Monday, April 27, 2009

Malaysia Day 4

One mango, one Asian pear, one longan fruit, and one half dragon fruit. Chop and mix well with ¾ c. raw oatmeal, ½ c. roasted peanuts, and ½ c. soymilk. And I have the best 4c. breakfast possible to stuff into a body. I feel like I’m at a tropical spa on a fabulous detox diet.

What I think is longan isn’t. When I look it up, longan fruit is something else. What I eat is shaped like a pear and has a similar texture, but the skin is deep red. At the end opposite the stem, the fruit looks solid and round, but when I cut it open, there’s a hollow carved into the end.

Dragon fruit has a hot pink peel with green-tipped scales: I have had the Red Pitaya version in Singapore. Its white flesh, speckled with black seeds, is cooling, refreshing. The dragon fruit here is Costa Rica Pitaya, which has the deepest possible fuscia-colored flesh, staining everything deep cotton candy pink. So I have Barbie-pink cereal and gums before I start the day. I scrub to make sure my teeth aren’t stained as well.

Dee the receptionist is due at 9, and will take me “anywhere you want to go.” Which may be to the mall, sadly. I’m intending to people watch and see what KL values (values often being found at local malls). On the other hand, I have a walking tour from the Malaysia Air magazine that looks interesting. I probably won’t need lunch, since I could hardly finish my breakfast. Dee has been assigned to make sure I have supper. For the first time since my arrival, my hall light goes out, and I hope it’s because she has arrived: the whole floor has interconnected light switches.

I find my first two bugs, a small pale spider and a tiny ant. I wash one down the drain and squish the other with my toe in a very un-Hindu manner. I’ve lost my hairbrush, so finger-comb and settle down to finish a PPT for tomorrow’s session until about 1pm. Just as I’m about to open the door, Dee knocks, wondering if I’m ready to head out. We transfer the PPT to her computer, edit it, and head downtown.

Enormous metal hibiscus flowers hang on lampposts lining the city center. (In the evening, they are lit and look spectacular.) Highrises with 20-50 storeys clutter the skyline: they absorb the populations migrating from villages throughout Malaysia. All the world’s architects must have had a party here – there are so many interesting buildings it’s hard to choose a focal point. It may be the KL Tower, which lights up to look like a pineapple high in the sky at night. It is the world’s fifth tallest structure at 421 meters. A telecommunications tower, it was completed in 1995 and houses a revolving restaurant at the top. Visitors can climb Bukit Nanas to access the building and head by lift to the observatory deck on top. Here, there are built-in telescopes that they can use to zoom in on parts of the surrounding city. (the latter stolen from because I’m too tired to rewrite the info.)

We pass the Indian community and banking district with the stunning Islamic high court. There is a quota for Malay, Chinese, and Indian workers at most places. Three banks are owned by Chinese. Dee points out a beautiful China bank, where the chairman is revered as the authoritarian and workers put in lots of overtime because they consider it their family bank. Customer service and conservative investments means this bank is doing well, and loyalty is high. I can’t remember if Dee was talking about him or another investment banker who was Chinese: “I saw him come from an elevator once where everyone was lined up and people bowing, even those in their 50s.”

The AMBank used to be called Arab-Malaysian Bank, and it is local, but funded by Arab oil money. The Hotel Istana is a stuning 5-star hotel=. There are roof gardens on many skyscrapers, their towering palms blowing in the tropical breezes. From 1997-2000, Dee worked downtown, so she points out many landmarks – statues, the Crown Plaza, banks, hotels and other places in the Golden Triangle.

It’s about 2.30 by the time we settle in at a restaurant in one of KL’s biggest malls under the shadow of the Petronas Twin Towers. They are 452 meters-high and were the world’s second highest structure when they were built in 1998. The park around them used to be a horse-racing track, but it was relocated to permit the erection of the KLCC conference center, mall and city park. Most of it is funded by oil money.

The Malaysian menu at has me drooling, and we settle on splitting two dishes. The first is Nasi Bojari: three-color rice, assam prawns (salty fish taste, with lots of onions), Beef Redang, and a deep-fried crispy chicken drumstick cut into three pieces. The second is a flat fried noodle with egg, chicken, cuttlefish, octopus, and a few vegetables. It’s like going to a great buffet – we polish it off with mango juice and a dessert (in lieu of Dee’s drink) of shaved ice, jelly pieces, peanuts, and various floating other things. Yummy.

We wander over to a bookstore where I find a Japanese home magazine and Chameleon, the jewelry store we usually visit in Johor (on our Singapore trips). I find a few things to take home for the girls. Then it’s off to a grocer, where I find four packages of W’s favorite green and jasmine tea mix.

We walk out onto the terraces overlooking the park and I order an iced chai at Dome Coffee. Dee enjoys an iced latte. We walk through the park, past huge ponds and cross the stream on a tall pedestrian bridge. There’s a jogging track beside the path for the newly health-conscious population. The weather is marvelous: it is overcast and cool (29o? – 88oF?) as we stroll by an enormous children’s playground and huge wading pools (the pools are closed for renovation). Everything is beautifully maintained, and apparently the park is a magnet for families on weekends.

“Chinese families like to stay in on the weekend, but Malays love to get out. They take their families on trips, picnics, or come out to the parks to socialize.” One of the reasons the Muslim population is growing is that anyone marrying a Malay must convert to Islam. Malays are by definition Muslim and conversion to other religions is forbidden and punishment is enforced. Their children must be Muslim. This creates problems for Roman Catholics, especially. Many Muslim “converts” are not strict in their practice, but clergy can punish any Muslims (including the laksidasical) who do not observe the Ramadan fasts or eat pork (which the Chinese love!) The Malays hate dogs, so if they complain about a yappy family pet they can create problems. Within this unequal system, the various ethnics groups get along fairly well.

Crime has risen with the influx of foreign workers: Indonesians, Filipinos, Burmese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Bangladeshis mix with the indigenous peoples. Most foreign servants are barely considered human – they are just conveniences, and many suffer abuse from their employees. Motorcycle drive-by crimes are fairly common: a woman driving and talking on her cell phone should not be surprised if a cyclist smashes her passenger window to snatch her purse. A church worker was accosted last week by two men outside her family gate, her purse was snatched, and she escaped by kicking one of the men before vaulting back over the locked gate. Increased police patrols are at work to track down the criminals.

But mostly, KL feels like a well-oiled urban center. Professionally dressed employees and tourists mix on the downtown street. We weave in and out of rush-hour traffic at 7pm on our way to a Satay restaurant. I fall on the uneven stairs going up to the restaurant level, about the same time I’m thinking about how we have to watch for non-standard steps. No damage done, but I realize how tired I am. It’s 5am back home. Dee talks about her visits to see her uncle in Vancouver and how difficult it is for Malaysians – even non-Muslims – to travel abroad. I invite her to stay with us on her next visit to Canada and the USA.

The village where the Satay sauce originated is famous: the restaurant is part of a large chain known for bringing this version of the sauce to KL. Dee and I have four skewers each, along with sliced cucumber and pressed rice. We dip chicken, rice, and veg. into crunchy peanut sauce flavored with hot chili sauce.

It is dark at 9.30pm when we make it back to the church offices. Dee unlocks and relocks the front door and sees me up to my floor. She shuts down her computer as I prepare for bed. It’s late (about 10pm) and tomorrow I preach for a women’s service before going for lunch with Pam’s mom. The women’s group collected a generous offering for me last week, so I could go shopping when I arrived.

Nothing has prepared me for the kindness, friendliness, and warmth of the Malaysian people. Or the beauty of their surroundings!

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