Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, Sunday

If you know anyone that's getting a little too big for their britches, just send them to a foreign country - it'll deflate their ego pretty quickly. I've never felt so stupid in my entire life. And I'm not a big fan of feeling stupid.

The airport ion Taiwan was easy enough to handle. All of the signs were in English, it was easy enough to figure out where our connecting flight was. (Which didn't stop us from going to the wrong terminal, but that was our own fault, not Taiwan's.) Ryan was all but convinced that there were no drinking fountains in the whole place, until he discovered a large rectangular box that dispenses water into little paper envelopes. That was more amusingly quirky than troublesome, though.

I ran into my first hang up when I wanted to buy some food. I had looked up the currency conversion between Malaysian Ringgets and US dollars (.29 RM to $1) but I didn't have any idea what currency Taiwan uses and what that means in real money. So I took the chicken's way out - I paid with a credit card for my 250-something ham and cheese croissant and cup of orange juice that had never seen an orange in it's life. I think it must have been Tang.

And what's the deal with no ice cubes? Is is that much hotter in these countries that it just isn't feasible to keep ice frozen? Are the natives so tough that they prove their prowess over lazy Americans by taking their water warm, shaken, not stirred? Or have they not discovered the joy of drinking a freezing cold glass of ice water when you are thirsty? My Tang and the water served on the airplane was room temperature, and the water dispenser box had options for "hot" "lukewarm" and "cold." Ryan said that, believe it or not, the water he poured for me was "cold." We decided that the cold and lukewarm options must come from the same hose, they just label one "cold" to make Americans feel more comfortable. As if drinking water from an envelope already had us kicking off our shoes and putting our feet up. All we needed now was to watch some sports match on tv and drink our "cold" water.

So, back to feeling stupid. I knew going into this trip that I would be out of my element and would have to wing it until I understood how the place works. I am okay with that, trying to be adventurous. I keep repeating the mantra my mom gave me - If Mirna and Schmirna can do it, you can too. (For those of you who prefer real reality to reality tv, Mirna and Schmirna were a team on The Amazing Race. We sometimes refer to them as Whiny and Schminey.) But you know, on the Amazing Race, they don't show you the kinds of things that have been tripping us up so far.

For example, I think we'd still be in the elevator, pushing the #6 button, wondering why in the world the button didn't work, if another man hadn't gotten in at the same time and put his key card into the slot in the control panel and *then* pushed the floor button. Ah ha!

Once we got into the room, though, it was no better. Somehow, only one light in the hallway worked, and nothing else - not the lamps, not the A/C, not the tv. We tried the plugs, the light bulbs, nothing worked. Ryan called housekeeping and they said they would send someone up, but after 10 minutes of sitting in the dark, he went down to the front desk to ask. When he came back up, he stuck his key card in a slot in the wall, which turns on the power to the room. I love technology as mush as the next guy, but honestly, isn't this a bit too much? And is this so common place that it is just understood that cards are needed just to keep the lights on?

After sleeping like the dead for about 14 hours, we got up this morning and tried to call the kids. Par for the course, we couldn't get the phone to work, either. Everything I tried to dial kept saying, "That number is not authorized." I tried the calling card. Nope. Tried all sorts of various numbers. I called the operator about 600 times trying to figure out what I was doing wrong. Wrong country code? Need a different number to call internationally? We picked up the phone and looked it over, trying to see if we needed to slide in our keycard. We must have looked like two monkeys banging on a computer keyboard.

Ryan tried calling Alice, his contact at the school who was going to pick him up, but even that didn't work. Eventually, he left for work and, knowing that if I waited too much longer the kids would be in bed, I swallowed what was left of my pride and called the operator. This time instead of trying to diagnose the problem myself, I told her what the phone was saying. She said that we can't make phone calls because we didn't leave a credit card number with the front desk when we checked in. Oh for crying out loud. I practically ran down to the lobby to solve another man-made problem.

I told Ryan that we were going to consider this our "practice hotel" - make as many mistakes as we need to, ask the front desk staff all the stupid questions, like how to turn on the lights, that prove us to be as stereotypically American as possible, and then we'll check out of here and move to some new hotel where we can act like uber-travelers who are just too, too cool to have problems with the elevator. That way maybe we can reclaim some of our dignity.

The difference I’ve loved most about Malaysia is that everyone here loves babies. I don’t mean that restaurants and hotels make special accommodations for people with babies, but that individual people love babies. We got an inkling of this from an American we chatted with at the Taiwan airport who lives in KL. She said that Asians love babies. I got off the airplane in KL and three flight attendants spent an entire minute cooing and ahhing and otherwise fawning over Darcey. Then I carried her to the end of the gate where we were to pick up our stroller, and an entire extended family of 10-15 people came over and did the same. She’s so cute! What’s her name? How old? She’s so cute! They left, then another couple, older this time, then as we walked away, more people, all just enthralled with Darcey. It’s like she’s Paris Hilton at a paparazzi convention.

It’s not just women, or children, or old men. Everyone seems to love babies. At Immigration, there were 3 men in their late 20’s who were smiling and waving at her. It is the most amazing phenomenon. And while none of the fawning is ever directed my way, and the only attention I get is as a baby-fact-dispenser (answers provided in a handy paper envelope, to go with your lukewarm water), it is still somehow incredibly fun for me. Ryan decided we need to find some hand sanitizer and cover Darcey in it, after two women working at the immigrations desk came over. One asked to hold her, the other proceeded to kiss her cheeks and touch her face and hands. Better hope SARS isn’t catching right now.

We passed the family from earlier, and Darcey happened to be screwing up her face for a big cry, and the whole entire family gave a chorus of “Awwwww!” Honestly, this is so fun I might never leave.

1 comment:

Drake Steel said...

Hi Emily,

One opinion for you. This was from our last trip to Holland. If you are comfortable with the language and customs etc. You aren't actually visiting a native place. When we went to this place in Bavaria for instance we stayed in a US Armed Forces Hotel kind of thing and you could honestly never leave it but what fun is that? Well a lot of fun actually but the really cool thing is to get out in with the peeps, but its not easy. It doesn't take getting too far off the beaten path to find that nobody speaks your language either which is what I found daunting.

Also here in the UK when we go to a pub they'll ask if we want ice in the 2 pound ($4.00!) soda. And they say it in this 1/2 joking - 1/2 smarmy way of really saying, "I know you are a pampered American and not made of the right stuff (I guess its the teeth that give us away) to take your diet coke straight."

Finally doesn't it just make you amazed that the racers on the Amazing Race can actually function? I love traveling, except for the traveling part of traveling. I like the being in different places but not the pain of getting on and off an airplane. I almost never take a cab anywhere and love buses, trains and boats.