Sensory Overload in KL

First impressions.  Car fumes.  Motor scooters everywhere.  Countless offers for “sexy massage.”  Walking down Jalan Alor – the night food market street – smells of all types.  Sweet.  Savory.  Sour.  Heavenly.  Sewer.  A mind-boggling array of food.

Electronics everywhere.  Every store selling Sony, Samsung, Apple, HTC.  Selfies.  Selfies with the ubiquitous selfie stick.  Street vendors selling selfie sticks.  Chinese New Year decorations everywhere, like Christmas in a western country.

Multiple languages.  I hear Malay.  Mandarin Chinese.  Tamil.  Hindi.  English.  Others I don’t recognize.

Colorfully dressed hindu women.  Young women in very short shorts and tight shirts.  Men in what seems to be the official Malaysia male uniform of flip-flops, jeans, and t-shirt.  Young men in hip hop clothing.  Muslim women in the hijab head covering.  Beautiful young women in the incongruous outfit of tight jeans, tight t-shirt, and colorful hijab.  Other muslim women in severe plain , everything but their eyes covered.

Welcome to Asia, to Malaysia.  Welcome to Kuala Lumpur.  

Hotel room is a bit over the top. I haven’t stayed in a place like this since, well, since the last time I traveled overseas for business.  A long time.

Dinner time.  I meet Vernie in the lobby.  My partner here, she works at the agency that recruits the university students I’m here to hire.  We walk back to Jalan Alor.  I have requested the authentic street food that SE Asia is famous for.  Much more interesting than a high-end but ultimately lacking restaurant.  “Do you like spicy?”  “Oh yes.  Very much so.”

We sit roadside, she orders multiple dishes from several vendors.  Noodle dishes.  Satay.  All very good, but none are very spicy.  She admits she didn’t believe me when I said I like spicy.  I try to mask my disappointment.

Vernie tries to get me to taste Durian fruit – the source of the sewer smell – but I demur.  I’m not yet ready to take that leap.

We walk to a viewpoint for the Petronas Towers.  For 6 years the tallest building in the world, now they are relegated to 3rd place, but remain the tallest twin towers in the world.  At 1,483 feet, they are impressive.

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Breakfast.  My first real adventure.  Hotel has the most incredible breakfast I have ever seen.  All things American, European, and Asian.  I start with bites of familiar foods, to ease my way in.  I love Asian food – for lunch and dinner.  Still, I want to experience the region’s food.  Lamb curry.  Daal.  Rice dishes.  Noodle dishes.  After small samples of numerous dishes, I’m stuffed.

Work.  It isn’t all fun and food.  The reason I’m here.  Awkwardness due to how recruiting and planning went.  Good kids though.  I wish I could hire more.

City tour.  Vernie joins in, decides to be a tourist for a day in her own city.  Plus, she has never been to Batu Cave.  I try to tell my driver George that I am more interested in seeing less, but more thoroughly.  It soon becomes apparent though that he has a plan and he’s going to stick to it. I quickly tire of him pointing to and naming what feels like every other building as we drive the streets.

Batu Cave.  I am not sure what to expect.  One of the biggest draws in KL, it’s described by my guidebook as a “bit of a disappointment.”  But I am fascinated.  It’s wonderful.  An explosion of hindu culture in a predominantly muslim country.   It’s one of the most popular hindu shrines outside of India.  600 ft tall gold-painted statue.  Multiple shrines.  Vendors everywhere at the bottom of the 272 steps.  Macaque monkeys.  Trash everywhere.  Men paying homage by shaving their heads and covering them with gold paint.  Women doing the same by carrying jugs of milk to the temple at the top.  I just missed the Thaipusam festival by a matter of days.  I’m astounded that just days before, over 1 million hindus crowded into this space in one day.

Perhaps next time I can visit during Thaipusam.  It sounds both amazing and horrendous.  A full-on cultural experience.  More sensory overload.

Royal Selangor factory tour.  I’m not really interested.  Until we step inside.  Our guide is excellent, and I end up wishing we had more time.  Malaysia has built quite an industry around pewter, and the products are astounding.  I appreciate that the factory employs hundreds of disabled women, who might not otherwise be employable in Malaysia.  I wish I had more money to purchase some of the beautiful items, but I am content with the plate I can afford.

Thean Hou temple.  An impressive Chinese temple.  The king’s castle.  Less so.  I am tired of a tour on someone else’s terms.

Dinner.  Ahhh.  This is what I was waiting for.  Vernie takes me into Chinatown.  A riot of… seemingly everything to fill my senses.  A crush of people.  Stands selling junk.  Poorly made fake name brand clothing.  Prostitutes.  Sweat.  Music.  Food stands everywhere.  The ever-present durian.  Vernie tucks us into a hidden stall that I would have never found.  Food is fiery hot and delicious.  Stingray in a sauce.  Bamboo sticks that have the texture of glass. “Smelly bean” that Vernie promises will make my urine smell bad the next day.  I’m disappointed when it doesn’t.

Vernie again encourages me to try durian.  She loves it.  Again I demur.  My senses have already been pounded into submission, I don’t need durian’s infamous taste and smelling adding to it.

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Morning.  On the bus.  Seemingly always on the bus when I travel.  Off to Melaka, also known as Melacca.  Unlike US buses, it shows up exactly on time.  Unlike most US buses, it is clean and quiet.  I enjoy the two hours of tranquility.