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.