This experience is yours

First impressions of KL

A tall Chinese man covered in pin-up tattoos takes my unruly hair into his rough hands. I jolt a little in my seat, overcome by the sudden fear of stepping into an Asian salon and trusting this surprisingly gentle giant.

“Sorry, I’m just really nervous,” I say in a panic. “Because, you know… these curls have a mind of their own.”

He laughs, pushing back his bleached tresses. “It’s all right. I’m up for the challenge. It’s a new experience at least.”

There’s something symbolic to dying your hair, even if you purposely put yourself in a stressful situation just to feel a thrill. For the past three and a half months, I’ve been a resident of Kuala Lumpur. Now, it’s time to let the growing pains of summer limbo go and step into a new stage. This – this intangible feeling of change – is why I dye my hair.

Let’s back up to a couple of months ago. Seated on the veranda of a hostel in Cameron Highlands, Kyla and I enjoyed the company of a few bold backpackers – a pair from the U.K. and another from the U.S. Exchanging travel travesties and triumphs, we all decided to try the Cameron-renowned “Steamboat” special (basically Asian fondue, also a really great icebreaker because you’re all putting random food into a big pot).

“You have to ‘do’ Bali,” the California girl told us, putting a prawn into the stew. “It’s unreal.”

I nodded politely, engrossed in the conversation of getting lost and finding yourself – the same as any 20-something would. “Doing” places is common travel lingo and usually refers to passing through different places to get a sample taste of culture.

“And what did you think of KL?” I asked.

Cali girl’s eyes lit up. “I loved it. So clean, so nice! Hardly any traffic compared to Indonesia.”

Did we both see the same city? This intrigued me. As an expat, I’ve seen the cracks and pseudo-modernization chaos of KL. As a passer-by, she saw the “glistening” city for a few days and then carried on to the lush tropics of Taman Negara.

Neither of us is right. And neither of us is wrong. After all, my first impression of Singapore was that it’s a better, more efficient version of Kuala Lumpur.

“I loved it! So clean, so nice!” 

First impressions are always deceiving, usually fixated on the first attractive detail you can find and then over-exaggerated to the point of creating a caricature. There’s nothing wrong with backpacking or taking weekend trips, but there’s also something to be said for truly staying with a place and appreciating it for its quirky political grit and grime.

Last week, I booked a ticket to Bangkok to indulge in the backpacker’s dream. Optimistic, Kyla and I were planning on roughing it all the way to Phuket with our friend Natalie. Yes, I thought. Finally time to explore. 

Then, a couple days later, I got a fever. At a walk-in clinic near the Petronas Towers, I was diagnosed with “haze-induced cold and flu.” Basically, the city was making me sick. The “haze” is a common term in Southeast Asia for smog mixed with forest fires from Indonesia and northern Malaysia. After a summer of commuting from downtown KL and back, I was advised to take it easy.

Instead of backpacking, I’ve been welcomed by a family friend into their home. Now in the green neighbourhood of Ampang, I can finally breathe and my energy is coming back. Although I can’t “do” Bangkok, I can thoroughly enjoy the hospitality of Kuala Lumpur that made me first fall in love with Malaysia.

Maybe it’s not my time to be an adventurer. Maybe I won’t have crazy stories about backpacking all over Southeast Asia and running myself into debt. That’s okay. Because what I’ve gained from this trip is a sense of self throughout the ups and downs of financial and medical stresses. I don’t want to be someone who travels abroad just to collect countries as if they’re Pokemon cards. I want to be someone who appreciates the quality of travel over the quantity of passport stamps. At the end of the day, Malaysia is my second home and the friends I’ve made have shone through the cracks of crazy KL.

Oh, and my hair did turn out all right. I’m back to my natural colour of dark brown and feeling better.

Sometimes, you have to go outside your comfort zone to realize that, at the end of the day, you will survive. You will be fine, no matter where you go. Because this experience is yours and no one else – not even a travel aficionado in Lonely Planet – can define that for you.

KLoset: Hijab fashion with Hannan

It’s 7:29 p.m. at KLCC Park. The city is filled with hunger and anticipation as Malays sit patiently with their take-away containers, eyeing the towering Maxis clock.

7:30 p.m. 

Let the feast begin.

Ramadan in Malaysia is equivalent to the lingering, contagious feeling of Christmas in Canada. There’s a certain joy that overcomes Kuala Lumpur as dusk hits – night markets blossom, mosques erupt into song, and friends chat late into the night.

Starting on August 19th, the week-long celebration of Hari Raya marks the end of fasting. Before heading off to Singapore (for an encore. Love it or hate it, I think I cleansed my KL lungs) and Thailand, I’m hoping to get a taste of the festivities with some of the great Muslim friends we’ve made here.

One of these friends is also quite the fashionista.

Hannan gives the camera some tudung ‘tude

I first met Hannan when I was working the KL Alternative Book Fair back in June. A bubbly student in her final year of an Honors Bachelor of Law at Universiti Teknologi MARA in Shah Alam, Hannan was kind enough to talk tudung (Malay for hijab) fashion. Even though we couldn’t meet up in person, she snapped a couple webcam pics of her own style – a frenzy of patterns paired with classic black.

What is the significance of the hijab to you and when did you first start wearing it? 

I started wearing hijab when I was 13 years old. At the age of 13, I wore hijab because my mother told me to do so since she said it is compulsory for female Muslims. But when I grew older and gained more knowledge, I realized female Muslims have to wear hijab not just because it is compulsory, it is to protect our dignity and from the evil intention of men. Islam really protects the women, as we were told to cover our body except our hand and face. The cloth must be loose. Islam appreciates the female very much and we are special. Covering ourselves save us from many bad things. When I wear hijab, I feel safer and more confident and it does help me to improve my attitude.

Is there a uniquely Malaysian way of wearing the hijab? 

Malaysians have many fashions of wearing the hijab. Sometimes I feel like calling it an evolution because I enjoyed watching the fashions evolved and the markets changed according to it. But in a serious note, it is acceptable as long as it met the Islamic guideline I’ve mentioned in the first question.

Yuna is a very edgy Malay pop star. How do you think she (or other stars) rocks the hijab?

Yuna has her own fashion and as long as her style is according to the Islamic guideline, she can rock it! I also love to mention Wardina Safiyyah, Dian Pelangi and Hana Tajima as the stars that look beautiful in their own fashions and [are] icons to other female Muslims.

Malay pop star Yuna reinvents tudung fashion and makes huge impressions on American record execs

What are you looking forward to most this Ramadan? 

I love Ramadan because it is a month full of blessing. Any good deeds we’ve done will be rewarded more than in other months. I look forward to making more good deeds and I hope I can really fast. It means that to not only restrain myself from eating and drinking, but also from any evil thought, jealousy, hatred, bad mouthing people and other bad attitudes. Ramadan is also a month of love and this is the time where we will strengthen the bonding with family and friends. It means to help each other and love boundlessly. Besides, if we can really work hard to achieve the real target in Ramadan, which it to purify ourselves, the day of celebration after Ramadan (or ‘Hari Raya Aidilfitri’) will be very meaningful and fun!

Selamat Hari Raya!

The next couple weeks are going to be, as the eloquent Jay & ‘Ye might say… “cray.” With work winding down and travels on the horizon, I’m going to try and write up a few things before taking off to Bangkok on the 24th. It’s our last official week in KL until we head home… and is it ever bittersweet.

Last night, we ordered Canadian Pizza (which only exists in Southeast Asia. It’s pizza, but it sure as heck ain’t Canadian. Unless you count specialities like “Greek” or “Tandoori Chicken” ‘zas to be of a Canadian nature) to enjoy the irony, but we’ve still got much more to feast our eyes on here (*ahem* elephant adventures and Full Moon partying).

Until the next update… here’s a list of procrastinated ends and odds:

Coming up: The William Beckett interview (I swear to the Fueled by Ramen gods), an interview with Malaysia’s up-and-coming indie-pop sister act The Impatient Sisters (they just opened for the Jezabels in KL), and another interview with a young Canadian musician on the rise, Liam Callan.

The latest column for London Community News, inspired by an earlier blog post:

http://www.londoncommunitynews.com/2012/08/question-miss-are-you-sure-youre-canadian-column/

Of islands, cats, and second chances

“Hon, I swear I’ll change,” Kuala Lumpur begs, stomping out a cigarette in the midst of the Bukit Bintang bustle. “I’ll quit smoking, finally put a helmet on our kid when he hitches a ride to sekolah on my motorbike… Heck, I’ll even start to recycle. Just gimme a second chance, lah.”

Okay, so Kuala Lumpur isn’t your typical clueless man-boy in a rom com and I’m not Carrie Bradshaw. But, now at the end of July, I’m thinking of giving the city a second chance to woo this Canadian.

From the Sarawak Rainforest to the comforts of air con in KLCC, the past couple of weeks have shown us the two sides of “1Malaysia.” When Kyla and I first arrived in early May, we got a bad first impression. Chinatown isn’t necessarily known for its fresh air or friendly faces, and our hostel stay lead us to grow hostile to our second home.

First, let’s hop on an Air Asia flight to Kuching (Malay for “cat”), a quiet town home to the rambunctious Rainforest World Music Festival.

Kuching’s small town charm

Life is easier on the East side of Malaysia. There’s a reason we left the haze of KL for Sarawak, Borneo, praised for its jungle and timeless hospitality. Home to over 60 tribes, Borneo boasts a colourful history much different from the peninsular coast’s Western feel. We honestly felt as if we saw the real Malaysia.

While Canucks are Osheaga-ing, we became honorary members of Peter Pan’s Lost Boys and hit up the Rainforest World Music Festival.

The Orang-Ulu longhouse, only one of the many tribes of Borneo

Once a year, the Sarawak Cultural Village is transformed into a Heineken-sponsored musical playground. For the weekend of July 13th, we sampled sounds from Norwegian concert band power-pop to Palestinian classic guitar to mighty Malaysian rhythm. Before the big-name entertainment, the days were filled with native dance workshops and interactive art exhibitions. We learned the intricate steps of the Iban tribe (including a wedding dance. I think I accidentally got married… again), I got to test out my skills as a metal wire sculptor (verdict: despite the metal elbow connection, I should just stick to writing), and we shared our love for Malaysia in a traditional longhouse.

Kyla gets a lesson in bracelet making

A local artist’s future self-portrait

9 Ringgit Heinekens in hand (that’s about 3 bucks Canadian), we descended to the slip-n-slide land of mud pits and massive stages. When you dance with as much senseless white girl vigour as I do, you don’t necessarily want your $1000 camera grinding with the crowd (so James Dean, my Canon Rebel extraordinaire, didn’t take any live shots).

Sarawak’s own export sensation, Zee Avi, extended her usual ukulele routine to a full-out band. Originally discovered on YouTube, Avi has made Borneo proud with two successful albums and plenty of American press coverage. Showing her love for hometown Miri, the pint-sized star incorporated chilling warrior cries into her radio-friendly pop. The crowd couldn’t resist joining in on an alternative rendition of latest hit, “Concrete Wall.” Avi formed a percussion brigade on stage with members of the Cultural Village, hammering out the heart-wrenching line: “You say that I need therapy. Well, my darling… so do you.”

It was a homecoming show suited for the appetite of all of Borneo. The sky opened up and sing-a-longs rang from the infamous mud pit. Avi is a class act, combining traditional Malaysian instruments with her pop appeal. Here’s a shot of the sapeh, a string instrument from the lute family:

Jammin’

Another favourite Malaysian act was Rhythm of Borneo. Fusing elements of jazz, funk, rock, and pop, this young group is bright-eyed and boisterous. Winners of the Rainforest Talent Search last year, they definitely have a strong, somewhat One Direction-esque fangirl following (count me in).

While Francine flew back to KL, Kyla and I had our hearts set on Bako, a short 20 minute drive from Kuching. It was hard, like most experiences in Southeast Asia, to not feel like a voyeur. When we arrived at the dock of this little fishing village, we were surprised to find every hostel booked. Instead of lounging on the beach or hanging with orangutans in one of the National Parks, we decided to save our cash and take a little tour around the town.

It wasn’t some cheap tourist thrill that changed our day. It was a little girl, with as much curiosity as a kuching, that gave us the best souvenir: a Malay conversation. So we only said “Nama saya” (My name is) and asked her if she liked cats… but for some strange reason, I’ll always remember that part of our trip.

She likes cats, too

Island living has seemed to have rubbed off on us.

With this new laidback mindset, we came back to the grind and grunge of the city. Each day, I’m reminded that there are still new experiences to be had. With only 17 work days left of our internship, we’re discovering the trap doors of KL. This past weekend, Francine and I oogled over the green areas that apparently only gas money can buy.

A park? In our city?

Allow me to adopt the Amelia Thermopolis persona once again (last time used: the Queen’s Bday Bash).

Shut. Up. 

Art + park? Okay, we’ll take it

Thanks, Petronas.

We’ve been likening this secret hangout spot of ours to Central Park, only in Malay it would be called “Sentral Park” (no C in their lingo). It’s tucked right under the Twin Towers and serves as the backyard to high-end shopping centre, KLCC. Over the next few weeks, we’re planning on doing some writing and sketching here. You know, truly embracing the artsy side we sometimes hide during the hectic school year.

All of a sudden, we’re awakened to urban possibility. The arts & culture promotional initiative in KL, http://alive-my.com/, sparked my interest in a few spunky local businesses and collectives. Despite the racial tensions, the skewed politics, and the hazy days, this city is finally unafraid and releasing its pent-up creativity.

You can actually breathe here!

KL, you’re not such a bad guy after all. Even though I’m leaving you in about a month…

Here’s to second chances.

Coming up: I swear to ramen, the William Beckett interview (travel has gotten in the way), a chat with The Annexe Gallery’s Pang Khee Teik, and tidung (hijab) fashion with my lovely friend Hannan

“Send my regards to Justin Bieber!”

Deloreans are great and everything, but time travel isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Malaysia is 12 hours ahead of my motherland, Canada. Whenever it’s noon at the office here and I decide to take a break and update this little blog, it’s naturally “everyone’s sleeping in North America and won’t notice the meticulous maintenance” time.

Right now at 8:06 p.m. in Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, listening to a bizarre jazz rendition of Coldplay’s “Clocks” while Muslim business buffs chitchat over Chai tea and iPads, it’s time to catch up.

Makan! Time to eat at a Chinese stall in Petaling Jaya

In Malaysia, every “time” revolves around food. There’s breakfast, then there’s tea, then there’s lunch, then there’s tea 2.0, then there’s supper. And, well, always and any way there is dessert. Everyone from work has been more than accommodating, letting us into their cherished “makan” community. “Makan” basically translates into “eating,” “time to eat,” or, as the Canadian interns know: “time to eat things with heads and laugh it off.”

One of my favourite nights here so far has been at a Chinese stall in Petaling Jaya, a quiet suburb of KL with a comforting family feel. Francine and I tagged along with our co-worker, Siew Eng, and temporarily joined her “Glutton Gang” – a.k.a. 15 or so feisty Malaysian foodies. We indulged in homegrown mint tea, flathead fish soup, and more than enough garden-grown veggies to make me turn vegan. Dishes were washed at the table, ingredients were given to the chefs themselves, and we felt like we were invited to Southeast Asian Thanksgiving.

Siew Eng, staying true to Malaysian hospitality, took us out for appetizers. At Restoran Say Huat (yeah, I may have giggled at that), we gave popiah a try. Although it has a thin crepe-like wrap, this Asian delicacy houses a whole city of ingredients: bean sauce, finely grated turnip, bean sprouts, French beans, lettuce leaves, grated carrots, thinly sliced tofu, chopped peanuts, fried shallots, and shredded omellte. Oh, and chili sauce… somewhere in there.

Popiah’s innards, as taken from the mobile phone perspective

Lesson learned: Malaysians throw whatever they have left in their cupboards and call it a meal. And, even if it’s a fluke, you’ll never know because it’s fantastic.

Onto the next adventure: Canada Day in the jungle.

Cameron Highlands, about 4 hours northeast of Kuala Lumpur, is a perfect retreat for the smog-afflicted city slicker. After overcoming a horrible cold spawned by what Malaysians called “the haze” (basically pollution mixed with forest fires from Indonesia), Kyla and I decided we needed space. Known for its lush tea plantations and strawberry farms, the Highlands (or d’Highlands as our California friends joke) seemed like our escape route of choice.

Getting lost in a rainstorm before grabbing some local tea

Going to Cameron, we expected to take it easy. I had picked up one of those mind-bending J.G. Ballard books and fully intended to explore another world that didn’t involve secondhand smoke and motorbike exhaust. Instead, what we found was something even more mystical – something even more soothing than jumping into the pool after climbing up 100 steps to our apartment.

Totally felt like Mowgli

I think that what was so freeing about that weekend was the fact that time didn’t cross our wandering minds. Kyla and I toured the small town and stumbled across sights that most tourists wouldn’t see.

Things you won’t see on a guided tour of Cameron Highlands (and so the point form list for scatterbrains returns):

- A children’s adventure camp. Feeling like Madonna or Angelina, we stumbled across starry-eyed kids who shrieked with intrigue once we told them we “kind of, sort of… live near your favourite Canadian pop star.” After we left, one girl even yelled, “Send my regards to Justin Bieber!”

Wes Anderson, look out

- Tea time with a local imam. On the way back from our first hike of the weekend, we ran into a local mosque and ended up feeling the most welcome. The kind imam even gave us a Qu’ran, which is ironically nestled in between two Tiger beer bottles in our apartment. Hey, it’s a “bookshelf.”

- Falling down the Malaysian rabbit hole. After almost climbing up to 6500 ft, the 3.5 km uphill jungle trek was completely unguided, rough, and breath-taking. I fell into a mysterious pit of mud and many Hunger Games-esque photoshoots were had. Thankfully, there are always vines to help you up when you fall down.

- The lives of the dear souls who pick up hitchhikers. One Muslim woman was singing along with us to LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It.” Another Malaysian couple picked us up after we had ran in the rain with wild goats and didn’t mind that we were full of jungle filth. Although, I still think this guy is my favourite:

Hitchhiker’s Guide to Malaysia

Mom and Dad, I’m so sorry. If it makes you feel any better, we were with a pretty responsible white man (see: second from left).

Okay, on a tour you’ll probably experience “Steamboat,” a Cameron Highlands favourite. It’s basically Asian fondue, with everything from prawns to bean sprouts thrown in the mix. Nothing says “find your soulmate” like yelling across the table, “My little prawn dude only has one eye. Who’s got the other one?!”

Southeast Asian fondue will do

Time is warped in Southeast Asia. It’s been two months yesterday that we landed in KL and our internship officially ends on August 17th. That leaves us about two weeks of satisfying our inner Lonely Planet and living out of a backpack before going home. While Francine goes off to her native Phillipines to visit family, Kyla and I have decided to backpack around Thailand and Indonesia. Our friends from California told us about temples, beaches, and one-of-a-kind tailors that can recreate your dream dress for a mere 50 bucks (hello Topshop knock-off. You’re mine, baby).

We’re learning to appreciate the next month and a bit. This includes making music at 12:30 a.m. I think I’ll end this post with a little insight into mine and Kyla’s brains. Yeah, we messed up, but it’s fun and captures sleepy summer days.

Onto the next adventure: being haggard hippies at Sarawak’s Rainforest Music Festival!

…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Here’s the link to my last column for London Community News, published in late June: http://www.londoncommunitynews.com/2012/06/democracy-isnt-possible-without-free-expression-column/

And there’s some exciting writing news to come… Once the details are worked out, I’ll be collaborating with the Go Overseas team on a Malaysian internship guide. You can find out all the great work they do at: http://www.gooverseas.com/

Upcoming posts in blogland: The William Beckett interview (finally), Sarawak’s Rainforest Music Festival, and KLoset pt. 2

Asia Pop!

It’s the classic love story. East meets West, and sparks fly until cross-cultural jealousies compete for centre stage. Ketna Patel’s explosive pop art exhibition, “Rojak Asia!” (English translation: “Asia Pop!”), explores the Asian appropriation of a very American visual phenomenon – pop art.

Patel is a global citizen in every sense of the word. This nomad artist not only fuses popular culture with high culture, but also blurs the traditional Asian identity with icons of the Information Age. Born in Uganda and educated at an architect school in the U.K., Patel now resides in Singapore. As a British-Indian constantly on the move, her style reflects the dizzying effect of globalization and the alarming rate at which we all must adapt.

“I am a Goddess”
Acrylic Panel
100 x 100cm

The solo exhibition, held at KL Lifestyle Art Space in trendy Bangsar, features a connecting series of eye-catching acrylic panels. “I am a Goddess” boasts a brash colour scheme with a smiling Indian woman proclaiming, “I am a Goddess, and you are a loser. Any questions??!!” In this piece, Patel melds beauty ideals with South Asian idols. Another panel, “Taste me to believe,” blends Buddha with hints of consumerist nirvana like Coca-Cola signs and laundry adverts. A personal favourite, “Also Can!”, pulls an Andy Warhol and makes a street man look like Monroe. Lips pursed in pink desire with Aviators and a bow on his wrinkled brow, a speech bubble exclaims, “WARNING: I steal music off the Internet!”

The artist even ventures into the furniture factory with “Asian Grandfathers Tube Chair.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek piece that showcases a familial shift in ritual. Buddha’s inverted outline is plastered on the cushion, while sign-like font on the seat declares, “STOP: Asians ahead.” From revering gods to worshipping pop idols on the tube, Patel hints at a nostalgic longing for tradition and an irresistible attraction for the future. KL Lifestyle Art Space’s glass house environment served as the ideal exhibition locale. Harbouring some of Malaysia’s most notable artists, the gallery displays an interesting disparity between old and new styles.

Taste me to believe
Acrylic Panel
75 x 100 cm

Asian Grandfathers Tube chair

As a hybrid tourist-local myself, I’ve been drawn to Asian art and popular culture for its emphasis on identity confusion. Walking in the Bangsar area, I’m confronted by cultural collision. A mosque stands in the distance, masked by a Chili’s sign. At the end of the exhibition, I’m awakened by the thought that I’m as much an intruder on traditional Asian culture as these corporations. In particular, “Cowboys and Indians” is one panel that echoes my unease. In between primitive Hindu warriors and well-equipped army men is the English title: “NO ENTRY FOR TOURISTS.” With a contrasting Mandarin subtitle, the piece hints at an overarching theme of displacement. Even though there are Western corporate landmarks around me, I feel like the new kid in school. There are Asian elements that I’m familiar with from multicultural Canada, but, like most residents of KL, I’m unsure of my current identity.

Cowboys and Indians
Acrylic Panel
100 x 100 cm

Patel reinvents the pop art genre, triggering both spiritual nostalgia and the present comfort of consumption. Can Asians be in two worlds at once? “Asia Pop!”, with its critique and indulgence, provides a temporary visual answer. We live in a world of mythmaking – and religion, art, and advertising are all equally addictive ingredients.

KLoset: Meet Angus

Starting this blog, one goal I had was to cover the arts & life community of vibrant, multicultural KL. When my time isn’t spent in an office, I like to venture into the Bukit Bintang neighbourhood and look for inspiration.

This city is constantly in flux and sometimes you wonder where exactly you are. When we leave our apartment, we’re confronted with the chaos of Jalan Alor, a street vendor-to-vendor row bursting with flavour and smoke. When we go to the shopping districts, we’re faced with a comfortable and eclectic NYC feel, with alfresco cafes jutting out from sparkling designer stores.

Also, the number of times I’ve heard “Call Me Maybe” in this country… even in a suburban market. Makes this Canadian proud.

It’s been over a month now since we’ve landed, and while we’re still a little left-of-centre, we’re finally finding our little retreats.

As much as I hate malls, I really dig Pavilion. It’s the high-end mall where socialites live above BMW car dealerships, but it’s also a great people watching place.

I’d like you to meet Angus. 

First Malaysian fashion muse

He’s the first style-savvy Malaysian I’m featuring for “KLoset,” which will hopefully become a weekly thing where I creep people and make it seem a-ok and professional. ^_^

Kind and soft-spoken, Angus’ style speaks for itself. It’s beyond traditional boundaries, with the stark contrast of soft patterns and harsh statements.

One thing that I was initially attracted to was the necklace underneath his collar. In Malaysia, I’ve noticed that stylish chaps have started experimenting with pieces that have only really been a woman’s trend in North America. Angus makes this transition versatile, blending boathouse prep with punk.

KL, you’re quickly becoming my muse.

Comin’ up next post: More on an indulgent artsy weekend, brought to you by the art/music/film freak tendencies of Francine and I.

LCN column, ahoy!

Oh, the memories.

Last summer, I worked as an Administration Clerk at London Community News (the best alternative to the London Free Press).

This summer, I’m excited to announce that my first column for LCN is now up! It’s a mix of some blog ideas and some more serious work-related topics.

Check it out!

http://www.londoncommunitynews.com/2012/05/malaysia-media-monitoring-column/

Also… that is my favourite cover from last year. For obvious, farm-girl-animal-loving reasons.

No photos… please.

Blogs are so unrealistic.

Throughout this trip (right now we’re on day 22), Kyla and I have kept saying: “I wish we could share this with [this person] and [that person] and [those guys].” If we could pay to have every single one of you come out for a weekend for drinks and to try Durian (only after a few drinks would you even dare), we would. The sights, the smells, the eerie chills we get sometimes… it’s too much for two awkward white girls.

That being said, it’s been hard to sum up everything online. Sorry for the lack of updates, but I get my Internet either at work or in the courtyard of my apartment (which is often filled with tons of Malay singing and squash playing).

Where to start?

Stereotypical Batu Caves tourist shot

The culture shock has subsided, and I think we’re finally learning to love Malaysia.

Work has been phenomenal. I always say I went into this adventure without any expectations, but obviously there were expectations. And so far, office life in KL has exceeded them. Everyone’s down-to-earth and willing to lend us stuff for our apartment (including legit chopsticks), we play footsal every week with a couple other NGOs, and we’re planning on doing a karaoke night – private box and all.

But… trying to be an authentic local is tough. Especially when you walk to and from work every day to the Monorail station and get harassed by “teksi” drivers.

Typical scenario:

“Miss! Teksi?”

“No thanks, I live here.”

“Ahh you at least wanna go KFC?”

KFC is huge here, by the way. And they love putting egg on everything (egg, anchovies, and chicken are part of the popular Malay dish, Nasi Lemak). Solving the evolutionary debate, you can have your chicken and eat your egg too.

And, being a white girl from North America, they assume you are the queen of KFC.

In Canada at this time, they’ll be drinking coffee.
… that’s not coffee.

Point form lists help me collect my scattered thoughts, and they’re easy to read. Let’s do this.

What’s we’ve learned from our trip so far (pt. 2):

- Trust people’s cores. Not all strangers are bad. And the bad ones? Well, they’re pretty easy to figure out. Cab driver who gives you a ride for free and wants to buy “two pretty girls breakfast, lunch, and dinner”… questionable. A suave couple you meet at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra? Yeah, they’ll buy you crab and rounds of Tiger after the show and won’t kidnap you. Still, it’s good to keep up our fall-back story. I’m Anna, she’s Rachel, and we’re student volunteers from Vancouver.

- Free orchestra tickets are actually really cool because you sit with older people and appear cultured/esteemed/fancy/like a diplomat’s daughter. No matter how you dress us up, we’ll always feel like Mary-Kate and Ashley.

- Batu Caves is breath-taking. Doing a cave tour, sometimes in complete darkness, and crossing paths with the famous Malaysian centipede makes you stronger.

- Malaysian men will never give up. “God bless you, I love you, I wanna…” well, yeah. Accompanied by smooching/grunting/horse noises, it’s a real treat.

- Dancing and drinking in flash flood weather is pure joy. This happened to us in Melaka (or Malacca in English), where everyone came together to sing “Hey Jude.” The term “everyone” extends from a middle-aged Dutch woman to a flamboyant male Asian dancer.

- Bring toilet paper with you to the bar.

Melaka bike cart.
Of course we rode it.

Last weekend, Kyla and I took a trip to Melaka, also known as a World Heritage site by UNESCO. The Portuguese and the Dutch fought over this trading port, but we all know how that ended – with British rule like anywhere else in the world.

As we’ve found in Asia, the culture is a bizarre mix of Old and New; Tradition and Modernization. You have the gorgeous ruins of Porta de Santiago, then right next door it’s an Angry Birds balloon for sale! Of course. Those darn birds destroyed the fort way back when. (Sarcasm is also something that doesn’t translate well, we’ve learned.)

One of our favourite sights was Pulau Besar, a secluded island known for its supernatural folklore. Our co-workers told us that the locals are generally terrified to step foot on it.

Guess we aren’t your average locals.

On an island in the sun

Porta de Santiago

Khao dome, which is a delicious coconut rice dish wrapped in banana leaf

Oh, and I may have gotten married on that island. I’m not sure, but a 20-something Indian man and his family were giggling, politely asking to take pictures of him with me. What these pictures are to be used for, that’s another story that I never want to find out.

When Kyla and I went into a local t-shirt shop by Melaka artist Charles Cham, there was one design that stood out.

“No photos please.”

Needless to say, snagged it and wear that baby proudly.

So our adventures keep getting more bizarre, but we’re comfortably uncomfortable. On the horizon this week: buying a ukulele from Batu Caves, discovering some local shows or art, and more footsal in 34 skin-shedding degrees.

Also, my first column for London Community News should be out soon (probably this week)! I’ll make a post about that when it goes live.

Later days!

“I think that McDonalds is the equivalent of world peace.”

Nobody said that househunting halfway across the world would be glamorous. Thanks, Househunters International for getting my mediated hopes up. Gosh darn reality TV, eh?

Yesterday, in the area of Bukit Bintang (likened to Manhattan), we found our apartment for the next four months. It was an odd combo of relief and stress. Relief: three bedrooms, two baths, two balconies, and sanity. Stress: my bank card doesn’t work at any of the million banks in KL and we’ve had to negotiate with the landlord.

Tomorrow is move-in day.

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To quote the eloquently nasal Blink-182, “I guess this is growing up.” Our experience is part exploring, part working. And it’s tough to remain street smart and in tune with the KL lingo.

At our hostel in Chinatown, we’ve had to get a little creative. Have to pay for a blanket? That’s silly. Let’s just climb in and get cozy with the long skirts we’ve bought. There you go, a pseudo-sleeping bag.

Okay, now I officially feel like a street rat ala Aladdin.

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Kyla in the midst of market madness 

Today we embraced our inner tourists and discovered Petaling Street, aka the bustling street markets filled with the most struggling and chat-savvy street vendors in the city. After harassing us about ten times last night, I think that the DVD vendors got the idea we weren’t interested. We finally came up with the best excuse to get them off our backs.

DVD dude: “You girls like DVDs?” (x5)

Kyla: “I don’t own a TV.”

DVD dude: “… Excellent point.”

And a few minutes later?

Happily aggressive man: “Pretty girls! You want to lap dance with me?”

Let’s just say that the male gaze is alive and well and unapologetic in KL.

Last night, we were electrocuted with culture shock. Our adventure has been breath-taking and extraordinary, but it has also been unsettling. We felt like kids that weren’t invited to a birthday party, or the awkward one to get picked on in a raging game of four square (the playground game, not the virtual game).

In a three storey McDonalds near our hostel, in between bites of a cheeseburger (which, by the way, tastes more real than back home), I had a trip-changing revelation. There, we could see the class divides by race. But, politics aside, they were all enjoying their foldover chicken wraps (a new menu item that’s popular and kind of like a pita in Southeast Asia).

“I think that McDonalds is the equivalent of world peace.”

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Call me your typical Western 20-something trying to find her soul in Asia, but I’ve been reading a Zen Buddhism book called “Wherever You Go, There You Are.” This afternoon, we took a little time off to read the news and talk some spirituality.

“If what happens now does influence what happens next, then doesn’t it make sense to look around a bit from time to time so that you are more in touch with what is happening now, so that you can take your inner and outer bearings and perceive with clarity the path that you are actually on and the direction in which you are going?

… If not, the sheer momentum of your unconsciousness in this moment just colours the next moment. The days, months, and years quickly go by unnoticed, unused, unappreciated.”

On that note, we’re going to grab a few drinks and enjoy ourselves. We’re here for a reason, even if banks are stupid and street men gawk at my legs and no one speaks as much English as we expected.

Cheers to that.

[Also, sorry for the lack of photos. The Internet at this hostel is slow, and they'll be posted on Facebook sometime.]

We made it!

After a few days in Southeast Asia, it’s safe to say that Kyla and I feel like we’ve already lived a whole week.

We left the Check Inn HK hostel today at 5:30 a.m. to grab a bus to Hong Kong International Airport and are now safely at Le Meridien Hotel in Kuala Lumpur. From the get-go, HK overwhelmed us. There really are no words. No matter what I write or the pictures I post, this whirlwind of a layover vacation will never look the same as what we saw and felt.

One of the most inspiring sites was going to see Big Buddha on Lantau Island. Suspended over the mountains, looking through a glass floor to trails and shrines below, my fear of heights was replaced with awe. This is our life for the next four months.

Here are a few things we’ve learned on our trip so far:

- If you think it’s raining in HK, you’re most likely getting spat on by a million air conditioners towering 100 floors above your head.

- Forget make-up because: a) your skin is already melting off and b) you will look like Benji from Good Charlotte circa 2002.

- Chicken and octopus do not go together, and you should not think you are a brave soul to try them in a bowl together with steamed rice. You will spit it out after five bites, regret it instantly, and wander to McDonalds to collect yourself.

- Tai chi at 8 in the morning in Kowloon is completely worth it. Even after a night out where you drink Stella on stone steps outside of a bistro with British dogs in SoHo.

- Pineapple buns are disgustingly good. You don’t know how they got the pineapple in there, but what you do know is that the diner is the equivalent of Christina’s Pub in good ole London, Ontario.

- HK is the most efficient, clean, and safe city. Everyone’s in their zone, afraid to litter for a fine of $1,500 HKD on public transit, and everything is stacked nice and high and orderly.

- The world is so small, man! We met a guy in our hostel room who had graduated from Enviro Sci at Western and now lives in Beijing teaching English.

- Sometimes, Cathay Pacific airline attendants will not explain why they are spraying you. When they do run by to spray you, they will calmly suggest that you should cover your nose and mouth. This is probably more dramatic than it actually is. But, I’ve been sleep deprived, heat exhausted, and just generally sick with chaotic motion.

      Kowloon market area 

       Tai O Fishing Village on Lantau Island 

      Hiking along The Peak 

Tomorrow it’s time to find an apartment! Mr. Goh will be meeting us in Bukit Bintang… a nice entertainment area apparently. There’s no telling until 11 a.m. tomorrow. That is, if we don’t drown in a monsoon. -_-

And to end this blog post…

Remember to wrap your spittle, kids. Whatever a spittle is. ^_^