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. ^_^

One day and five hours until take-off

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” 

    – Helen Keller

It’s almost time.

Over the past month, I’ve felt like three different people in one. The Adventurer. The Neurotic. The Manic. After considering, reconsidering, and overall just freaking out about the future, I’m finally ready to go.

Today was my last day as a Collections Page at the lovely Central location of London Public Library. To ease my overactive mind, one of my coworkers gave me that Helen Keller quote. Holding her cursive in my nervous hands, I felt a wave (or, to be accurate to Southeast Asia, a wave of a tsunami) of calm cover and comfort me.

Everyone is as excited and invested in this crazy adventure as I am.

And this is just the beginning. I keep following Al Jazeera and Bersih 3.0, dreaming of dim sum in Hong Kong, and picturing Batu Caves photoshoots.

Hong Kong, see you on Monday night. KL (as you’re so affectionately called), see you Thursday. Exeter, you’ve been good to me, but it’s time to let this tree farmer go.

Next update: from the HK Check Inn hostel!