So I really, really love KL. And no, it's not just because that nickname makes it sound like a relative of Superman's from Krypton. No, something about the city grabbed me the same way New York, London, and Paris grab me. There's some special urban energy to the place, a sense of modernity and history coexisting. But then, as an extra wrinkle, it's in the middle of the freaking jungle.
By the way, we learned that Off Exploring censors us if we use offensive language, like "w****." What f***ing bulls***. I am not a fan of this site. Give me Blogger any day.
But that's not the point. The point is KL rules. Friday started, for me, with an early morning trip to a McDonald's to use free wireless. I promise I just ordered an orange juice. I downloaded two episodes of "Lost" and then rejoined the others for breakfast.
After we checked out of our hotel and left our bags in the storage room, we caught a cab to Batu Caves outside the city. And yes, I was happy to make jokes about how Batu Caves was where Batuman and Robin hide out. I was a delight to travel with.
Actually, the Batu is a Hindu temple built into the caves inside a mountain. As you can imagine, this is unbelievably awesome. Hindu temples are so colorful and decorative to begin with that placing them inside such a dramatic setting makes them even cooler. And to add to it all, there are wild monkeys capering around everywhere. Seriously, it's like squirrels in an American park. We saw big ones, little ones, and several babies clinging to their mothers' breasts while the mother scampered up and down a nearly sheer mountain face, often with a coconut in its mouth. Oh, and there were also some roosters there, who would occasionally get into face-offs with the younger monkeys. I felt a little guilty watching the wildlife so much, rather than focusing on the temple, but ... seriously, how often do you see a monkey/rooster fight?
We strolled around the various temples, some gaudy, some less so then took a bus back to KL. We planned on taking a walking tour of the Colonial area and Little India, but we miscalculated where to get off and wound up in an area that was kind of like a farmer's market, with a lot of baskets of food. It was quite interesting, but also very pungent. We didn't mind not spending a long time there.
We headed towards where the walking tour was supposed to start and came across a large mall. Since we were all getting pretty hungry, we headed inside to take advantage of the food court. At first it looked like they just had American places inside -- Pizza Hutt, Kenny Rogers' Roasters, etc -- but we found the REAL food court on the top floor and had varying degrees of success in choosing lunches.
From there we finally found the start of our walking tour in Merdeka Square. Merdeka is the Malay word for Independence and this square is where Malaysia's indepence from England was officially declared in 1957. It is, perhaps ironically, the most European-looking part of the city.
I was put in charge of readin the book as we walked, which meant I had to navigate, too. I only screwed up a few times and we got to see some very cool stuff. The colonial architecture includes some of the mosques, interestingly enough and it's intriguing to see how European architects interpolated Middle Eastern styles into their designs.
We went inside one mosque where Amanda was given a robe to cover her too-short (but below the knee) dress and Rachel was given a head scarf. Mario was in shorts and declined to go in. I was wearing my usual traveling outfit of khakis and a polo shirt, which, as I discovered in India is how every Indian male dresses. I had no idea I was traveling dressed as an Indian. After the bright, icon-filled Hindu temple in the morning, a Mosque seems nearly empty. There is, of course, no imagery of Allah or Mohammad (blessings be on his name) or anything. There aren't even pews or chairs or anything. You just come in and sit, kneel, or lie down to pray. It's really quite lovely.
In general, I was getting a very nice feeling about how Malaysia works. Yes, it's majority Muslim, but everyone seems to get along. I saw a group of coworkers walking around -- some of the women had head scarves, some did not, and clearly it was no big deal.
A typical Malyasian afternoon rainstorm followed and we took cover in a Burger King. When the rain subsided a little we headed into Little India. We got a little lost on the way, but eventually foudn our bearings. To be honest, this was less interesting than the rest of the walking tour. We eventually zipped through the last part of the tour, since we had already seen much of it on our way to get to the start of the tour (got that?). We wound up at a bar at the end of the tour where we had drinks and prepared to leave.
We caught a new cab and arranged for him to take us to our hotel to get the bags and then to the airport. The driver turned out to be an interesting guy who told us a lot about KL and Malaysia. After India, we were paranoid about cab drivers offering "something extra." We were worried he would suddenly charge us more in the end, but he did not, fortunately. He did burst my bubble a little about how everyone gets along in Malaysia. He, a Hindu, said everyone gets along with the Muslims because they have no choice -- the Muslims have all the power. Oh, and he's a big Bush supporter because he likes how Bush drops bombs on Muslims.
(I know, this doesn't make this guy seem so great, but apart from that uncomfortable area, he was quite cool)
At the airport we indulged in a little Americanness and had McDonald's. Hey, something about air travel makes you want comfort food. And we had had so much delicious Chinese, Thai, Malay, and Indian food that we needed something bland and American. Of course, as it turned out, this was the only thing that made Amanda feel sick on the whole voyage so far.
The flight back was quick. I chatted briefly with two SAS students on our flight who had some questions about Vietnam ... kinda basic ones like "Who won?" and "Who was Ho Chi Minh?" Sigh.
We cabbed it back to the ship and collapsed into a well deserved sleep.