Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Tuesday - Adventures in a Taxi

Today, I bit the bullet and went sightseeing in the city. And I was successful, mostly. Did I see everything I wanted to see? No. Did I see anything I wanted to see? Actually, no. But I made it back to my hotel room in one piece and saw one thing I had hoped to see at some point, so I count it a success. Mostly.

I left my hotel room at about 9:30 and went down to the front desk to get some advice on how to get somewhere interesting. The woman couldn't give me a bus schedule or anything like that, but said that the Curve,which is the mall our hotel is connected to, runs a shuttle bus that stops at a bunch of hotels and comes back to the Curve. She gave me the schedule for that, but the hotel stops don't have locations or anything to let me know what is interesting to do near that hotel. She also told me that the mall across the street has a shuttle that makes a stop at a light rail station, which, presumably, I could take into the city.

That sounded more my style, so I was given instructions to take the elevator upstairs and cross the skybridge, and then go downstairs to catch the shuttle. I got to the elevator, hit the button for the second floor, and then wandered around offices until I found someone to ask where the skybridge was. "Go down to the first floor," was the answer. I realized I made a fairly obvious mistake - I started on the ground floor, and should have gone to floor 1, but went to the second floor instead. I knew it was numbered funny like that, but I totally forgot.

I got back on the horse and went to the first floor, found the skybridge, which was closed. Closed. The whole bridge was closed. That's when I remembered the second piece of information that would have come in handy earlier. The malls here don't open until 10 a.m., along with most of the restaurants. Even the Starbucks doesn't open until 9, which I just find to be so bizarre. What do people do for breakfast here? Cook? And can they be trusted to make their own coffee?

It was 9:45, so I figured the skybridge would open when the mall did, at 10, but I didn't want to go back up to my hotel room, so I ended up at the only open place with an English menu, Starbucks. I got an apple juice and a croissant and held a fussy Darcey while I ate, slowly, so that time would pass. 10:00 finally came and I headed back up the elevator, across the skybridge, and down again, only to find out that the shuttle had left at 10:00, so I missed it by like 3 minutes. The next shuttle wasn't until 11:30.

Defeated, I wandered around the mall while I decided what to do next. This mall has a grocery store, too, but this one seems a little more geared towards tourists and not locals, so I could find a jar of peanut butter and a box of oatmeal, since there is just so much eating out we can handle. (I'm not saying I've reached my limit, but it's helpful to have some regular food on hand.) I decided that Darcey, who had been fussing ever since we left, needed to go back to the room so I could feed her and regroup.

So we ended up back in the room, and I perused the KL guide book for what I was going to do. Poor Ryan ended up not coming back to the hotel until 8 pm last night, and it's looking like he won't get to do much sightseeing during the week. I wanted to pick things to see that Ryan won't care about seeing, and save the really cool stuff for the weekend so we can do it together. I chose the Orchid and Hibiscus Garden at the Lake Garden area. The Lake Garden actually has several interesting sights, including a Bird Museum and some other stuff, so I thought this was a good place to start and I could explore as long as we could handle it.

Back down at the front desk, I ask the woman working there if she could call me a taxi. I've never called a taxi, or been the sole adult in a taxi before, so this was a new experience. A couple of minutes later I was ushered into a waiting cab, the stroller folded into the trunk, and I put Darcey in her car seat into the back and slid in next to her. The driver pulled away while I was still buckling my seat belt. I reached over to buckle Darcey's car seat, and discovered that there were no more seat belts in the car. How is it possible that a country can be so relaxed about personal safety that they don't even have seat belts, when my country is so strict that my 6 year old is still in a booster seat? It can't be because they drive so slowly and safely here that seat belts are just unnecessary. It was too late to switch seats with Darcey to give her the seat belt, so I held on to her for dear life.

I told our driver that I wanted to go to the Lake Gardens and he said, "Oh, the Eye on Malaysia?" I had forgotten about this, it's a giant Ferris wheel type of thing, similar to the Millenium Eye in London but smaller. I hadn't known it was located at the Lake Gardens, and I couldn't decide if I was going to do it by myself or wait for Ryan to join me and just do the orchids instead. My driver's name was Zul, and I had to fight the impulse to tell him that I am the Keymaster and Darcey is the Gatekeeper. It's hard enough to communicate normal thoughts with the language barrier, let alone obscure quotes from Ghostbusters.

After about a 25 minute drive, he pulled up in front of the Eye and let us out. I was tempted to ask him to drive us around to the orchids, but I figured, I'm here, I may as well do this now, so I bid goodbye to Zul and bought a RM15 ticket for the Eye just as it started to rain. We went around the loop 4 times in the Eye. I took pictures as fast as I could the first time around, and then just sat and enjoyed the view the rest of the time, trying really hard not to think about how far up we are and are the mechanics who built this thing the same ones who couldn't manage to install seat belts in the back seat of my cab? I got out and the rain was really coming down now, so I put a blanket on Darcey and got out the umbrella. We passed a bride and groom who were here to take wedding photos, but were now under the canopy of the Eye's ticket counter, waiting for the rain to pass.

I took a couple of pictures of the Eye itself, and then made my way over to an information booth to ask where the orchid garden is and how to get there. In my tour book it says that the Lake Gardens has a shuttle that goes around the park. The woman looks confused and tells me that I could either take a taxi to the orchids or take the hop on hop off bus. Really? I didn't realize the gardens were so big. There's no shuttle? I ask if she'd be able to call a taxi for me if that's what I wanted to do and she said no, so it looked like my only option was the tour bus. I asked for the brochure that has all of the stops, and wouldn't you know, I was at the wrong lake. There's only two lakes in KL and that darn Zul took me to the wrong one. The one with the Eye and pretty much nothing else to do, not the one with the gardens and the national monument and the historic buildings and all sorts of stuff. If I was reading the map correctly, I think he also took me to the lake that was the farthest away from our hotel as well. That darn Zul.

Fortunately, the bus pulled up right then, so I hopped on the bottom level of the double decker bus and settled the stroller next to me. The bus was kind of pricey at RM38, about $13. At this point, I was re-evaluating the plan. I had no way to call a taxi, only a vague idea of where I was, and even less of an idea of where my hotel was. I'd say I was lost, except I was on a bus and every so often we'd stop and I'd know exactly our location for that minute. I just didn't know how to get home from where I was. But not to worry. One of the stops on the bus was KL Sentral, the largest train and bus station. I figured that should be my ultimate destination, because from there surely someone would be able to tell me which bus to take to get back to my hotel.

But in the meantime, I decided to make a stop along the way, and take advantage of the hop-off privileges. This is a very multi-cultural city, especially in the sense of religious diversity, and I decided to get off at stop 9B, to see the Hindu temple of Sri Mahamariamman. When I was done there, I'd head over to stop 11 for the bus station. Sounded good to me.

Unfortunately, there was a ton of traffic. As Zul informed me earlier, there are about 3.8 million people in the city during the day, and when it rains, like it was currently, more people drive than normal. I really wanted to read the maps and other touristy information that was available on the bus, but I started to get carsick, especially since I was on the bottom of the bus and it was a lot of stopping and going. I ended up with a distraction, in the form of the 19-year-old young woman who worked on the bus and made the stop announcements. She took one look at Darcey and could not get enough of her. Darcey was continuing her new tradition of being fussy the entire day, so I picked her up out of the stroller and held her on my lap. The young woman kept oohing and ahhing and touching her hands and feet and asking questions about her. Finally she got up the nerve to ask if she could hold Darcey, and I said yes. it was like handing her a present. She laughed and cooed and played with Darcey's feet and kissed her cheeks, she was going nuts. But she was super nice, we had a nice conversation, probably the best I've had with any of the locals so far, and every time we got near a stop, she'd hand Darcey back to me and run off to make the announcement, and then come back and hold her again.

She eventually had to get off, and a new employee got on. The driver came back to where I was sitting and punched my ticket, and then left me alone down there, in the bowels of the bus. I was bored by this time, and my head was starting to hurt, so I was thinking about ditching the sightseeing and just head home - it would be easier, and since I didn't know exactly how I was going to get home, there would still be some amount of adventure involved. But no, I decided, since I was going to be sitting in this bus for well over an hour, I might as well get some actual tourism out of it. I packed up my stuff and got ready to hop off at stop 9B.

But at stop 9B, the back door didn't open. It didn't open. And I wanted to get off, but I was stuck down there, alone, and the doors weren't opening for me. I had my backpack, Darcey in her car seat, and the stroller to carry the seat, and the only way to get out if the back doors didn't open was to haul all of that stuff up the stairs to the top level of the bus, and then down the stairs again to the front door. That was simply not going to happen without some serious preparation, and I could tell my time was running out. The average stop was maybe 30 seconds, and that's only if someone is waiting to get on.

So naturally, in keeping with the "how stupid can I possibly look" theme, I started yelling "Can you open the door please? I want to get off!" I banged on the door with my fist, and tried to pull it open. I yelled again, "Hey, I want to get off at this stop!" I poked my head up the stairs, and there was some tourist sitting there at the top of the stairs, but I couldn't see a driver or anyone official to open the door for me. And then it was over - the bus pulled away and left the temple of Sri Mahi-Mahi behind, and took me with it.

I now knew that if I was ever going to get off this bus, I would need a plan. I only had one more stop to get ready before my stop was here, so I buckled Darcey back in her car seat, disconnected it from the stroller, which I then folded up. I put my backpack on and grabbed all of my stuff, and when we got to stop 11, I was ready. I hauled Darcey to the top of the stairs, then dragged the stroller up behind me, and waited there for the front door to open. A couple was sitting at the top of the bus and asked if I needed any help, but I said no, I'd be okay. I had the feeling that they heard my desperate pleas for help earlier, and I wanted them to know that I was, in fact, capable of getting off a bus when I want to.

It took some wrangling, but I did get all of my belongings off the bus at stop 11, and I headed into the train station. Taking my cue from the Amazing Race, I thought I'd ask someone to help me figure out which line to take to get back to my hotel. I saw a sign for Tourist Information, and thought "Bingo!" but when I got to the office, it was dark. And then on second glance, not only was it dark, but it was cleared out of any furniture, it was just an empty room. Quite unhelpful. So I went over to a ticket counter and asked what did I need to do to get home from here. The man, who was really selling long distance train tickets, like to Singapore, told me that my best bet was to take a taxi back home, and pointed out where the pre-paid taxi counter was.

I got in the second taxi of the day and realized that this taxi had even fewer seat belts than the last one. The traffic was light, and he was able to get going pretty fast. I was debating whether fast drivers were more dangerous than the slow, darting in and out of traffic drivers and thought I'd see how fast he was going. Well, according to the speedometer, which I wouldn't take as the last word on the matter, the driver was going zero. That's right, no seat belts and a broken speedometer. I checked the rest of the gauges, and was hoping the gas gauge was also broken, because otherwise we were running on empty.

Luckily, Zul Jr. did know where my hotel was, and was able to get me home in one piece. I came upstairs to my room and my relief at having made it through the afternoon and home again was palpable. I wasn't ever scared, just concerned, about making it home. I knew I could figure it out eventually, with some luck and enough money and the kindness of strangers. And tomorrow I'll be back in the saddle again. Zul told me about a craft market that is having a show tomorrow that I want to go see. But I might find a different taxi driver this time.


Anonymous said...

Day 1 on a trip is just a scouting expedition. You learn the ropes of the town, the money and transportation. Tomorrow will go so much smoother.

Drake Steel said...

Another opinion... I've made the picture of the girl holding Darcey my background on my computer at work. Is it me or does the girl holding the baby look like Kim?