LAURA’S TRIP TO SOUTH EAST ASIA
MY TOUR OF THE AIRPORTS OF THE WORLD
Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
Kuala Lumpur (West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia)
Kauala Terengganu (East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia)
Kuantan (East Coast of Peninsular Malaysia)
HOW MANY NEW ILLNESSES CAN ONE PERSON EXPERIENCE WITHOUT MISSING ONE DAY OF AGGRESSIVE SIGHT-SEEING
A common cold (sore throat, runny nose)
An infected ear
JULY 1, 2000
I hop the bus to JFK Airport Number One, and the driver has such a bad accent that I’m terrified he said Cathay Pacific a few terminals back and I missed it. He keeps asking me (at least I think he does) which airline I’m flying, and by the third or sixth time he asks, the whole bus is chorusing “Cathay Pacific!” Anyway, I get there.
My suitcase contains six boxes of hair dye, two cans of powdered Slim Fast, and one can
of bread crumbs for my sister, Pat. Also some modest clothes (Muslim country) and two bathing suits for me. My carry-on knapsack is heavier than the suitcase. Reason one, I am terrified of being bored on my 25 hour journey. Reason two, I am flying with a cold. Oh well, the Nyquil will help me sleep.
From New York to Vancouver Canada I chat with a fellow passenger, finish my first book, and deplane at some ungodly time in the early morning to hang around for an hour before heading off to Hong Kong. Airport Number Two: the Vancouver Airport was ok. We were in a large glass enclosure being subjected to Jay Leno and Saturday Night Live reruns, but they had free Danishes and juice. The plane was delayed, so I take my first nap. I would have never known we were delayed two hours if they hadn’t kept apologizing for it. Two hours or twenty minutes, a nap is a nap.
Back on the plane someone’s sitting in my seat. Since I am on the divider between first and economy class (lots of legroom) this is a problem. Turns out that the folks who were moved into my row are not the problem. A guy traveling with his family had decided to take the window seat, and would have sat there until either I, or the couple had been moved. I was the one who decided to ask to see his ticket, at which point he got up and moved to his correct seat. What a dip.
I swallow down the Nyquil, and when I wake up we’ve crossed the International Date Line and my ears are clear and my soar throat is gone. I am jubilant. It won’t last. Soon I will be popping my ears with strange squeaks. But for now, all is well, and the Pilot points out Mt. Fuji. It’s a nifty sight.
July 3, 2000
We land in Hong Kong, Airport Number Three, quite the snazzy and empty airport with space-age luggage carts. I wander down to my gate, unable to pop my ears. It takes awhile, but they finally (with a big squeak) come clean. On to a new plane. Not as good of a seat, but the plane is not as crowded. I sleep, I read, I take Dayquil. On the descent, my ears are in pain.
I arrive in Kuala Lumpur, Airport Number 4. My ears are clogged, and not clearing. I can’t hear a thing, and have to ask the nice lady at customs wearing a headscarf (were in modesty land now) to repeat herself three times before I figure out her question has nothing to do with drugs. (“Death to Drug Traffickers” says the cheerful skull and crossbones on my immigration form.) She wants to know if I’m here on business or holiday. Holiday, I tell her, trying not to bellow.
After being cheated by the budget round-trip taxi thing, I get to the US Embassy. Pat had told me specifically to ask for the U.S. Embassy, since American refers to two continents.
So I do, and the cabby figures out I mean the American Embassy. This will be repeated throughout my vacation.
Reunion with my sister, brief tour of the U.S. Embassy, then off to her apartment, a three bedroom, two bathroom palace. I love the pool. It doesn’t have a ledge. The water sloshes over the edge into little grates/drains so you get that nice running water sound all the time your frolicking in the chlorinated aqua. (Comment by Pat: Which is why everybody has an overwhelming urge to go pee-pee in the swimming pool.)
We walk off to Hock Choon’s, a Chinese grocery complex that caters to the westerners living in KL. Pat delights in showing me the prawn-flavored chips, candy, pretzels, soda, you name it, it comes in a prawn flavor. The second most popular flavor is cuttlefish (squid). We eat at the Hock Choon’s cafe, and head home. I honestly can’t remember if we took a dip in the pool or not. I passed out.
July 4, 2000
Bus journey to Malacca. Or Melaka. Spelling is more of a concept than a hard and fast rule in Malaysia. This has a lot to do with the fact that there were British spellings, then
Malaysian spellings, and then there are English words that got translated into Malaysian, Hindu and three dialects of Chinese. There does not appear to be a standard. You’ll have a map of Malaysia, and Malacca/Melaka will be spelled two different ways on different spots on the map. Some other fun words I will discover while in Malaysia include farmasi (pharmacy), restaran (restaurant) and butik (boutique). (Don't forget polis for police - P.) In short, this is paradise for a bad speller.
Melaka used to be a big deal, and now it trying to rebuild itself as a beach resort. Lots of development, but the hotels seems to be empty (When is the “season” in Malaysia?
Everything seemed to be half-empty at the most.) We see a Chinese Temple (under renovation - this will be a recurring theme), the remains of a church/fort, a German jewelry store (wonder why the tour bus stopped there?), a quick stroll through a Chinese market (Pat buys gifts for some folks), lunch at a Chinese restaurant (ice costs extra), and we attempt to see the replica of the Sultan’s Palace – a sort of nice wooden lodge which is closed for no reason that we can ascertain (a recurring theme in Malaysia).
Our tour guide is great. He tells history in the following way. “So the Dutch say to the English, ‘Hey English, we have to go fight Napoleon, will you take care of Melaka for us for a couple of years?’ And the English say, ‘Yeah, sure.’”
He also tells us that a palm is not a tree. It’s a palm. We learn that Malaysia’s top 5 businesses are 1) Manufacturing 2) Palm Oil 3) Tourism 4) Petrol 5) Timber.
I nap on the way to Malacca, and nap on the return. Still, I’m doing well with the jet lag.
I think we went in the pool upon our return, perhaps watched the English channel (which shows Friends every night) and I passed out.
July 5, 2000
I sleep in. Ears are still clogged. Sometimes I experience pain. Annoyed, I go for a
swim, shower, nap, and make myself presentable to go to the Central Market in China Town upon Pat’s return from work (she is leaving early every day to play with me). Upon her arrival, I ask to see a doctor. The embassy nurse is off this week -- and considering her last cure almost killed Pat -- this is not a bad thing.
We get to the emergency room. There is no one there. I wave to a nurse (wearing her headscarf tucked up under a nurse’s cap) and she has me fill out a form. I sit down, take out my book, and get called. The doctor (Indian) says I have an ear infection in the right ear, gives me the prescriptions, and sends me across the road to the farmasi. I get my drugs and nose drops, in a half an hour. Cost: under ten dollars American.
The Central Market (we take a cab) is quite fun. Located in China Town, you can get everything from junk (clocks made from CD’s, cheap batik wraps) to really, really nice knives, scarves, rubber wood bowls, shadow puppets, blowguns (with darts), and other such stuff. I end up in a Chinese stall, buying a Chinese silk dress extra large! Talk about service (another trend of this journey), the sales assistant would have undressed me if I had let her. She certainly hooked up every button and straightened every wrinkle. When I tried to unbutton myself, the sales lady told me, “no, no, that’s her job.”
We had a fabulous Thai meal (with incredible service) where I took my first drugs, then headed back to Pat’s, where I passed out.
July 6, 2000
Pat goes to work, and I take The City Tour offered by the same group who gave us the Melaka tour. I decide to walk down Jalan Ampang (translation: Road Ampang) to the MATIC (Malaysian Tourist and Information Center) where the bus picks everyone up.
Walking to the MATIC is interesting. I am dressed modestly (longish shorts, short sleeve, non-tight shirt) and am picking my way along the sidewalks, trying to look like I belong. When crossing the street I just follow the women in headscarves (though not all women in Malaysia wear headscarves). Traffic had been greatly improved in the last ten years, but it’s still quite interesting. Twice, motorcycles pulled up behind me in the pedestrian crossing in order to make a completely, mind-boggling illegal move. On my walk, I passed what can only be described as an Asian style Tara. You look at it and think it’s terribly tacky, the sort of thing that gets built in the suburbs, and looks ridiculously ostentatious. Then you discover that it’s a cottage, built by the Sultan of Brunei for his nephew when said nephew was attending college in KL. Suddenly, it looks very restrained and tasteful. I pass a Chinese temple -- though really this is the land of mosques. Mosques, mosques, mosques. Everywhere. There is a big circular tower with a cinched waist that I can only describe as a Hadj Club. Like a Christmas Club, but instead of saving up all year for the holidays, you save up for several years in order to pay for your pilgrimage to Mecca.
Our tour guide is not as good as Mr. Malacca/Melaka. In fact, when our New Zealander asks him what The Emergency was, our guide says it was The Emergency. I feel very up on Malaysian history when I give the Kiwi the facts.
The National Monument and Lake Gardens – a salute to the end of The Emergency, Created by the same artist who did Iwo Jima, I can honestly say that Iwo Jima is much better. The park is stunning.
The Emergency had its roots in World War II. The Japanese were particularly nasty to the Chinese living in Malay, and it’s agreed upon that the Chinese population suffered the hardest under the wartime regime. Many Chinese, backed by the Communists and Mainland China, started a sort of guerilla warfare against the Japanese. The Allies supported them with weapons. When the war ended the Communists refused to put down their weapons because (a) the wanted an independent Malay and/or (b) they wanted a Communist Malay. It took the British until 1960 to put down the Communists in Malay. They called it The Emergency, because if they had called it a war, China might have become involved.
The National Museum (Muzium Negara) – for one ringet ($0.25) it’s a great deal. The dioramas on Malaysian culture are the best. Western-style mannequins with really bad wigs, dressed in the appropriate Hindu, Malay, and Chinese outfits, display scenes from every day life. These include the many hats of the 9 Sultans of Malaysia (Made from twisting colorful cloth in a particular way for each sultan - P.). Wedding ceremonies. Hanging around the house. And my favorite, the traditional circumcision ceremony for 12 year old boys. This used to be a big deal, and while the little plaques never made it clear if this was still done, it sparked quite a discussion among the members of my tour. They had photos of the last big Royal circumcision ceremony (1933) with floats, crowds, bands, marching regiments, and souvenirs. In the diorama, we saw the special bedding, the guy in charge of the operation, and the guy who stood by, ready to cut the head of the operator off, if he messed up. No mention of anesthesia was made.
What about these Sultans? There are 9 sultans, and every five years one of them gets to be King. The King is a figure head and much beloved, especially by the rural population. The current King is 79 and his wife is 28. You seem them on billboards all over Malaysia. She dresses modestly with her crown sitting atop her headscarf.
The National Mosque (Masjid Negara) (There's a National Mosque, then a State Mosque in each state, then of course, your local neighborhood mosques. Some of them are absolutely gorgeous. You don't ever want to park near a mosque on a Friday afternoon. Everybody comes to prayers and they'll park three deep; basically just stopping their car in the middle of the street, and you'll be pinned in for hours -P.)
The Railway Station -- built by the British and perfectly over the top and ridiculous. (I think it's neat - P.) Luckily, the roof can hold up to two tons of snow. Malaysia is 90-95 degrees year round.
On my walk back from MATIC I’m much more confident. I step jauntily out of the way of motorcycles cutting through pedestrian crosswalks. Let ‘em stare at my exposed arms and scarf-less head.
Back at Pat’s it’s time for a dip in the pool and a nice nap.
Pat gets home and we take a cab to the Indian Market. Which Indian Market the cabby wants to know. Pat starts throwing out landmarks and finally says, The Coliseum Hotel. The cab driver knows exactly where we want to go.
Down here on Jalan TAR, Kuala Lumpur is decisively less shiny. There are tons of stores selling everything from saris to beautifully tailored western style clothes. We dine at the Coliseum Hotel, which was opened in 1921 and hasn’t changed anything since. Not even the tablecloths. They are stained (but clean), and the leather chairs were once elegant, I’m sure. Walking through the swinging doors I really thought I was in Dodge. If cowboys had walked by the dusty windows and moseyed on up to the bar, I would not have been surprised. Once seated in the restaurant, I began to see how it once must have been a Colonial establishment (after all, Dodge did not have ceiling fans). The waiters, who I believe are all still the original staff from 1921, come to the table and wait, just wait, while you look at the menu. Don’t try to distract them with a drink order. It won’t work. Pat’s food could be eaten with the silverware on the table, but for some reason my crab needed a special knife and fork (which looked just like the pair already on the table). The waiter put the knife into my right hand, and the fork into my left. None of this making me pick it up myself. (This place is a hoot. If you come to visit me, you're going
to the Coliseum. The pressure you feel as the 106-year-old waiter hovers over you, pencil at the ready, is incredible. It wouldn't be so bad, but the menu is about eight to ten pages long. I've seen customers break out in a sweat due to stress. I always quickly order #89 just to get rid of him. They also hover while you're reviewing the bill. It's like trying to dine with vultures - P.)
Airport Number Five Kauala Terengganu
Today we fly to Kaula Terengganu. My ears pop a bit, but there is no pain. This is a very small airport, where you walk across the tarmac and they only have one entry gate. The luggage pick up does not have a conveyor belt. They just pas the suitcases through a door. We take off for Rantau Abang, the best beach at which to catch the great Leatherback Turtles laying their eggs.
(At the airport, I asked for a cab to Rantau Abang The Turtle Information Center. We were charged only 20 ringgets ($5.00) which seemed extremely reasonable for an hour long trip. Turns out they misunderstood and we were taken to the Tourist Information Center in bustling downtown Terengganu. (I jest.) Finally got the idea across to the cab driver and after much chuckling, he gassed up the cab and asked for 40 more ringgets. Still a deal. $15 American to drive two people for about an hour - P.)
On the way there, we see a big billboard of the states Sultan and his wife welcoming us. Mrs. Sultan is not wearing a veil, and is showing quite a bit of neck.
We see no turtles. But our hut has air-con (the “ditioning” part is left off in Malaysia), a shower (but no shower stall – which makes the toilet and sink very wet). The beach is beautiful. I get my first bug bites and my sunburn. There is a great breeze, the food is good, and the other guests are friendly. (We stay at a place called Awang's. It's clean and
charming in it's own way - if you consider a bed with no sheets charming. We have a TV and get to watch Sesame Street. - P.)
Cherating – it takes about an hour and a half by taxi to get to Bay View Resort at Cherating. The brochure is much better than the reality. But when I look at everything else is Cherating, we are staying at the best place. (It's definitely a step up from Awangs in Rantau Abang. It's bigger and there are sheets on the beds. However, it still has that
special Malaysian "charm." - P.)
On the journey to Cherating we drive through non-tourism Malaysia, and it’s fascinating to see how oil is changing the country. We get to see the traditional Malaysian dwellings – wood buildings that seem to start rotting and sagging the moment they are constructed, and the little houses that are being built in neat little company towns that are quickly taking their place. The neat little houses start to peel in the humidity almost immediately. Upkeep is not a big priority in Malaysia. I don’t know if it’s practicality (the heat, the humidity) or a cultural thing. (Saw a lot of oil fields and refineries. Sort of brought back memories of working for BP on the North Slope of Alaska: except for the 98 degree heat, white sand beaches and palm trees, that is. Really made me wish I was back up north again (and if you believe that, I've got a bridge I'd like to show you) - P.)
We see beautiful grassy parks bordering the ocean, with picnic tables, hawker (food) stands, and litter, litter, litter. I keep thinking, one person, with a rake, could clean that up in one day.
The beach we stay on at Cherating is beautiful. The hotels are little huts. Some are just huts. Some have fans. Some have bathrooms. Some have air-con. There are lots of places to eat and lots of back-packers. Also, tons of goats. We eat dinner on the beach. Around a bluff of rocks (with an impressive private home) is Club Med Malaysia.
Another note on beaches in Malaysia. You see lots of Malaysians. Which is really nice. It’s not like the prime beaches are being kept back for the tourists. They’ll come for the day, or rent a hut. Malaysians do not waste money on bathing suits, however. They go into the water in shorts and shirts (usually long-sleeved) if they are men, and long pants and long-sleeved shirts if they are women. Little girls usually swim in their dresses.
Oh, and when I say Malaysian, that can mean Hindu, Chinese, Malays and others.
Leaving Charating we see two adult monkeys and three little monkeys. I am delighted.
Airport Number 6, Kuantan – that’s where we fly out of the next morning. A bigger airport, it’s mostly outdoors with a big covered verandah serving as the entrance, ticketing, rental car pick-up, and other such stuff. Once you go through the metal detector, you end up in the air-con.
If you ever read or saw A TOWN LIKE ALICE, Kuantan is where Joe got crucified.
That night we go to Bangsar – a market where Nina likes to buy flowers. Nina also works at the Embassy, and her husband Jeff is in the military doing a sort of international exchange for a year. A bunch of officers from the U.S., Canada, Australia, England, etc. are attending classes with Malaysian military officers. One of the required classes is a History of World War II class taught by a Malaysian university professor. Jeff flat out refused to take the test since he would have failed it. He gave us examples of the questions and the “correct” answers:
1. Why did America drop the bomb on Hiroshima?
A: After taking off from Hawaii, the pilot headed for Tokyo and got lost. So he radioed back to Hawaii and asked them what he should do. They said, “just drop it anywhere.”
2. Why did America drop a second bomb on Nagasaki?
A: The pilot got lost again.
3. Why did the English enter World War II?
A: Because they were feeling left out.
Note: This one really amazes me because Malay, a British Colony, was invaded by the Japanese. Thousands of people were imprisoned and killed.
4. How long did World War II last?
A: Two years.
As Jeff whizzed around the roads of KL (which are truly complex in their design) I commented that if we ever had to invade, he’d be able to lead the tanks. He replied, “Tanks? We could conquer this country by telephone.”
Bangzar is really a local market – not tourist oriented at all. Nina has a stall she frequents where she buys her flowers, and Pat picked some up too. Some fruit was bought, then we went off to a Mexican restaurant where we had tapas and liquor!
I sleep in and wander over to the Embassy around noon. There are photographers. No, they were not alerted to my presence. The North Koreans are there.
Pat and I go out for Chinese food with several people from the Embassy. I order a Coke, and the waiter pours the can into the glass of ice for me, then sets down the can. I take a sip and put my glass down. He leaps forward, and pours a bit more Coke into the glass. This goes on for awhile. Finally, I take a big gulp so that he can pour the last of the Coke and he’ll leave.
Pat drops me off for an afternoon at the Kraft Centre/Craft Center (pick your spelling). This is where you can buy Malaysian Krafts/Crafts, see artists at work, make your own batik, and do other such stuff. I buy some Royal Salangor pewter (sort of the Wedgewood of Malaysia). Two little monkeys to hold my business cards and a wedding gift. I pick up a red woven bag, and some hand-carved chopsticks.
A note on gift buying. My friend Carl had asked me to pick up an obscene fertility symbol for him. No luck. Malaysia is a modest, Muslim country with a religious police. The religious police are suffering from a lot of scandals (seems that such scandals are not limited to tele-evangelists). As for Singapore (where I will soon be going), they cane people for spitting gum on the sidewalk – imagine how they feel about porn.
The truly amazing Batu Caves are only 30 kilometers outside of KL. It takes Pat and me (Pat is driving because she’s been told that it’s so easy) 2 ½ hours to get there, and twenty minutes to get home. On the way there I have the following conversation with a petrol attendant.
“Hi, what’s your name?” He said, sticking his arm through Pat’s window (almost knocking me in the nose - P.), and extending his hand to me for a shake.
“Laura.” I shake his hand.
“Are you married?”
“Not yet. Thanks for the directions.”
The Batu Caves (when we finally get there) take 272 step to get to, and they are truly incredible. Filled with Hindu temples and art which are amazing on their own. But the caves are huge. They spiral up and up, with open jags in the ceiling letting in light and birds. Pigeon poop everywhere. (I think it's bat poop - P.) Monkeys everywhere, too. One hisses at us (I think we got a bit too close to the baby – but we meant no harm – we were just trying to get by). Saw several mommies with the babies hanging off them. It was cool. (The monkeys here are known to be VERY aggressive. My friend, Leo, suggested we take some food to feed the monkeys and then they'd leave us alone. Oh yeah, THAT would be a good plan. Fortunately they had enough food from the trash can so that they left us alone. As we entered a side cave, however, one started stalking us. So as Laura is blithely meandering through the cave, exclaiming about the statues and the history of hinduism, I'm walking backwards, waving my purse at the monkey following us, letting it know that I'll knock his teeth out if he doesn't back off. It did. Pat saved the day for tourism in Malaysia. - P.)
Get home and order a pizza. Watch last year’s Miss World contest. Or did we watch the Jane Seymore movie? I can’t remember.
More to come…
LAURA’S TRIP TO MALAYSIA
Still to come…
Kuala Lumpur (West Coast of Peninsular Malaysia)
Hong Kong (Hong Kong)
AND ONE MORE ILLNESSES
Corrections to Part One:
Cherating is not spelled Charating (though I bet somewhere in Malaysia it is.)
Typos – Give me a break, I was jet-lagged
Bad spelling – Despite the fact that I was flying, I did not have a “soar” throat.
A Comment From a Linguist Friend
It's amazing how many things/places/even people are named "Melaka" in this world (which in modern Greek is quite a nasty word, equivalent to the British "bugger"), probably because m/l/k are 2 of the most common letters in the world's languages
Comments From My Sister Pat
Re: my enthusiasm for the “running water” aspect of her swimming pool:
Which is why everybody has an overwhelming urge to go pee-pee in the swimming pool.
Re: oddly spelled words: Don't forget polis for police.
Re: sultan’s hats: [are] Made from twisting colorful cloth in a particular way for each sultan.
Re: The National Mosque: There's a National Mosque, then a State Mosque in each state, then of course, your local neighborhood mosques. Some of them are absolutely gorgeous. You don't ever want to park near a mosque on a Friday afternoon. Everybody comes to prayers and they'll park three deep; basically just stopping their car in the middle of the street, and you'll be pinned in for hours.
Re: My reaction to the British Railroad Station in all it’s over-the-top British zany-ness: I think it's neat.
Re: The Coliseum Hotel: This place is a hoot. If you come to visit me, you're going to the Coliseum. The pressure you feel as the 106-year-old waiter hovers over you, pencil at the ready, is incredible. It wouldn't be so bad, but the menu is about eight to ten pages long. I've seen customers break out in a sweat due to stress. I always quickly order #89 just to get rid of him. They also hover while you're reviewing the bill. It's like trying to dine with vultures.
Re: Taxi adventure at the airport at Kaula Terengganu: At the airport, I asked for a cab to Rantau Abang The Turtle Information Center. We were charged only 20 ringgets ($5.00) which seemed extremely reasonable for an hour-long trip. Turns out they misunderstood and we were taken to the Tourist Information Center in bustling downtown Terengganu. (I jest.) Finally got the idea across to the cab driver and after much chuckling, he gassed up the cab and asked for 40 more ringgets. Still a deal. $15 American to drive two people for about an hour.
Re: Our hotel at the Turtle Beach: We stay at a place called Awang's. It's clean and charming in it's own way - if you consider a bed with no sheets charming. We have a TV and get to watch Sesame Street.
Re: Our accommodations in Cherating: It's definitely a step up from Awangs in Rantau Abang. It's bigger and there are sheets on the beds. However, it still has that
special Malaysian "charm."
Re: The oil fields of the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia: Saw a lot of oil fields and refineries. Sort of brought back memories of working for BP on the North Slope of Alaska: except for the 98 degree heat, white sand beaches and palm trees, that is. Really made me wish I was back up north again (and if you believe that, I've got a bridge I'd like to show you).
Re: Stunned by the sudden interest in my marital/fertility status expressed by the enthusiastic petrol attendant, I had no idea that while flinging his arm through Pat’s window in order to shake my hand that he was “almost knocking me in the nose.”
Re: Batu Caves’ pigeon poop: “I think it's bat poop.”
Re: Batu Caves’ monkeys. The monkeys here are known to be VERY aggressive. My friend, Leo, suggested we take some food to feed the monkeys and then they'd leave us alone. Oh yeah, THAT would be a good plan. Fortunately they had enough food from the trashcan so that they left us alone. As we entered a side cave, however, one started stalking us. So as Laura is blithely meandering through the cave, exclaiming about the statues and the history of Hinduism, I'm walking backwards, waving my purse at the monkey following us, letting it know that I'll knock his teeth out if he doesn't back off. It did. Pat saved the day for tourism in Malaysia.
Some things I forgot to mention and wish to comment on:
Hawker Stands: All over Malaysia, the Hawker stands are like a bunch of restaurants under one open air roof (no walls). You want steak, you go to the steak guy and pay him. You want curry, you go to the curry guy. You want dessert, there’s a dessert guy. Sort of like a food court. There are always sinks to wash your hands in, even at the most basic of places. There are so many hawker stands that Pat and I began wondering if Malaysians don’t cook a lot at home. It would make sense. It’s so hot, and to cook in the house would only make things worse. Also, traditionally, Malaysians lived in wooden houses (huts) and a stove would be a fire hazard.
Don’t Make Malaysians Angry: Back to Jeff’s comment that we could invade Malaysia by phone. They Malaysians certainly are laid back. They are not too concerned with being on time or rushing to get anything done. However, once Pat and a bunch of embassy folks were eating at a hawker stands when an obnoxious Dutch guy pulled up in his car, parked in front of a car-wash stand, and proceeded to order his meal and start eating. Now, there were plenty of parking spaces and the car-wash guy asked the Dutch guy to move several times. Starting with nice requests, and ending with threats. Finally, after blocking access to the man’s business for quite some time, the Dutch guy got up (complaining loudly) and moved his car. This did not end his obnoxious behavior. But the car-wash guy, and his friends, carrying machetes, did. The Dutch guy went to the hospital, and nobody felt sorry for him. The moral to this story, Malaysians will eventually get ticked off and spring into action – especially if you are a former colonial overlord.
Pat is actually going to work a full day today, as I have my afternoon planned out. I’m going to take the afternoon tour to Templer Park and frolic in the waterfalls. I call to make a reservation and am told that we need at least two people to do a tour, and so far, no one else is signed up for the afternoon. Can I get down to the MATIC in the next half hour to make the morning jaunt? I call Pat, who zips over from the embassy and deposits me at the MATIC.
Templer Park is named for some guy whose last name was Templer. He thought it was a pretty swell spot, and thought it should be preserved. Templer Park is huge, and there are real wild animals in it, but people go there for the giant waterfall. Splashing down the big, forest covered, monkey infested hill, the water pools often in secluded and shady spots, perfect for frolicking.
I almost get to the top, but the last path is trash strewn, and I figure I’m fine where I am. Using my sarong (bought in Cherating) I do a quick change from my modest shorts and T-shirt into my swimsuit. I wade in the cold water, then go up to my chin, then figure – what the heck it’s not like my hair looks good anyway – and submerge. As I float on my back with the water pouring down and the forest swaying above me I actually start laughing aloud. I am in paradise, and can ignore the bits of trash.
While I am in the park I notice a lot of park employees hauling out bag after bag of garbage, and there are several small fires going where trash is being burned. For the most part, if you stay on the main paths, the park is very clean.
I move to another pool further down the hill. I’m happily enjoying my soak, when a park employee (male) comes over and makes himself comfortable. He keeps pointing to another little pool and I keep saying, “No, I’m fine here.” However, since I’m sitting on a rock with the rapids splashing me, and he starts to smoke, then takes off his shirt, I begin to feel like his own personal piece of cheesecake. I get up, wrap my sarong around me, and depart. He is not happy.
And finally, I feel immodest. Now, I am wrapped from chest to ankles in my sarong, and you really can’t see anything. But the park is full of men (in shorts and T-shirts). The few women around are going in fully clothed or watching the men. And maybe because I’m a westerner, or because my shoulders are exposed or my hair is wet, or maybe just because that smarmy guy got to me, I am actually very embarrassed every time I pass a guy or a group of guys.
So, I wander down some of the more secluded paths, following the monkeys. There I find trash (big surprise), a guy swimming in his BVD’s (didn’t need to see that – though he was certainly proud), and lots of couples in “close proximity” which is illegal in Malaysia. As far as I can figure out, “close proximity” can mean everything from holding hands or having sex out of wedlock. Most of what I saw was young couples (fully clothed) sitting together, holding hands or leaning against one another. Not even a kiss.
I find the lady’s room and change back into my shorts and T-shirt. The toilets, while very clean, are just holes in the floor with the hose to clean you off. I decline to use the facilities, but my shoes have muddied up the stall floor, so I do use the hose to clean up after myself.
By the way, lots of butterflies (Malaysia has over 300). And, what I thought was a blossom bud from a tree, but turned out to be some sort of crawly thing. It was taking a nap in my bag. I shook out my shirt and sent it flying.
This tour guide (Ravi) is very good. He will ask if we have any questions, and if we don’t, he suggests some (but won’t answer them until someone on the tour finally gives in). He makes jokes, and asks people what they plan to do for the rest of the day. Usually the vans will take you back to your hotel. But an Arabian couple (women clothed in black from head to toe) wants to hit Little India, so he takes us there. Everyone gets off the van except me. I’ve done Little India. I want to go back to the MATIC. From there I’ll walk over to the Petronas Towers and do some shopping in the fabulous, incredible mall.
So, it’s just Ravi and me on the way back to the MATIC. And he’s very nice. It had already been established that I was the only unmarried, unfertile person in the tour van, and now our conversation turns toward the social differences between Malaysia and the US. Simply put, no way could I have gotten to 34 unmarried and childless in Malaysia. Ravi was at one point in love with a Malaysian four years older than he. He is Hindu. So, his mother wouldn’t allow the marriage. He married who he was told to and had children. So now, he stays out as late as he can every night so that he doesn’t have to go home. Not so great. Anyway, we say goodbye at the MATIC, and I have a feeling I could have had a date that night, but there’s not that much of a future in an unhappily married Hindu.
I walk over to Petronas Towers the tallest (second tallest, third tallest) building in the world (depending on who your speaking to). Built by the Petronas Oil Company, the twin towers look like a stack of records, toped by 78’s, topped by 45’s, topped by compact discs, topped by quarters with a big spire on top. The 5 levels represent the Five Pillars of Islam. The stainless steel is from the US and comes with a 99-year guarantee. One tower was built by Japan, and the other tower was built by Korea. They are surrounded by fabulous gardens, which I looked at, but did not walk around in (far too hot).
The Petronas towers house a shopping mall of epic proportions. Every store you find in a mall here in the US you can find there. Tiffany, Benneton, Esprit. I was massively uninterested. I grabbed a Whopper at Burger King and used one of the many bathrooms. Then I went to Isetan. Isetan is a Japanese department store. I bought some English-language books, looked at some very pricey Asian-style tops, and then made the mistake of wandering into handbags. Bought 3. But they are nothing like anything I have seen in New York. A green rectangle made of some cloth that no one can figure out, a metallic blue bag by some Italian designer I’ve never heard of, and a small light blue bag that was too cute to pass up. Then I went back to a shoe store that I had wandered through before called Vincci, and picked up a pair of grey flats for about $8.00 American.
So, now I have three plastic bags of goods, and I’m sitting outside looking at the garden (because it’s too hot to consider walking around in it) when I notice, I’m the only person carrying shopping bags. And, when you consider I can fit all my purchases into one bag, it’s even odder. The mall is full of people, but no one seems to be buying anything. The tour guide Ravi had warned me I would pay more at the Petronas Mall then anywhere else in KL. Oh well, as an obnoxiously rich American, it was cheap to me.
Took a taxi home (too hot to walk) and took a dip in the pool. Once back at Pat’s I did laundry, some quick mending on a hook and eye, and stitched up the shoulder straps of a little sundress I had brought. After seeing the incredibly immodest women wearing spandex and tube tops at the Petronas Mall, I have decided to let my shoulders be free tonight. But, the straps on the sundress tend to fall down, and I’m not that wild and crazy.
Pat returns home after a full and exciting day of work. We get ready to head out. Tonight we are going to the Hawker stand known for it’s sizzling steak, machete wielding car washers, and Rusty the Rat. Pat always sees a rat at this particular stand, and in order to keep coming, she tells herself that it’s a pet. We are going with Leo and Ann, a career foreign service couple. Leo is retired and working as a civilian employee of the embassy. Ann is retiring next year.
Turns out that the sizzling steak counter is closed. Why? No reason. There are lots of other counters/stalls at this Hawker stands, but we decide to head off to the second choice.
At the second choice we get all sorts of stuff. The hand-washing sink is in the shape of a waterfall, and Wheel of Fortune (in Malaysian) is on the TV. We try to guess the puzzles, but it’s pretty hard considering we don’t speak the language. I also get my first look at terribly tacky Muslim art. Now I thought this was something that Christians did. You know, taking a copy of “The Last Supper” and turning it into a clock. But now I’ve seen pages of the Koran reproduced in glitter and turned into a clock. So, I know that bad taste is nondenominational.
At dinner, and afterwards back at Pat’s, Leo and Ann discuss their many years in the Foreign Service. I learn which political appointees were drunks. Which political appointee actually tried to fire embassy staff when they refused to break the law upon her order. What it’s like to work in the Luxembourg embassy as opposed to the Paris embassy. And that Shirley Temple Black actually knew what she was doing, and had a good reputation.
Airport Number 7, Singapore – yes we’re off to Singapore. Land of no gum chewing, no graffiti, no leaving your toilet un-flushed, and no drugs. Pat and I are both worried that there won’t be enough to do in Singapore (hah!). I am worried about curbing my natural tendencies to jaywalk and cross against lights.
We get to Singapore and there are no drug searches. No problems at immigration. You know, all through this trip no one has searched my bags. No dogs have nuzzled my purse. I’m beginning to think that I could have brought a whole kilo of cocaine into Asia sitting atop my head and they would have just waived me through.
However, I am not willing to test this theory.
Our cab driver is friendly, and his English is ok. We are staying at the YMCA, and he knows where to go. As we drive into Singapore we are greeted by beautifully landscaped highways with blossoming trees overhanging three lanes going east and three lanes going west. Somehow, what should be a ribbon of concrete has a charm to it. No billboards. No ads at all really. Except on the cabs. They are motoring advertisements. Our cab driver tells us that Singapore is great and that we are going to have a great time.
The YMCA is shrouded in scaffolding made of sticks and held together with basket weavings. I’m not kidding. I took a picture. In Malaysia, this sort of scaffolding would not have surprised me, but here, in oh-so modern Singapore, it’s a bit of a shock. I’ll later see the same scaffolding in some dioramas at a Singapore museum. I guess if it worked in the 1880’s there’s no reason to change it for the millennium. The YMCA is very active (language lessons, two-step lessons) and clean. Our room is small, but has a really nice bathroom with a great shower. The pillows on the bed are perfectly rectangular pieces of stiff foam. Pat will get a neck-ache.
We head out. I’m baring my shoulders. Singapore may be a sort of benevolent dictatorship that has no trial by jury but at least it’s not a theocracy. No religious police. Porn and prostitution are not allowed, but there’s no law against close proximity.
Singapore was originally going to be part of Malaysia, but after much soul-searching, pulled out of the alliance. Malaysians sort of shrug and say, “Oh those Singaporeans, they’re so snobby.”
Singaporeans say, “Thank God we have no state religion! Oh, and we weren’t about to carry Malaysia’s debt.”
There is not a lot of advertising (except on cabs), but there are billboards proclaiming how great Singapore is, and how great it is to be Singaporean. Talk about a melting-pot mentality. Singapore celebrates its diversity (in a sort of overbearing-obnoxious way) and religious freedom. The Independence Day celebrations were coming up in a few weeks, and Pat and I assumed, from the preparations, that it must be a big anniversary. You know, 100 years or something like that. Nope, they do this kind of party every year. They’re just so glad to be free and making money.
Singapore went a little crazy with Urban Renewal, so there’s very few old buildings or old neighborhoods left. Now things are being protected and restored – which brings us to The Chimes. It was a Catholic Church, School, and Orphanage. No longer being used, it was going to be torn down. But a “save the Chimes” movement managed to rescue the complex, and now it’s full of restaurants and shops.
Pat and I decided to treat ourselves, and went to Shrooms Restaurant. Very, very nice. We were the worse dressed patrons in the place, but the staff didn’t care. The meal was excellent, the dessert was marvelous, and the service was superb without be obsequies.
Off on the Colonial Walk. We saw old churches, old theatres, took a boat ride, saw the MerLion (Singapore’s mythical creature mascot), and passed the Pedang (where they were preparing for the Independence Day celebrations). The Pedang is where the Brits used to play cricket, and the old cricket club still sits at one end. It’s no longer the all white bastion of British superiority it used to be. I’m sure that if, in the New Multi-Culti Singapore, someone tried to keep out a potential non-white member they would be thrown into prison with no trial.
During the Japanese Occupation, the English men were lined up on one side of the Pedang, the women and the children on the other, and then they were marched off. Most of them died either doing slave labor or just wasting away in prison camps. Most of the Chinese were just shot. The lucky ones lived in constant fear. The Japanese tried to recruit Hindus into regiments (the theory being that India was trying to win Independence from England, so Japan and India should be natural allies) and I’m guessing from the one photo I saw in a museum, they had some limited success.
Note: Our tour book had said that Singapore glosses over the Japanese occupation in order not to offend the Japanese, who are big trading partners. The writer of the tour book said that some official document on the history of Singapore only gave the occupation 3 pages. Imagine my surprise to discover information on the Japanese occupation … EVERYWHERE I LOOKED. Call me crazy, but I think the Singaporeans are still a little peeved.
Another note: Couldn’t find anything about the result of the Hindu Regiments. Something tells me that probably caused some hard feelings. If there was anything missing from the history exhibits, it was more information on this.
So, after walking all over, and sweating away, Pat and I went to see the Raffles Hotel. Now this is British Colonialism the way it should be. It’s a big, beautiful, white Victorian building with needless gee-gaws sticking up out of the architecture. The doorman is dressed in an Indian uniform straight out of Johnny Quest. There are bars, poolrooms, fountains, ballrooms, and scads of tradition around every corner. The last tiger shot in Singapore was shot in (or under it wasn’t too clear) the bar of the poolroom. The Singapore Sling was invented at Raffles by the Chinese bartender, who fled when the Japanese arrived taking the secret recipe with him. He came back after the war was over, and wrote the recipe down (for the first time!) for an American serviceman. That first known written copy of Singapore Sling recipe is displayed at the Raffles Museum.
I bought a snow globe. $39.90 Singaporean. $23.63 American.
After slugging down two Singapore Slings apiece, and eating some rather small hard peanuts in the Long Bar, Pat and I headed back to the YMCA. I don’t think we ate dinner (we had eaten a big lunch). I noticed small spots on my legs. Yes, it’s the last sickness of the trip. THE RASH!
Some thoughts on THE RASH. I once had a similar rash about three years ago after having Thanksgiving Dinner at a friend’s. I assumed it was caused by a spice. The rash was all over my body (except my face) and did not itch. The doctor gave me sulfur for it. Also, a few years latter, I got a small outbreak on my arms while mixing salad at God’s Love We Deliver (where I volunteer). Since the food is for AIDs patients, I called the Chef over to see if we would have to dump all the salad out – you don’t want to infect people with no immune system, after all. He said, “Oh, that’s just chef’s rash, you’ve reacted to a spice. It’ll go away.” And it did.
This rash was very similar, though not as extreme. It concentrated on my upper thighs and on my arms around the elbows, though dots did occur all over. So, I thought it was caused by something I ate at Shrooms. Pat thought it was a heat-induced rash, which makes sense because the heat caused the rash to itch like crazy. Latter, I thought it might be a side affect of the drugs I was taking for my ear-infection. Whatever. It was there. It itched in the heat.
I was also still suffering from several nasty mosquito bites that I had picked up all over Malaysia. Pat never got bit. I was eaten alive. So, if you ever visit Malaysia, and the locals are not getting bit, ignore their blemish free skin and spray on the OFF.
So, we head out of the YMCA to hail a cab and go to the Night Safari. It’s rushing hour (the Malaysian/Singaporean way of saying rush hour) and cabs are hard to come by. So we go over to a hotel, and have a doorman hail us a cab.
This is where we met Ari, The Fabulous Cab Driver and Guide to Singapore Extraordinary. If you ever go to Singapore, you will want this guy to take you on a tour. I have his card.
Ari, The Fabulous Cab Driver takes us off to The Night Safari. Some comments on The Night Safari. It is a private enterprise open only at night. All the animals are on the endangered list and breeding away. In some cases, the breeding has gone so well that they’ve had to separate the males and the females. There are no “cages.” The residents of the Safari are kept in their areas by the clever use of big pits (hidden by bushes), water, and the occasional fence. You can ride the tram or walk (the best way is a combination of both). If you walk, the path leads you up to bluffs overlooking the lions or tigers or giraffes. You can’t feed the animals, you cannot get close enough to touch them, but you are close enough to be grateful that the tiger is eating what looks to be a goat and not you.
Everyone who has ever been to Singapore said, “You’ve got to go to the Night Safari.” Everyone is right. This was terrific. Great. Fantastic. Incredible. I wish we had seen the Giant Sloth, but he wasn’t out that night.
Out of the Night Safari and back into Ari’s cab. Ari takes Pat and me on a whirlwind tour of Singapore at night. We go through China Town (where some of the old buildings still stand) down Arab Street, where a Hindu Temple out of Disney film stands among the stores and shops. We go to the highest point in Singapore, where a cable car begins, stretching down to the Singaporean World Trade Center, and off to Sentosa Island, Singapore’s own little Disney Land.
Ari fills us in on the social order of Singapore. When you start working, a certain amount of your income is taken out of your paycheck and put into the housing allowance. When you get married, and have 10,000 Singaporean dollars in your housing account, you can use that as a down payment on a government-built flat. What if you don’t get married? Well, I don’t know. I don’t think anyone in Singapore makes it past 25 without getting married (see Malaysia). Eighty percent of Singaporean’s live in government-built housing. These are big apartment complexes, usually set back in landscaped gardens, which gives everyone light and greenery.
You get to pick where you want to live, and you can buy straight from the government, or privately. Ari and his wife bought their flat about 15 years ago for S$60,000, and they’ve paid it off. Now it’s worth S$250,000. He could sell, but in today’s market S$250,000 doesn’t buy much. He said the real estate market has gone through the roof. I said, it’s the same in New York City.
So, you can buy your apartment through the government, or privately, but everyone starts out with the same down payment. You pay into the housing allowance all your life, even if you are one of the few people to own a private home. After you get your 10,000 down payment, the housing allowance money goes into maintenance. None of the apartment buildings looks run down. None of the landscaping has gone to pot. Coming in, Pat and I saw what we thought was a brand new development next to an old development. Nope, each of the buildings in the old development was being completely remodeled.
Singapore is incredibly safe. Ari said that a woman could walk down the street in a bikini at 3 in the morning, no problem. Not having a state religion, Singaporean women benefit from a government that does not consider females to be the cause of all male sin. In short, if you rape a woman, you die. She tempted you? Too bad. And since there is no trial by jury, even simple harassment is kept to a minimum.
As we stand on the highest point in Singapore, surrounded by a park, where people are walking in near-complete darkness at midnight, Ari points out Sentosa and tells us about the dancing fountain, museum, water park, beach, hotels, bike paths, aquarium, butterfly park, and erupting volcano. Pat and I decide that’s where we will go tomorrow.
Sentosa, home of the dancing fountain, museum, water-park, beach, hotels, bike paths, aquarium, butterfly park, and erupting volcano is our destination for the day. Sentosa means paradise. Heck, it probably means, “way to bilk tourist of money.” Who cares, it’s fun.
We take a cab to the Singaporean World Trade Center and grab a cable car. Fun, fun, fun. You can pick your language if you want a tape-recorded tour, or you can listen to music, or you can mute the damn thing.
Sentosa is where the British surrendered Singapore to the Japanese. Four years later, the Japanese surrendered to the British. That building now houses a museum, where Pat and I will get so involved with the dioramas (this part of the world loves dioramas) that we will lose our tour group and have to join another.
Singaporean history is fascinating. It’s all about business. Who were the great merchants? What was their product? What charitable institutions did they found or belong to? What schools did they build? What church, temple, mosque did they endow? What government post did they eventually serve in (no one is a career politician in Singapore)? What about the people who didn’t become great merchants? How did they make money? And let’s not forget the women who labored, made money, and inspired the names of butterflies. How did all these people of different cultures and religions join together to build this fantastic, great, entrepreneurial city, Singapore (insert cheer here)?
And since Singapore flaunts is multiculturalism, all the money-making folk of Singapore are equally represented. The Hindu miners brought as slave labor by the British, who grew to be an important part of modern day Singapore. The British overlords, now friends and allies, who grew to be an important part of modern day Singapore. Other westerners, who grew to be an important part of modern day Singapore. The Chinese, especially the Aw brothers who invented Tiger Balm, all who grew to be an important part of modern day Singapore.
From there we move onto the Japanese occupation. We learn how incredibly stupid and unprepared the British were. (My favorite quote from a British officer had to do with the Japanese being to short and slanty-eyed to be a threat to the British. Reminds me of the Confederate stand that a gentleman was worth 10 Yankees.) How everyone suffered. Who was forced into slave labor. Who was shot. Who was terrorized. No details spared. And of course, how the occupation really hurt business is also stressed.
Then it’s off to liberation! Yippee! Then independence! Hurray! We learn how the original leader of a free Singapore was heart-broken to leave the newly formed Malaysia (they play the videotape of his television appearance in a continuous loop. It’s very moving). Ahh… what might have been.
Then it’s off to the festivals of Singapore. Since we have so many cultures and religions in multicultural Singapore (and we’re all so happy to be here!), there are a lot of festivals. Several different New Years. Gobs of religious celebrations. Wedding ceremonies galore.
Next it’s the Aquarium! Then off to the orchid garden where we feed carp. Here’s the butterfly farm (not that great – I like the one here in New York better).
Then we’re back at the cable car. We are too tired to do the volcano, the beach, the monorail, the water-park, etc. etc. We decide to get ice-cream floats. Then, after downing those, we get sandwiches.
Suddenly, Singapore becomes Malaysia. I order a chicken salad sandwich on a bagguette. They don’t have bagguettes. I try a roll. They don’t have rolls. I try a croissant. No croissants. I finally ask what do they have. White or wheat bread. My chicken salad is sliced off of what I assume to be a chicken salad loaf. I get cucumbers, tomatoes, and some mayo. As I look at my thin, cucumber-topped chicken-salad-loaf sandwich I think, “The British were here.”
I forget what Pat got, but we were hungry, so the sandwiches tasted good. We sat on a terrace, overlooking Sentosa, the port of Singapore, and a really big, healthy looking mouse who romped among the tables eating his fill.
We hopped the cable cars, grabbed a cab, and got back to the YMCA.
Still had a few hours before Pat had to catch a cab back to the airport, and back to KL.
So, we went to the Museum.
First, we checked out the dioramas. These were different from any other dioramas we had seen. They were very small. But they told the history of Singapore very well. Raffles arrives to set up a British trading post. The Chinese come. The Hindus come. Lot’s of business happens. The Japanese invade. The British get Singapore back. Singapore wins independence. Hurray!
Then it’s off to an exhibit on the Chinese Secret Societies. Next come several photos of Singapore taken in the 1940’s and 50’s by a former director of the museum. He was a westerner, and took tons of photos and movies, documenting all the various cultures of Singapore. They really are fascinating. We skipped the jade exhibit.
Oh, I can’t remember from which diorama I picked up this tid-bit of information, but here it is. In the world-wide depression of the 1930’s Singapore suffered, but managed to struggle on. European banks continued to loan to Western merchants in Singapore, but Chinese, Malay and Hindu merchants were screwed. Banks called in their loans, refused to extend credit, etc., etc. Because of this racist policy, Singaporean merchants started Singapore’s own banking system. Never again would multi-cultural, religiously diverse, powerful Singapore have to rely on those jerks in Europe who thought they were so superior just because they get sunburned out here. Hooray!
Finally, it’s time for Pat to depart. She has had a good time with me, but I can tell she’s ready to get back to her own life. Still, I get a bit stuffy when it’s time for her to go. “See you in two years!” I yell, as the cab pulls away.
I walk around Singapore some. Checking out their big malls, some shops, look for Harry Potter (sold out), buys some last minute gifts, take some pictures, grab some McDonalds and head back to my room. I inhale my burger and fries. Down my Coke. Take a long shower in the terrific YMCA shower, and go to bed. Have to be up early for the flight home.
July 14, 2000
Always worried that I’m going to face unexpected problems, I leave for the airport at 5:30 AM. The airport is about twenty minutes away, and my flight doesn’t leave until 7AM. Oh well. My cab driver is Chinese and he asks me right off the bat if I’m married. I’m used to this now.
“Really? Why not?”
Ok, this is new. So I think fast.
“I’ve only been married a year.”
“Only a year! How old are you?”
Big mistake. I find myself making up a story about how my husband and I met through mutual friends at a bar. This is incredible to my driver. I went out with someone I met in a bar? What was I, an unmarried girl doing in a bar? Where is my husband? He let me come to Singapore myself? To visit my sister? Is he crazy?
I was very happy to get out of that cab.
My airline is not open yet.
I putz around. I go through security. Finally, some security! I am not carrying drugs. My airline opens and I check in.
Three hours late I’m in Hong Kong and starving. The breakfast on my flight was an omelet with some kind of meat. I think it was that chicken salad roll. I find a copy of Harry Potter and buy it for 165 Hong Kong dollars ($21.80 American). I find my gate. I’ve got an hour. I go get a hamburger and fries.
Just thinking about this hamburger and fries, ordered and eaten in the Sky Dance restaurant, it enough to make me gag. It was the foulest, most horrible thing I’ve ever eaten. I would rather munch on an entire chicken salad loaf then to ever eat a hamburger again in Hong Kong. It was gray. It measured 1/8 of an inch in thickness. It was mushy. It bore no resemblance to a cow. Oh, and it was a cheeseburger. I think the over-sweet lumpy mayonnaise on the burger may have been the cheese.
The fries were ok.
And the lemon tea was instant.
I haven’t mentioned lemon tea, which I drank the entire time I was in Malaysia. It is brewed tea, with an entire lemon squeezed into it, and a spoonful of sugar. It’s terrific. Well, in Hong Kong, I swear they are serving Lipton’s Instant Lemon Tea. Icky.
Wanting to vomit, I go to the ladies room and have to settle for brushing my teeth twice in order to remove every bit of Hong Kong burger from my mouth. Trying to cleanse my esophagus, I eat a granola bar.
From Hong Kong we fly to Vancouver. Getting on they check our passports. I order the pasta when the lunch comes around, and the flavorless rigatoni in standard tomato sauce is ambrosia. I deplane in Vancouver (Why stay on the plane?) and have my passport checked. I see a Starbucks. They take American money. I swoon. I get an ice tea. I get Canadian money back. I have the time, so I go change all my Singaporean and Canadian money into American dollars. I try about six times to get the woman doing the changing to take my extra coins for the can clearly marked “all change accepted” for some Canadian charity, but she keeps looking at me like I’m crazy.
Our passports are checked again for boarding. The seat between me (aisle) and the nice Canadian man who is going to visit his daughter in New York (window) is empty. So, I stick my elbows out, wrap my sarong around my shoulders, wrap the blanket around my legs, and go to sleep.
We take a detour to avoid a big storm, but manage to get into JFK on time. Deplaning they check our passports (who were they looking for?). Luggage takes forever. Customs is a breeze. I hop the bus back to Grand Central, and take the subway from there. I’m not sure when I got home, but it was twenty minutes past midnight when I went out for a slice of pizza.
I pop in the videotape to catch the episodes of SEX IN THE CITY, OZ and THE SOPRANOS that I missed. I sit on the couch, letting the cat fur attach itself to me, and reflect on my trip.
Cathay Pacific is a fine airline, but stick with the pasta. Cathay Pacific gives you your own little movie screen and several channels to choose from. I have seen A BUG’S LIFE, HERCULES, THE NEXT BEST THING, some of ERIN BROKOVITCH. Now I don’t have to rent them. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is the perfect book to take on a twenty-five hour plane trip (I’ve only two more chapters to go). Quilting doesn’t work on planes. Don’t bother bringing it. Carry granola bars. Don’t carry fruit. Always use insect repellent. Long pants and air-conditioning are the best cure for a rash. Thank God you live in a country where your mother doesn’t pick your spouse (no offense intended there, Mom). And finally, a sarong is a traveling girl’s best friend.
I had a great time in Asia. I think I’ll head back for Christmas 2001.