A little bit of writing, a little bit of knitting...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Weekend in KL

The sun is just setting on Sunday back home, but I've already had my breakfast, and Paul's already at work. It's Monday morning here in KL.

We had an insane weekend -- especially considering the jet lag -- but we saw a lot of the city. And guess what -- I have pictures!

On Friday night, Paul worked late, so I sat around and watched DVDs and knitted until he got back. Everyone from the office was going out that night to celebrate, but we were pretty beat, so we decided to opt for a quiet night. We went to the Asian food court (one of two food courts) at the KLCC (the mall at the base of the Petronas Towers) for dinner. We had rice bowls (which, just for the record, I ate with actual chopsticks) and drinks, which ran us right around $4 (did I mention that things in KL are very affordable?). We did a little shopping, but it was late, and the mall closes at 10, so then we headed back to the hotel to crash. But first, we got some great pictures of the Towers at night. It's hard to capture the ghostly glow, but trust me on this -- they're absolutely breathtaking.

We got up early on Saturday morning -- because we had a ton to do. We stuffed ourselves with a big breakfast, packed up the backpack, and hopped in a cab, headed for the Central Market. The market is a two-floor shopping center that looks a lot like a flea market. In fact, it reminded me of the one that Chandra and I visited a few weeks ago, on our Yarn Outlet adventure. There, they have mostly Malaysian handcrafts -- wood carvings and batiks and handbags -- as well as some other clothes and souvenirs and food. We picked up a few little things, but we mostly just wandered around. And we stopped for drinks. Paul attempted to order a glass of coconut juice and ended up with a giant coconut, a spoon, and a straw. LOL.

After Central Market, we walked down the street to Chinatown. In Chinatown, there's a huge flea market. Again, they have food and souvenirs and things, but they have lots of other stuff, too -- not much of which is actually legal. That's where you can get the stuff that is, according to some of the vendors "95% authentic." During the day, the street that holds the market is actually open to vehicles, but after 4, they shut down the street, and even more vendors come out. We're planning to go back some night this week, to see the Night Market in action, but here's what it looks like during the day:

After a few hours of wandering around, we were exhausted. You see, Malaysia is very close to the Equator. Malaysia has a tropical rain forest climate. It's hot here. And humid. And the markets are packed with shoppers and vendors. Haggling with vendors for a couple of hours could nearly kill you. So we found ourselves a cab and headed back to the hotel. After we got in the cab, however, I started to worry that we'd never see the hotel again. The driver was a young man, and his mother was seated in the passenger seat. Neither spoke much English, and I don't think either knew anything about KL. They couldn't figure out where we were on the map we showed them, and the driver couldn't even figure out where the Towers were (we're a five-minute walk away, so once you get to the Towers, we're right there). We drove around the streets of KL for a very long time until Paul finally found our way back. I was relieved to get out.

We made it back just in time for the rain to start. As one of our guidebooks explained, they don't call it a rain forest for nothing. And, as Paul's uncle, who lived in KL 20 years ago, explained, there are two seasons: rainy season and non-rainy season. During the rainy season, it rains for a couple of hours every day. During the non-rainy season, it rains a couple of hours every other day. So far, it's rained two out of three days. And when it rains, it really rains.

Once we got back to the hotel, I quickly headed for the shower. Then, after sitting for a couple of minutes, we headed back out. One of our friends from Delft, Arjen, was in town for the week, and he was heading back to Delft on Saturday night -- so we met him for coffee at the KLCC. The KLCC was *packed*. Since it was raining, there were crowds of shoppers huddled around the windows, waiting for the rain to let up. We were lucky to actually find Arjen in the crowd (fortunately, tall Dutch men kinda stand out around here). Then we had to hurry back to the hotel, since we had dinner plans.

Another one of the guys from Delft, Gijs, recently moved to the KL office, after meeting the woman of his dreams while on a business trip a year or so ago. So Gijs and his girlfriend, Cherry, picked us up for dinner. We drove way out of the city to the suburbs -- to a little out-of-the-way Chinese restaurant. Cherry is Mandarin Chinese, and she thought she'd take us out for some *real* Chinese food. And it was the experience of a lifetime. We sat outside on a resin table and resin chairs, and Cherry ordered for us. We got four dishes -- an ostrich dish, some kind of fish (a *whole* fish on a plate -- though, as Paul pointed out, at least they had the decency to cover the head with lettuce and stuff), and two crab dishes. We were surprised that there were no chopsticks to be found. But those are only used for rice bowls. Unlike us Westerners, the Chinese aren't actually stupid enough to eat *everything* with chopsticks. They stick with a fork and spoon.

The food was amazing. I don't even like seafood, but I loved the fish. Everything was so flavorful. The crab, however, was the biggest challenge I've ever had. Everything is still in the shell and covered in sauce -- and you're supposed to pick out the meat with your fingers. I made a huge mess of myself and got very little crab out of the deal. But what I did get was quite tasty.

On our way back, Cherry drove us through the more "local" parts of KL -- through the places where the locals hang out. I wish I could have taken pictures of all of it -- so I could share every bit of it. But alas, we were in the car.

Yesterday morning, we slept in a bit. We were just too tired to get up early -- so we ended up sleeping late and missing breakfast. Oh, well. Paul got to work right away, since his big meetings start today. His 2:00 meeting was cancelled, though, so we decided to hit the road again. This time, we took the monorail. Once we got off, we realized that we were hungry, so we stopped at the McDonald's that was across the street from the station. I know what you're thinking: eating at a McDonald's in a foreign country is a cheap cop-out. But actually, it's a little comforting. And it's always a different experience in every country. Here, you can get fast Malaysian food -- and there's a chili sauce dispenser next to the ketchup dispenser. I tried the chili sauce. It's good -- but it's got lots of bite.

Our next stop was Low Yat, the electronics mall. Seriously -- it's six floors of pretty much nothing but electronics. It's crammed full of people, it's loud, and it's got everything you could ever want. We replaced our 64MB memory card in our digital camera with a 1GB card -- so no worries about running out of room for pictures. We can take 1500 at the largest size.

We hit all of the floors in Low Yat, but then I was more than ready to leave. The crowds were overwhelming. So then we ended up in the mall down the street, where we found that it's not just the electronics mall. This one was loud and crowded, too. I was there looking for Lily, one of the only yarn shops in town, and we almost gave up. It was not easy to find. But we finally did -- and I was disappointed. They have yarn there, but you can't actually touch it. It's all stacked on shelves, which are behind the counter. So I gave up and left.

I tried shopping -- I really did. The prices are great here, and I thought I'd pick up a couple of things. But I found I couldn't shop. I realize that it's because Malaysia is a very service-oriented country, but I got a little freaked out by the fact that you can't walk into a store without a sales clerk following you around. If you look at a shirt, the clerk will pick it up and unfold it for you. And when you move on to something else, they'll follow, always looking over your shoulder (or, if you're 5' 10", like I am, around your shoulder). Between the fact that sales clerks kept following me around and the fact that, as a tall blonde non-Asian woman, I fit in here about as well as a giraffe fits in with the penguins at the zoo, I got a little overwhelmed after a while (not to mention that I got really sick of the guy singing "Shake Your Bon-Bon"). So we decided to head back for a while (though we did stop for some groceries first, which is always a fascinating experience in a foreign country, but it wasn't really all that exciting, so I'll skip it).

Back at the hotel, we consulted our travel guides and decided to visit the tourism center and ask a few questions -- and then head to the KL Tower (AKA Menara Kuala Lumpur).

It's the 4th tallest communications tower in the world (the tallest being the CN Tower, in Paul's home, Toronto). The tower is 420-some meters tall, if I recall correctly. And though we caught it on a cloudy day, we were there at the perfect time -- right before the sun set. Unfortunately, we didn't actually *see* the sun set. But we got to see the city at dusk -- and at night. We got some spectacular pictures of the city -- and, of course, of the Towers.

After that, we went with another Cheap American Cop-Out. We were looking for a highly-recommended Italian restaurant, but we couldn't find it, so we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. The Hard Rock, it turns out, is like Mecca for non-Asians. The Hard Rock is where the giraffes hang out. There was a Formula One race on, and the place was full of blonde people. And, well, it was nice to fit in for a while.

After a nice big burger and fries (with chili sauce, of course), we walked back to the hotel. We were there just in time to catch the half-price baked goods before the deli closed. See, every day from 7-10, the restaurant in the lobby sells the baked goods from its deli case at half-off. We'd never actually been around during that time, so we always missed it -- and I was determined to actually get some of their fancy cheesecake. And last night, we made it just in time. For less than the price of our sodas at the Hard Rock (not *everything* is cheap in KL -- not the tourist traps), we got a piece of carrot cake and some green tea mousse. YUM! Then I picked up my knitting while Paul got back to work. The poor guy got a call at 10:55, saying that he needed to have a bunch of things prepared for a 5:00 meeting today, so we were up a bit late.

Overall, we had an amazing -- and exhausting -- weekend. I'm just amazed by KL. It's been a totally surreal experience -- because the city is so familiar yet so foreign all at the same time. In a way, it's modern and very Western. Pretty much every American product exists out here. I could go to the store and get my Neutrogena and my Olay moisturizer, and I could communicate with the clerk (albeit not always very well) in English. I could get Clinique or a pair of Guess jeans. I could get a Frappuccino or dinner at Chilis or a pretzel at Auntie Anne's. I could even work out at California Fitness. We have our nice Western-style hotel with a big pool. Here, it's *thisclose* to being the same at things back home, but, at the same time, it's so very different. This isn't Columbus, Ohio. This is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It's difficult to explain, but it's a really strange feeling.

Often, when I visit a place, I find myself with a strong urge to move there. But while KL is an incredible place to visit, I haven't had the slightest desire to move here (which I'm sure will make my mom very happy). Not even for a split-second. I know I wouldn't last here. It's all too surreal.

Anyway...today I have a strict schedule. After doing some work here, I will go and sit by the pool and do a little more work -- and maybe some reading -- to allow the maid some time to get through the room. Then, I will return (hopefully to find that the room's been cleaned), and I'll do some laundry. KL is definitely a two-shower-a-day kind of city, and I've been going through clothes like you wouldn't believe. If I don't do some laundry, I'll run out before we even get to the island. Paul's working late tonight, so I foresee a lot of TV and knitting again. Something about KL -- especially seeing all the fabrics and things on Saturday -- has inspired me to pick up the lace again.

Tomorrow, I think I'm going to try to visit the Towers again. To answer Jeanne's question, believe it or not, there is no visitors' deck in the Towers. (I know -- I think it's insane, too). The only people allowed in the building are those who work there -- no guests. So Paul gets to go there every day. I'm trying to persuade him to somehow try to get me in, but it isn't working yet. But, each day except Monday, there are certain hours during which visitors can go to the bridge, about 1/3 of the way up. It's free, but you have to get there really early, since they only allow 800 visitors per day. So you have to get there by about 8 in the morning to get your ticket. I'm going to try -- I owe it to Jeanne. :)

I'll try to post more pictures tomorrow, too. Blogger seems to be getting a little cranky, and it's not allowing me to add more.


Blogger Ashley said...

I went to McDonalds when I was in Hawaii. I thought it was the coolest thing that all value meals came with pineapple. It's fun to just compare those things.

I'm jealous... I wish I could go on a cool little vacation like you. Too bad about the yarn store though. I guess in a tropical climate they don't have quite the excitement about knitting. I'm sure it would get a bit hot after awhile.

10:23 PM

Blogger Sourire11 said...

I am enjoying these posts *so* much! Thanks for sharing your trip with us!!!

I totally don’t think it’s a cop out to go to the Hard Rock or McDonalds! When I was studying in Europe I would be all Euro for about 80% of the time… then I’d hit that travel wall where I just need something somewhat familiar – like an overpriced hamburger – then I could completely get back into the groove.

It’s awesome that you have a local to show you around – and your Chinese meal sounds fab. It’s always good to get to the off the beaten path places where real people live – not that the tourist traps are bad – just that it’s good to see it all.

Good luck getting into the tower! Even if you can’t go all the way up getting onto the bridge will be amazing, too – and imagine the fabulous pictures you can get of the towers looking up from the bridge!

And yeah for lace knitting!

11:11 AM

Anonymous Beth M. said...

Love the pictures and details of the trip.
fyi... I went to McDonald's when I was in Japan..
It didn't taste like hamburgers.
Hope your's was better.

7:59 PM

Blogger Jennifer said...

wow...i'm loving the posts about your trip. everything sounds amazing and at the same time, i feel overwhelmed by it all just reading along, so i can only imagine how it must feel actually being there ;)
thanks again for sharing all of this and i can't wait to see more pics!

5:06 AM

Anonymous Ruth said...

Hi, enjoying reading about your holiday. I think food is really important when you are far from home. I lived in China for a year and whenever it all got to much we would leave the country and go to Macau for McDonalds. Sometimes you need the tastes of home. They served soup and green tea in the McDonalds in Macau and Hong Kong.

6:27 AM


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