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Friday, September 11, 2009

9/11 at the Twin Towers...

Very strange indeed.  I'll get back to the subject topic in short order.
But I'll start at the beginning.  I had a really crazy day at work on Wednesday, and repeatedly bumped into multiple people who kept saying "Hey, aren't you supposed to be going away soon on your trip?  Why don't you finish up here?" -- to which my answer was, "if I could just finish seeing these *19* people, well, then, no problem!"  I was super stressed, but tried to contain it without whining.  Got home at 8 pm and got some last minute packing done, and then took BART to the airport.  By the time I got there, my consciousness was running on fumes only.  I had had 2 hours of sleep the night before.
As a result, I slept for something like 10+ of the 13 hours to Taipei.

When I woke up I realized that there were some very nice people sitting next to me, Su-Huei, who is a very talented artist from Taiwan who had just spent 3 months in Costa Rica, and her friend Kuei-Chiu.  We chatted for quite some time and I reminded myself of some of the key words I had forgotten in Mandarin (da xiang = elephant!), and I left that flight with some new friends and a serious invite to Taiwan.  We'll see!



Also on the plane I noted I now had a very full blown cold.  I used every tissue on the plane and some I had dumped into my bag from home.  The Asian fashion-mask set was in full force -- I'd say about 30-5-% of the passengers were sporting face masks, some with Burberry tweed patterns, not all over both the mouth AND nose, but hey, fashion-forward, eh?

Taiwan airport is always boring at 6 am.  Mostly I just used the free internet.  The flight to Kuala Lumpur was uneventful, as was getting money at the ATM, and then taking the KLIA Express, a high-speed train that goes right from the airport to the city center.   Over there I managed to get a SIM card for my mobile phone: (if anyone needs to reach me dial the international access code, then 60 for country code, then 10 242 3805).  I switched from there to the local light rail, and then walked with my way-too-heavy pack from Pasar Seni to Jalan Petaling, the main shopping strip in Chinatown that the hotel was located on.




The D'Oriental hotel was quite sure that my roommate's name was Gary and that Gary must be female.  Well, as it later turned out, Gary was male and I had the room to myself.  There really was no point in arguing.

Met the rest of the group later.  Our tour leader's name is Siam, and fairly predictably from that name, he's Thai.  As it turned out, going to a Muslim country during Ramadan and expecting the local Intrepid tour leaders not to take off for the holiday month is kinda silly.  Siam said they "needed to do important holiday things, like maybe killing some animals with their families".  Better not to question ;)  As it turns out he has led trips in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam before and of course knows the famous Wannalee, my elephant friend in Lampang :)  The group is composed of 11 people -- 9 women and 2 men.  I am the only American, there's two Brits, two Kiwis, 2 Germans, and then the bulk are Australian.

I now remember what I forgot to pack.  I always forget something major on each trip.  Since this time I was focussed on 6 weeks worth of hair products, this time I forgot .... mosquito repellent.  Damn!  and my friend Craig had given me some a nice and romantic gift of bug roll-on, spray, AND lotion!  I remembered that I forgot because it took up a bulk of Siam's opening talk, about the "mozzies you will encounter, and the leeches..."   So.   That's the first thing I need to buy.

Last night, though, we went to a pretty amazing mall for dinner (KL is full of them and in keeping with the SE Asian theme of all city dwellers spending as much time in malls as they are AIR CONDITIONED).  When we left the mall out of a different entrance, Siam told us to look backward and up at the buildings we had been at that the mallis in front of: the Petronas Towers, an architectural feat that is the pride of Malaysia.  These are a pair of stunning twin towers with a bridge suspended somewhere in between, maybe 100 stories up?  And then I thought to myself, how weird to be spending 9/11 completely on the opposite side of the world, in a bustling and peaceful Muslim country, where no one has mentioned this anniversary at all or observed it in any way.  Nor had my tripmates, since the US is not their country.  I had a solemn moment to myself.



I awoke with jet lag at 3 am and tried to use my shower.  It has its own little hot water heater labeled "a whale of a time".  Well, I had a whale of a time attempting to turn it on!  I studied all the connections for about 20 minutes, but work for me it would not.   No water.  Finally gave up and called the hotel people at 3:30 am.  They were nice about it and turned on something that didn't even look like a knob.
I'd upload photos, but my blogging friend Kelly warned me about contamination via SD cards, so now I'm a bit paranoid.  I'll see if I can burn some onto a CD and add photos from there later.  If not, I will add stuff in after the trip.



Malaysia is all I remember it being (I'm not including my recent trip to Borneo) -- stunning Asiatic Muslim architecture, a huge diversity of people including Chinese, Indians and Malay Muslims, wearing everything from full head scarves to tank tops and interweaving seemingly peacefully.  And great food.

More later!

*Bonus*: I forgot to mention, shortly before getting off the plane in KL, there was an announcement: "If you are travelling from any high-risk countries for H1N1 such as the United States, Mexico or Canada, you must present yourself to the health inspection station immediately upon arrival for screening."  Given that I felt like shit even though I knew I didn't have H1N1, I quickly took some ibuprofen to get rid of whatever nonexistent fever I might have before screening.  We were given these handouts on going through immigration all about H1N1.  I prepared myself for some kind of major exam given my upper respiratory symptoms.  I walked up to the health inspection station.  There was a solitary guy sitting there.  I tentatively said "I'm from the US, but I feel fine..."   He waved me off angrily.  I was interrupting his siesta.  He wanted nothing whatsoever to do with me, or actual work...