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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Kuala Lumpur once again ... and on the home stretch :(

On Tuesday I left Bali sadly for Kuala Lumpur once again, thinking I would have an easy time of it with Malaysia Airlines' lenient 20 kg baggage policy.  Instead, I encountered the one asshole who works for Malaysia Airlines who was determined to make an example of me.  He decided that my new batik bag (which I was calling my carryon) and my very small purple day pack BOTH constituted carryons and that was "not allowed".  Fine, I said.  I will stuff one into the other and then it will be one piece.  Are you happy now?  Nope, he was not happy.  He then weighed my batik bag and determined that it was 1.5 kg too heavy.  By the way, almost no one who works for the airlines who is not also a member of the Nazi party would bother to weigh people's carryons.  Fine, I said.  I will take a few books out of the fucking bag and put them into the bag I am checking in which is not over the weight limit.  Are you happy now?  It's 7.3 kg now.  Is the extra 0.3 kg more than you can tolerate???  Then he decided that the few wood pieces I was carrying which weighed a few ounces each constituted "carry-on" as well.  By this time I was in a sweat.  I asked what had I done to make him so unhappy and what it would take to make him happier.  Checking in those wooden pieces would absolutely, definitely, break them.  I could understand his making trouble for me if he was pocketing the extra fees he would have liked to charge me, but no!   Finally I resolved the issue to some satisfaction after begging his supervisor to treat me like a human being.

Compared to all that buildup, the flight was a boring noneventful 3 hours to Kuala Lumpur.  Then a heinous hour waiting in immigration behind a huge number of people in red-and-white jackets saying "New Life".  I shuddered to ask, since I am not terribly interested in salvation or reincarnation.  Anyway I guess the Malaysian officials had a lot of questions in their minds too, so the process was godawfully slow.

After an efficient ride on the KL Express train, my host Siew Cheng (from CS) was waiting for me at Sentral.  She is a lovely person originally from Johor Bahru living in the Maluri area of KL and teaching in a school for tourism and hospitality management.  Her hospitality is a good example, I'm sure!!  She has a master's and is actually thinking of doing a Ph.D. project about the Couchsurfing phenomenon.  I think it would be fascinating.

I was exhausted and crashed early that night (probably from the ordeal with the baggage check-in).  However, I awoke early the next morning and Siew Cheng gave me some great advice and guidance about taking the public bus to Batu Caves, a 45 minute ride away from KL downtown where there is a huge cave system and within it a Hindu temple.  Oh, but first you must climb 272 steps to get there.  It was really impressive, and I wanted to do something Hindu-ish since I had missed Deepavali which ironically they don't observe in Bali though Bali is Hindu, it's its own special brand of Hinduism.  At the uppermost part of the cave, I both realized that the SD card in my camera was stuck in a locked position and I could not take any photos, and also that there was a large family of maybe 12 macaques who were playing around amusingly.  One level down there were roosters wandering around -- I couldn't figure that one out!


For more on Batu caves, see for a terrific discussion.  One of the most impressive things is the huge 42 meter tall statue of Lord Murugan, who I've never met before yesterday, but he was very golden ;-)


Halfway down the 272 steps I realized I did indeed have another SD memory card I could delete some photos off of in order to take photos, so then I climbed up the rest of the steps again!  Sadly the macaques were gone by that point and some staff told me they were "resting" -- but at least I had gotten to see them, and take photos of the other aspects of the temple and caves. 

I then went to one of the nearby Indian vegetarian restaurants at the foot of the caves where it was absolutely mobbed at 11 am plus I was the only non-Indian there, so I figured (and rightly so) that the masala dosa would be lovely!

On the way back on the bus, some Nigerian guy started trying to chat me up while totally ignoring my body language that was busily shouting "leave me alone!"  I told him I was leaving the next day, which was true, but he still wanted to get my phone number.  I had to tell him "that only really would make sense if both parties were equally interested, which is not the case" and he finally got the message and got off the bus without my number.

Once back in town with my daily cultural exploration needs met, it was time for some last-minute *shopping*, involving a special Deepavali shoe sale at Sogo, a number of products I deemed necessary to buy at supermarkets, and stocking up on two more 8 GB SD cards so I would not have memory storage problems again in the near future.  Overall, a success.  In the middle of this it started absolutely POURING rain (a little spillover from the typhoons in the Philippines??) and I started to think yes, perhaps now IS the time to leave Asia. 

Siew Cheng met up with me and we went for a lovely dinner at a really nice restaurant near Jalan Alor featuring her "hometown" Hakka cuisine.  Ultra yum.  There was a great vegetable named Kailan -- or perhaps it's the way it was prepared?  :)


This morning I caught up on internet stuff, haggled with a taxi driver, took the taxi to the train to the plane, saw the nice Deepavali display,

then took the plane to Taipei, and I am now in Taipei using the copious and generous free internet and waiting for the plane to San Francisco.  Oh, and free massage chairs in the Zen relaxation center.

Sad to be coming home, but I have had some terrific adventures and met some absolutely wonderful people.  I will find it hard to readjust to work and to the wasteful, "throw-away," often-entitled culture of the US, but very very easy to readjust to high quality toilet paper and the lack of mosquitoes ;-)

Hopefully soon after getting home I will upload some photos to this site to make it worth looking at again :)   Also look out in the future for the addition of my past travels which will be easy to cut and paste from their original text form.

I would love to hear from people once I'm home!  Hope you've enjoyed this almost as much as I have :)


My last days in Bali

I spent my final time in Bali kind of wistfully.  I wished I had "gotten out" more from Ubud, and at the same time I enjoyed every minute there.  Monday was spent doing a cooking class with Dorothy and a nice Australian couple at Bumbu Bali (see  Nyoman had offered me the opportunity to come see his clinic in a small village an hour away at the same time, but sadly, the cooking won out (I'll check out the clinic next time!)  Our cooking class included a trip to the local Ubud produce market which is always fun, a review of the ingredients most of which were familiar to me (but has anyone reading this used candlenuts for anything before?  If so, please tell me what and where you stock up on them in the US).  We made some yummy things, the best of which was a prawn dish in a lovely yellowish curry.  I will definitely try to duplicate this at home!



Though we were completely sated from the 7 course meal we had cooked, it was never too late to start planning for dinner (as it was to be my last dinner in Bali).  So I suggested we go to Indus Restaurant for dinner ( which I had been to 5 years ago.  Still situated with beautiful rice paddy views, lovely ambiance, but not quite as great as 5 years ago and up in price like everything in Ubud -- I'll call it the "Eat/Pray/Love" effect.  It was still a lovely if slightly melancholy goodbye dinner!

OK, this blog is a bit out of order.  There are other things I wanted to mention, more highlights of my Ubud stay.  Lest you think that all we did was eat, I wanted to mention 2 art gallery/museums that were particularly fascinating.  Now, they would need to be truly special in order to impress against the backdrop of Ubud that includes everyone being an artisan and there being gorgeous art everywhere, especially depicting scenes that could only be happening in Bali (the legong/barong/kecak dances, women carrying huge offerings piled on their heads to the temples for one of the ceremony days that seem to happen 3x a week, the beautiful rice paddies, etc., etc.).  But these two were expats who moved to Bali. 

The first one was Symon's Studio (see and click on "The Ubud Studio").  He is originally from Michigan, and per his website, "Symon has lived in Bali since 1978 and is best known for his bold portraits of sensual young Balinese men, done in vivid tropical colours and often to an exaggerated scale".  Guess what: we got to meet one of his muses, a guy named Sugi!  Fun!  And I loved the art.  A lot of it was iconic stuff involving Obama, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and other pop figures of our time, a la Andy Warhol.  Check it out.


The second was the Blanco Museum, chronicling the career of a Spanish/Filipino artist who also moved to Bali and married a local gal, and had a long productive career producing sensual art of the more female variety.  A nice companion piece to Symon though the style was very different.  The museum is situated in what was his fabulous home and gallery and studio... but what fascinated me the most was the incredible collection of tropical exotic birds living there, kind of as pets mostly.  A bird who I think was a toucan (but with a blue neck pouch???) took a liking to me and would not leave me alone.  He started nibbling on everything shiny I was wearing (ring, bracelet, those elephant earrings) and I had a grand old time.


In addition to food and art, we also did much walking, which I mentioned in a previous entry, especially the walk through the rice paddies which was absolutely beautiful.  We made a number of stops (see -- not sure I put that in the last entry) including seeing the organic farm that supplied the restaurant we went to and climbing up a little tower to get a really nice bird's eye view of the rice fields.  We walked from about 8 am to 6 pm till I thought my feet would fall off...  And then in the early evenings we would come across little bands of men and boys who were marching and playing music and had barong/lion dancers with them in order to ward away the evil spirits on Galungan.


I ended my last night in Ubud with a combined massage and manicure for US $10.  The lady insisted on painting flowers on my big toenails as a parting gift, though she was not actually doing a pedicure :)   On Tuesday morning I bid a fond farewell to Dorothy, my new friend from Singapore who I hope will make it to the US one day.  I was leaving for the airport -- and she was leaving for a cremation, a HUGE big thing in Bali.  I was jealous!  3 times in Bali and I still have not managed to attend a cremation.  I'll have to check out her blog for more details of that.