Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Woke up early again this morning – Crystal went down to gym and ran, Justin read about sports on espn.com (kind of like exercise). We ate breakfast downstairs, which consisted mostly of fresh fruit. We had pineapple, papaya, apricot, rambutan, and longara. We also had orange and grapefruit juice. Because Malaysia is 50+% Muslim, there is no pork in any of the restaurants we've been to as of yet. So that leaves chicken (avian flu), beef (mad cow), seafood (which Justin won't eat) and salad (washed in the water we don't want to drink). So far no problems though.
After breakfast we headed over to the Petronas Towers to get in line for the tour of the sky bridge. The sky bridge goes between the two buildings, and is on the 41 st floor. There is also one on the 42nd floor, but that one is utilitarian, and is only accessible to people employed in the tower. We got in line at 8am for a ticket window that opened at 8:30 for tours beginning at 9am. We were behind about 50 people in line, and by the time we got our ticket there were a couple hundred people in line. Up in the sky bridge, the views were good, but not as good as from Menara KL. Also, since the sun had just come up (it goes from about 7:30am to 7pm here), the glare on the west side was pretty intense, making taking pictures and video a challenge. Anyway, it was nice, and it was free, and we can say we did it.
We then came back to the hotel to grab a taxi to take us to the butterfly gardens, which are just west of the colonial district where we were the other day. There's a small hill, with the colonial district on one side and the lake gardens area on the other. We started at the butterfly gardens, which had about 20 different kinds of butterflies. Some stood still for photos, others we had to get on video. There were also a couple large koi ponds, and we got to feed the fish. The flora in the butterfly gardens was very colorful, which makes sense because that's probably what attracts the butterflies.
After leaving the butterfly garden we started walking towards the orchid and hibiscus gardens, which were supposedly within walking distance. While trying to find them, we wandered around the lake gardens area. There was literally no one around but us, the birds, and a bunch of trees. It was very peaceful, and seemed very distant from the metropolis just over the hill. When we finally found some people, they pointed us towards the hibiscus and orchid gardens. We started wandering again, not seeing them, but we did find a deer and deer mouse garden. The people there told us to walk up through the deer garden to get to the orchid and hibiscus garden. The deer garden was very nice. It was on a hillside, with us starting at the bottom and walking up hundreds of stairs, but usually only 5-10 at a time. Throughout the garden were many small cages with little tiny deer that seemed very afraid of us (maybe it was the bald head), and then one large pasture with 30-40 full sized deer.
After getting to the top, we saw a far off sign that we hoped was the orchid and hibiscus gardens. Upon closer review, however, we discovered it was just a bird park. So now we had walked through everything but the orchid and hibiscus gardens. But then we found them about 2 minutes later, and they were quite nice, the orchid garden more so. Ironically, we felt that the deer and lake gardens were nicer (and cooler, because of the canopy trees) than the orchid and hibiscus gardens. We did get our exercise, though – we had walked around for roughly two hours.
We caught a cab back to the hotel and ate lunch at Lai Po Heen, the Chinese restaurant we had eaten at in a fog our first night here. In the cab we found out there were massive mudslides and flooding in California. We found this to be, while very sad for those involved in the mudslide, a little humorous, since for the last two weeks before we came here many co-workers asked us if we really wanted to go to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand – not realizing that these are large countries and that with the exception of Phuket, we were not going to any of the areas damaged by the tsunamis. We thought about sending some of them email asking if they were okay in the mudslides (which occurred about 100 miles plus from where we live). So far on this trip, we've been rained on more on the drive to LAX than the whole time in Kuala Lumpur.
At lunch, we tried some durian pancakes for dessert. Durian is a very popular, controversial fruit in SE Asia . It is about the size of a football, yellow, with spikes all over it. The smell is described as a mixture of spoiled cheese and body odor. But supposedly it tastes very good. Because of the smell, however, most of the hotels don't allow durian in the hotel rooms. (If you wish to buy it, they will keep it refrigerated in their kitchen for you.) In pancakes, however, it must be okay. The pancakes were just small crepes filled with durian fruit and whipped cream. We both can say we tried it (Crystal more than Justin), but neither one of us will be having any more durian any time soon.
At 3:30pm we boarded a van for a firefly tour. Out west, near the ocean in the mangrove swamps are a bunch of fireflies that light up the night. We started off by heading southwest, past Shah Alam (where the blue mosque is), but continued in that direction. We were soon out in the country, in the less developed parts of the country. It was quite a change from KL. There were plantations of oil palms throughout most of the trip. The oil from oil palms are used in cosmetics, cooking products, and some other stuff. The Malaysians are trying to make a diesel fuel out of it, which would certainly boost their economy tremendously if successful.
The oil palm seeds are tasty to rats, so there is a large rat problem in the plantations. To curb this, cobras were brought in from India, but then there was a problem with cobras falling from the trees when the seeds were cut down. Now the farmers use barn owls. In the coconut plantations, people don't cut down the fruits any more – monkeys are used instead. People train the monkeys to climb the trees and pluck the seeds. Well-trained monkeys can get 200 coconuts in 2 hours, and the trainer gets a decent share of the pie on the coconuts sold by the plantation owner.
Our first stop was close to the ocean, on a large hill called Bukit Malawati. It had been used many years ago a Dutch fort – there were cannons still all around. The views from the hilltop were fantastic – panoramic views of the Straits of Melaka. The Straits are the body of water between the Malay peninsula and the island of Sumatra. The Straits are very busy with ships, even to this day – ships from India pass through the straights, go past Singapore, and then head up towards China. The best part of Bukit Malawati was the monkeys. They were everywhere, and Justin could get close, but not close enough to get any really good photos. Every time he got closer than five feet, the monkeys would scurry away. Hopefully the Singapore Zoo will come through.
From Bukit Malawati we went to a Chinese seafood restaurant along a major river. The river heads out to the ocean, and we were about 5-10 miles from the sea at the place we ate. The river was very wide, probably a couple hundred meters, and the side opposite us was not developed at all – just mangroves butting up against the water. It looked like a scene out of Apocalypse Now. Crystal enjoyed the food, but didn't finish, as she had zero help from Justin. We spent most of the dinner trying to figure out the name of the Formula 1 race car driver who lost his legs in a crash several years back. His name came up when discussing that Michael Schumacher, another driver, who donated several million dollars for the tsunami relief fund. Justin initially thought Schumacher had been the one to lose his legs. It was a little surreal that we were eating at a Chinese fishing village along a major river in rural Malaysia, and we spent the whole meal trying to figure out the name of a legless race car driver. About 2/3 of the way through the meal it came to Justin – Alex Zanardi. Crystal assisted by remembering that the name started with a “Z.”
The firefly excursion itself was almost anticlimactic. The fireflies themselves were nice, and lit up entire mangrove trees, but the experience was better than the fireflies. We were on this small boat that had 12 people. We were on this river that was next to totally still, at sundown, in a tropical countryside. There were mosquitoes everywhere – even with bug spray, we considered ourselves lucky to escape with a half dozen bites each. It was twilight, and we were cruising in this little boat on a river with monkeys screaming every so often, surfacing noises coming from the water (hopefully not crocs), completely isolated from civilization. This seemed even more like an Apocalypse Now moment.
We made it out unscathed, and then got back on the van for the long trip home. Crystal fell asleep, and Justin talked politics and culture with the driver. There are almost no American tourists in Malaysia, so the driver wanted to know why we decided to visit. Justin wanted to know how everyone in Malaysia got along so well, with large populations of Chinese and Indians who presumably would be unhappy that the British handed the country over to the Malays instead of them. The government makes sure that everyone that gets along, and detains anyone who resists – sounds pretty simple. Also, almost everyone has jobs, but because of that many people are poor. Its kind of a catch-22. The country is developing at a rapid pace, and therefore job opportunities abound to work on these projects. The government wants to eradicate homelessness, and keeps costs low on necessary goods to help this. The bad effect of all this, however, is that profits for companies are low, and wages are low, so the average income is quite low.
After we got back to the hotel, Crystal went to sleep and Justin went out to the park. At night, there is a fountain display in the courtyard by the mall at the base of the Petronas Towers . Also at night, all of the clubs are in full swing, and there are young people and music playing everywhere. The fountain display was quite nice, and the Towers all lit up was an excellent backdrop. When we come back we'll have to go out an experience the nightlife. The driver on the firefly excursion said we were young enough to go out, stating that you remain young as long as dreams are not replaced by regret.
We probably will come back at some point. Well, in addition to stopping in KL for an hour during the train trip up from Singapore to Bangkok. The people here were all very nice, the city was very clean and very beautiful, there were many sights to see that we didn't get to see this time, and we would be happy to do again what we did this trip.
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