Saturday, October 22, 2005

Submissions Being Solicited

[NOTE: I started writing this post last weekend, got a good chunk of the way through it, and then it disappeared off my screen. I resisted the urge to throw the laptop out the window, and have now calmed down sufficiently to go on. If it happens again, somebody at Sony (Because Caucasians Are Just Too Damn Tall) is gonna get hurt.]

Here's the deal, people. I have waited far, far too long to finish writing about my trip. My notes are sparse and largely indecipherable. And my short term memory isn't what it used to be. In short, I fucked up. So I'm gonna give you what I can figure out and invite all of you to make up the rest. It's kind of like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, or the FanFiction which I understand is popular among 40 year olds who live in their parents' basements (Ha! I've got 10 years to go and mine don't even have a basement!!!) Here goes:

No, Sloth, I did not puke on the plane. But it was NOT out of the question. My flight from Singapore to Hong Kong was rather uneventful, thankfully. The only real issue I had was with the meal. I was in no real mood to eat anyway, but the FA came over and offered me the following choice: "omelette or carrot cake." Now, a nice light slice of carrot cake sounded like something I could conceivably keep down, and I knew I had a decently long trip ahead of me, as I had to switch planes in HK for the flight to Shanghai. So I accepted the offer of carrot cake. People, in Asia, carrot cake does not come in slices. In fact, it's not "cake" at all, and I didn't see any "carrots." Apparently, "carrot cake" is something involving eggs, shrimp and tofu. It would have been excusable for me to have been surprised, had Monkey, Spacecake and I not had a discussion about the very topic the night before. Of course, that was before the bartendress poured that tequila down my throat.

I survived the carrot cake (though I sure didn't eat it), and landed in HK. To find out that my flight to Shanghai had been cancelled. I was prepared to be stranded in HK for days when they told me that, but, compared to dealing with the US airlines, China Eastern was a pleasure. They gave me the choice of taking either the flight before the one I was scheduled on, or the flight after. I had time to clear security, so I took the earlier flight, and that was that. The flight itself was pleasant enough too, and the coughing and spitting and phlegm noises were stereotypically fantastic!!

[Here's where my notes read, as best I can tell, "Dunhill insists on mylar." If you think I saw a man dressed as a European cigarette carrying a bunch of balloons, turn to page 35 . . .]

I was, I admit, a bit disappointed upon arrival at the Shanghai airport. Here I was, an American arriving in Red China. I was kind of hoping to be greeted by a bunch of serious looking uniformed Army dudes staring at me suspiciously, generally making me feel uncomfortable and making me fear being brought into a back room, interrogated in Mandarin with no translator, and suddenly finding myself on trial for the murder of a beautiful Chinese woman. Instead, I found myself waiting in an immigration line of entirely reasonable length, surrounded by a bunch of fat midwestern families with obnoxious kids. I thought my plane might have been diverted to Orlando.

I took the supercool superfast maglev train from the airport to the city, even though it meant dragging my ridiculously heavy bag about 3 miles through the airport and switching to the subway to get to the area near my hotel. It's pretty amazing. You fly past the highway traffic like they're going in reverse (or maybe I was still confused because they drive on the wrong side of the road), and you do feel a little bit like you're weightless.

Got to the hotel, which was in a pretty awesome location right on Nanjing Lu, the main pedestrian street, which is a hell of a scene. A lot of my Shanghai pics didn't come out so good, which is why I chose the one above, but I'll put some more up with subsequent posts. It's truly a shame I took this long to write about this, because Shanghai was my favorite city, and I really don't remember the details as well as I should. But I'll do the best I can.

Dropped my stuff in the room, which was decent, but not worth the money I paid for it (not to mention the criminal $21/night for internet access). Was a bit tired and still not feeling so great, so just figured I'd wander around the general area of the hotel. I was very popular with beggars and children. I'd been in the city for about 6 minutes, and had been approached by at least 42 people asking me for money, or trying to get me to buy something from them (most often, "Rolex, sir?"). These two youngish people, 1M 1F, came up to me and told me they were art students in town from Beijing, and would I like to come see their exhibition. Now, I wasn't foolish enough to think there was no catch, but I figured what the hell, what's the worst that could happen?

2 minutes later, having been led down the street and into an old dirty building, whisked up to the 6th floor in an ancient elevator, ushered into an apartment where two other Chinese dudes were waiting, and had the door closed behind me, I answered my own question as follows: "Oh, the worst that could happen is that I could have my wallet stolen, be stabbed repeatedly, rolled up in a carpet, thrown in the back of a truck and dumped in the countryside on the outskirts of Shanghai never to be heard from again."

But instead, they started showing me the paintings that were on the wall. They asked me to sign their book with where I was from, and kept making a point of telling me that the pictures on the wall were not for sale. But kept asking me which ones I liked. I said they were all beautiful, and was ready to make my exit. That's when the scam was revealed. While the large paintings on the wall were not for sale, the small versions of them that were in the albums on the table were. Long story short, I spent $10 on a piece of art that was average at best, but left with all my internal organs. I wouldn't have minded the scam so much -- God knows I bought enough crap I didn't really need on this trip -- if it didn't take so long; I wasted like 1/2 an hour with these people. And the girl had a pretty serious mustache too. If you're gonna try to sweet talk tourists, go for a little wax first, honey.

After escaping the art exhibition, I went for a walk along the Bund. I was certainly not the only white dude around, but we are apparently still enough of a novelty that some people point and whisper. And, by "whisper," I mean scream and laugh. I figured it out though -- twice while I was in Shanghai, families stopped me and asked me to pose for pictures with their kids. I realized that while white people aren't such a rarity in Shanghai, these were probably tourists from elsewhere in the country where they don't get a lot of us. Can you just see it, 10 years from now this Chinese girl will bring her boyfriend over to meet her family, the parents will break out the photo album: "Here's our sweet little girl pulling her pet kitten along in a rickshaw, here she is cooking her first dinner of General Tso's Chicken (note the cat doesn't appear in subsequent photos), and here she is posing with some random sweaty white dude when we were on vacation in Shanghai!"

Anyway, walked around for a few hours, don't remember the details. I did try a couple of random street foods. And by random, I mean I actually just pointed to stuff, having no idea what it might be, and bit in. It was all so cheap, worst case scenario you just chuck it and try something else. I found one I really liked - it was this pastry thing with some sort of sweet gelatinous paste inside, that I think might have been red bean-based.

Back to hotel, showered and decided to go in search of dinner. I wanted to stay in the neighborhood, and it was kind of overwhelming. But I also wanted to get something authentic. I walked down an alley-like side street off Nanjing and into a restaurant. It was a little shady looking, but not too bad. There was one group which included some white people, but other than that, the place was full of locals. They brought me to a table upstairs. To say the staff was rude doesn't come close to capturing the feeling. I (and no other person in the restaurant) was given cheap, disposable chopsticks as opposed to real ones, and a plastic cup for my beer. And I don't mean plastic cup like acrylic. I mean plastic cup like the one they give you at the dentist to rinse and spit. There were some really really great mistranslations on the menu, including several kinds of "crap" dishes. I gave them the benefit of the doubt and assumed they meant "carp," but I sure wasn't gonna chance it. I think I ended up ordering some fried pork dish and some vegetable that I saw on someone else's table that looked really good. It was a satisfying meal. Walked back toward the hotel, stopped for some little custardy dessert pastry things and an iced green tea, and went to bed.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Because I'm a Sucker

and because it's free:

Poker Championship

I have registered to play in the
Online Poker Blogger Championship!

This event is powered by PokerStars.

Registration code: 6486559

Big Pinz is going down.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Say Goodbye to Singapore

Have you all noticed a pattern? Sloth complains about my lack of recent posting, and Poof! a new post appears. I do what the pretty girls ask, always. So, if I recall correctly (and I might not, as I’m now really really old), we left off with my return to Singapore after 20-something hours in KL:

July 13, 2005

From the train station, I cabbed it back to Monkey’s place, ready for a day of just chilling out and relaxing, as I didn’t get a lot of sleep on the overnight train, and I had a 6:45 a.m. flight to Shanghai (through Hong Kong) coming up the next morning. Got back to Monkey’s place just in time to catch the beginning of The A-Team. Which rocks. I called Monkey to let him know I had arrived safely. Because I’m sure he was concerned. Concerned that I might inadvertently free the 14-year-old Filipino girl he had chained in the closet before he had a chance to make her a PB&J sandwich. Monkey informed me that his cleaning lady would be coming by to clean. I asked what time she showed up, thinking that I could just clear out of the apartment for a while and go sit by the pool, or go wander or something. Monkey told me a) he had no idea what time she showed up -- could be 5 minutes from now, or could be 4 in the afternoon; and b) I shouldn’t worry about being there when she arrived, because “I always have random people in the apartment. She’s used to it.” Of course. Of course.

I NEEDED to take a shower, so rushed in to try to make sure to at least be clothed when the cleaning lady showed up. Took a rushed dump, a rushed shower, I think I might even have rush shaved (which, in retrospect, probably wasn’t the greatest idea, as it would most certainly have freaked out the cleaning lady to find me on the bathroom floor in a pool of my own blood. Oh, wait. At Monkey’s place, that’s probably par for the course as well). Of course, then I sat and waited. And waited.

When the cleaning lady did show up, she was, as promised, not at all startled by my presence. Not because Monkey had warned her I’d be there, but just because I imagine seeing a polite, smiling white dude when you open the door to Monkey’s place is a huge relief as compared to some of the alternatives. The cleaning lady, Rose, happened to be quite pleasant. We chatted for quite a while (when she wasn’t changing her clothes in the kitchen closet) and spent some time watching Couples Fear Factor, which, coincidentally, featured a girl that Monkey and I went to High School with.

In the late afternoon, I took off and met Monkey near his office. We had made plans to meet up with Spacecake for a few drinks later in the evening. This was to be my first “blogger meeting,” which I now understand is a big deal. I was fairly sure she wasn’t any kind of serial killer, but hey, you never know. Monkey and I grabbed a quick food court dinner, and headed for New Asia Bar, where we had arranged to meet Spacecake. I had told her she’d be able to find us because we’d be “the two white guys” at the bar. But apparently this place was trendy and chichi enough that the description didn’t suffice, so Monkey described what the two of us would be wearing. There were a couple of confused phone calls, but eventually we found each other.

Spacecake was pretty much as I expected her to be. Very sweet and cute and a pleasure to spend time with. And she automatically gets bonus points for being a damned good photographer. Plus, she took Monkey in stride and somehow managed to not be offended by anything he said. Of course, she wasn’t one of the two Thai girls who he spent an hour harassing, only to have them inexplicably “disappear” when he went to the bathroom. (“I knew I shouldn’t have left. That shit happens all the time.” Swear – he said that.) I had way more beers than I had told myself I was going to. Remember, I had a 6:45 am flight the next morning. But around 10:30, I managed to convince Monkey that it was time to go. I still had to pack, and knew that staying out longer would mean more drinking, and it just would not be good. I was being a responsible adult. And I was very proud of myself.

The three of us headed back downstairs, and realized that there were very few cabs and a really long queue. Yeah, I said queue. Suck it. But they have this system in Singapore where, for an extra fee, you can call and reserve a cab, and the one they send you isn’t allowed to pick anyone else up. You can imagine how well that would work in NY – it would be like the Dr. Galakiewicz commercials: “Uh, yeah. I’m Monkey. I called for this cab.” But for the most part, it seemed to work over there. So while Spacecake and Monkey arranged for cabs, I went back upstairs to pee again. We parted ways with Spacecake (who, incredibly cutely, called a few minutes later to apologize for being on her cell phone when Monkey and I got into the cab and not engaging in what she considered to be a proper goodbye), and headed for home.

Except no we didn’t. I knew enough about Singapore from my time there to know that the destination Monkey gave the cab driver was not his place. He said that I couldn’t leave Singapore without experiencing the nightlife on Mohammed Sultan Road. He insisted that we make “1 more stop.” When in the jungle . . . . So, we hit the strip of bars which is, I gather, one of the happening areas. We hadn’t even entered a bar before Monkey was trying to get the phone number of one of the girls who was standing outside pitching a particular bar. In his version of playing hard to get, Monkey said we weren’t gonna go into her bar right away, but maybe later. So we headed across the street. To a bar called “CU.” Which, according to Monkey (and more reputable sources), used to be called “Coyote Ugly” until they got the cease and desist letter from fucking Disney or whoever owns the rights to that nightmare. The place was more like the NY original than the one at New York New York in Vegas is. Except for all the girls being Asian that is.

I had told Monkey going in that I was having one beer and going home. That’s not a threat to Monkey; we all know that he has no problem staying out by himself. So I ordered my beer. And sat down. And watched some of the girls dancing on the bar. And ordered another beer. And next thing I knew, I found myself being dragged up on top of the bar and dancing with one of the girls. And leaning backwards over the bar having tequila poured down my throat. Not necessarily in that order. Guess who that’s very not! Right, me!! At least I have something to fall back on if this whole . . . anything else doesn’t work out.

After my turn on the main stage (I perform under the name “Raven”), I decided I reall needed to go home and pack. So I left Monkey right there and hopped in a cab. I got home sometime between 12:30 and 1. Knew I had to call a cab for the trip to the airport in the morning. I set the pickup for 4:45. 4:45 in the morning. Which meant I had to be awake at 4, at the absolute latest. So I stole Monkey’s alarm clock, figuring there was a 50/50 shot he still wouldn’t be home by the time I had to leave. But he showed up around 3:15. Alone. It’s a good thing, too, because he was out of eggs.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Reason # 437 I'm a Moron

Kuala Lumpur
July 13, 2005

Wednesday morning. Slept relatively late, and decided to have breakfast in the hotel lobby. It was a legitimate, American-style free buffet. They had an omelette guy and everything. [I wrote down in my journal "think of all the pussy he must get," but can't remember precisely why I thought that. I'm gonna assume it's simply because of how glad people like me are to see familiar food. Because otherwise . . . nah, never. NTTAWWT.]

After breakfast (and after taking one last dump for all of Malaysia to see), I checked out and left my bags with the bellman. I was taking the overnight train back to Singapore, so I had an entire day to kill. Headed out to Batu Caves. Where there were a lot of steps, and a lot of monkeys. The cute kind, not the kind that make omelettes for hookers. The hotel told me it should cost about 40 Ringgit to get there, and not to pay more than that. But I managed to find an honest cab driver who used the meter, and it came to 16.80. Sweet.

There's not much to say about the caves. I dig caves generally. These ones were pretty impressive. The walk up the stairs was as close as I'll ever come to climbing a mountain. I gotta say though, for a holy site, the upkeep leaves a lot to be desired. There was a bunch of grafitti and garbage all over the place. And don't blame the monkeys. When the guy pictured above finished his drink, he walked right over to the closest trash can and deposited the empty. He then turned to me, said, "Beastly hot today, isn't it, old chap?" and, with a tip of his hat, headed off to the opera.

Here's advice should you ever find yourself at Batu Caves. You need to pay for the audio tour headset at the bottom of the stairs. Wish somebody had told me. Thankfully, the guy who actually distributes the headsets (at the top of the stairs), was, after I asked nicely, more than happy to accept cash instead of a ticket from me. And I'm pretty sure he charged me something resembling the actual fee.

When I had seen enough of the caves (and the monkeys), I decided to head back to KL proper. Descended, and went looking for a cab back to the city. None of the guys waiting would agree to use the meter, and they wanted 30 Ringgit, which I knew was bullshit, since it cost me 16.80 to get there, and I wanted to go to the Petronas Twin Towers, which (I think) were closer to the caves than the hotel. I said "go screw yourself" (under my breath) and tried to flag down a cab on the street. Unsuccessfully. In the 100 degree heat. I had finally resigned myself to going back to one of the loiterers and agreeing to the jacked up price, when an available cab happened by. He also said 30. I told him it cost me 16 to get there. We settled on 20. And we were off.

Now, as it turned out, the driver would have done better had he agreed to use the meter, because we sat in traffic, and he had to take a few detours. So I ended up giving him 30 anyway.

The main attraction of the towers is a trip up to the Skybridge, which is only like 2/3 of the way up the buildings or something, but still pretty damned high. Apparently, they only give out a limited number of tickets per day, and people start lining up around 7:30 or 8 am. Needless to say, they were out by the time I got there. So I bought a bunch of cheesy unnecessary souvenirs in the gift shop, walked around the attached mall, and had lunch at an A&W. There is, right outside the towers, a beautiful park/outdoor space. So I went out there, walked and sat for a while. I was approached by some Filipino dude, and was a bit suspicious when he started talking to me. As it turned out, like so many people in Asia, he was simply being friendly and wanted to chat. So we did for a while. And that was that. Part of the park area was this little fountain/pool thingy where a whole bunch of kids were swimming and splashing around. And I sat and watched that for a few minutes. Until it occurred to me that, in Malaysia, a single white guy with a big camera hanging out and watching a bunch of wet children in various states of undress playing is probably a prime candidate for having his head whacked off with a dull sword. Yeah, I said "whacked off." So what?

I decided I'd take a stroll to the other landmark building in KL, creatively named the KL Tower. So I started walking toward it. But, much like my family's attempt to get to Fenway Park when I was a kid, simply because you can see it doesn't mean you can get there. I looked at maps, but there were all kinds of buildings and plazas and hills between me and it. And it was 146 degrees. So I said fuck it. I went back to the hotel, grabbed my bags, and decided to head for the train station, in hopes I could catch an earlier train back to Singapore. Which would have been a great plan. If there were an earlier train back to Singapore. But alas, the overnight train was the next departure. Which meant I was approximately 7 hours early. It was only as I was boarding the train those 7 hours later that it first occurred to me that I could likely have taken a bus, and been back in Singapore 2 hours before my train left. This was confirmed by Monkey the next day. That might be 437 and 438.

Not thinking of the bus solution, and despite the fact that I was exhausted, I decided I'd wander around Chinatown for a few hours to kill time. I checked my bag at the train station, and prepared to head out. And then looked out the windows. To see it totally pouring. Now, I don't mind the rain. Sometimes I quite enjoy walking around in it. And, unless I'm wearing a suit or going someplace where it's imperative that I look presentable, I don't carry umbrellas. I hate them. But being soaking wet for the 9 hour overnight train ride from KL back to Singapore just didn't seem like a great idea. So I went and unchecked my bag. And sat in the train station for 7 hours. With the help of a borrowed wireless signal, I was able to do some internetting. Also bought a book. And read it. And sat some more. And more. Changed my remaining Rinngit into Renminbi in preparation for Shanghai. And sat. Some Muslim woman, wearing headgear of some sort (yes, I AM embarrassed by how little I learned about the religion and culture in the places I went) came and sat down next to me, and it looked like she wanted to start up a conversation, but was hesitant. I smiled, but didn't know if it was impolite or otherwise inappropriate to start a conversation myself. Eventually, she gathered up the courage and started chatting. She was really sweet. She looked at my book and asked what it was I was reading. I believe my answer was something like, "just some airport trash type paperback." I'm sure she knew exactly what I meant. She told me that she liked to read in English too. Mostly Reader's Digest. I shit you not, that's what she said. We talked for a few minutes, then her cell phone rang, and she was off. So that's pretty much the same everywhere in the world.

Remember the bathroom in the Singapore train station that was incredibly gross? They had one of those in the KL train station too. And I had to use it. Yeah, use it use it. My own fault for eating that A&W crap for lunch. Now, my greatest fear was that I'd have to use one of those squatters. I just couldn't see it ending well. But I discovered that each mens' room had a bunch of squatters supplemented by 1 or 2 regular person toilets. Filthy disgusting regular person toilets, but at least I was comfortable with the physics of them. So, while I knew I wasn't going to happen upon any sparkling porcelain, I nevertheless set out to do a thorough recon. I checked at least 2, and possibly 3, different mens' rooms, looking for the least revolting option. It was still pretty revolting. But, like a trooper, I did what I had to do. And by the time I had finished inspecting every bathroom in the station, I REALLY had to do it. I survived, but I wouldn't feel clean again until I was back on American soil.

While still waiting for the train, I managed to watch a little bit of Malay Wheel of Fortune. Holy shit was that hilarious. I, of course, didn't understand it, but the visuals of the puzzles popping up were great. For those of you not familiar with Malay, take a look at this translation of some biblical passage the significance of which is lost on me, and you'll get the idea. It's like the opposite of Eastern European language -- there must be a different rule on vowels in the Malay version of the show, because Carlos Beltran could go broke buying them over there.

When I finally boarded the train, I regretted my decision to get a "sleeper" rather than just a plain old seat. Not on financial grounds this time -- the sleeper actually cost significantly less than even a second class seat on the way to KL. It's a weird thing about the currencies. There are about 2 Ringgit to a Singapore Dollar, but the tickets cost the same in each currency, i.e., if it's $30 S from Singapore to KL, it's 30R for the return trip, which comes out to 1/2 the price of the outbound. But I digress. The sleeper bed was like a hospital bed. But on a train. I have a longstanding, deep-seated fear of hospitals. And pulling those curtains around you made it like a hospital bed . . . in a coffin. I had a mini panic attack immediately upon boarding, but eventually I relaxed enough to do some reading, some ipod listening, and even some actual sleeping.

There was some jackass on a cellphone right as we left who was screaming and saying over and over again, "Woah, stop the train, turn it around!" It was much much more irritating than that, but I don't remember the details.

I did, in fact, arrive back in Singapore, 1/2 an hour or so late, but safe, if tired. More to follow.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Back On Track

Because 2 of my favorite people, Big Al & Sloth, have recently complained about my slow progress in detailing my trip, and because I don't have any money to bet on today's college football games anyway (that's part of my new "government job" budget!), we continue with the trip to Kuala Lumpur.

Tuesday July 12, 2005

I was pretty excited to travel by train. There's a certain old movie, romantic-type appeal to it, and I've always wanted to do something stupid like travel across the US by train (remember, I'm the jackass that drove from NY to Vegas and back). Between the annual Amtrak derailings and my vast (largely torturous) experience on their Northeast Corridor, however, it didn't seem prudent at any convenient juncture. For this trip to KL, though, it seemed perfectly appropriate. In fact, I had rejected a closer & possibly more interesting Malaysian destination (the name of which escapes me some 2 months later -- NO - it was called Melaka!) because the only way to get there was by bus. I HATE buses, and when Monkey told me it was a 5 hour ride and he didn't think there were bathrooms on the bus, it was TOTALLY out of the question.

I got to the train station in Singapore very early. It's an old building, dating to 1923, and is beautiful in a humid, sweaty, grimy sort of way. 1923 is also the last time they had someone mop the men's room. I saw some vile bathrooms on this trip, but this one might win the prize. And don't get me started on the "squatter" toilet thing. (No, that link is not to a site I visit often, it just happens to have the best description of squat toilets I found on a quick search). Thank god all I had to do was pee. Though charging to get in to a bathroom in that condition is insulting, even at .20 Sing.

I finally was able to board the train. I had, on advice from friends of Monkey, booked a 1st class ticket, rather than 2d class. It meant spending twice as much money - $68 S rather than $34 S. What a ripoff that was! The seats might have been slightly larger, and I got a free apple juice, but other than that, there was no added comfort in the 1st class car.

[Here is where my journal has a two word bullet point that I couldn't now decipher if my life depended on it. This is why I should not have dragged out this process quite so long. Best I can tell, it says "Haber behig." So, if any of you know what that could mean -- or feel like making something up -- please leave a comment.]

Most of the rest of my 1st class car was occupied by a large group of Korean girls of approximately high school age (and their middle-aged chaperone). While that would sound promising in the porn version of my travelogue, all it really meant was that I had to lift about 37 suitcases onto the overhead rack, and get them down again upon arrival. They all said "Thank you," with a little smile and bow/nod, so it was stereotypically gratifying at least.

In terms of scenery, one of the reasons I've always wanted to travel by train, there wasn't much to see barring trees and the corrugated metal shacks indicating the abject poverty of the local residents. It seemed that both east and west qualified as the "wrong side of the tracks." I did manage to snap the picture above though, which you can imagine brought great comfort to someone traveling in a train that looked just like the one that had apparently been involved in a head-on collision. The least they could do is move it out of sight of the active tracks, no?

When we stopped at Malaysian immigration and customs, we got off the train, but nobody stamped my passport nor collected the "Arrival Card" I had filled out on the train. Cue imagination/daydreaming bubble with LiAps's vision of a Malaysian jail cell.

Also in my car were a mother and son (13ish, I think) from Houston (shout out Big Al!). I forget their exact story, but apparently some older woman who was traveling with them was a local who had come to visit them the year before and they were reciprocating.

OOH - there was an additional perk to traveling 1st class. The car had a tv. Which, for a good portion of the ride, was showing "New York Minute" starring the Olsen Twins. Now, I could tell you all that I watched it because I had, by this point, been traveling for over 2 weeks and was a bit homesick, and it made me smile to see such familiar sights as the Empire State building, and to watch the traffic zooming down 5th Avenue. And that would be partially true. Like 1.3% true. Maybe another .9% of the reason I watched the movie could be described as: Jesus, I'm on a train from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur - what the hell else am I gonna do? Which leaves (if my math is correct) 97.8% attributable to feeding my fantasies about the myriad ways I could violate Mary Kate and Ashley. Or Ashley and Mary Kate. Or just Ashley, as Mary Kate watched, while vigorously violating herself. Until I blew a whistle and they switched places. Or . . . well, you get the picture. And if you don't, you should totally rent that movie.

Upon arrival at the KL train station, I stubbornly insisted on taking public transportation to my hotel rather than hopping in a cab. Now, I basically had to figure out how to do this all on my own, because when I had called the hotel a few nights before and asked which subway/skytrain stop was closest to the hotel, they pretty much didn't want to tell me. They said, in effect, "why don't you just take a cab?" Well, I'm no one to give in to pressure from the man, so I looked at a map of KL, looked at the map of the public transit system, and figured out which stop was closest. And there I went. And walked across some bridge. And wandered around aimlessly for a good 10 minutes, backtracking and staring upwards, hoping to see a big building that said, in huge letters, "Sheraton Imperial, Kuala Lumpur." And sometime the next day, I actually noticed that building from afar. But for now, I asked 2 people who had no idea what I was talking about, and basically just wandered in what I thought was the right direction until I stumbled upon it.

The hotel was nice. Really nice. The bathroom was incredible, with floor to ceiling windows that I hope to God were tinted. They must have been, for if all of KL had watched me sitting on the toilet and showering, I surely would have been beheaded.

It was late afternoon, and raining, so I left my camera in the room and just started wandering in the general area of the hotel. Found a little street food area, and bravely ate several varieties of Indian-type stuff, which was totally delicious and ridiculously cheap. Ridiculously. More illegible notes, and then I went back to the hotel, after stopping into the mall and eating more food (there was a Roti stand that Orange Julius would have a fantastic trade dress infringement case against if so inclined).

Showered and chilled a bit at the hotel. It was, I admit, a bit disconcerting that I could hear, from the 20-somethingth floor and through closed hotel windows, muezzins doing the evening call to prayer all over the place. Malaysia is a very very Muslim country; there was a green arrow on the ceiling over the desk in my room pointing the way to Mecca. I had a little anxiety as a white American Jew wandering the city alone, but then remembered that they'd have to be crazy to mess with SpiderMan, so felt better.

I was tempted to stay in for the evening - it was raining, I was tired, I didn't really have much clue what to do. But I motivated myself to get out and wander; I was gonna spend 24 hours in this city, I couldn't waste too many of them watching CNN International. I hopped on the monorail (as opposed to the SkyTrain), which had a stop literally right outside the front door to my hotel, and made my way to Jalan Alor, one of the famous food stall areas of KL (I took some photos too, but don't like having more than one photo per post - that's not sufficiently teasing KtP). I walked the length of the street and back, and settled on a chinese place, about which -- you guessed it -- I can't read my fucking notes. I ordered a dish called "Claypot Chicken with Vinegar" and it smelled pretty good. I can't really tell you how it tasted, because the only utensils they saw fit to provide were a soup spoon and chopsticks. You try eating chicken on the bone without a fork or knife. The rice and beer were excellent. While I was sitting staring at my food, some crazy (I assume) deaf guy kept coming over to the tables in front of my stall and pointing to people's food, then pointing to the floor, followed up with the classic drawing-the-finger-across-the-throat sign. The message I took from this: "Your food has been on the floor and you will die upon ingesting it." I wish I knew sign language well enough to sign back: "Hah! Not if I cant get any of it my mouth in the first place smartass!"

Stopped at a 7-11 for water or iced tea and some late night snacks, and made my way back to the hotel, where I entertained the city with a shower, and just chilled out.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

An Aside

Taking a time out from recounting my trip. Been glued to the TV watching CNN coverage of Katrina aftermath. I am NOT one of those people who generally gets a kick out of disaster coverage, but this one is crazy.

New Orleans is a city I've been to a few times, as my sister went to school there, and I have a friend who grew up there and still lives (lived?) there - she and her family got out safely and are comfortable and dry in Florida, which is a great relief, especially considering she has a 2 year old and is currently 8+ months pregnant with twins. I watch and recognize streets and buildings on tv, and it's just nuts.

The photos and video, from NO and MS, are unreal. And the looting and assorted other stupidity - well, I wish I could honestly say I'm shocked by it. But I'm not.

Here's hoping the state, local and fed officials get their heads out of their asses relatively soon, and do everything possible to get things back on track ASAP. Though I'm sure you could all have figured this out on your own, you should, if so inclined, donate money to the Red Cross.

That's it for now.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Etc. Etc.

So, I've delayed posting about the rest of the trip. Partly due to a bank account- liver- and soul-crushing trip to Vegas, and partly because the Monkey exploits are over; the rest of the trip will likely prove boring by comparison. That's the end of the hooker stories. Or, at least of the stories where one of them actually ends up in my hotel room. Nevertheless, I made a promise to complete the saga of my trip. So, onward.

July 11, 2005

Having gotten back from Bangkok lateish, and still recovering from all that I had seen and heard while there, I slept in on Monday morning, while Monkey (eventually) went to work. I knew that the day of reckoning had come as far as going back to confront the ripoff artist who had conned me into buying the 2 suits. OK, so nobody conned me into anything, and it was my own sheer stupidity that got me screwed, but it kinda makes me feel better to turn it into a conspiracy. I was dreading going back, as I could still envision Master Dino and Bobby the motorbike-riding Korean tailor laughing at the Stupid American Infidel (me) over a pot of some sort of fancy tea. So, after watching the A-Team (maybe I COULD live abroad), I headed back for Chinatown. Furthering the procrastination, I grabbed lunch at what looked to be a decent "locals" Chinese place. It was pretty good, but already having a bad taste in my mouth from the ass-fucking I knew I was in for from the suit guy (metaphorical only, I hoped), the black pepper chicken probably wasn't the best choice.

Paid the check, and headed back to the shop. Once they realized I wasn't a moron coming in off the street to whom they could sell a bunch of burlap sacks for $2000, but rather a moron who had already paid $2000 for said sacks, I got the royal treatment. My finery was presented to me as though on a silver platter. Master Dino had me try on both suits and one shirt. And then he had me pose for pictures to be placed on his wall of fame. I explained that I was nobody of note, and saying "LiAps bought suits here" wouldn't get him much in the way of admiration. He mumbled something about my "body type" being spectacular. I fully expect to see my face on some Egyptian porn sites any day now.

I'm no expert on fabric, but I got a little nervous feeling the suits and the shirts. Everything actually fit pretty well, but I was still convinced it was made like shit and would fall apart after one dry cleaning - there were lots of loose threads hanging off the shirts (which Master Dino said would "come out in the wash"), etc. Now, part of the deal was that I would be able to choose 3 ties from Dino's extensive selection of cellophane wrapped neckwear. You know the kind of rack that's featured at every shitty corner souvenir store in NY - "Silk Ties $3; 4 for $10!" I made a showing of trying to match up ties with the shirts I had made. And Dino made a show of trying to help, expert that he was. And then, in flipping through the ties on the rack, I came across the item that truly summed up this whole suit-making fiasco. The tie featuring the Computer City logo print. Any shred of respectability and legitimacy that Master Dino had left to cling to in my eyes was gone. To the point where I actually said to him, "You know, if you want to be taken seriously, you should probably take this one off your rack." He smiled and nodded and pretended not to understand, or just ignored the comment very well. In the end, he threw in an extra tie, so really it all worked out.

Suits in hand, I grabbed a cab back to Monkey's place. I was still tired, and honestly felt like there wasn't that much left to see in Singapore. So I chilled out in the AC, and caught up on email and blogging (caught up being a relative term, I guess, since I'm first writing about that day a month and a half later). Met Monkey for dinner. We went to one of Singapore's (in)famous [that's like MORE than famous] outdoor food courts. Other than the fact that I spent a good portion of the meal dodging roaches, it was all good. When we got back to Monkey's he and I embarked on our planned "MP3 exchange," whereby we would each add songs from the other's music library to our respective computers. We stayed up until 3 am doing this (despite the fact that I was to leave for Kuala Lumpur on the 8:30 am train), and in the end, he took a ton of songs from me, I took none from him, and he managed to fuck up my computer in ways that I'm still trying to fix - every time he copied a song, it resulted in 2 and sometimes 3 extra copies of the song somehow ending up in my itunes library. Have I mentioned that Monkey works in IT??

Kuala Lumpur details to follow (the picture above being a mere teaser).