Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Malaysia Day 6

Last night I stayed up until 1am, reading, reflecting, and preparing. I’m awake by 5.30am. At 9.30, I eat a small papaya and am tired from working, so I have a snooze and shower. Pam and the pastor who runs the "homeschool" (Christian school for about 70 students, using British and Canadian homeschool materials) come by at 11am for a few hours of discussion about how our university might establish a branch campus here.

Then it’s time for lunch. We go to Little Cravings restaurant in the mall, where we have Dry Curry Mee, which is supposed to be noodles without soup. It has so much yellow curry sauce, spaghetti type noodles, chicken, and fried tofu that it might as well be soup. Lip-smacking good. Instead of a drink, Malaysians often order shaved ice with bits of sweets and nuts or vegetables in coconut milk, with brown sugar poured on top. The ice quickly melts and the ‘drink’ is eaten spoonful by spoonful along with the meal. My treat is called ABC or Air Batu Champur - “mixed ice cubes” and has jelly, peanuts, red beans, coconut milk, and cow milk on ice, with brown sugar and rose syrup on top.

The three of us drive to the construction site of an enormous convention center, the new church complex. A guard lets us on the grounds. The building will seat 5000, with a school for 1000, 20 hotel suites, a multi-purpose room large enough for two basketball courts, and a huge drop-off plaza where guests can enter or eat at restaurants and hospitality. It is girders, concrete posts, and brick walls, but the architects expect it to be completed in about a year. The resident architect, a church member, wanders over to chat and prays with us for the building and related concerns with us. He says it’s his dream job, but that he thinks about the project constantly.

The two women decide to take a different freeway back to Calvary, and happily have no problem finding home. Roads are in great shape – multi-lane side streets and modern freeways and bridges are everywhere. Cars stay in the general area of the lanes, but motorcycles dart between cars on every side. People drive from side-to-side as it seems best, changing lanes with or without signaling. Somehow, I haven't yet seen an accident though I've caught my breath a time or two as the driver talks on the cellphone and negotiates traffic.

Every horizon is broken by skyscrapers – whether office or residential. Most infrastructure has been built since independence from the British, 51 years ago. There are a lot of highway toll booths, and the toll card option makes it faster (top off at the bank, ease through toll gates without having to produce cash). I ask about salaries, since the food and retail is so reasonable. Salaries run around RM900-1000/month (about $250-300) for high school graduates in retail; it rises a few hundred ringgit (@RM3.6/$1) if someone has a college degree.

Back at the church building, Pam shows me around the very nice counseling center on the second floor (five meeting rooms and a central area). One room is set up with sand trays and small toys for children’s play therapy. She takes me up to the third floor where I 'live' and the staff is wrapping up the day. In about an hour (6pm), Tracy will drop me off for a massage before she heads for the gym – and then we’ll have a late supper.

The internet has been down most of the day because of the cloudy weather. Rain downpours wet the roads on the way to the construction site but let up long enough for us to stand and admire the project. It rained again part of the way home. Hopefully the weather lifts so I get an email signal in time to check email tonight. It does – I end up clearing office messages until it’s time to leave.

When Tracy drops me off, I have a 2 hour full body massage with scented oil for RM105 (less than $30). It is so painful that my legs are shaking and cold by the time the Chinese masseuse is finished with my back. She starts with my neck, works the kinks out of my shoulders and arms, hops on the table to knead my back, jumps off to torture my legs, flips me over, and – modestly – works her way from shoulders to toes. She finishes with a wonderful face and head rub. And then she brings two candles, offers me them for RM24 (about $7) – I have no idea what they’re for but figure, oh well, for that amount, let's give it a whirl. She lights one and sticks it in my ear, massaging the lymph nodes in my neck. It takes about 8 minutes per side to draw out all the wax and impurities. Gross but helpful. Suddenly my hearing is sharper!

When I go to pay, they don’t take credit cards. It's a new shop, their card account will be set up will be complete in May... in a few days. Tracy has to pay cash – and I’ll pay her back with the cash I have in the apartment.

Neither of us are hungry, but it’s 8.45pm and Tabitha (the youth pastor and tech guru) is sticking around to help me buy a phone. We meet her along the way, she hops out of her car and into ours with her one-year-old black toy poodle Shadow, and we’re off to the phone store. W has done the research and emailed Tab with his preference– so she has it all lined up at the best price. Shadow goes in with us, and the Chinese girl behind the counter asks if she can hold it. It is the first time she has held a dog, and she lets the back end droop, clutching its front paws and stomach until we show her how to hold it. Apparently my VISA card doesn’t have the chip needed to swipe through the machine, and the little phone store can’t enter the number manually, so I’ll have to hit an ATM and get cash tomorrow. Two for two – bad financing.

The three of us head for a famous chicken wing cart nearby, noted for its unique flavor. I try one (once again a stunning combo of salt and spice) but can’t eat any more. The dog licks my fingers. Shadow is without comparison – it will not tolerate a collar, but Tab bought the dog just before leaving for a 6 month internship in the States. Her parents raised a calm, quiet animal that sits on the lap, doesn’t eat meat (eats only fruit and dog biscuits) and doesn’t yap or run off. I tell Tab she doesn’t know how special her little poodle is. Tabitha eats her wing drumstick without the dog’s interference – it sits quietly on her lap and people-watches.

The children eating with their parents nearby watch wide-eyed as the dog puts its feet on the table and looks around. One little seven year old Chinese gal quietly sits with her parents at the outdoor food court. Why is she out at 10pm?

“This is very common,” say my companions. “She will go to afternoon school, maybe 1-6pm, then to tuition school after (tutorials) and probably now is just finished.” What! The kids around here get very little sleep – but so do their parents. It’s a late-night culture that unfortunately has to start early in the morning for work. But the real action is after dark – people out eating, talking, visiting. Anything but sleeping. Apparently there are restaurants and shops (Mama shops) run by Chinese that still do a good trade at 1am.

We’re not that dedicated to the night. By 10pm, we part ways – we drop off Tab at her car: she will be back in the office by 7.30 or 8am tomorrow. She heads for her parents’ home nearby, and Tracy walks me upstairs. We each take a little sliver of Japanese cheesecake from the fridge (the gift from Pastor Petrina after our three-dessert lunch yesterday). Tracy heads home; I head for the apartment and lock myself in. Tomorrow is another day. It’s after 11pm. Time to rest.

1 comment:

  1. Oh man, this is making me SO hungry! I'd almost forgotten how amazing the food is over there. Everything sounds so good, other than the Otak Otak...what exactly is a fish mouse? I'm glad you sent out a message about this because the posts still aren't coming to my e-mail, and I didn't know if you'd have time to blog. Hope you're feeling better after the massage!