Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Singapore and Malaysia

Monday January 7th Seoul, South Korea
My last day in Korea was a stressful one. I spent the day rushing around to close my account, transfer money, and buy last minute things so I didn't have much time for packing or spending time with friends. If it hadn't been for my Korean friend Jung Hee, maybe I would've have gotten everything done that I needed to do that day. She and I met up in the morning and she helped me to exchange my new Canon camera that was broken from the start. Later we had Kalbi (Korean BBQ) together for lunch. That evening after buying DEET insect repellent just before the doctor's office closed, I met several of my friends for food and drinks in Itaewon and then went back home to pack. I was really sad to say goodbye to them and at that moment realize that it was a good thing. Though my time in Korea had been difficult, the last four months were very positive ones for me. I stayed up all night packing and arranging my things for Dustin to send home and didn't sleep at all not even for 5 minutes. My American friend Cara took picked me up from the Hyatt Hotel near Dustin's apartment and took me to the airport. It was a huge help for me because my flight was at 9:00am on January 8th. When we got to the airport I checked in and then she left. Before passing through immigration they realized that I had overstayed my visa by 1 day so they sent me to another room where I had to sign some papers. I didn't have to pay any fees but the whole thing didn't seem right to me because my company had told me that I could stay in Korea until that date without any problems with my visa. I barely made my flight but luckily I was one of the last ones on the plane. As I left Korea I had the strangest feeling. I felt as if the whole past 14 months there had been a dream. For so long I had wanted to leave but by the end I was adjusted to the life there. When the plane took off I realized just how isolated and far away the country was and wondered if I would ever go back to see the friends I had made there.

Tuesday January 8th Singapore
When I got to Singapore 6 hours later I was a little nervous at first because of all the strict laws I had heard about. For example, chewing gum is illegal everywhere and you can get a large fine for eating and drinking in the metro. However, I immediately felt comfortable upon leaving the airport security area because my Sri Lankan friend Ruchi who I had met in Korea asked one of his Singaporean friends Liew (who he had met in Korea) to meet me at the airport. I had no idea that she would be waiting for me there at the exit but when I walked out she looked at me and said, "Are you Lindsay?" I said yes and she took me to show me where I could exchange my money and went with me on the subway to show me how to get to the hotel. It was so kind of her, a total stranger, to come to the airport between school and work just to meet me. It was a shock as well as a relief for me to see all of the ethnic diversity after the time I had spent in Korea, a culturally insular society. No one could recognize that I wasn't a native there in Singapore whereas in Korea I was always "the foreigner." I took the metro to our hotel, the Novotel located in Clarke Quay. My friend Ruchi was coming in that night on a later flight, as was Cary, so I walked around town and saw the Parliament building while waiting for them to come. In the process of asking around to find an internet cafe, I met a German brother and sister, Sebastian and Linschie, in the streets who invited me to have a drink with them. They were some of the kindest Germans I have ever met. She was doing a 6 month internship there, while he was there visiting her. We had 1 drink in the Clarke Quay area and then I headed back to my hotel to meet Cary. She was there waiting for me when I got back and we went for some dinner and then went to sleep.

Wednesday January 9th Singapore
On Wednesday morning, we met my friend Ruchi at the hotel. I was shocked when we got into a cab and saw a strange man sitting in front of me on the right side of the car. I said to Cary. Where is Ruchi and was wondering what that man was doing there. Then Ruchi turned around from the front left and I realized that I was confused because the drive on the left side of the road here and drivers sit on the right side. I was really confused at first since I wasn't expecting it and had never been to a country where they drive on the left. From there we went to the Singapore Zoo, which came highly recommended by some friends and is one of the nicest I have seen. I was quite impressed by it's upkeep and jungle like atmosphere. We saw a Pygmy Hippopotamus, white tigers, and I got to pet a wallaby. Ruchi's German friend Philip (who he had also met in Korea) met up with us at the zoo. From there, we headed to Little India to get some questionable chicken and mutton curry that fortunately didn't have any undesirable consequences. We ate it on the traditional Indian silver metal plates and then headed back to the hotel to rest for a bit before meeting up with my new German friends for drinks at 7:00. We met at the Swissotel, which has one of the best views in town and went up to the 70th Floor where I enjoyed a Lycheetini, a martini made from the lychee fruit. We later moved to the famous Raffles Hotel across the street where the Singapore Sling was invented. Cary and I split one since we weren't so sure we would like it, but it was pretty good.

Thursday January 10th Singapore
On Thursday we woke up and went to China Town to buy a used cell phone so that we could have one in case of emergencies or to call local places. After that we went to a hawker center called Lau Pa Sat. A hawker center is a place where you can buy all different types of food at cheap prices. We had a Chinese noodle dish called Ban Mian with dried fish flakes all over it to add some crunch. To drink, I had fresh kiwi juice. There was one restaurant that really stood out to me above all others, it was a restaurant called Pig's Organ Soup and Kway Chap. It rained a lot during our afternoons in Singapore so although we were planning to go to the national museum that day, we didn't make it due to the fact that we were waiting for the rain to slow down. Later, we went to a place that does waxing. My friend Cara, a Florida girl that I met in Korea, had recommended it along with many other places in Singapore since she had lived there for a year. For dinner we met up with Ruchi one last time and went at a restaurant in Clarke Quay called Jumbo's. We ate chili crab, a well known local dish which consists of a giant crab doused in sweet chili sauce. It was delicious but messy. Along with the crab we had garlic broccoli, which I think was the best broccoli of my life, and some sweet buns that we used to sop up the chili sauce. After dinner I said my last goodbye to a friend that I had met in Korea, and Ruchi headed for the airport to go back to Sri Lanka. I felt sad because I knew that after that point it would be difficult to find people who could understand and share in my Korea experience.

Friday January 11th Malacca, Malaysia
Cary and I woke up early to take a four hour bus ride to Malacca, a small colonial coastal city in Malaysia. We weren't planning on going there originally but my friend Cara recommended it, so we took her advise and went. She had told me to avoid a city on the border called Johor Bahru due to terrorist activities that take place there so we did as she said and went straight to Malacca. Malaysia is a very interesting country. This is the first time I have been in an officially Islamic country which seemed intimidating at first. When we got of the bus at the terminal I saw women with their heads covered, yet they were driving cars. I found that somewhat surprising. When we arrived I needed to use the bathroom at the terminal. I found it strange that everyone was taking off their shoes to go in. Just as I was about to do the same, I realized that it wasn't the bathroom. I was about to walking in the prayer room. I was so relieved that I realized before it was too late and found the bathroom right around the corner. The bathrooms in Malaysia had been quite a challenge for me and Cary. They are in the ground so you have to squat to use them and although there was something similar in Korea, these are more difficult to use because they are smaller. Also, there is a hose and bucket in every bathroom which we still haven't figured out exactly what they're used for but, we have our theories. Malaysia is a very ethnically diverse country. There are Indians, Chinese, Malays, and an indigenous people called the Orang Asli. Although the country is officially Islamic, people are free to practice whatever religion they choose. There are Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, and Hindus all living peacefully amongst each other. Islam isn't as strict here as it is in the many Islamic countries either. You can see women working in all sectors of labor. It's strange to see the diversity of clothes as well. While the Islamic women cover up everything but their faces, you can find other women dressed in tank tops and mini skirts.
Malacca turned out to be a great city to start out in. The people were all very friendly and the food was great. I ate mildly spicy Baba Nonya dish called called beef rendang for my first lunch in Malaysia and loved it. Baba Nonya is a mix of Indian and Chinese cuisine. There is mostly Indian and Chinese food here in Malaysia due to the large influence of the the two cultures. We stayed in a nice quite hotel called Hotel Puri, also something that Cara had recommended. Once a colonial mansion, it has been converted into a cozy little hotel that offers a wonderful spa service, something that I indulged myself in later that day.
After lunch, we walked around Chinatown which was near our hotel and saw the oldest Buddhist temple in Malaysia where we saw a monk meditating.....

Saturday January 12th Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
We arrived to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia's capitol on Saturday, January 12th. It was a two hour bus ride. Our first day there was kind of a downer for us. We had problems finding a decent hotel and ended up staying in a backpackers hostel that was recommended in her book in China Town. I'm still in awe as to how that place ever made it into any book. It didn't seem so bad when we said ok to it but then we realized that the toilet tank was leaking and looked like it was about the explode, the window wouldn't shut completely, the hallways smelled like a dog kennel, and the man working at the desk had long painted finger nails. We both immediately regretted our decision to stay there and so started to look for other hotels so that we could switch to a better one the next day. Let me say that after our experience in that hotel, I will not be trying to save every little penny when it comes to our accommodations. That day we went to Central Market to get some lunch and later when to the KLCC district to look for hotels. It was a much better area of town and we found a good one for the next night. We didn't get much accomplished that day since it was raining a lot and we were looking for hotels. That night, when we returned to our hostel, I had one of the worst street experiences of my life. The streets were deserted and garbage was everywhere. It was strewn about the streets. I'm guessing that the next day was garbage day, which brought out massive amounts of large cockroaches and gutter rats. One almost ran right into us. I was screaming and jumping all over the place and the worst part was that we were lost for over an hour trying to find the hostel. Once we finally convinced a cab driver to take us there (no one wanted to take us since they wouldn't make enough money since we were already so close to it) we found it with difficulty. Even he had problems finding it with the address. I didn't sleep that well that night and woke up the the sound of squeaking bathroom pipes at 3:00am. The sink faucet wouldn't shut off so I had to get up and turn it on a little more to get the squeaking to stop. The next morning when we woke up we killed about four roaches that had been hiding out under our bags. I was so disgusted and we made a decision to stay in better places from then on out.

Sunday January 13th Kuala Lumpur
We left the Roach Inn Hostel as soon as we possibly could and dropped off our bags at our new hotel. From there we went to the Petronas Twin Towers, the largest twin towers in the world and the second largest architectural structure in the world to this day. It used to be the largest until 2004 when the Taipei Tower beat it out for first place. Kuala Lumpur is an architectural wonder. Islam has a heavy impact on the building style there and the result is breathtaking. We had to wait in line at the Petronas Towers just to get tickets to go up into the sky bridge located on the 41st. The building has 88 floors in all but tourist are only allowed up to the 41st where there is a bridge connecting the two buildings. Once we got to the ticket counter at 9:45am, we were given two tickets to go up at 12:45. While we were waiting to go up we ate in the food court that was located in the upper scale mall and had a typical Malaysian dish called Curry Laksa. I had never heard of it before my trip but I thoroughly enjoyed it and hope to eat it again one day. Although I've been up higher and seen better views, the Petronas Towers were the most beautiful skyscrapers that I have ever seen without a doubt. After the towers we asked a taxi to drop us off at the National Mosque, but instead somehow ended up at the National Museum and didn't realize it until our driver was already gone. We decided to see it since we were already there. After the museum we finally made our way over to the Mosque where we had to take our shoes off at the entrance and put on purple robes that covered our body and hair. Only our face was showing. My hood kept falling off of me which was kind of nerve racking since I didn't want anyone to get upset at me for showing my hair. It was a beautiful building and reminded me of the time I was in El Alhambra in Granada, Spain. We weren't allowed to go inside of the actual prayer room since we're not Muslim but we could see inside of it and take pictures and watch the Muslims as they prayed.

Monday January 14th Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
We woke up early to get an 8:30am bus to the Cameron Highlands. It was a four hour bus ride so we arrived with enough time to still get a hike in. We saw a little monkey in the trees and heard many of them calling to each other. The path was kind of overgrown which made it difficult at times but it was an enjoyable time. After our hike we headed back into town to get some dinner. Cameron Highlands is made up of three little cities of which, we're staying in Tanah Rata. With a population of 2,000 there's not much so do here besides hike.

Tuesday January 15th Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
Right now I am sitting in an internet room filled with adolescents screaming and laughing at each other while playing computer games and some twenty year old Muslims also laughing so loud that I am wishing I had ear plugs. I have to say that my impression of Muslims has changed somewhat since I've been here. I always thought that the women who covered their heads were quiet and reserved but I am listening to and looking at this Muslim woman sitting next to me and seeing how she is sitting between her boyfriend's legs and I have to say I am somewhat shocked. Our guide mentioned today that many women cover their heads because it's fashionable but I'm not sure what to believe about that.

Today we did a group tour which included a trip to the Boh Tea Estate where we learned about and saw first hand the process of making tea. The tea fields were a sight to see and our guide was filled with endless knowledge. We also took a hike through the mossy forest, which was one of the wettest forests I've been in. Our guide told us that it's that way year round because we're up in the clouds at 6.600 feet. We saw a insect eating flower that they call a Monkey Cup, eucalyptus plants, tiger plants, and large fern trees. Tomorrow we're headed off to go to Thailand for the next month.

No comments: