‘Malaysia: Truly Asia’ is Malaysia’s current tourism slogan, but I think a better one would be ‘Malaysia: A Nice Break From Asia.’ With Muslims, Indians (and/or Bangladeshis) and attractive men who weigh more than me everywhere, Malaysia is quite a refreshing change of scenery. Besides which, people are so friendly here, almost as eerily friendly as Canadians. It’s quite Western as well, and everyone speaks flawless English. Sadly, although Malaysia is far more modern than most SE Asian countries, its toilets are more along Chinese lines (oh, U-bend plumbing, why are you so elusive?). And room rates are higher, so I’ve plunged back in to the seedy, social world of dorms. Not many Americans seem to make it here. I’ve had a lot of these conversations:
‘Where you from?’
‘Ah, America. We don’t get many Americans here.’
‘I have no problem with your country.’
I flew into Kuala Lumpur at 10:30 p.m., with no hotel reservation and no idea where I was going. I figured it’d be fine, but hadn’t reckoned on it taking well over an hour to get into the city center. By the time I got my bags, got through customs, got on a bus, and was sitting there waiting for the bus to fill up before it departed, I realized that I would be wandering the streets of KL alone with my luggage and map at 1:00 a.m. I really started to panic, but at the last minute, an ATWC-mixed-European boarded and I scooted up and asked if I could come along with them to their hostel. It was a good thing I did, because we were wandering around the deserted city until after 2 before we finally found a room that wasn’t horribly expensive: showing up in the wee hours does not put you in a good bargaining position.
Kuala Lumpur has a big Chinatown and a smaller Little India. There are a great many, packed markets, where you can see Muslim girls plowing through bins of headscarves to the tune of ‘Loosen Up My Buttons’ from a nearby pirated CD stall. I visited a Museum of Islamic Arts (many Quaran with elaborate calligraphy), a butterfly garden (okay) and a bird park (really cool). Currently, the East coast of Malaysia is pretty much shut down for monsoon season, but the West coast is supposed to be dry. It’s not. It’s raining a whole lot.
After a couple days in KL, I went down to Melaka for a night. Melaka used to be a big deal port town, which was passed amongst various colonizing powers. The Portuguese left the most architecture behind. I know I compare a lot of places to Gatlinburg, but the more I travel, the more I realize a lot of places are like Gatlinburg and Melaka is yet another: there are a great many museums (one even with a Ripley’s exhibit), a lot of quaint, little shops selling clothes made of linen, the ruins of an old Catholic church on a hill, and two giant, heavily air-conditioned malls, all convieniently grouped together within walking distance. The most interesting museum was the ‘Museum of Enduring Beauty’, which featured displays on every painful, disgusting procedure, from corsets to foot binding to cranial mutation, people have endured to render themselves attractive. I also saw a hilarious sound and light show, which took place in a giant ampitheatre, in which three tourists were sitting, and mostly involved a highly dramatic retelling of Melaka’s history through bullhorn:
‘Ah, MMMMelllakka, city of light.’
[sound of horse’s hooves goes on for way too long, ends in a big splash]
‘What has happened?!?!’
‘A deermouse has kicked your dog into the river, highness.’
‘It is a mmmirrrracle! I shall call this a-place…MMMelllaka. After this tree.’
Meanwhile, lights went on and off, illuminating two trees at the base of the ampitheatre.
From Melaka, I had to return to KL for the night. I’ve really gotten out of the habit of dorms, and it’s hard to get back in. I’m no longer used to waiting for a fat, hairy, weirdly-grunting Indian man to vacate a shower before I can use it, and then shower to the sounds of a giggling British couple next door, who apparently find nasty hostel showers a romantic setting. I’m also out of the habit of ignoring a loudly snoring German backpacker, while simultaneously ignorning the Malaysian hostel employee in the bunk above me, also being kept awake by the German and expressing his frustration by rocking the bunk against the wall and screaming ‘Ai-yi-YI!’ repeatedly. My last night in KL, I finally got up and took a shower at 4:30; I figured as long as I was awake anyway, I may as well take advantage of having the bathroom to myself. But there was someone in there.
I’ve since escaped to the Cameron Highlands, which is where I will be spending Christmas. I was surprised to find there is Christmas in Southeast Asia, especially in Malaysia, which is hugely Islamic. But I guess Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or Jew, everyone wants to be in the black come New Year’s.
I wish you all a merry Christmas back home. Gorge yourselves on cheese and chocolate for me!