June 6, 200912:50 a.m. (Kuala Lumpur)
We arrived in Kuala Lumpur this afternoon at 2. Kay and I thought that we’d finally feel that we’d made it to Malaysia once we got out of the airplane. But in the Kuala Lumpur International Airport, we were in the same plastic bubble that airplanes enter and exit in every major city around the world. Signs warning of swine flu were the newest addition to the airport since I’d last been there, but they were also sprouting out in sister buildings around the world. Once we got outside, managed to stuff our in-Dubai-everything-bigger-is-better-sized luggage into Winnie’s tiny beige car, and were on the road to the city, we managed to finally feel that we were in
Malaysia at last.
The country is beautiful, and it’s my exhaustion after a long day that began with the end of two uncomfortable hours of sleeping in an airplane seat that keep me from describing it in the way it deserves to be described. It’s green, green in a way that a desert can never dream of being. The short mountains and shallow valleys that marked the whole road home were so saturated with trees that not a spot of brown dirt or grey stone could be seen. Even when we got into Winnie’s apartment, which was in the middle of the industrial neighborhood of Subang Jaya, trees grew everywhere.
We dumped our stuff in Winnie’s tiny sky-blue apartment, then lounged there for a little while before heading off again to get some necessities for survival – shampoo, towels, etc. After that, we went for a pre-midnight snack at a little restaurant on stilts next to Winnie’s house, where we had satay, nasi ayam, and Milo Ice (a cold chocolate drink that’s very popular locally). Earlier that afternoon, on our way home from the airport, Winnie stopped at a nice rest-stop where I had my fist Malay meal of the trip. It was nasik lemak, which was coconut soak rice with anchovies, chilli, peanuts, and other fillings wrapped in banana paper. Delicious, but halfway through the meal I realized that my body might not by ready for Malaysian street food, and worried that I’d have to pay for that tantalizing meal for the next few days with some indigestion or something. Thankfully, I’ve been having Malay street food all day and I feel perfectly fine. Inshallah things’ll stay that way.
I wanna stay and write about all the details of going to the rest-stop, the mall, and the restaurant. How I could feel so many people staring at me, and how I was suddenly very conscious of being blue-eyed and white. I look different enough from everyone around me to seriously stand out. It’s pretty funny. But I can do that tomorrow, when I can actually think after a full night’s sleep. We’ll be going to the Central Market tomorrow too, so that’ll give me lots of material to work with.
But one thing before I go, because it was random and interesting and I might forget it. When the Maghrib adhan went off, Winnie got up from the sofa we’d been lounging on while watching Malay dramas to close the apartment door that had been since we’d arrived. All the flats in her apartment have two doors, one regular door like most apartments around the world have, and then a few steps outside that metal bars surrounding the flat entrance like a cage, with a bulky silver lock hanging heavily from it. That metal cage door is kept closed when we’re inside the flat, but the door is left open so air can circulate and neighbors can communicate (or spy on each other) more easily. It’s an interesting way of living, keeping yourself physically connected to the outside world even while in your home.
Anyways, at the Maghrib adhan, Winnie got up and closed the apartment door. Then she closed all the windows in the house. Why, I asked? “Because spirits roam mountains, forests, and apartment corridors at sunset, so you have to close your homes to them so they don’t try to come in,” came the answer. I’d heard a similar story from a Pakistani friend, and here I was hearing it again from a Malaysian. Pakistani women even cover their heads at maghrib so that the spirits don’t seep into their hair and then get tangled in it forever. Malaysians just try to stay home at maghrib, Winnie told me. It’s safer that way. Some cameras even captured the images of these spirits as the sun set, especially as they made their way across the threshold of a house. Stay inside, lock the doors and windows. It’s better.
Now it’s almost 2 a.m., and the air as sticky as honey spread across my body. Better get some sleep. Gnite.
Saturday, June 6, 2009
First Day in Malaysia!
Here's a quick entry from my Malaysia journal. A whole blog about this will be going up soon. Keep an eye out for it!