Monthly Archives: January 2012

Loh Bak Jack

Seeking a meal in Georgetown, on Malaysia’s Penang island, will eventually lead you to the Red Garden Food Paradise. I’m not sure it ranks as a culinary “paradise”, but you can satisfy your hunger with all sorts of food: Malay, Chinese, Indian, and a few I couldn’t place on a map.

And you’ll definitely notice one of the cooks/servers/business owners there. A Malay of Chinese descent, his name is Ang Chong Hon. But people call him Jack.

My 5 RM Haircut

I’ve gotten haircuts while traveling, but never for US$1.59. That was my goal: to get a 5 RM (Malaysian Ringitt) haircut- maybe the cheapest haircut I’ll ever get. I’d seen signs posted in barbershop windows here in Georgetown… now where were those shops again? I kept my eyes peeled as Karen and I ran errands, and then, walking on the outskirts of Chinatown, I spotted the sign: CUT HAIR RM 5.00.

I approached the lone barber sitting in the empty shop.

Me: I’d like a haircut.

Him: 6 ringitt.

Me: But the sign says 5 ringitt.

Him: Happy new year, 6 ringitt.

Written down, that reads like he’s being a jerk, but there was a handwritten sign in Chinese that ended in 6 RM, so I think he simply hasn’t updated his printed signs for 2012.

I hopped into the chair and asked for a trim. When the barber fired up an electric razor I was a bit apprehensive, but he’d gotten the message and carefully buzzed the sides. On top, I was impressed with his rapid-chop technique. What seemed like random hacking yielded a nice, even result.

Besides oddly-elevated sideburns, I got the haircut I wanted and paid the equivalent of US$1.91. Karen tells me the back is a little uneven, but hey, I can’t see that anyway (and she’s going to clean it up back at the hotel).

 

“Don’t let the bedbugs bite”

That’s a cute phrase when it’s part of a childhood rhyme. Not so cute when Karen wakes up with bites all over her legs.

The critters that kept biting her may not have actually been bedbugs- the specimens we found didn’t quite fit the profile. Either way, we had a problem: they seemed to have followed us from Kuala Lumpur to Georgetown, so how do we get rid of them once and for all? The answer: clean absolutely everything we brought on the trip. Ugh.

While our clothes (except the ones we were wearing) got a hot wash at the local laundry, Karen and I completely emptied and cleaned our bags. Laying everything out on two beds made us realize how much stuff we’re carrying…. or how little, depending on your point of view. We raised an eyebrow at the cold weather gear taking up space in our bags (it’s hot here), but we’ll need that stuff in Nepal.

With everything repacked, we are hopefully bug-free. Come to think of it, we should probably do a thorough clean-up like this every 3 or 4 months, even without the bedbugs.

 

My First Mosque

I’ll remember Putrajaya not only for its eerie emptiness… but also for my first-ever visit to a mosque. Seen plenty of ‘em from afar, never been in one.

Our host, Rozi, skillfully timed our visit so it wouldn’t conflict with afternoon prayers about an hour later. We walked through the imposing arch into a courtyard.

Beautifully imposing

Step one: cover up. I’d thought I might wind up in a mosque today, so I was sporting long pants. To preserve her modesty, Karen needed to be a lot more covered than that, in this case by a fashionable pink robe.

On our way in

Unlike the historical artifacts I saw in the Islamic Arts Museum in KL or the Islamic Museum in Kuching, the striking thing about this mosque is its newness. Sunlight gleams on the pink marble, the intricate carvings showing nary a scratch.

We made our way into the massive main hall, which can accommodate over 8,000 people. Men and women separately, of course, with the men on the main floor and the women in the balconies.

The dome

Men down here, women up there

As we lingered in the entrance and had a few of our questions about Islam answered by Rozi, I began to feel a certain sterility in the space- it’s a little too shiny and new. Even though I’m a modernist- love those clean lines and smooth surfaces- I couldn’t help but imagine the Blue Mosque in Turkey (I hope to see it on this trip, too). How much character and history are embedded in its walls. Having been finished in 1999, this building has a long way to go to build up that sort of ambience, though I’m sure the sterility I’m seeing as a tourist is stripped away when you get a few thousand living, breathing worshippers in there for prayers. That’s what this building is for, after all.

Our first mosque

As Karen and I posed for that photo, the Muslim women minding the door came over and asked where we were from. When we said “the USA”, there was a burst of excited murmuring in Malay, which Rozi translated for us. It seems they do not have many visitors from the US and wanted us to be sure and sign the comment book at the exit. Throughout Malaysia, when we talked to workers at museums or restaurants, they often told us that they don’t see many tourists from the US. It’s a good bet that a light-skinned visitor is an Aussie, a Kiwi, or perhaps a Brit.

Heavenly glow

Our fabulous host Rozi and her daughter Arwen pose with Karen in front of the Steel Mosque, thusly named for obvious reasons

For the record, I’m not crazy about religions (or governments or employers, for that matter) that treat women differently than men, and I’m also not someone who thinks all Muslims are insane terrorists. I don’t know many Muslims, nor do I know much about the religion (which was somewhat addressed by the sternly-worded brochures Karen was handed for further study).

The final revelation

We do want to learn more about the religion practiced by something like 20% of the world’s population and so famously misunderstood by many Americans. Our window into the history, architecture and culture of Islam will be its mosques. And it all started here, at Masjid Putra.

Government Ghost Town

If you need a cityscape to shoot your next Tim Burton-esque pretty neighborhood movie OR your post-viral-terrorism scene, this may just be the place.

Putrajaya is the administrative capitol of Malaysia. Purpose built, after Kuala Lumpur became too congested, it really is a beautiful city. Eerily so. After being in Malaysia for a month, we were accustomed to black-sooted buildings; garbage-strewn sidewalks; mangy, homeless, mangy dogs and motor-biked crammed streets. None of that exists in Putrajaya. Planned in the 1980s and built beginning in 1997, this city contains over 30% green space, a man-made river and lake, wide sidewalks, boulevard roads, artful streetlamps and many stunning buildings. Over 67,000 people live in the city, most of them government employees. Yet- unlike any other Malaysian city we’ve seen- no one is out and about. It feels completely empty, almost abandoned.

Putrajaya mall... empty

We were given a delightful tour of Putrajaya by local Rozi and her daughter. Rozi is the sister of of our US friend Rahim (who is hosting this blog for us- thanks, Rahim!). After an online introduction, Rozi agreed to meet us for lunch. It was a swelteringly hot, yet beautiful, blue sky day. She showed us around the striking buildings, including Ser Perdana, the Prime Minister’s residence.

Seri Perdana

We stopped by the lakeshore to admire the lovely water, yet saw only one boater enjoying it. Rozi says the river is under-utilized, because most Malaysians don’t like the heat! Too bad, as it looked like the perfect place to kayak. Guess we can’t start our kayak rental business here.

The lake... empty

We also visited our first mosque, which deserves its own post.

Masjid Putra

Rozi told us that next to Putrajaya is Cyberjaya, Malaysia’s version of Silicone Valley, where many private corporations are located. Frankly, this looked a little empty too.

Lots of cool bridges in the city

Both communities are growing, so perhaps one day the streets will bustle with their populace.

We ended our day with some good Malaysian food and drink. Lime and lychee water, yum. Thankfully the restaurant was packed, so we know someone besides Rozi’s family lives in this city.

Our lovely hosts

Besides being a mom and occasional tour guide, Rozi is a budding entrepreneur. She creates adorable crafts and children’s clothing. Please, take a look! She is also a talented photographer- in fact, she inspired us to start our Photo of the Day gallery.

Seriously, Putrajaya a beautiful city and would make a great movie set. Hmmmmm, perhaps Ken’s next project?

Malaysian Hospital – Revisited

With my Malaysian hospital stay a fading memory, we arrived in Kuala Lumpur. I was feeling a bit of soreness in my right hand- you know, the one that had a needle stuck in it for four days. I decided to visit a doctor in KL, just to make sure everything was OK.

What a difference.

The KL doc said my hand would probably be sore for a couple weeks and prescribed an anti-inflammatory creme. I am pleased to report that the soreness has subsided, and my Malaysian hospital experience can now truly fade from memory…. except for all these dang blog posts about it.

A few more images from Prince Court Medical Centre.

Birthday wishes for Cambodian kids

We are in Cambodia and today is my birthday! While I would love to celebrate with reckless abandon, I am sobered by a country and a people who look like they have been abandoned. Blame it on the effects of the civil war or a corrupt government, yet this society is a bit of a mess. If you don’t know anything about Cambodia’s civil war, and some of our younger followers may not, click here.

Cambodia has some pretty shocking statistics. Thirty-five percent of the population lives in poverty, which is living on less than US$0.45 a day. Sixty percent of the population is under 18 years of age, so many of those in poverty are kids. Their parents are poor and uneducated, some could be dying of AIDS while others simply cannot afford to send their kids to school. So in Phnom Pehn alone, there are upwards of 20,000 kids hitting the streets every day. Drugs, abuse, or trafficking into the sex industry is the fate of many of them.

We’ve only been in Cambodia a few days and have already seen the huge amount of poverty. Kids with no shoes, or even no clothes, begging. Desperate adults, grabbing our arms as we pass, hoping a rich white person will give them some money. Trash, flilth, smog, it’s all here!  And there is much hope too. Many countries and organizations have come to aid the Cambodian people.

So while I would really love a piece of  Tiramisu of my birthday, I am going to ask for something a lot more lasting from all of you. Would you please consider making a donation to help the kids and, really, all Cambodians?

Child Safe International started in Cambodia and has grown into a network across multiple countries, all working towards the safety of children. Please read more about how they are working with Cambodians in the hospitality industry to make sure they are able to help these kids. In one example, Child Safe can train a taxi driver to watch for foreigners who may be looking for sex with a child and give the driver the tools to turn that foreigner away.

Friends International is the global manager of the Child Safe programs and they offer a secure, tax-deductible way to donate via Paypal. ANY dollar amount is welcomed. Please be sure to indicate in the box that you wish to donate to the Child Safe Network in Cambodia.

Thanks so much for considering the gift of safety and love for a Cambodian child. Let’s make sure they can enjoy their birthdays too. Please donate today.

Hugs,

Karen

42 years old! Whoa.

 

Critters with Opposable Thumbs: Malaysia’s Monkeys & Orangutans

Everyone loves a fun, furry, swinging-from-the-tree kind of critter. Malaysia is chock full of them, and tourists flock to find them.

Borneo is a special place, home to the word’s oldest rainforest, plus winding rivers and mangroves. These areas, along with the mighty Kinabatangan River, host a delightful array of animals, sadly, many of them on the verge of endangerment or extinction.  While I did not spy any Sumatran Rhinos, Pygmy Elephants or Sun Bears, I did mange to visit the probocis monkeys at Labuk Bay, outside of Sandakan. These monkeys are known for their pendulous noses.

So what about my nose?

Wild probocis monkeys are found only in Borneo. Because much of their mangrove environment is being destroyed for development, mostly for palm oil plantations, more sanctuaries are being built to help save the monkeys. The probocis monkeys are wild and free to live as they like, yet are lured into the sanctuaries for twice daily feedings of pancakes and fruit. Great for us tourists, as these creatures normally stay far away in the tops of the trees. So we got to see quite a show of proboscis monkey social behavior. (If you can find a documentary about these guys, I highly suggest you watch it.)

Patiently waiting for pancakes

Feeding platform

The females and young monkeys bond, whiles the males form their own clans. All are ruled over by the very large- in all aspects- alpha male. His sole job is to procreate, and he is ready at a moment’s notice. Cross these bad boys and you could be hurting.

Watching out

The sanctuary is also home to the much more docile silver leaf monkey.

Silver Leaf Monkey

Posing for the tourists

Most people come to Borneo to see the “man of the forest” or the orangutans. We caught up with them…. well only one…. at Semenngoh Forest Reserve outside of Kuching. At this location, you are supposed to see orangutans who have been rehabilitated from an injury or disease and are preparing to return to the wild. However, December is fruit season for the trees and the orangutans are not always attracted by the free meal offered to them. So we had to be happy enjoying this one young female.

Hello!

Orangutans are only found on Borneo and Sumatra and are near extinction. Learn more, go on a tour, make a donation.

Just hangin'

Easier to find, both in peninsular Malaysia and Borneo, are the macaques. These monkeys are not on the verge of extinction, as they have become quite accustomed to humans and city dwellings and have no trouble finding a bite to eat. Quite persistent and sometimes vicious, it’s best to enjoy them from a distance and not feed them. They are crawling around the touristy Batu Caves,  a Hindu shrine outside of Kuala Lumpur. We watched one drink from a straw, another attack a banana-wielding tourist and a third eating what we could only guess was a tube of caulk. Oh dear.

Scavenger monkeys

Personally, I enjoyed the probocis monkeys the most. Probably because I was able to get close to and really spend some time watching them. It also was incredible to think I was seeing them on the only island where they exist in the wild. I truly hope Borneo and the people of Malaysia do their best to make sure these critters have a home for centuries to come.