February 17, 2005
V Day in K.L.
DAY 484: Huh? Where are we? I wondered, all groggy-eyed when I woke up on a motionless train in my sleeper berth. Everyone was getting off the Kuala Lumpur-bound train at 6:40 in the morning. Are we there yet? We're not supposed to get there for another half hour. The train continued its state of inertia, and so I just disembarked. We had in fact arrived at KL Sentral station ahead of schedule.
KUALA LUMPUR, WHICH EVERYONE JUST CALLS "K.L." (like the way people call Los Angeles, "L.A."), was a city I was really looking forward to visiting. For some reason, it wasn't just another big modern Asian city to me; it emitted a certain allure, a je ne sais quoi, since I had seen it on The Amazing Race, 24, and, more prominently, in the movie Entrapment. Yup, the streets of Malaysia's capital metropolis had been graced with the presence of Sean Connery and -- even better -- Catherine Zeta-Jones. Ah, Cathy Zee... If you only knew how many guys like me paused the DVD in that laser beam training scene to bask in the glory of your Spandex outfit...
I had no real agenda in K.L. despite my attraction to its cosmopolitan vibe -- that is, until I checked my e-mail at the internet cafe of the Red Dragon Hostel in K.L.'s Chinatown, where I had snagged a room that morning.
From Vivian (former SBR): Any chance you might be in KL? How long will you be in M'sia for? If you need any help, just email me. It'll be great if I can see you in person! Hope to hear from you soon.
How about that? I thought. I've been in K.L. for only about an hour and already I have people here. God bless the Blog. I wrote her back, informing her that I had just arrived in K.L., and asked for her phone number so that we might get together that night for dinner and/or drinks. It was February 14th -- V Day -- and I had a potential date for Valentine's in K.L.
It wasn't until late afternoon that I got a reply from Vivian, but in the interim, I spent the day seeing the sites of a city I had an infatuation with, from modern towers to old temples and the things in between.
Chinatown had no shortage of temples, from the Chinese Kuan Ti Temple and Sin Sze Ya Temple (both over a century old), and even a Hindu one, the Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, "the center of Kuala Lumpur's Hindu community... in the heart of Chinatown." Chinatown's main drag of shops, Petaling Street, was covered with a huge block-long awning for protection from the rain -- although it wasn't necessary that sunny afternoon for the Chinese lions and their accompanying drummers who were marching and dancing around Chinatown for more of the 15-day Chinese New Year festivities.
Nearby was Merdeka Square (Freedom Square), a former cricket field-turned-symbol of Malaysian independence. It was there that in 1957 that Malaysia declared its independence after a centuries-long history of colonization and occupation from the Portuguese, Dutch, British, and Japanese. Numerous Malaysian flags waved in the air, including the huge one atop the tallest flagpole in the country.
SPEAKING OF TALL STRUCTURES, no visit to K.L. is complete without seeing the iconic Petronas Twin Towers (picture above), a modern double skyscraper modeled after stupas. It was just four stops away on the LRT to the KLCC stop, where I got off and was immediately dwarfed by the 452 meter-tall structure -- the fourth largest building in the world. It was here that in 1999's Entrapment that Catherine Zeta-Jones and Sean Connery masterminded a heist during a Y2K computer routine, traveling between the two towers via the SkyBridge in between. Unfortunately it was Monday, the day the SkyBridge was closed for maintenance, and so I could only wander the posh Suria shoppingmall at the base of the towers. No matter, at least I got to see Catherine Zeta-Jones there -- sort of.
"Is this Erik?! Oh my God!" said the voice on the other end more excitedly than one coming from the hundredth caller on a radio call-in contest. I love it when my reputation preceeds me. Vivian was ecstatic to hear from me -- a definite TGTG (The Global Trip Groupie) -- and couldn't believe her ears. She wouldn't believe her eyes soon enough after we planned to meet up that night. Score.
"Do you have any plans for the night?" she asked me.
"No. I've got nothing to do."
"Any friends here?"
"Nope, you're the only one I know in K.L."
"Any plans tomorrow?"
"Nope." I'm all yours.
"Oh, maybe my dad can show you around."
Dad? Did my potential Malaysian Valentine live her parents still? I wondered. No matter; it's common for Asians to live at home much longer than Westerners. Vivian was thrilled to meet up with one of her idols -- a "celebrity" if you will -- and planned to meet me in front of the hostel at 9:30 in a couple of hours. "Are you going to wear The Global Trip shirt?" she asked, wondering how to pick me out amidst similar-looking people.
"Yeah, I'll wear it for you."
"Erik!" cried the voice of the girl running towards me with a wide smile.
"Oh, let me give you a hug!" The young Malaysian woman wrapped her arms around me and I reciprocated. I hopped into the cab of the truck where her father Geow was at the wheel. It was always great to make a local connection whereever I went, and Vivian and Geow were it in K.L. What I didn't expect was that Geow was actually playing chaperone, as I soon found out.
"So what do you do?" I asked Vivian as we rode down the city street.
"I just finished school," she answered. School, huh? So she's a college grad then. She continued, "I'm just bumming around [until university in Thailand]." Oh, high school.
Further down the conversation I learned that she was seventeen -- "jailbait" as they say in the States -- but was definitely in the exception to my philosophy that everyone born in and after 1981 was annoying. She was excited that we had common interests (i.e. travel), interests that most of her friends didn't share. For example, when she showed off the "Would You?" trailer to her friends, they wondered, "What's so good about this?" Most of them were homebodies, staying in Malaysia for university; Vivian was in the minority of people yearned to get out and see the world, even if it was just in the neighboring country.
"Oh, how's your leg?" Vivian asked, remembering the operation I had in India. An avid reader of The Blog, she recalled different episodes of "The Trinidad Show" and explained them to her father. She recognized the wallet that I used in my experiment in Tokyo.
"What are you going to do when you get back?" her father asked me.
"I don't know."
"You'll just go where the winds take you," Vivian said, quoting me again. She was a true TGTG, just a bit on the young side -- not that there was anything wrong with it, just that my "V Day" would most likely not end with a certain encounter with a female body part starting with that letter.
"Oh, like McDonald's," I joked, pointing to the golden arches at the corner.
"The American embassy," Vivian said, quoting me with the nickname I gave the American fast food chain. Wow, she really knows her TGT Blog.
We circled around and looked for free parking, which presented itself after only two rounds. We parked and walked passed K.L.'s trend set of ex-pats and native cosmopotlitan K.L.ers.
"It's the place to be seen," Vivian added.
However, we skipped out on the fancy bar and clubs playing the standard American club songs, not only because Vivian was under the legal drinking age, but to have a more authentic Malaysian experience. "Malaysians love to eat," Geow said. "You never go hungry here [with the 24 hour service.]" We ended up snacking at one of many 24-hour eateries with chicken satays, Indian dosais and chais, and got to know each other. Vivian was still in awe to meet me in person, and it felt pretty cool. I was happy to oblige a Blogreader, regardless of age.
As she mentioned in a previous comment, I had inspired her to take the bus by herself to Singapore -- something she might not have had the courage to do if not for reading about my going around the world solo. She told me all about her first "big trip" to Singapore, where she went to the premiere of The Spongebob Squarepants Movie by winning tickets in a contest. This event was only followed by her first club experience in cosmo Singapore, which will remain a secret as long as this Blog is public. Ah, the new experiences of adolescence.
For Vivian it wasn't exactly a school night anymore, but we called it an early night anyway, for I was invited by her father to wake up bright and early at "stupid o'clock" (5:30 a.m.) the next morning to visit the Genting Highlands outside K.L., where he worked as a horticulturalist at some fancy resort. It amazed me that he had taken me in and trusted me so quickly -- Wasn't I just a stranger off the internet? -- but Vivian said that she had always raved about me to her friends and family, always showing them the photos I took, and tried to get them into the Blog. However, I don't think any of them was as enthusiastic about it as she was.
And so, my V Day would be extended another day. V for Vivian, that is.
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Posted by Erik on February 17, 2005 03:25 PM