Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Day one to seven

Lindsey's memory list of our vacation. Day 1 is actually day 2, since day 1 our flight landed in the evening and we didn't do anything but have dinner really.

day 1, disaster walk
day 2, bird park
day 3, towers, caves, fireflies
day 4, melaka
day 5, bed and breakfast
day 6, off to KK
day 7, gaya market, signal hill, explore KK
day 8, monkey cruise
that's right
day 9, tuesday, explore, islands
day 10, kuching, walk around
day 11, kayaking
day 12, ummm....
me: bako
lindsey: thank you
day 13, late start, drive to sibu
day 14, drive to bintulu, almost die
day 15, bintulu, similajau
day 16, drive to miri
day 17, drive to brunei, water village
oh yeah, day 16 had limbang hills, too
day 18, cross all the borders, end up back in KK
day 19, shopping in KK, return the car
come home

This is my attempt to condense my travels in Malaysia, Malaysian Borneo, and Brunei into the shortest amount of text possible. I want to see if I can remember what happened everyday and decide what is important to describe and what is important to omit.

total stamps on passport: 16
total images recorded: circa 14,000
total miles driven across the island of Borneo: around 1100
total trips to hospital emergency rooms: one

Day one to day seven:

Our flight landed in Kuala Lumpur in the evening and we jumped on the express train to the central city. Palm oil plantations stretched out to the horizon everywhere, housing complexes and other types of developments were extreme, the air was wet and thick, some of the soil was reddish, the sky looked and felt like it weighed a million tons and everything was green and lush and constantly growing and always warm. We stayed at Hotel Citrus, of course.

Kuala Lumpur was the most relaxed capital city I've been to in Southeast Asia so far, except for the gaping holes in the sidewalks and the inability to really walk anywhere in the city of considerable distance without crisscrossing or walking on highways. It became clear that Malaysia was a country of immigrants, which brought me back to a lot of areas in L.A. There was a heavy Chinese and Indian influence apparent throughout all the areas of the city we visited. Many restaurants serving Malay and Chinese style food also had a clay oven to make Indian bread on the side, which I thought was especially genius. We had trouble finding traditional Malaysian food for a while, and we wanted to eat Laksa, which is a national dish of Malaysia but couldn't find it anywhere for a while. Every place that had it said they were out of it when we asked. We thought that was bizarre, but then we found out later that it was a dish prepared only for breakfast, and we were always too late in the day.

The second day we tried to walk to the point of convergence of two muddy rivers that represented the center of the city geographically and symbolically, as well as the meaning of the name of the capital (Kuala Lumpur = muddy confluence of rivers). We became distinctly lost and our way was constantly blocked by highways and overpasses which obliterated any sidewalk we were on abruptly. It started to rain so we found a taxi to take us the rest of the way. He was amused at how far we'd walked out of the way from where we had wanted to go. We found out later that my compass had somehow reversed itself, so north was south and east was west. Lindsey searched on the internet how that could even conceivably happen, and I still have no idea. Maybe it was all the airport xrays? For lunch that day we went to an Indian restaurant near the confluence where everyone was eating with their hands, soaking up and scooping up bits of extra-thick curry with a small bit of rice with their fingers. I ordered a banana leaf lunch which was a giant banana leaf laid out on the table with an array of small piles of various curries and spiced and pickled vegetables. Not sure where that lunch has been all my life, but it should have been there far sooner, and I only wish it was available where I live. I saw this younger Malaysian dude selling fruit and wearing a "Napalm Death" T-shirt. I haven't thought about that band since just after high school probably, when I was still heavily into death metal and similar music, but I never thought about it in a Southeast Asian context. Although Malaysia never had the napalm problems of further north in Vietnam, it still seemed like the meaning of that shirt was just a little too close to home in that region; and I wondered if the guy wearing the shirt had ever thought about what the name of the band was actually referring to.

The next day we went to the lake gardens and saw the bird park and butterfly gardens and the beautiful landscaped grounds. If there was ever a region of the world for parks it's the tropical regions. So many fascinating native plants and flowers that just grow there anyway, with next to zero maintainance. Incredible. On the way there we had the most racist taxi driver I've had to date. He told us some of the inequalities he faced as a Hindu Indian living in an Islamic country. Those that can give a muslim greeting to the police don't get fines, those of other religions do. Basically the point he reiterated the most was "Don't take muslims taxi!" Although he was nut ball over the top and pretty much a loose cannon I felt fortunate to get a glimpse into that side of the culture. I think it's important to really see the dirt and filth of a place and its people to get a good feel for it.

On Wednesday we hired a private taxi who would take us to see the fireflies two hours north of Kuala Lumpur along a small river in Selangor province. We didn't leave with him until the afternoon so we checked out the KL tower and the Petronas tower and the large mall near there beforehand. As we approached the taxi stand to go back to the hotel I noticed our driver had a crazy long beard that went down to his waist, which was strange because he was pretty young. When he got into the car he put his fake beard onto the seat next to him. I just had to ask why he carried around a long fake beard, and he just said it was some fake hair that a woman and her baby left in the cab that day. Weird. Batu Caves, the tranquil Hindu cave temple, was under construction, and you had to narrowly avoid large caterpillars on your way up. Monkey's lined the stairway, jumping along the fence and occasionally stopping for a lightning quick fuck. There were two huge pythons casually lying on a plastic patio table to the right of the entrance that you could pay to have your pictures taken with. There was a sign painted on the cave wall that said "NO STICK" that I still don't understand. There was a lot of water dripping from the ceilings and more long tailed monkeys jumping around, and the place made me feel really happy to be there. Later, after seafood along a river we climbed into a row boat with some unpleasant Australian women and saw fireflies everywhere in the trees lining the river, like constellations and christmas trees, they were so tiny and they blinked so fast and many times and were synchronized. The Australian women kept joking that the blinking was morse code for SOS and "help us!" and whatnot. I kept wishing there was some way they could fall out of the boat without us falling with them.

On Thursday we took a bus to Melaka. Melaka is a town with a deep colonial history. It was founded by a renegade Indian pirate prince, then it was colonized by the Portuegese, Dutch and British. They say there's even some people living there who still speak with a creole Portuegese/Malay language of their own. The architecture ther was interesting, but the sheer extent of new development was unsettling. The laksa in Melaka is supposed to be some of the best in Malaysia, but we couldn't find it. Near dusk mobs and mobs of birds swooped down and filled the trees, power lines, and antennaes and gave of a loud interwoven and chaotic cacaphony of calls that shredded the air wide open and made me feel so excited and extra alive to be there listening to it. Lindsey thought the noise was a little bit awful.

On Friday we just decided to take our time in getting back to Kuala Lumpur since we were flying to Borneo early Saturday. We stayed at a bed and breakfast near the airport. It ended up being owned by this African American retired marine from Washington DC. He married a Malay woman and bought a huge house in a terribly bland looking gated housing development an 8 minute drive from the airport. The guy was sort of a trip because he still held onto the residue and structure from his years in the service, and he ran a tight ship in his house -- when he asked us to "sit down and just relax I'll get your complimentary refreshments" he said it with a certain misplaced urgency that I got the impression we shouldn't be moving or doing anything else but sitting right there. He convinced himself that someone was tailing us while he was driving us to his house from the airport, and he drove past the driveway to his place and down the street until the car behind us stopped. He said his military training died hard. He had everything broken down into neat time increments: 6 minute drive to the nearest restaurant or a 12 minute walk, and an 8 minute drive to and from the airport under ideal conditions. He told us "We'll go ahead and kick off breakfast at oh-seven-hundred...that shouldn't interfere with anyone else's schedule."

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