Wednesday, March 01, 2006

S.E. Asia Continued

Selamat Petang! Well, it took me 3-4 hours to upload and title my photos. Holy crap! I'm going to reference them now and pick up where I left off in the last post. The pics are all here if you want to look at them while reading this entry. Some corrections on the last post: the 'village' language is 'Hokkien,' not 'Fokkien.' The nightmarket is 'Petaling' not 'Penang' Market.

Anyway, in the last post, we were on our way to see Badu cave in Kuala Lumpur. We definitely enjoyed seeing this mother of all caves. The arguably best part was being surrounded by wild monkeys on the way up. They are indifferent about people being around them, and I think they are fed fruit by the Hindu worshippers who gather there, so they are overpopulating the area. I also held a python named Sobe, near the entrance of the cave. You can feel it's skin grabbing at your flesh. The interior of the cave was massive, with Indian music playing, and roosters crowing. I don't know whose idea it was to put roosters in there. They seemed pretty content pecking at garbage though. Later that day, we went to the National Museum. Unlike the history museum, which contains many artifacts, the National contains mostly life-sized diaramas of historic Malaysian life. Kind of like a wax museum. It also contains lots of stufffed Malaysian wildlife, like an alligator, and some rocks from the first trip to the moon, given by the U.S. as a present.

The next day, we hopped on a plane to Phuket. We were greeted by our tour guide, a middle-aged lady who later revealed to us she had once been a man. She had me totally fooled, which is ironic because I laugh at the absurdity when my youngest students mistake me for a boy (due to my short hair, which is uncommon on Korean girls). Our guide told us how she and her spa business had been swept away in the tsunami. She drank too much debris and saltwater. After she was hospitalized for 3 months, her esophagus valve no longer shut properly, so now acid reflux causes her to lose her voice often. She also showed us a dent in the middle of her forehead caused by debris. She told us how her maid had given birth to a daughter but they couldn't find the father. So she signed as the father, and the little girl asked her 'how can you be my dad if you are my mom?' She then talked about how the lack of tourism after the tsunami made her wish she had died in it. She told all these stories in a comedic way, but I still found them sobering.

I preferred the humid, tropical climate of Malaysia over the drier Thailand, but Thailand has some gorgeous beaches, and is a bit cleaner. The food was probably the best I've ever tasted, but I could say that about all the food we ate during the trip. Lots of coconut, seafood, and the to-die-for Thom Yam and Laksa soups, which are clear, sour broth with lime, lemongrass and seafood. I got some heartburn but couldn't stop eating that danged sour soup. We saw a Buddhist temple called Wat Chalong. It was very colourful and ornate; much moreso than anything I've seen before.There was no blank space on any of the walls on each of the three stories; they were all filled with paintings depicting stories.

On the way to Patong beach, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to ride an elephant. We opted for the 45 minute 'river tour.' The river was dried up, but we walked for the most part through a rubber tree forest. Our guide sliced some rubbertrees and I leaned over and touched some of the white oozing rubber sap. It was sticky and gummy at first, but after rolling it between my thumb and index finger, it dried into a small hard gob of.. well, rubber. Our guide also poked at gigantic black and yellow spiders. Deep in the rubber forest, we came upon villages with small, clustered houses. People were going about their daily business, feeding babies and washing dishes, mostly outside in the shade since it is so hot there. Our elephant was very docile and quiet. They are constant grazers though, always pulling up veggies with their trunks while carrying us around.

After that we went to Patong beach, which was hardest hit during the tsunami. You couldn't tell there was ever a tsunami there, aside from some new sidewalks that are still going in. I had heard stories about how this beach was unclean and filled with hookers, but I guess the tsunami cleaned off the beach. The beachside town is a huge tourist trap, and sort of an asian Vegas. Lots of fake goods for sale, and neon lights. That night we went to see the ladyboy show, which was better than I was expecting. The ladyboys were more feminine and pretty than most of us girls who were born female! Their performance featured elaborate sets and costumes including Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Egyptian and tribal. That night we went for Italian and I found the best pepporoni pizza I've had since Italy. I must find out where to get true Italian flat-crust pizza when I return to Van.

The next morning we got up super early and I was way too tuh-ired. But it was worth it. We hopped on a boat and set out for the Phi Phi islands. At one point, we moored near a beach, jumped off the stern of the boat, and went snorkeling. There were hundreds of fish all around us; mostly clownfish, but also bigger grey ones. Some jellyfish and small sharks were also spotted near the bottom. The fish cluster around you with mild curiosity and you feel like an ornament that's been tossed into the aquarium at the dentist's office. I'm not sure how the water is so clear, but once you stick your mask under, you can see all around for a distance of like 20 ft. I tried to catch some fish with my hands.. very close, but no. Finally, we arrived at Phi Phi Don island, the one where the movie The Beach was filmed. It was the most beautiful beach I've seen (except for maybe Long Beach in Tofino, but that's a different kind of beauty). It was the beach of my cliche'd beach dreams. White sand, clear water warm enough to swim in for extended amounts of time, palm trees, and most importantly, WHITE SAND! The nearby hut with a buffet lunch was an added plus. I wish we could have spent more than an hour and a half there.

Alas, we headed back to Phuket, ate a seafood dinner, played Go-Back-Stop (A Korean drinking game), had the best breakfast I've ever had, and flew back to Kuala Lumpur. From there, we stayed at Ming's aunt and uncle's place for another night. Every night we stayed there, an epic thunderstorm occured and I think watching the grape-sized pellets of rain beat down on the palm trees 16 floors below, seeing the lightning light up all the red rooftops, and hearing the birds in the rainforest beside us made me fall in love with Kuala Lumpur. Ming's uncle told us he hadn't seen monkeys in that rainforest but I was convinced I'd see some. After staring long and hard, I finally saw some in the top canopy, swinging across huge distances of 15 feet, their little monkey sillhouettes exactly how they'd look in a kid's comic.

That night we went back to Petaling market. Ming bought some rambutan fruit, which I tried for the first time, in addition to jackfruit and dragonfruit. The night before I arrived, Moolz went nuts buying his favorite fruit, mangosteen, as it's 20x cheaper there than in Van. The market mainly consists of two very long and narrow (as in 4 feet wide) strips with makeshift shops on either side. You're pushed through like in a pinball machine, and the salespeople are aggressive, clapping their hands, stomping, waving things in your face to get attention. I got a fake Coach bag. Moolz got a ton of tshirts for friends and some watches.

The next morning we drove 3 hours north to Ipoh, a tiny Muslim Malay / Indian town. Ming's Indian friend took us for lunch. All eaten by hand off banana leaves, of course. Really good roti. We saw another cave, and by then I was feeling quite nauseous from the heat, the airconditioning, the streetfood, the flights, and the many flights of stairs we climbed to get to the top of the cave-mountain. We carried on an hour north to Penang Island, which was altogether different from Ipoh. Penang is filled mostly with rich Hokkien-speaking Chinese. Lots of young people milling about with disposable incomes. We met up with a tableful of Ming's childhood friends for lunch. While Moolz was able to speak Cantonese in KL, he wasn't able to use it in Penang. It was very interesting to see a bunch of Chinese yakking away in something other than Cantonese or Mandarin. Hokkien speakers hide their knowledge of the language in places like Vancouver, because it's considered a 'village' language, something not up to par with Cantonese or Mandarin. What a shame, because the language sounds cool, and diversity is a good thing.

After checking out a couple more beaches on Penang, we headed an hour East, to Ming and Lee Ern's hometown. I was especially excited to see this place, and Ming got more excited as we got closer. Throughout the whole trip, and on the way there, I had been looking intently at the roadside banana trees trying to spot a banana. I must have looked at 1000 banana trees. At last I saw clusters of green bananas. Perhaps I didn't see them because I was looking for yellow objects. Alor Setar, Ming Ming's hometown, was quite the cultural icon. All the streets had bright red and yellow painted buildings; it looked like a historical China-town spruced up for tourists, and yet we were the only tourists. Apparently the government paid people to paint the buildings just for the sake of looking nice. Ming nearly exploded with excitement as she pointed out the type of rickshaw she used to ride to school in as a kid. Basically an old man pedalling a bike with a seat in front. She pointed out her grandma's old house, some mango and papaya trees, and a river she used to cross as a kid to get back home.

The river was extremely polluted, with old boots and garbage bags visable under the water and strewn across the banks. Ming mentioned the houses had no proper sewage disposal, so it kind of emptied into the river. To get across, you step into a small boat and a man rows you over. You leave 20 cents on the seat. Finally, we went to the mall where Ming's parents and brother run two optometrist practices. (Ming also works as an optician in the UK). It was great meeting her mom again after several years. We stopped by Secret Recipe for a last bite of divine cheesecake (All their recipes really are secret), and then went to Alor Setar airport, the most ghetto airport I've ever seen. Lizards and peeling paint adorned the walls, and the 90% Muslim presense there made it feel more like Baghdad. Moolz and I flew back to Kuala Lumpur and caught our respective flights home.

I'm very grateful to Ming and Lee Ern for being so hospitable and giving us such an awesome tour. I am also very lucky to call someone as awesome as Julian my bf. His insight and understanding, endearing humour, and carefree approach to life are all things I don't take for granted.

Anyway, off to sleep. Tomorrow is the start of a new school year for preschool. Then two more days till my birthday, and off to Seoul for some shopping, clubbing and possible hiking. PS. Happy birthday, bro!! (Bro's bday is March 1st).

2 Comments:

Blogger deepthoughts said...

The trip sounds awesome. I love the detailed description, I almost feel like I traveled a bit too;)

Hope you are well, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY in advance!!

Can't wait to see you when you get back. If the rest of the year goes by as fast as the first two months, it will be in the blink of an eye:)

Much love,

Kat

9:01 PM  
Blogger Michelle said...

That sounds SO AMAZING! I am living vicariously through you while I sit here pregnant eating Haagen-Dazs popsicles, my stomach growing bigger and bigger.

I wish I could take a trip like that.

Have a great birthday!

9:21 PM  

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