Thursday, August 2, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, Thursday

Today was the best sightseeing day yet! I saw a bunch of stuff, bought some great souvenirs, and was back at my hotel by 1 pm, not exhausted at all. Of course, all this leisure came at a price, but what leisure doesn't?

The plan for today was for me to go with Ryan to work, to see his office and the people he works with and teaches. He primarily wanted me to see everyone's nametags, because he is having the hardest time pronouncing people's names. He's trying to call a girl by name, but he reads the nametag and absolutely butchers it. All the girls around her all giggle (Ryan compares it to the sound Munchkins make) but the poor butchered girl just corrects him and moves on. I honestly think this is the hardest part of the whole job - that and, related, the language barrier. All of the students speak some amount of English, but functional English is not the same as technical English, so the words that Ryan uses to teach this software program are words that they wouldn't normally use to, say, order pizza or watch an American movie.

Our driver today was Chong Yoon Min, and older man and the safest driver I've been with so far. After we got out of the taxi at the school, Ryan tells me that was the slowest the guy has driven all week! For my benefit, I'm thinking, or for the baby's. No matter, it was the first time that I wasn't quite so panicky about not wearing a seat belt. I can't even tell you how weird it feels - I don't know if I've ever, in my whole life, driven without a seat belt when there was one available. I wear a seat belt when I drive from the mailbox back to my house, a total of 5 houses or so away. (The fact that I drive to the mailbox is a different subject altogether.)

Darcey was fussy in the car, and despite the fact that seat belts are not an option, I still can't bring myself to pick Darcey up out of her unrestrained car seat. It would make things easier, I could feed her or hold her or something to make her happy, but I absolutely can't do it. Plus her car seat is always rear facing, the way it should be. As if any of that matters at all if we are actually in a car accident. But I can't think about that. I have to stay in my happy place.

The studio is located in an office park in some suburb of KL proper. I really wish I knew where things were in this area, it's killing me. We went inside and Ryan took my to a room that is generally empty so I could nurse Darcey before we met everyone. He knew that once people got a hold of the baby that there would be no chance to escape, and at one point when we were in the hallway, he heard someone coming and waved me to hurry around the corner before anyone saw us, like we were some kind of spies or something.

He was right, though. We walked into the studio and people descended on Darcey like flies on a corndog. I don't know if I was able to accurately communicate the serious amount of affection Darcey gets from complete strangers when we go out in public, but these pictures should prove our experience. I felt a little awkward, but I wanted to take a picture of the office, so when someone was holding Darcey I asked if it was okay if I took a picture of them. I opened the floodgates and instantly half the class were grabbing their cell phones and posing for pictures with our white American baby. That's got to be what it is, I can't think of any other reason that she would attract so much attention, and it happens literally everywhere I take her.

When we finally freed Darcey from the hungry masses, Ryan walked me back down to the waiting taxi. Mr. Chong was going to be my personal driver for the day, taking me wherever I wanted to go. It's not the way I wanted to see the town, but I was very slowly learning that KL is much, much easier navigated by taxi. It seems like if you can afford to take a taxi, you do. Alice, who works at the studio, owns her own car but has a personal driver take her around. When in KL, do as the KLians, I always say.

And this is definitely the best way to see things, I've decided. I had him take me to the Sri Mahamariamman Hindu temple in Chinatown, where he parked outside and waited for the 10 or so minutes I was inside looking around. (If I had taken the hop on bus, I would have had to walk from the stop some distance through Chinatown to the temple, and this is a seriously scary looking Chinatown, and then when I was done, I would have walked back and waited for the bus to pick me up. This way I was on my way in 10 minutes total.) The temple is decorated with tons of statues of Hindu gods, including a huge tower on the top of the temple which must be like 20 feet tall. Maybe more, I'm not good at estimating things like that.

Inside were more statues, and the worshippers walk from shrine to shrine inside, pausing to bow at each one. The temple is open to the public, and I asked some people who were sitting there if it was okay to take pictures, and they either said yes or had no idea what I was talking about. But I felt uncomfortable being around people who were trying to worship with me standing there, a camera in one hand and a stroller in the other. I tried to be inconspicuous and respectful of people while they prayed, and only accidentally took pictures of some of them praying. It would have been nice if I wasn't the only tourist there.

That seems to be a common thread through this trip - not a lot of tourists at the places I've been going. There have always been some, of course, but I've never had to be around crowds of people or wait in a line or anything like that. I'm guessing that the tourism happens on the weekends here, which will be a problem since the most popular things to see are what I've been saving to do with Ryan on the weekend, like the Petronas Towers.

I left the temple, and instead of having to plan how to get to the next place, I just got into my waiting taxi and we left. Oh, that's the way to do it, for sure. We headed to the Central Market, which was built in 1888, and restored a while ago and turned into an indoor pedestrian mall. I was expecting a busy, cluttered, dirty, crowded bazaar, but instead it was orderly and clean and not crowded whatsoever. (Again, I'm guessing that it will be different on Saturday.) I found some great souvenirs here, including a whole stall full of wooden crafts and games, and one of certified authentic pearl jewelry from Borneo.

I stopped for lunch at a stall in the food court, and I could have been in any mall in America, if it was a mall that only served Asian food. I got some sweet and sour chicken from Melaka Corner, which was right next to a stall touting "Carlifornia Rolls." I love the way they get english words wrong, it cracks me up. I had to take a picture of a (clearly) knock-off Nike bag, which was embroidered with the phrase "Must do it!"

And that was it. I got back into my taxi, after stopping at an ATM - the craft complex yesterday used up all the rest of my cash, and I knew I'd need a pile to pay for the taxi. As it turns out, for about 3 hours of driving through the city and back to the hotel, Mr. Chong only charged RM90 - about $30. I had originally planned on trying tomorrow the free-shuttle-to-train-to-touristy-places plan which has failed so spectacularly so far, but instead I asked Mr. Chong to plan on taking me around again. Tomorrow I'm going to try the National Mosque, Merdeka Square, and maybe the Butterfly park at the Lake Gardens. I'm considering lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe, just for kicks. Tonight Ryan and I are meeting Alice and Doris (another studio worker) for dinner at an Indian restaurant. But for the rest of the afternoon, I'm going to continue to relax and enjoy myself - this is the way to vacation!

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