Sunday morning we woke up and hurried out for breakfast at our usual spot before checking out of the hotel and catching a taxi to the airport. Tien had rarely been inside an airport before. She had never been on a plane before. She had never left the country before. This was the first of some big firsts for Tien and I was excited to experience them with her.
We waited for our plane at the end of a remote terminal. There mens bathroom had a girl walking around inside cleaning things while men urinated with her right there. I thought this was interesting, and actually I'd seen it before. She pointed me to a toilet that she'd just finished cleaning so I went to it. What else can you do when a woman offers you a clean toilet?
At takeoff I was a little worried that Tien would go into shock like she'd done on a roller coaster at a fun park there in Saigon on the second day I was there. I think I forgot to write about that day, but she basically went into shock for like 15 minutes and I had to carry her off the roller coaster. She did ok though. I took a video of it and will post it on youtube so you all can experience her first airplane takeoff.
The meal on the plane was good, chicken beriani with vegetables on the side, mango juice, wine, chocolates and wafer cookies. Tien always shares her meals with me since she's a pretty small girl, and we shared this meal too. I began to see the benefits of traveling as two, like "I get more food on the airplane." We listened to some music and before we knew it we were on the ground in a foggy Kuala Lumpur. The airport was nice, modern. There was almost nowhere to sit though, and we ended up sitting at a train stop in order to fill out the immigration arrival cards. Then we got forms for H1N1 and there was nowhere to fill them out because about 100 people were needing the same exact thing. Most of us just used the handrail of the broken moving sidewalk. Beyond health screening was passport control where about two hundred people were waiting. I had never seen so many people at passport control. It was interesting people watching though. There were many girls with head coverings, Malaysia is predominantly muslim. The police looked really sharp, great uniforms. There was a cute little chinese american girl doing funny things in the line next to us.
Finally out of the international zone of the airport, we looked for transport. The airport is located some ways away from the actual city of Kuala Lumpur and there was allegedly a train going there. We finally found some signs pointing to an empty area at the far end of the airport. There was literally nobody in sight and it kinda felt like Jacob's Ladder as we proceeded down to the ticket booth and out by the tracks. I had expected to find the train out of service there ended up being a healthy number of people on the train when we got there. It departed soon after we arrived, and it was a very good train. The ride was very smooth, the speed was very quick, the seats were comfortable. A man we were sitting with said that the train system, Kuala Lumpur International Transit Express, was privately owned and used to go direct to downtown, but it wasn't making money that way so it started putting in more stops along the way and thus took longer. He told us some more about KL, Malaysia and Singapore. He was a nice and had a beard and a turban. He was a business man returning from a trip to Singapore.
We got off the KLIA Express at KL Sentral Station, which is a huge transit intersection. About 5 train systems come together there and there is also a small airport. We were pretty tired from traveling so we took a rest at Starbucks and got coffee. This was the first time Tien had ever had Starbucks, she didn't even know what it was. I explained how it was a huge corporate entity that pushed smaller, local coffee shops out of businesses in cities where the government didn't intervene. I then went on a short tirade about how huge corporate entities are bad for locals and how they screw third world countries like Vietnam out of their human rights like healthcare because the suits at the top don't care a single bit about the individual who is actually doing the work down at the bottom of the pyramid. Then we got up to catch a train.
We were a little confused by the whole five transit systems thing at first, but we got some insight by following another pack packer couple who I overheard talking about the same stop we were looking for. When we found the ticketing area for the train we needed, all but two of the ticketing systems were broken. I tried one but it wouldn't take actual money so I went to the line for the other one. Then both of them broke right in front of us as people used them. We bought tickets from a person and then went to the turn style where all but two of them were broken. This was the most broken train station I'd ever used. The train was nice though, and when we left the station there as a great view of the city. We got off one stop down in Chinatown.
As our train was pulling up I was checking out all of the sights. In the distance we could see the Petronas Twin Towers that are in every photograph of Kuala Lumpur, which we also had seen on the KLIA Express on the way in. I saw a tall hotel called the Mandarin Pacific and thought it would be great to stay there because we could see out over the city, so we went and got a room there. After a short rest we went out and got some refreshments including a bottle of cabernet. We went back to the hotel and I enjoyed a glass of wine while taking a bath. I bathe in every hotel that has a tub because you never know when you'll find another one since they're so scarce.
Walking outside we found a McDonalds which was directly across the street from our hotel. I joked with Tien about eating there but she didn't really get the joke because she had no idea what McDonalds was. I told her that we'd eat there some day, but not tonight. Instead we turned left to see what was that way and ended up in the center of the Chinatown market which happened to be a block away from our hotel. The streets were closed off and there were market stands set up selling shoes, bags, shirts, lighters, binoculars, fruit, dvds, scarves, belts, watches, perfume, bathing suits, etc. etc.. I found a stiletto knife with a lighter in the handle and nearly bought it, but I figured I couldn't take it on the plane home so I decided against it.
I asked Tien what she thought of the market and she said it was strange that people were talking in languages that she didn't understand. I guess we all think that the first time we are in that situation, but it had been so long for me I had forgotten that it had happened to me when I first went to Sunnyvale to work for the Chinese.
We found some good smelling perfumes and bartered the price a little until I realized I might not have enough money to pay for the perfume and pay for dinner, so we just left and went to have dinner. It was good dinner, fried rice with chicken that was pretty flavorful. No doubt fresh meat. We had fresh lychee and mango juice too. We walked around a bit more, saw the rest of the market and some of the surrounding area and returned to our hotel.
Monday morning we had breakfast at the hotel, which was so so. They had strawberry jelly to put on toast so that made me happy, but cold eggs and spring rolls aren't exactly part of the breakfast of champions. The coffee was bleh, but hey, it was coffee so I couldn't complain. We headed out to find a travel agency to help us plan our getaway to a beach but amazingly we couldn't find a single one. Usually in the backpacker districts they're everywhere, but here there were absolutely zero to be found. Instead we looked in the Lonely Planet guide that I had and picked out Port Dickson on the map and decided to head there if we couldn't find a travel agent anywhere else.
We packed up, got on the train and headed back to Sentral Station. On the way up to the station Tien turned to me and commented about how she probably looked much more confident today, which she did. I recalled that buzz of riding public transit for the first time, experiencing all the new things like tickets, turn-styles, route planning and waiting on train platforms.
Back in Sentral we were a little confused on how to get to Port Dickson. The map showed a train going all the way there, but people there said that was not so. On top of that we weren't sure which train to take since five different transit systems come together there. In the end we figured out that we had to take a train to a city called Seremban, then take a bus to Port Dickson, and so we did.
Islam is the official religion in Malaysia and it certainly shows. There are girls everywhere with head coverings on, and they sell head coverings in markets just like baseball caps and shoes. On the train there was a girl with a head covering on and a hand bag that said "bikini bottom", which I thought was pretty ironic. I thought about how Islamic girls probably wear head coverings while they swim and figured that the Saudi Arabian Girls Swim Team would perform very poorly. There was another older woman on the train with a head covering and hair several inches long coming out of a mole on her neck. I don't know why, but a lot of Asian people let the hair in their moles grow out inches while cutting the rest of the hair on their face. It doesn't make sense to me, and is kinda gross.
To kill time I decided to play with Cydia on my phone, even though I didn't have internet access. This is when I recalled how poor a lot of OSS software is. Cydia is absolute crap without an internet connection, and honestly is pretty poor as a package manager in general, but not even networking software should crash in the absence of a network connection.
The train dropped us off a ways from the bus station and we had to walk down a long covered pathway to get to the bus station. It took me a while to figure out the bus station, mainly because I associated the numbered bus parking spots with ticketing windows of the same number, but there ended up being no correlation there. You merely had to go stand by the bus stop labeled with the destination you wanted to go to, get on the bus and pay for your ticket once you were onboard. Simple. While I was figuring this out we were walking around and Tien bumped into some Vietnamese people and was really excited to see her countrymen while out and about in the world. It was remarkable too because even when I was in Vietnam traveling the English speaking Vietnamese people had said that not many Vietnamese people travel outside of Vietnam.
We boarded the bus with a huge crowd and were almost the last ones on, so I ended up having to stand at the front of the bus with one foot in the stairwell and sit on the dashboard while Tien stood next to me. Our bus headed off through the city and off across the countryside through hills and winding roads on smooth paved roads. We passed a dead cow at 80kmh. We passed land that had "private property" signs, the first I'd seen in Asia. 40 minutes later we were standing in a town we knew nothing about, so we started walking around. 10 minutes later we realized that we'd need help so we went to look for a map but could not find one. We ended up talking to a taxi driver who drove us south down the coastal road and pointed out hotels. We picked one that was tall and was right on a beach. It was more of a resort hotel than I was looking for, but it was nice and we wanted to be on the beach, and that we were. Our room was large and had a patio looking straight down onto the beach itself, which was quiet and small. Only a few people were on it and the waves were gentle.
We were hungry so we went out to find some food. There was a market across the street from our hotel so we headed that direction. At the main street we stopped and I checked traffic to my left to make sure it was clear, but to my right was a curve in the road that I couldn't see around. I kept my eye on it as we walked into the first lane, but right as we did some maniac came flying around the curve on the wrong side of the road and full speed. Then I realized it wasn't that he was on the wrong side of the road but that people in Malaysia drive on the left hand side and I'd checked the road wrong. We ended up just running across and did not get hit. This was fruitless though because some of the restaurants were closing down and the ones that were still open only had gross food. I wanted to find a restaurant with pictures on the menu so I could just point and say "I want that." I recalled a scene from Lost in Translation where they are at the shabu shabu restaurant and Bill Murray orders in just such a fashion.
We went back to the restaurant at our hotel and looked their menu over. There was mostly chicken and I figured that between the Muslims and the Hindus there wouldn't be much beef or pork in this country. Tien and I talked over dinner about traveling and mixed culture, how things are so different in different parts of the world.
After dinner we went up to our patio and drank some fruit juice and wine and watched the sun set. After it was dark we went swimming in the ocean. The water was as warm as a pool, the waves were gentle, and there was nobody else around. It was really really nice, like the whole ocean was our own pool. I taught Tien some more about swimming and she caught on well, but got cold and worn out quickly so we went back inside after 20 minutes or so.
Tuesday I woke up to thunder rolling in from the ocean from lighting that was going on way out in the Strait of Malacca. I got up and brought the love seat in off the patio thinking that there could be huge rains, then went back to sleep. When I woke up it was not raining, but looked like it had been and would be again very soon. And it did. We caught a taxi to a bank back in town and it was raining when we got out of the car. I withdrew some money and then realized that I had no idea where to go or what to do.
Tien and I began walking through the gentle rain down the side of a main street until we saw the word "restoran" and assumed it was a restaurant. It was, but it wasn't appetizing so we walked around some more and found a place with decent breakfast even though it was after noon. We ate and drank coffee, then walked some more. We found a small temple with huge doors that had just shut when we got to them and the tiny bells all over it were still shaking. It looked like a Hindu temple to me, but I could be wrong.
We bought some drinks from a local market where a friendly man was asking all sorts of questions like "Is she your wife? Where'd you get her?" We left the shop and walked out towards the street and I wondered how on earth we could get ahold of a taxi in a place that looked like it was nowhere special, but just as I was thinking this a taxi pulled right up in front of us and we jumped in.
Back at the hotel we rested for a while and waited for the sun to come out a bit more, and once it began to warm up and dry out we went for a walk down the beach. There was a park at the north end of our beach. While we had been in the taxi I'd seen something that looked like a pier and I wanted to check it out, but when we got there it was closed for construction. We decided to swing on the swing set instead. Tien had never been on a playground swing before and she loved it.
We left there and found a calm beach with white sand near the pier thing which ended up being a bridge to what was once an island but was now a peninsula. We walked out onto it and photographed the bridge, then continued into a forested area with weird trees that grew up out of the ground and had branches that grew back into the ground. Some of the branches grew up from below the ground in an arc and then went back to the ground so that they were only an arch of wood coming out of the sand. It was very strange and interesting and I'd never seen anything like it before. I found a few little statues in the forest and some other neat areas, but it wasn't exactly a beautiful place so we didn't stay long. Instead we went back home and resumed being lazy.
At sunset we went for a swim. There were some men on boats that were pulling these big colorful blow-up rocket looking water toys and were charging for rides on them. We didn't have any money since you can't exactly bring money swimming and you wouldn't want to leave it on the beach. I wondered how they made any money at all, even though it did look fun. Tien and I swam for a long time and played in the waves until after the sun had set and it began to get cold.
The hotel had a sign that said that there was no wet attire allowed beyond the edge of the lobby and especially not in the elevator since it could cause a short circuit in the electricity. I wondered what kind of beach resort would have such ridiculous rules. They didn't even provide a locker room to change, so we just ignored the rule and went in while we were still wet. The hotel had other silly rules too, like "no outside food or drink" even though the room had a refrigerator in it and there was no grocery store in the hotel itself. I realized that this was a place where rules were made to not be followed.