Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Overnight buses are rough, but even worse than the overnight bus is the almost overnight bus. We pulled into “KL” at 3am after having taken the “overnight” bus from Hat Yai and learning that all the cool people refer to Kuala Lumpur as “KL”.

We met a few people on the train, including James, who is a Californian expat who lives in Bangkok after having met a Thai woman. He needed to go to KL on business. Our first step was to look for food, which at 3am, meant we’re going to a nearby McDonald’s after a stop at the ATM to get some Malaysian Ringgit (3 ringgit to the dollar). Fortunately, they had internet and we learned some great news.
On October 20th, we became an Aunt and Uncle when Aubrey Christine Boehm was born to my sister Jennifer and her husband Michael. It was a very exciting moment, so we bought a round of hash browns for the two of us, James and James’ friend that had joined us.
Around six o’clock we went into Chinatown to find a hostel and after checking a few places ended up at the Birdsnest, which smelled like a log cabin in the middle of the city. It was on a busy street, but it was only 40 ringgit ($13), so we were pretty happy.
To be fair, KL wasn’t really somewhere we wanted to go. We’re pretty tired of the big cities as they all seem to run together after awhile. That said, we needed to go here because we needed to get a tourist visa for India and we knew it would be easy to find a laptop repair place, as the laptop had given up on Koh Phangan. We were pretty sure it was just a battery issue, but it still needed to be taken care of.
Our longer plan was to head from KL over to the Tioman Islands where we would meet our good friends Chelain and Chris, who are teachers at the international school in Burma. Our goal was to turn in our passports to get the Indian visas, go to Tioman and pick up the passports when we got back to KL.
Our first stop was a little shop in Chinatown that would help us get the passport photos, then we headed with James towards the financial center, which is the site of the twin Petronas Towers, which were the tallest buildings in the world up until 2006. We hung around with James and learned what it’s like being an expat in Thailand until he had to go his meeting. The Prince and Princess of Thailand are pretty interesting characters, but you can look that up if you’re interested.
We ran some errands and hung around in a coffeeshop allowing Leslie to devour Harry Potter: The Half-Blood Prince.
Most importantly, we found a Mexican fast-food joint for lunch. It was absolutely divine. It was probably pretty standard fair, likely around the quality of a Taco Bell, but it was the first time we’ve had anything like a proper burrito in six months.
That night, we turned in pretty early as we were still tired, but James and I explored a little more, hitting up the Central Market and an Indian dance performance by the local university.
The next day saw James leave KL and us hop on the free bus to head towards a laptop repair place I had found on the internet.
Kuala Lumpur is a great mix of different cultures and traditions combined with modern convenience and economics. The free bus across town highlighted this as we were brought from the heart of Chinatown, through Little India and eventually to Bukit Bintang, which translates to “Starry Hill” or “Hill of the Stars” or something like that. The literal translation is “Hill Stars”.
Bukit Bintang is the center of the shopping and party district of KL. Huge mega malls line the street as local boutique shops are as easy to find as H&M. There’s a plethora of food places that look like they could be straight out of an American mini-mall and serve similar foods. We got a couple donuts that reminded us of home.
At the same time, there’s more traditional food shops available, with open-air seating in the bottom floor of buildings and dried chicken, duck and fish hanging in the open air. You can split the difference if you want as well and get Malaysian style food served in western style restaurants.
Our goal was the laptop store though, so after walking past a huge H&M and learning that motorbikes are not going to slow down for you if you jaywalk we ducked into a five story mall that sold nothing but electronics; computers, laptops, tablets, phones, wires, televisions, etc. The sheer volume of electronic gadgets at this place was mind-boggling. Lots of the stores were kiosks, with goods under glass cases and someone selling something over the top, “new computer,” says one “what you want?” asks another and of course… “where you going?”
I had written down a name in my booklet, “Kadai Komputer.” We went to the fourth floor for computer repair. I thought my note was going to help find the recommended shop, but every shop was labeled “Kadai Komputer”. I think it means “Computer Repair.” Eventually, we found the repair shop and confirmed it was just a battery issue. We blew our budget for the day and moved on.
A block off of the main drag in Bukit Bintang is a strip of Chinese food joints that are authentic and supposedly really good. Well, we found them authentic, but I don’t know about “really good”. We ate it, but we did not go back.
The Chinese food also gave us a hankering for something “normal”, so we turned to Trip Advisor and found a burger and beer joint called Taps.
It wasn’t labeled as expensive on TripAdvisor, but I guess their idea of expensive and our idea is quite different. It was by far the most expensive meal we’ve had in Asia, but it was awesome. Big, juicy burgers with IPA imported from Scotland. The burger wasn’t quite “normal” as the standard burger came with a fried egg and the burger itself was stuffed with guacamole. It made one helluva mess, but was absolutely great.
The next day we prioritized the visa and made the trip to the company that processing visa for India. (It’s been outsourced). It was an Indian holiday, the office was closed.
We went to explore “Central Market” where we found stalls, a very good food court that became our go-to cheap eats place, and the highlight… fish that eat the dead skin off your feet. These have been pretty common ever since we hit Thailand, but they’ve usually been $10+, which is more than we are willing to spend. This time, it was only $2 for 10 minutes.
It was one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced. These fish were larger than the ones in Bangkok at about 4 inches long. As soon as you put your feet in the water the fish swarmed around them, chomping as much dead skin as they could. It was quite difficult to keep your feet in the water at first, as it tickled like mad, but soon, you got used to it. It was still weird to have fish eating your feet. I found it was easier if I looked away and thought of something else. Towards the end of our time a French woman put her feet in and most of the fish swarmed to her. I couldn’t help but wonder what that woman did that made the fish like her feet so much.
The Food Court was excellent. There were about two dozen different restarurants with Mee Goreng and Nasi Goreng (fried noodles and rice) being the staples. You could get a plethora of different options for the meats, veggies and sauces. Noodle soups were available as well as dried fish, but we generally avoided those.
Leslie absolutely loved the juice place that was stuck in the middle of the court. They would throw whole fruits and vegetables into the juicer and whip up fresh juice in a few seconds for a dollar or two.
The previous evening, Leslie had found a KL app on Trip Advisor that had a “Photography Walk.” We kicked ourself thinking, “we need to do more TripAdvisor walks!” Then we did the walk, which was obviously done by some computer program built for helping cars navigate the city. After it tried to get us to take a left onto a freeway on-ramp we kinda gave up on it.
It did point us towards the KL tower though, so we ended up in a massive walk across town, when we later realized there was a much better bus to take.
The Tower was pretty cool, but it was going to be near $100 for a meal, so we decided against it and walked around the grounds.
Then Malaysia decided to remind us it was monsoon season. We had remembered to bring raincoats on the trip, but they were back in the hotel room. About twenty minutes of walking through an absolute deluge brought us back to the sky train and finally, back home.
The next day, we returned to the office to try and get visas for India, only to learn that it is not possible to get an Indian tourist visa from Malaysia if you’re on a tourist visa. Mission fail.
This meant that we were going to have to return to a capital city to try and get the visa somewhere else, but it wasn’t time to worry about that. It was time to go meet up with Chelain and Chris on the east coast of Malaysia.
Next stop, Pulau Tioman.

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