Monday, December 3, 2012

Adventure in Malaysia

Thanksgiving 2012 was very unusual. Tom had his first Asian regional investment management team meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was scheduled over the American Thanksgiving holiday. Since Tom was the only American in the group, the date was not problematic to anyone else. I accepted the invitation to accompany him rather than stay here in Switzerland solo. Our Thanksgiving dinner was actually at what the locals call "the best Italian restaurant in Kuala Lumpur." Tom and I would have preferred local food. Having been to many Italian restaurants all over the world, this one was certainly not the best, but it was fine. Sure didn't feel like Thanksgiving, though.

While Tom was at his meetings, I ventured off on my own. I opted to try the "Hop On - Hop Off" bus tour of Kuala Lumpur. It was a bit stressful touring the city on my own. I felt very conspicuous in my appearance. I did not feel threatened - just out of place. Having once been part of the UK, lots of English is spoken, but finding my way around was still confusing. The roads are not in a grid like NYC. Crossing the street seemed borderline suicidal. The cross signals seems to rarely change to allow the pedestrian safe crossing. When it did change to pedestrian green, one second later it was red again. I took to watching locals cross and go when they went. 

The city is noisy, dirty and crowded but an interesting mix of cultures and architecture. There is a lot of new construction in progress and the necessary repairs are being ignored. Many sidewalks and curbs were in disrepair.

I opted to exit the bus for the first time in the Chinatown area. It looked much like Chinatowns I've seen in other cities - streets lined with shops for food, handbags, trinkets, etc.

care for some sugar cane?

The Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu temple is near Chinatown. I was allowed in, but not with my shoes on. Even though I had a bag to put my shoes in, I had to pay a small amount to check my shoes. It was interesting to look around - very colorful. It was also very fragrant - lots of incense. I didn't understand what I was looking at until we had a guide's explanation  on another day.

vendor selling offerings outside the temple

Malaysia has a king (or sultan to use their word). They built what they thought was a suitable palace for a person of this importance. Since Malaysia has only been a country since the late 50's, this palace is relatively new.

Hibiscus is the national flower of Malaysia. Here you see them on the light posts. I don't know if the sparklers have any significance, but I think they're cool.
Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Merdaka (Independence) Square
Merdaka Square is the location where the British flag was lowered and the Malaysian flag raised in 1957 signaling freedom from British rule.

The KL Tower is a stand out along the KL skyline. It is visible from many spots around the city. I never went up for a view of the city because both afternoons brought dark clouds and rain - not worth paying to go up.

The residents of KL are proud of the tower, but the Petronas Towers are even more impressive! They are currently the tallest twin towers in the world. There is a two story bridge at the 40th level. Again, I did not go up into the tower, but enjoyed seeing them from around the city.

Petronas Towers from our hotel

the same by night

The lower levels of the towers are shopping malls. 


A very different shopping experience is the KL Central Market. Two stories of indoor stalls - bargaining expected. Not my favorite hobby, but I played the game. 

My second day of touring solo, I headed for local sites to appreciate nature. First stop, Hibiscus Park.


     Second Stop: Orchid Garden

Third Stop: Bird Park

never saw a peacock in a tree before

this guy was walking down the path towards me - not scared at all of the big humans

I could pay to have my picture taken with these birds or take my own for free.
an odd creature who made a rhythmic repetitive noise.

a very odd ostrich sized creature


After Tom's meetings were over, we helped him switch over to tourist mode by going to a Malaysian buffet that also had cultural dance entertainment.

dancers posing before the show

desserts - they look better than they taste

Noodles were to be cooked yourself and then toppings added. No directions. We obviously did it wrong. We were laughed at and they tasted terrible. One bite was all I ate. Yuck!

For our one day together, we signed up for a full day tour of KL. We didn't know that it would be just the two of us, but that was perfect. We were able to set the pace.  Our tour guide and driver, Henry, was very knowledgeable about history, religions, plants and foods. It was definitely money well spent. First stop with our guide was the Batu Caves, home of a very large Hindu Temple. Yes, we climbed all those steps (in the rain) to go inside.

offerings for sale again

offerings being presented inside cave

temple inside cave
No tour would be complete without showing a craft and giving you the opportunity to buy. We were taken to the Royal Selangor pewter works and a Batik studio. Tom had already  been given a pewter mug with the Zurich logo so we did not buy anything there. 

world's largest beer mug

I bought a scarf, but not this.

Outside the Thean Hou (Chinese) Temple were statues representing the Chinese Zodiac. Tom and I posed with our animals.

for Sarah
for Alicia
remind anyone else of Mulan?

Thean Hou Temple

lots of incense and offerings here too!

Periodically, the Temple prepares food for whoever shows up that day. We were lucky enough to come on one of the food days. Soup, rice and vegetarian dishes - all for free! Very tasty.

thinking of Jenny and all her cute shoes

We stopped briefly at the National Museum - tracing Malaysian history through the years. Some of us are very glad that footwear has improved over time.

Last religious stop of the day: the National Mosque. 

All women had to be completely covered. The mosque provided lovely purple robes. Men wearing shorts also had to put on the robes, but they could leave the hood down. I had no need to linger at the mosque - it was very hot inside the robe!

We also stopped at the National Monument.

The current prime minister (yes, they have sultan and prime minister) created this logo with the big number 1. It signifies the three cultures (Chinese, Indian and native Malay) coming together to created one Malaysia. 


Our last night we tried a local Chinese restaurant - incuding a taste of coconut as a beverage. It was refreshingly cold, but didn't taste at all like the coconut milk in a pina colada. The food was all very good.

what's wrong with this picture?

Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, but there was evidence of a Christian community (we saw one church) and they were trying to encourage some Christmas shopping.

Our short time in Malaysia came to end and therefore I must finally stop!