Thursday, August 2, 2007

Kuala Lumpur, Wednesday

Today's goal was to go to the Kraft Kompleks, or the Craft Complex for those of you who don't speak Malaysian, the home of a wide variety of native handicrafts. The trick, of course, is getting there. I went into today's adventure with a new game plan. I didn't want to just take a taxi everywhere, it's almost like cheating. I want to get to know the area and if someone is carting me around all the time, how am I ever going to learn? The problem is that our hotel is pretty far off the beaten track, in a town called Mutiara Damansara, which if you look at maps of downtown KL, doesn't even appear on it.

So here was my plan: get out of the hotel early enough to catch the 10 a.m. shuttle from the mall across the street (Ikano Power Center) and take it to the light rail station. From there, figure out how to take a train or bus to Jalan Corley, ("Jalan" means street) where the Craft Complex was. If I can get there, I should be able to make my way around town fairly well. The biggest obstacle is just getting to the public transportation.

I left my hotel at 9:20 and went down to the front desk to see if they would change some US dollars for me. They couldn't. No big deal, though, I've got a mission right now anyways. I went out the front door and contemplated how I was going to get to the mall. If you recall, yesterday I attempted the same feat but was rebuffed by the skybridge being closed until 10. There are about 4 lanes of traffic, nutty traffic, and a cement island in the center. The island would slow me if I tried to make a run for it, since I'm pushing a stroller. Besides, I'm not sure if jaywalking is a good idea in a country that treats drug possession with capital punishment. I'd probably be caned. So I ask a local who happened by how I can cross the street. (It amazes me that I have been reduced to asking such basic, basic questions. I can do college level algebra, but I can't cross the street without help.) He stared at the street for a while, and then said that at each corner, there is a traffic light, and I should cross there. Great idea, I'll do that. It's almost 9:30 at this point and as I look over, I see the shuttle bus that I want to take, waiting for passengers.

I start my hike down to the end of the block. It's the length of a mall, plus the length of an Ikea before I get to the corner, but that's okay, I'm tough. I cross the street, and head back up. As I get to the bus stop, I realize the bus was gone. How is that possible? I know it didn't take me a half an hour to walk that far. I get to the sign, and see that the bus was scheduled to leave at 9:30, not 10, and the next one is at 11. Crap. I go in the mall and decide to sit and wait until the stupid skybridge is open so I can walk back to the hotel and start over.

It's now 10:00, and the stores are starting to open, so I go to change my dollars for ringgets. By 10:20 I've done that and decide that I've been walking around for an hour already and I haven't even left the freakin' mall, so it's time to get a smoothie and regroup. I do not heed the advice of Kenny Rogers, and I count my money while I'm sitting at the table. I'm a little frustrated that I haven't even left yet, despite my best efforts, and that Darcey has been sound asleep the whole time, which seems like a monumental waste of good-baby time. I head back to the hotel and throw in the towel - I ask the front desk woman to call me a taxi. While I'm sitting there, waiting for the taxi which took much longer than yesterday, I look across the street and see the 11:00 shuttle pull up. Grrr.

I ask the taxi driver to take me to the Lake Gardens, which was my goal from yesterday. From there, I planned to take the hop-on-hop-off bus around to the craft complex, and then to the Hindu temple of Sri Marinara if I have time. My last stop would then be KL Sentral station to grab a taxi home.

The Lake Gardens is a huge green area kind of on the edge of the city. It has many different attractions, including the Hibiscus and Orchid gardens, a butterfly garden, deer park, aviary, and a planetarium. Most of the attractions are free, too, but to get to each one is kind of a hike. My first stop was the National Monument, which was created by the same artist who did the Iwo Jima sculpture in DC. This was to commemorate the soldiers who had fallen in WWI and II and who participated in some other battle, I can't remember what it was about. It was a beautiful, serene place, with fountains and water and the onion dome that is typical of Islamic design. Just gorgeous to look at.

I picked up a few postcards at the souvenir stand, then asked the employee where to catch the hop on hop off bus. Down the street, cross at the light. I headed out, found the street, looked death in the eyes and laughed while I crossed the street, and headed up the hill in the direction of the Hibiscus garden. There are sidewalks pretty much everywhere, although they run alongside busy streets. I walked along, shaded by huge rainforest-y trees, while sucking in so much diesel fumes I think I feel a tumor growing in my lungs. I felt like I was walking forever, thinking that I must have missed a turn or something, but I kept following the signs. I tried to figure out if the buildings I was passing were anything interesting or if they were likely to be a stop on the bus route, because at that point I was so tired of walking that I didn't care so much about the flowers anymore.

I accidentally came upon what is hands down the most boring museum ever. And you know museums can be boring. This one takes the cake - it's the Public Service Memorial of Malaysia. Yes, that's right, a museum dedicated to the government. It's as much fun as watching a movie about tree stumps. But it was air conditioned, and once I realized what the museum was about, I didn't have the heart to just turn around and walk out. How many visitors can the place get, after all? I walked through, but couldn't even learn anything because it was all written in Bahasa Malaysian.

But when I left the museum, I saw a hop on bus drive past. I knew I couldn't catch it, but it gave me hope that I was going the right direction. Like the pioneer children, I walked and walked and walked. (But unlike them, I didn't sing as I walked. I sweated. I bet they did too, but it doesn't fit in the song as well.) I finally found an entrance gate to the hibiscus garden, went in, and walked some more. This was a slightly prettier walk, but still alongside a road. I took a left and made it into the garden proper, a fairly small area with flowers. I was so wiped out that I gave it a token look, and yeah, they were pretty, but it had lost it's romance for me. I kept walking, and saw a sign pointing me towards the orchid garden, which I was fairly sure was where I'd find the bus.

I came to a fork in the road. I started to head up one path which was uphill, then realized, if I don't know where the heck I'm supposed to go anyhow, why not try the downhill path first? So I headed downhill, which ended up being the backside of the attractions in the orchid garden. Uphill was the right choice if I wanted to see any flowers. Downhill gave me nothing but a dirty guy in bare feet smoking a cigarette. Which was not on the tour, I think. But at the bottom of the hill, there was the holy grail, the bus stop. Darcey woke up at this point, she had been sleeping the whole morning, which was fantastic. I was dripping, pouring sweat, and she couldn't have been much cooler, even though she was getting a free ride and I was doing all the walking.

The next stop on the bus was the National Mosque, which is such an amazingly beautiful building I was seriously tempted to get off and see it, but I was enjoying the A/C too much, plus the bus is a great place to nurse Darcey, since there are so few people on it. I rode the bus for a while, around to stop 5, the crafts complex, which is a collection of buildings that have shopping, museums, and working artists, along with a place to actually do hands-on art.

In the main building was the more formal stores, three of them were upscale, one was the typical junky cheap souvenirs. I'm stymied by the t-shirt situation - they sell them all over the place, but they are ugly! Really bright colors and just not attractive at all. The kids won't care, I'm sure, but I care. I'd kind of like a t-shirt myself. Anyhow, I picked up some notebooks for the kids that had a batik design on the cover, and some other things in the other stores, gifts mostly and a beautiful pearl necklace for myself once I realized that if I didn't start shopping for myself I'd end up back in Utah with a keychain and nothing else.

Outside of the main building, I wandered around the Artist's Village, a series of 14 small huts, each one a separate studio for a variety of artists and their work. Most of them do batik, which is fabric art, where wax is applied to the fabric in an elaborate design, and then the fabric is painted, after which the wax is melted off. It is usually done on silk, and some of the designs are truly gorgeous. Clothing (saris, sarongs, and scarves) made out of hand-made batik is outrageously expense, which is too bad because I really wanted to get a piece. I wandered into one hut where a woman called me over to show me the art she was making. I've honestly never been around friendlier people. She cooed over the baby, naturally, and I looked around. Her batik was my favorite so far, and she had done quite a few pieces on small pieces of silk for framing. I bought one, a picture of a dahlia, and as soon as I left, wished I had bought more.

I couldn't find the demonstration area, which was a bummer, but by then I was so tired that I couldn't bear to look around anymore. (You know, things aren't well marked all the time here. I'm just figuring that out, I think.) I went over to the bus stop, figuring I'd catch the bus over to the train station, and then get a taxi home, when I remembered that the brochure for this place said that the receptionist out front would call a cab for people. So a couple of minutes later, I was on my way back to the hotel, so tired that I'm surprised I could function at all. It was a long, tiring day, which didn't need to be as long or as tiring as it was, but I ended up seeing some good stuff and I loved the craft complex, so all in all, a good day.

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