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dessert, entrees, fish, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Mosques, out and about, travel

Go South, Young (Wo)Man, 2010 Edition

01.20.10 | 7 Comments

If the question “Where has ellis gone for her 5-week adventure?” has been plaguing you since I mentioned it a few days ago, well, your day of respite has come. Unless I told you. Or you saw my update on Facebook, which I can, for better or worse, access for the trip’s duration. So, where am I? I’ll give you a hint.

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And another hint:

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And another hint:

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Tall buildings don’t help? This one may shed a bit more light, if you really know your landmarks in Southeast Asia.

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Ooh! Hint!

The brother and sister-in-law of a family friend, Vicki, happen to live here, and she encouraged me to get in touch with them. Steve and Debbie very very generously allowed the strange nomad girl living in China and her strange friend John to come live with them and their family.

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And their little dog, too. See John chillin’ by the pool on the left.

We arrived in KL—Kuala Lumpur—the night before. Having come from the numbing cold of Huzhou, stepping off the plane into the still, steamy tarmac air was like candy for the lungs. We went through the normal arrival procedures, I stared down someone trying to cut me in the customs line, and we were out the door ready to begin our Malaysian adventure.

Whenever I’m in a new country, especially one where I don’t speak the language, I feel like a little kid. Where do I go? How do I accomplish this simple task of getting on the metro or finding a taxi?

With the latter, you pay for taxis inside the airport, which makes perfect sense to me, but I also frequently worry about being price-gouged on taxi rides. But it took awhile for John and I to figure out exactly where to get the taxi, or how we would tell our driver all the directions Steve and Debbie had sent us.

Our driver spoke excellent English, and apparently that’s fairly common. But being used to living in a homogenous, one-language-only country, it’s a little hard to get used to being in a cultural melting pot. Hard and liberating.

KL is a mix of Malays, Indians, and Chinese; it is predominantly Muslim but has a large Christian population (the religious tensions have given rise to some riots over the past week or two). And though I feel like John and I blend in a lot better than we do in China, and there are lots of Western tourists here, we still got a fair number of stares. And catcalls, but I think those were for me. But John can have them if he wants.

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Our first day in the city, we covered a lot of ground. We started out in the Orchid and Hibiscus garden.

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John made me do it.

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We moved down the hill to the National Mosque, but it was prayer time and not open to us for another two hours, so we ended up at the Islamic National Arts Museum for a Middle Eastern lunch.

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It was a set lunch, and a bit pricy at RM 43 a person (about $12), but there were no other restaurant around and we were hungry. Luckily, the appetizers and desserts were a buffet, so I got over sticker shock fast. Appetizers of tuna salad, a cucumber salad, hummus and eggplant dip:

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Main course of eggplant in tomatoes and cheese cheese cheese:

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John’s fried ‘pungent’ fish:

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Dessert.

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The baklava was dry and the cake had coconut (ick), so I stuck to the puddings.

We headed over to the mosque, which was open to non-Muslims from 3-4 until the next call to prayer (there a five prayers each day). I had to wear a purple robe to cover my body and head, and for some reason so did John, though other men didn’t.

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This is the main prayer room, into which non-Muslims are not allowed. They asked me at the entrance if I was Muslim, and while I told the truth, I wonder what would have happened if I’d said yes. Would there have been a test?

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We also had to take off our shoes at the entrance, so we wondered the mosque barefoot, taking pictures.

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And I can’t help it if while I was snapping pictures a good-looking guy just happened to wander into frame and I kept taking pictures. Cannot be helped.

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I know he’s small and unclear in the picture, but trust. Good looking.

After the mosque we headed back to the Islamic Arts Museum and looked around. I was really impressed, not only by the special exhibition of Steve McCurry’s photographs (I want to take pictures like that), but also by the models of important mosques around the world, and the calligraphy. Now I really, really want to go to Iran. Dad’s going to love that.

Then we walked for a long, long time, stopping for a rest in Merdeka Square

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And continuing on through Chinatown.

Chinatown?!?!?! Didn’t we just leave the world’s biggest Chinatown?

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You know it’s Chinatown by all the stalls selling all the same things they sell in China—knockoff watches, bags, sunglasses, DVDs—and they shout “Hey, lady, you lady.”

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Just like being home.

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