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.