Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Coasting toward the finish line

Let's just say it's good to be flexible with one's traveling agenda. Instead of going to the Perhentians, we detoured to Kuala Lumpur (heretofore known as KL) for the purpose of obtaining Formula 1 tickets for the race at Sepang the first weekend in April. That will be our last hurrah since we have actually committed (with mixed emotions) to a return date of April 6 from Singapore to Portland. sigh...
While in KL, we stayed in Chinatown on the main drag, Petaling Street, which is the place to get genueeeen (the shopkeepers say they're real, so mustn't they be?) Fendl or Louis Vittoon bags, Billadong t-shirts, and real Rolex watches for a very low price. It's chaotic and noisy: we were serenaded each night by our mega nightlight of a video screen with psycho soundtrack promoting Malaysia tourism (it served its purpose- it made us want to go anywhere else just to escape the noise). But it was fun. KL is an interesting mix of Moorish, colonial, and very sleek, modern architecture and has a multi-ethnic culture like much of the country. We spent one day in the National Museum learning about Malay culture and history and were both quite inspired by the spirit of cultural harmony that pervades the nation's independence. Unlike so many places that had long, bloody battles, here the three main ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese, and Indian) sat down together with the British and ... talked. How novel! We were there on what must have been an elementary school field trip day (permission slips must have read: "Dear parents, we will go to the National Museum for the day. The main activities will be running, squealing, and whistle blowing. Please ensure your child wears appropriate running shoes and brings his/her favorite noise maker.") . All I can say is, it must be much easier for Muslim girls to get away with things at school, because in their matching uniforms and head scarves, they all looked very similar.
We also went to the Petronas Towers (the tallest twin towers in the world and one of the tallest buildings overall) and took the elevator to the 41st floor skybridge for a panoramic view of the city. The elevator was actually the most amazing part of that trip- it took 41 ear-popping (literally) seconds to climb 41 floors. And in and amongst all of our really delicious regional meals, we had dinner at a Papa John's (here they provide sit-down service with white tablecloths and china, but the garlic sauce still tastes like home!) with dessert in leather club chairs at the Krispy Kreme next door! We really haven't eaten much western fast food on this trip, but every now and then, pizza and donuts is a nice, comforting addition to the culinary mix.
After KL, we took the bus to Melaka (or Malacca, both are correct) and have been here for 5 days. We've visited virtually every museum devoted to every darned thing here (we're officially getting museum-ed out). The old parts of the city have been beautifully restored- it's a colonial mishmash of Portuguese, Dutch, and British with Chinese, Indian, and Indonesian styles rolled into one city. We've seen the ruins of the Portuguese fort and Catholic church with its 400-year old head stones, the Dutch stadthuys (governor's home and town hall), the oldest Chinese temple in Malaysia, the People's Museum (exhibits on traditional kite making and top-spinning as well as one on beauty practices like foot binding and lip plating), the Naval and Maritime Museums. Wow, that was a lot of sightseeing. We've also eaten a whole lot of great food (my pants still fit, though). Tomorrow we begin the journey to the northeastern part of the country to hit the Perhentian Islands for real this time. See you soon!

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