ankles, scarves, hats, and two enormous parasols. These two were followed by a similarly dressed man, absent the umbrella, who never once turned away from his video camera, as he filmed the women’s procession towards the beach. Yvonne, Mike, and I, all looked at each other an in unison mouthed, “Koreans!”

As they passed, I asked them in Korean if they were Koreans, and the man just nodded, then grimly returned to his filming. They marched out onto the beach, promenaded this way and that, and then grimly filed back to the main road, never to be seen by us again.

Once back at the Oriental Village we went to the “Tiger Adventure” which turned out to be an orphaned tiger cub in a small enclosure. You could order a drink (and fries) and watch the tiger lay around or pace in looped figure 8s. It looked like a rather drab experience. We had the local equivalent of slushies and moved on after the tiger came over and posed for us.

The next day we hung out at beaches, fed more monkeys, stopped for a roadside drink, then headed to the airport. A quick flight to KCCT, a bus to KL Sentral, a slight wait there, and then the Malaysian Prof who had invited me to speak picked us up and took us to our hotel.

Purty Langkawi
The hotel was epic, among the worst we’ve ever stayed at, and a testament to what a skilled cameraman can do on the interwebs. The room was puny and smelt heavily of mildew, the television was broken, and there was no window. On the other hand, there were bugs, so maybe that evens things out. The shower never exceeded tepid, the doors and walls were thin wood through which the extremely noisy, and in one case repeatedly ill, neighbors could be heard. The hotel was also in the middle of nowhere. This was problematic because there was also no complementary anything, and we ended up ranging the soggy neighborhood until we found a restaurant that would sell us a bottle of water. The next morning, apr├Ęs-tepid shower, I was standing in the main room and felt something splash on the back of my neck.  Looking up, I could see a hole in the ceiling, which I could see entirely through. Fortunately, the one thing the hotel did have that worked perfectly was internet, so the first thing I did after we got settled was make sure to reserve a different hotel for the next two nights.

All that joy was amplified the next morning when Yvonne rose from her slumber, more like Mars the God of War than Aurora the Goddess of Dawn, and announced that she had lost her passport.

Not just her passport, of course, but every form of identification she had.

All in one purse.

All in a foreign land.

This was, as we Koreans say, a wicket with a bit of tar on it (we normally say this while at templestays). Massive search revealed nothing, so we developed a plan, which Yvonne forgot every 15 minutes.

Our driver arrived and HURRAH! the lost passport had been lost in the car the night before. So we were, for the moment, good.

The presentation went very well.  It started about 15 minutes late, so I had to hurry a little bit at the end, but that’s good, because it means I have room to cut and sharpen before I do the version of it in Seoul. Yvonne said the history part was a bit dry and dull, so that will need to be spruced up. The room in which I did the presentation was cold, like icy cold, and I was glad to be the person up on stage, because it meant I could pace around to stay warm. I was well received, although a Buddhist professor did have some questions about my analysis of how Buddhism affected Korean han. This will be a good thing overall, as that is one of the weak points of my argument, and this taking it on the road thing is intended to discover the weak points…

And with that, presentation moderately successful, I leave the rest to the next post.

1 comment:

BKF said...

Dang passports! Why do they tend to disappear so often?