I hit the jackpot when I arrived in Kuala Lumpur (KL). My dear friend Ari Goodman back in Burlington had connected me with a friend from when she'd studied abroad in Australia. Her friend Hana was keen to hang out and allowed me to spend my first night with her and her family. I'd taken an overnight flight from Brisbane so I was tired and it took me a 1 hour bus ride, a train, and a taxi to get to the meeting point that Hana had designated since it wasn’t easy to get to her place otherwise. She lives with her parents, her sister and brother-in-law, their sweet daughter Maya, and a number of maids and other helpers in their really magnificent home. Once I got there it wasn't 20 minutes after I arrived that we hopped in the pool! For my first experience in this less-developed country it was shocking to be in such a nice home with folks who spoke great English and had so many paid helpers at the home (I’m not complaining, just worth noting!)After the pool we cleaned up then had lunch which was chicken and fried rice made by their cook who has been with them for 20+ years and it was DELICIOUS! Hana’s mother pointed out that their cook had been with them for that long as a testament to how well they treated everyone. The chicken was a lemony chicken with great flavor and spicyness. First meal and I could tell food in Malaysia was going to be amazing. People there all seemed to agree that the food in Malaysia is one of the best parts of it.
That night I had dinner with the family. Everyone was home and ate together (if we work hard to plan it that might happen once per year with my family). They’re all well educated and speak great English, all of the daughters studied in either Australia or England. The youngest daughter is in England right now. In Malaysia being Malay means that you are automatically Muslim at birth, as this family was. Around the dinner table they asked questions to get to know me, they talked about politics and were curious about some of my input from the states, and they talked about their days together. They were so generous to me as a complete stranger and I couldn’t believe how welcoming they were. During dinner Hana’s mother even laughed at something I said and I realized she was poking fun at me in a friendly way.
The next day we woke up early and went to a mysore yoga class. I'd never done one before and the instructor was great. Because of the three cultures in Malaysia it’s interesting that English sometimes seemed the easy one to revert to so both of the yoga classes I went to were taught in English. The class worked up our appetites for the Banana Leaf Cafe we went to for lunch. A Kiwi I met in Australia named Mark had told me that his favorite meal EVER was a banana leaf cafe in KL so I was pretty excited. It was delicious - lots of different kinds of curries both veggie and various types of meat all spread out on top of rice on a big banana leaf. I had no idea what I was eating as none of the guys at the Banana Leaf Cafe spoke anything I could understand, but anytime we were ready for more they brought more out so we ate and ate. And the entire meal came to about $7.50/person USD. Also we ate with our hands, actually only our right hands. I think that originally eating with only the right hand was a sanitation thing but my joke was that now it's so people can keep texting with the other hand...which I saw a lot and thought was pretty funny.
After lunch Hana dropped me at my hostel. I stayed at PODs Backpacker Hostel in Little India and it was great. For anyone traveling to KL and not minding a pretty basic place to stay I would recommend it. The location was great – just blocks from one of the main public transportation hubs and in Little India so lots of good food options – and the crew who worked there and ran it were all very friendly and good people. Ready to help out or hang out. That night I had dinner with Susan Lau, who some Floyd friends might remember. This Malaysian woman lived in our tiny little town of Floyd for some time a few years ago and it was really great to sit and talk with her both about her Floyd experience and to hear her explanation of Malaysia and advice for how to enjoy it. She is also a yogi and is in Kundalini yoga training right now so we had lots to talk about.
The next two days I did full day adventures with Sasa, my Malaysian friend who did the same AcroYoga teacher training in Montreal as I did. We drove out of the city one day to Kuala Kubu Baru where there was a nice stream to swim in, lots of greenery, and an aboriginal tribe living in the hills. We found an awesome snake skin, made some time for a bit of meditation, and we hung out with one of Sasa’s old friends who lives in the aboriginal community. He’s Chinese but married an aboriginal lady, which apparently is not common as they’re much less educated. From what I gathered the story of how aboriginal people in Malaysia were treated goes along with so many other stories – the land they used to move around on in a nomadic way was taken away and now they barely live off of government subsidies. Anteras was a spiritual man, a shaman I believe. I wish he’d gotten into some more spiritual things but as it was Sasa and I had tea with him and heard his stories for as long as we could until we had to go. Even though he lives out in the sticks he stays up to date on politics and all kinds of things going on around the world. Meeting him was a special experience – Dad, I think you would have enjoyed talking with him too.
The next day Sasa and I went to Batu Caves. It’s one of those things that every tourist to KL does but somehow Sasa had never been. Lucky me that she was up for it! It is right on the edge of the city and pretty crazy to still be driving through city roads and suddenly see these huge chunks of exposed limestone rising up. Batu Caves is a significant temple for Hindu people and we were there at an auspicious time because the following Tuesday (we were there on Friday) was a big festival where Hindus from all over made a big pilgrimage up into Batu Caves. Some folks on that mission were already trickling in with the rest of us tourists. The fascinating thing about the caves is that you can imagine how absolutely breathtaking they once were, but now they’re so overrun with people…and with trash. There was trash littered all over the place and it smelled – so different than how a relic like that would be somewhere like the US. That said, there were beautiful statues and shrines tucked throughout the cave and it was really special. There were also monkeys! Tons of monkeys wandering all over (and certainly adding to the trash and the smell). For the most part they were doing their own thing unless someone had food which they would grab at or something else in their hands that may have been food for alll the monkeys know – which they would also grab at.
On Saturday I finally took a few minutes to do laundry and have some down time then went to an acro jam which Sasa had put together for while I was in town. A guy from Australia whom I'd just met at the hostel came along too and both of us agreed afterwards that it was really cool to get to interact with locals that way – you jump right in to an impressive comfort level. They were a great crew of individuals and I loved working with Sasa to lead the group and do some joint teaching.
For my last night in KL, I had an amazing experience seeing live Classical Indian Dancing. A lady who worked at the hostel, a Chinese lady named Nicky, had told me the day before that she was going to this performance and I should come too. It was absolutely beautiful, and very special because it wasn't a show for tourists or something like that - it was new choreography and the first time it was performed. They had some dignitaries there whom they introduced and the choreographers went up on stage to speak affterwards too. Their movements were so detailed and strong with fancy hand and foot work as well as moving their eyes around... I'd say that 98% of the people there were Indian and they were all dressed in beautiful Saris, really well dressed for the event. Everyone in KL had the next day off of work for the holiday so I think the performance was lined up with that.
Last thing I'll say about my time in KL is that hostel life is fun. I made friends and enjoyed hearing what others were up to and why they were there. I hadn't planned much for my last day and a half there and then had things to do thanks to what others at the hostel were up to and whatever we put together. One of the guys I met is an American living and teaching in Vietnam and he threw out the idea of me coming to visit...so I might just make that happen!