Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The end of Malaysia, for now

Long View of Batu Caves
So, after the presentation it was off to lunch with Professor Mustapha and her friend, who were absolutely hysterical. We had got a hint of that the previous evening when the parking lot had given us a bad ticket and we couldn’t exit. Mustapha and friend played Mutt and Jeff for us while we waited – the classic answer after the friend had to park the car sideways and run upstairs was, “oh, the tickets fail all the time.” Which seems to suggest a problem, and surely enough, as we began to (finally) successfully pull through, we noticed another car with a bad ticket and we think (hope, really, since the folks in the other car didn’t speak English, that we pantomimed to them what they needed to do. Or, they are still trapped in the parking lot, getting weaker as I type. By about the third night, the underground-parking-lot weasels, teeth sharp as razors and claws fetid with the gore of previous victims, will come!).
The lunch was good, and afterwards they took us down to our new hotel, which was in every way superior to the other one, including a rooftop bar that sold three pints of Carlsberg for $55Sing.  After we got to the hotel we first went (Yvonne’s addictions always coming first) to the Junk Bookstore, which was actually pretty cool. I picked up a slender volume of PG Wodehouse stories, and Yvonne got, well, whatever kind of thing it is Yvonne gets. Returning, we took advantage of the rooftop bar, and then ordered dinner from room service.
The next day was the big tourist day.  Which really wasn’t much. We went to Batu Caves, which was conveniently on the subway, and here we met the only real touts we would meet on the trip, selling little knick-knacky stuff. Batu Caves was cool, but dirty and smelly. The smell has to do with bat guano, I think, but the Caves were also cleaning up from some kind of previous festival. Monkeys, roosters, and pigeons were pretty much everywhere, and we watched with amusement as a very young boy was swarmed by pigeons. We were less amused, later, when some monkeys got fairly aggressive. On the way down from the  two chambers of the above-ground caves we stopped to take a tour of the Dark Caves. This was completely worth it, and I was amazed at how many people walked right by it without considering it. 45 minutes of nature lecture and awesome sights and sounds (or lack thereof, sometimes).  Then it was back into town and a trip to the Petronas Towers, which we checked out, but we did not end up going onto the tower bridge, because only single tickets were available for the next few slots, and we had a dinner date with a professor Manaf an her husband. Yvonne did manage to borrow an umbrella from the hotel and lose it within 20 minutes, setting a new person best for her.
In-Cave Waterfall
Dinner was grand, with a lot of chit-chat about cultural differences and misunderstandings, and it ran a bit long, and then back, as we say in rap, to the hotel.
The next day began, of course, with me making the nearly fatal mistake of listening to Yvonne.^^ This was partly because I had made a bone-headed mistake of my own. AirAsia, concerned for our travel, had sent us an email noting that it was Chinese New Year’s weekend and that travel times, and particularly time spent in airports, might be extended. I wondered why they had sent that out to me  nearly 4 days in advance of the weekend, but I dutifully set out to check in online, where I promptly entered my passport number incorrectly. Ooops!  This meant we should probably get to the airport even earlier than we had planned. Fortunately, Yvonne told me that we were leaving from KUL’s main terminal and that would make everything much easier, as we could take the express train. Except, of course, that we  weren’t leaving from the main terminal, which I only figured out after we were already on the train. Fortunately there is also a bus-shuttle between the main and low-cost terminals, and even with leaving to the wrong airport, we got to LCCT in just about the same time it would have taken to go directly.
Once we got there, the passport SNAFU was fixed up in a jiff, and it turned out the airport was relatively deserted, as we were traveling on the actual New Year’s Eve. Air Asia had sent the warning out early because travel the days before were hectic, but both Kuala Lumpur and Singapore had pretty much cleared out (lots and lots of Indians and Chinese go home, and most Malays head to their hometowns – a lot like what happens in Seoul at the same time.
The flight to Singapore is less than an hour, and we walked out of the airport, into a cab, and over to our hotel at  Joo Chiat, which thankfully was what had been advertised on the web. We walked around the neighborhood and had some awesome food at a roadside stand, then beers at a nearby pub. The neighborhood was pretty shut down, but what was open hinted that it would be a pretty partying neighborhood in regular circumstances.

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