Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Considering that I now live in South East Asia, I’m really trying to line up as many trips to nearby places as I can manage.  Although most of these adventures will be within the limits of Indonesia, I was able to make excellent use of a three-day weekend in March to leave the country and explore Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

I had recently posted about how my current life is mimicking that of a time nine years ago.  Interestingly enough, nine years ago I bought a book called (I believe) “The World’s Most Amazing Buildings.”  It covered structures from antiquity, places of worship, modern marvels, you name it.  This was where I first saw, read, and learned about the Petronas Twin Towers.  Before that point, I don’t know if I’d ever thought about the country of Malaysia, but it was on my radar ever since.  It was awesome to have the chance to explore the city, and I couldn’t have asked for a better weekend with which to see it.

I left Jakarta on a Saturday in the late afternoon.  It was nice to get to see Java from the air, and it was the perfect time of day to see an awesome optical illusion.  It was a very  bright sky and for about a minute before my plane entered the clouds, the sky and the sea were the same shade of blue.  It was like the island was hanging, suspended in space.  It’s moments like these when I realize I will never get tired of flying.

Then it was a short two-hour flight and entrance process before I was welcomed into Kuala Lumpur.  It took only a few minutes to get on a cheap bus to the city center.  Once there, it was a short taxi ride to my guesthouse near Chinatown.

For anyone traveling to this area and would like a simple and cheap place to stay, the Explorers Guesthouse is definitely worth checking into.  By far, the nicest hostel I’ve stayed in!  My friend and I had a private room, there was a shared bathroom, computers to use in the lobby, a free simple breakfast every morning and free coffee and tea all day.  And, (since I didn’t make it to the post office before I left), they even mailed my postcards for me.  Contact them at  explorers128@gmail.com, or just visit them in person at 128 & 130 Jalan Tun H S Lee.

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After getting settled, it was time to head out to Chinatown to begin exploring and get some dinner.  I ended up getting chicken curry with rice, roti canai and a sweet lime juice.  It was so nice to be out in the warm evening, listening to Bob Marley, watching all the bule’s go by, late into the evening.

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For my only full day, there was a lot to get packed into a relatively short period of time.  So after some toast and jam it was time to get picked up for our City Tour.

It began with the National Museum; a perfect place to whet the appetite with Malaysian history and culture.

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After poking around for almost an hour, we made a quick stop at the Royal Palace.  It could only be seen from a distance, and it’s protected by a large gate and mounted guards.

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Then we were taken to one of the national monuments.  In essence, it’s a replica of a war memorial in Washington, DC.  The same artist that created the monument in America created the one in Kuala Lumpur, but the faces and headwear are in Malay style.  Very beautiful area.

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We stopped briefly in an area which had a lot of British influence.  Beautiful architecture, a clock tower, a church and an old cricket court made this area near Chinatown feel very different compared to the other areas of the city.

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A decent amount of time was spent at the Royal Selangor Visitor Center, which is the largest Pewter factory in the world.  For generations this family owned business has mixed the elements of Tin, Antimony, and Copper together to produce some achingly beautiful pieces of art.  It was amazing to see the demonstrations of how the scientific and artistic aspects come together in such harmony.  After a lesson in the craft of Pewter-smithing, we were led into the gallery to have our purse-strings teased as we saw the finished products for sale.  Kitchen sets to cufflinks, teapots to trophies and wedding gifts to wall art, there was a perfectly polished piece of Pewter for every occasion.

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The last stop of the tour was the one I’d been waiting for…The Petronas Twin Towers.  At 452 meters high and made of stainless steel and glass, this building dominates the skyline and catches ones attention in a few ways.  The area around the building is organized and well-planned, just like everywhere else in the city.  There is plenty of shopping, cafe’s and ice cream shops, which were all useful when dealing with the extremely hot climate.  Tickets to the top of the building were already sold out for that day and the beginning of the next week, which was a bummer, but I was so happy just to be there and get some cool photos.

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After a little shopping and a cool nosh, I made one last stop at the Kuala Lumpur Tower.  Much like the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada, this tall building is basically one huge elevator shaft with some fun stuff at the top.  I immediately signed up to go to the highest observation deck, which is open-air.  It was a beautiful, clear day and the breeze up there was very refreshing.  From that height I could appreciate how built up and complex the city looked, but from the ground, the city never felt congested.  There really is a lot to see and it’s easy to get to any destination.

Back on the ground, it was easy to hop on one of the pink (or purplish) busses…which are free…that run every 20 minutes or so.  The circuit runs to the Central Market, which is right by Chinatown, which was right by the aforementioned Explorers Guesthouse, which made getting home pretty easy.

A shower was definitely in order after the day of walking around the equator.  Feeling thoroughly refreshed, it was time to hail a cab and head to Jalan Alor (a foodie street in the Bukit Bintang area).  An entire street of food stalls, outdoor café seating and interesting foodstuffs awaited.  A crazy mélange of items had a party in my belly that evening.  Dumplings, ginger onion fried frog, chocolate Turkish ice cream, sweet coconut juice, coconut ice cream and a red-bean Freezy all managed to get along surprisingly well.  What a tasty adventure!

Ginger onion fried frog :-)

Ginger onion fried frog :-)

After the best nights’ sleep known to womankind, it was time to use Monday morning to do some local exploring.  The journey began directly across the street from the guesthouse at the oldest Chinese Temple in Kuala Lumpur.

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Then it was time to experience the never-ending central market.  It was here that I acquired my requisite gifts that I perpetually hunt for in every new location.  This led to a bookstore where shopping and noshes of egg jam pastry and roasted duck with rice were devoured.

No sooner did we get back to the guesthouse, that we met up with our afternoon tour.  Once again I was in a van, moving down the highway to a new part of the city.  We made a quick stop in “Brickfields,” also known as Little India, to appreciate the culture and colors of this homogenous area.  Then is was on Batu Cave, with its imposing Hindu statue greeting patrons as they begin the almost 300-step ascension.  Wild monkeys looking for sweet snacks eagerly accompany guests to the top, but respectfully refrain from pestering those who continue on to explore the Hindu temple area inside.

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After taking pictures, descending the stairs and munching on a samosa we managed to just beat the rain as we traveled to a traditional Batik shop. We were able to see the free-hand wax drawing of a flower design on beautifully colored fabric, in the flesh. I have such an appreciation for the born-talent of free-hand artists. Naturally, there were finished products for sale and I was happy to pick up some cotton and silk pieces for the family.
This tour was a short expedition, so there was plenty of time afterwards to return to Chinatown for some crab fried rice before heading off to the airport.

It may have been a whirlwind weekend, but it was a cheap, easy destination I was lucky to see.

 

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Sunda Kelapa

Other than a dirty river that runs through my area of town, I live in a land-locked part of East Jakarta.  Considering how much I love the water, and all things nautical, I took a jaunt to the coast in North Jakarta a few weeks ago with some fellow teachers.  It was a simple day trip to get in touch with the maritime past and present of Sunda Kelapa.

The port is operational and I am assuming not much has changed in the last few centuries.  Rows of Makassar schooners lined the dock with men busying themselves with one task or another.  Cargo is still unloaded by hand without the aid of any machines, and boats are still maintained with sweat and elbow grease alone.

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A few blocks away was the Museum Bahari.  For about $.70 we gained access to the maritime museum that was seemingly endless.  Several very old warehouses had been concerted into this sprawling museum which covered everything from models and replicas, pictures, Indonesian geography and trade routes to salvaged items like sextants and Fresnel lighthouse lamps.

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Our admission fee also included access to the Watchtower just across the street.  This building is basically a lighthouse.  It was build in 1839 and was used to spot and direct nautical traffic into and out of the port.  We only had to climb a few sets of stairs to get to the top and were instantly rewarded with awesome views of the harbor and a magnificent breeze to combat the mid-day heat.

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After walking around for a few hours, it was time to get something to eat.  We walked just a few minutes to the Galangan Building.  It’s a historical building preserved from the Dutch colonial times, around the 17th century.  Besides the café, the building and surrounding area offered many options to individuals or groups planning various functions.  Since nothing special was happening the day we were visiting, we had plenty of opportunity to look around and take pictures of the beautiful grounds without being disturbed.

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Even though the local waters may be polluted, I will never get tired of the smell of the sea.  It brings the promise of adventure, thrill of the unknown, and the romance of danger with it.  I continue to be comforted by that notion of consistency in an ever-changing world.  Echoes of a simpler way of life will always benefit those willing to listen.

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Deja Vu

It’s funny how time has a way of repeating itself.  This has been a year of change, of growth, of ideas coming to fruition.  And don’t get me wrong, I’ve been excited about every step.

This past Fall, I have concentrated on tying up loose ends, to exit one world and enter another.  Now that my new life and I have been getting on swimmingly, I’ve found myself pausing to reflect on my previous leaps of faith.  Some were a little better than others…I mean everyone has a few details they would like to forget.  But I couldn’t help notice how my current life is mimicking my life of exactly 9 years ago.

I was once told that if you experience deja vu, then you are exactly where you are supposed to be.  I like that reasoning.  I’m comforted by the fact that I make consistent decisions and am reassured in many ways that my path is my own and the choices I make with my heart and mind somehow resonate with my soul, keeping me on a consistent journey of sorts.

Clearly 9 years is a long time ago and some large details (like my location) are different of course.  But a new experience far away from home, a new job, a group living situation, personal life, even my unique work schedule are strikingly similar to the life I lived in my early twenties.

That experience 9 years ago was one of the absolute best and worst years of my life.  I was so happy to make my own way in the world and begin to figure things out for myself.  I think I learned more in that year than I did in all of high school and half of college put together.  Saying it was difficult would be an understatement.  Consistently working 60 hours a week in a fairly dangerous occupation tested me in every way possible.

Coming out of that experience a little burnt out was tough, but I knew that no other work situation would ever be as hard.

The first time around I was scared of the change and challenge.  This time I was yearning for it.  I also think I’m able to handle and organize much more than before, so everything now is so much more enjoyable.

It makes me wonder where I’ll be in another 9 years and what challenges I will prepare for myself; what exotic destination I’ll find myself living in.

Oh, the possibilities!

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How much is 2 million rupiah?

I have been told this is the average monthly salary for a local Indonesian.  This works out to be roughly $200 USD.

I suppose I’m considered part of a skilled labor force, so I make more than this amount with a portion dedicated for housing costs.  But is 2 million rupiah enough to live on?

Yes…if you are on a budget (and stay away from bars which can easily take away your extra money), then 2 million can certainly be enough.

Lets go through some basic, every-day costs in the USD equivalent.

-Breakfast snack of 3 fried banana pieces: about $.20

-Warteg meal of rice, vegetables, egg and potato: $.70

-Strawberry (or other fruit) smoothie: $1.00

-Angkot ride (public transportation): anywhere from $.20 – $.50

-1-hour taxi ride through Jakarta traffic: $5-6.00

It is also easy to spend well over this amount…Jakarta is a large city with lots of amenities after all.  However, I’m happy to keep things simple and easy in my quiet area of East Jakarta, and only splurge once in a while.  Especially since “splurging” may only mean spending an extra $10 on something fancy!

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Cheese and Sidewalks….

I know exactly what you are thinking:  “Janette, now that you are in your new tropical home, how on Earth could you miss anything about the US when you have so many new things to get excited about?”

The truth is, I am only human and sometimes I have cravings…and urges…and things.  One of those “things” I happen to miss is cheese.  Good, dense, smelly cheese.  The kind that will put hair on your chest, whether you want it to or not.

Back in Rhode Island, I lived down the street from “The Cheese Plate.”  It was an amazing little shop/restaurant that specialized in wine and cheese pairings.  Although I don’t drink wine, the cheese kept me coming back for more.  Looking back, I wish I had taken advantage of that lovely place a little more than I did.

For the foreseeable future I will be eating the generic, overly-processed (and tasteless) cheese slice singles OR I will be forced to pay exorbitant amounts of money for a small hunk of the real stuff that would probably only last one sitting.

Oh cheese…how I long to devour you…one, delicious, mouth-watering morsel of delight at a time….

Next up are sidewalks.  I’m used to walking many places, but those places are usually connected by paths…foot paths…made of cement, brick or some other stable building material.  Even if those foot paths are in a state of disrepair, there is still a designated area with which to walk.

In my new area, there are plenty of places where sidewalks simply don’t exist or they are damaged beyond all recognition.  I may see a piece of sidewalk here and there, a remnant of a former walking platform of one type or another, but one can’t be sure.

Then again, I suppose it’s not the worst thing in the world if I refrain from consuming lots of cheese, and the walk to and from my home is a bit more challenging.  But I also can’t help myself from daydreaming about these two random daily items.

It’s the little things in life…isn’t it?

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This is Bandung baby!

My first real adventure outside Jakarta exceeded all expectations.  I was lucky enough to tag along with some gals who are fellow teachers at various schools in the grater Jakarta area.  Going on an excursion that I did not personally plan is a rare instance indeed, so I was very excited to just relax and take in all that happened to come my way.

We left from the Jakarta bus terminal in the late morning and drove about three hours through a bit of rain.  Since we all got up early, we chatted for a short while and then I quickly felt the need to rest my eyes.

Before I knew it our van had arrived in Bandung.  The weather was absolutely perfect.  The air was fresh and dry, the temperature was cooler and everything was so green.  After checking into the “Guest House Salon and Fora Gegerkalong,” we headed out to a popular shopping area.  We started out at a modern part of town which was beautifully decorated for the Chinese New Year.  After a snack and some window shopping, we headed past a food market to a local shopping area to practice our bargaining skills.  I made out pretty well, acquiring some cheap jewelry to add to my small accessory collection.

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Next it was time to get dressed up for the evening.  If we were cute before, we became a handful of hot tamales for a night out on the town.  We ate a nice dinner nearby our hotel and then made our way up part of a mountain to a pretty cool lounge to meet up with a friend.  The lounge itself was pretty nice, but the location was amazing.  There were lots of windows so patrons could allow themselves to be hypnotized by the slight twinkle of far-off lights in the outstretched valley below.  What a perfect place to spend the evening.

In the morning we organized a driver for the day.  Our first stop was a volcano about an hour away.  There was traffic (of course) but it was a beautiful day to be out exploring.  As we were getting close to the entrance, we all decided to exit the vehicle and walk to the top.  It was nice to get out and stretch our legs.  We walked around the rim and took some amazing photos of the crater before doing some trinket shopping and getting a snack or two to fill our empty bellies.

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DSC03969Hot springs are plentiful in that area, so of course we had to make a stop.  The springs were sprawling…and crowded.  The young, and young at heart, littered every space imaginable.  And being a more conservative country, swimmers were basically fully clothed while enjoying the therapeutic hot water.  I think most of us would have felt very under-dressed in bikinis, so we enjoyed the atmosphere by just soothing our tired legs.

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After a quick bite we were off again.  The countryside was so beautiful that we asked our driver to pull over so we could get some photos of the lush tea plantations that covered the hills.  It was so serene.  The vibrantly green plants, the absence of traffic, the slowly rolling fog devouring one row of plants at a time…mesmorizing.

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Our next stop was the floating market.  I didn’t know what to expect, so I found the area to be pretty awesome.  There were shops selling crafts and trinkets as you entered the area, as one would expect.  Then, as we followed the crowd around the lake, we saw a covered walkway filled with people eating delicious food-stuffs.  The makers and sellers of said food-stuffs were all in boats, in the water, lining the walkway.  It was awesome.  Being near water of any kind in the evening is pretty magical in my opinion, so I was very happy to fill my soul with the opportunity while it was available to me.

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DSC03995Finally, after a long day, our group was taken to a jungle resort type of place for dinner. We once again saw beautiful red decorations for the Chinese New Year and romantic lights hanging over the tropical plants.  We had a chance to refuel and relax after our action-packed day.  A walk around the complex led us to a beautiful waterfall for a late-night photo op before making our way back to the vehicle and on to our hotel.

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Our last morning in Bandung was pretty low-key.  Some of the girls went shopping, while some (myself included) took advantage of the spa in our hotel.  I treated myself to a cream bath for my hair as well as a manicure and pedicure.  It was about two hours of pampering, all for about $11…not bad.  Feeling like a new woman never cost so little.

After a lazy morning and afternoon our group made our way to the bus station, got our tickets and began the 3-4 hour journey back to Jakarta.

As the sun started to set, a gentle rain began to fall.  I was listening to music, staring out the window pondering how beautiful water can be in all forms, when I noticed that we were passing rice patty fields!!  The one thing in the country I longed to see.  There was a moment of pure joy I experienced that I continue to carry with me.  Any time a picture from a book becomes a reality in my life, I’m magically transformed to a girl of ten, smiling from ear to ear.  Sometimes the older I get, the younger I feel because I’m better able to digest the deliciousness of life.

I couldn’t have asked for a nicer weekend.  I am so happy that my first getaway was beautiful and exciting.

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7-11 sightings

Armed with only my backpack, one random day off of work, I headed to the outdoor food court to use up some free internet.  Little did I know that my pit-stop at 7-11 would grant me one of my most memorable interactions thus far.

As I was making my selection of juice and chocolate snack, I noticed a group of middle-school aged kids watching me and mumbling to themselves.  I know I look nothing like the locals, and that alone is enough to get people talking or staring.  Since I am now a teacher, I figured it was only fair to make the first move and try to engage these kids in conversation, just so they know I’m approachable, and see if they take the bait.  They seemed nice enough, but shy.  They responded with the usual greetings but then moved away in a mass of giggles.  But as I got in line at the register, something unexpected happened.  One brave girl came up to me, and in her broken English, asked if I would sit with her and her friends.  I was touched and of course responded with a heartfelt “yes!”

The group consisted of five girls and one boy.  They took up the tables in the corner of the 7-11 store and had saved me a seat right in the middle so I could face everyone.  The who invited me over was clearly the best English speaker and acted as the translator for most everyone else.  I was only there for about 20 minutes, but I was asked about many topics.  The usual questions regarding my age, marital status and job were the first to be dealt with.  On the second round they asked me about my impression of the country, which included topics of food, culture and personal interaction, as well as some comments about the ubiquitous traffic.  It was obvious that this group of kids were curious about what a “bule” (or Western foreigner) was doing in their local area, but were delighted to hear how much I enjoyed and appreciated my new home.

As quickly as the conversation had materialized, it seemed to dissolve.  I said my farewells and expressed my gratitude for their generosity and encouraged them to get my attention any time I may be nearby.  I wanted them to know that my door is always open.  My goal for this year is not to live in isolation, but to be a local.  These are precisely the instances that I was hoping for.

Until next time….

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