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Monday, October 5, 2009

Camera Hunting and Couchsurfing in KL

By now I understand KL's wonderful public transit system, and wonderful it is!

Only 5 minutes of reentry formalities at the airport and then I was on a SkyBus bound for KL Sentral, a big transit hub.  Mila (short for Hazmilah) had arranged to come and pick me up there.  She was to be my Couchsurfing host, but unfortunately her roommate was having a guest so she couldn't.  She went out of her way to check for me with my CS backup people who I had originally contacted a month or so ago, and Ken was nice enough to say yes and host me last-minute! 

So Mila drove me all the way out to his place in the suburbs of Petaling Jaya/Subang.  Ken was not around, but I met his roommate Gabriel who was from Switzerland and living in Malaysia and teaching graphic design.  Ken later joined us and we chatted for quite a while about things including alternative medicine and medical miracles that cannot otherwise be explained and that sort of thing.  We also talked about the sad fate of my previously trustworthy camera, and my need for another.  Due to the modern KL miracle of wi-fi, I was able to check Amazon for pricing on the model I had decided I coveted (one step up from the one I mentioned the German girl on my earlier Malaysia trip had had).  Unlike many things, cameras are not cheaper in Malaysia but at least they have the same selection of upscale ones that we would in the States.  So it was suggested I spend the next day camera shopping at the downtown area malls including Sungei Wang, Bukit Bintang, and Low Yat.

That was my mission for Saturday.  However, my fun started out at Sungei Wang on the ground floor when I semi-idly wandered into an optometry shop, with my old, almost-impossible-to-see-through, scratched-to-hell glasses, and a recent prescription for new lenses.  I had heard these were much cheaper to get in Malaysia.  Unlike cameras.  So this was my attempt at dollar-cost-averaging, I guess you could say.

The proprietor of the shop could not have been nicer.  He told me my old lenses were shit and the scratchproof coating had long since worn off, that there would be no problem making new ones with high index so that they did not resemble coke bottles with my rx of -6.50, and that instead of leaving them in KL for 2 weeks so that they would be finished by the time I returned from Indonesia, they could be ready within less than an hour.  I thought I was not hearing correctly!!!  My own optometrist, bless his sweet and high-priced soul, took a week to make up glasses.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, 40 minutes later I was the proud owner of a perfect pair of lenses I could see through with no weird foggy, cloudy, scratchy barriers between me and the outside world!  All this for the price of 160 Ringgit (about US $45), and payable by Visa yet!  Will the wonders never cease!  I told the guy I had actually come looking for a camera and he then introduced me to his camera store friend who he assured me would give me the best deal.  The price was still higher than Amazon, so I decided to check prices throughout Low Yat Plaza (a techie mall with cell phones on one floor, cameras on another, computers on another, and so on).  I told my optometrist friend Mr. Soong that I first had to head to the internet and asked him where there was a nearby cafe, and he insisted I use his computer for as long as I needed, for free (hence one of my previous posts, done from the optical shop after a dearth of internet availability).

After torturing myself at length in Low Yat Plaza, it turned out, lo and behold, that Mr. Soong's friend at Bintang Electronics was not full of shit -- his price quote was actually the best of the ones I got! 

So back I trudged to his shop and bought the camera, for more like $400 USD but that's the best I could do in Malaysia.  I comforted myself slightly in knowing that at least in the US I would have had to pay tax, bringing the price closer to $360 or $370.  I guess that's the price of having brought a terminal camera on holiday... Back at Ken's place I thanked my old Canon for its previous good service, and wished it well, and buried it in the trash.  A solemn moment.

My next order of business was a Hari Raya party that Mila wanted to take me to, at her friend's place in Shah Alam (another suburb).  She is still close to all her friends from her university days and though this would be a good cultural experience for me to have, in the spirit of the Hari Raya open houses that continue for a month after Ramadan ends, her friend was sort of combining it with her 3 year old's birthday party!  First Mila took me back to her place to have me change into one of her baju kurungs.  (

I may have fit in to some extent wearing this, but on other fronts I was still the only redhead among 70 or so people.  What a food fest!   Brilliant barbecued lamb featured prominently, and the birthday cake and desserts were particularly fabulous looking.  I hung out with 5 or so of Mila's friends and really enjoyed their company.   One cool thing about KL is that there are all levels of observance and no one makes a big deal of it.  So mostly the older people were headscarf-clad, but some younger people too, and while most women were wearing baju kurungs, others were wearing jeans, and anything goes!


After that party and taking some photos with Mila, and of the great view from her apartment window,


I had a call from Ken.  There was a big Couchsurfing get-together going on and he wanted to know if I'd like him to drop me off there on his way to a dinner.  Though I was exhausted already from all that eating, I said sure, why not.  The get-together started at a food court in a place called Ming Tien and then continued at the housing development of one of the CS members who may possibly be the first woman I've met in Malaysia (or the Islamic world in general)  who admits to being a burlesque performer!  I met another woman named Hafizah at the party who is somewhere between med school and a psychiatry residency (the distinctions are not quite as clear in Malaysia) and a really cool person!  Poor thing, her special interest is borderline personality disorder!  This qualifies her for sainthood, I dare say.  I also met some scruffy Italians, a scruffy guy from Portland, and Jasmin, one of the people I had been in contact with originally, a journalist who almost hosted me.  She was very cool too.

Ken and Gabriel came to the party late and picked me up and I got to bed at 2 am.  The next morning was spent in pursuit of *non-halal meats* I could bring to Indonesia as a special contraband gift for one of my CS hosts there.  Mission accomplished, and I also found some very nice unagi sushi for my own lunch.

On the way from KL Sentral to the airport by SkyBus once again, I sat next to and struck up a conversation with a gentleman sitting next to me who turned out to be from Kuching.  He had not only heard of the hospital at which I was sort of offered a job opportunity, but said it was known as an excellent specialist centre and encouraged me to check it out.  We'll see.  Life is full of weird little occurrences leading from one thing to the next :)

I bid a fond farewell to the shopping capital (and for me social capital) of Malaysia and was on my way back to Indonesia ... this time to Yogyakarta, in Java. :)

For more about Hari Raya festivities, see

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