Naguib took us to several places around Kuala Lumpur today. We first headed downtown to visit two of the major landmarks of KL (Malaysians seem to love acronyms and hence will call the city KL just like the residents): Menara Kuala Lumpur and the Petronas Twin Towers. The view from the top of Menara KL was amazing. From there, it was easy to see that KL is very different from most cities in the US. The city is not laid out in a grid and there is a lot of trees and general plant growth all around. The Petronas Twin Towers were an equally impressive sight, though we were not able to go to the top of those towers because they are not open to the public.After the towers, we headed to the Central Market. The Central Market is kind of like an indoor flea market where visitors can get souveniers for a good price. I picked up a few pieces of pottery and silver for gifts while there. By this time it was about 1pm and we were getting hungry so we ate lunch at one of the small vendors in side the building. It’s been fairly challenging finding vegetarian food here, though fortunately we’ve found something for me every day so I haven’t starved! Usually meals consist of some form of rice dish. Yesterday we had lunch at a Chinese place that served fake meat made with Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP)! Very yummy. Almost like the real thing. After lunch we walked to a part of town known as the unofficial China Town of KL. There were many many booths filled with miscellaneous cheap stuff…”Rolex” watches, name brand luggage, clothes, CDs, VCDs, sun glasses, as well as fruit and nut stands (we bought a kilogram of a fruit that I believe is called Ramanang and tasted much like a grape but looked very much like a Dr. Seuss drawing). I bought 3 VCDs for RM $10 total (US $4) just to see what they were like. I noticed one of the clothing stands was selling an Osama bin Laden T-shirt (not exclusively…there were many other “cool” T-shirts at the stand). Earlier in the trip I realized that I stood out quite a bit in this brown-skinned, largely Muslum nation, but seeing this shirt seemed to reinforce that feeling. I wonder what the people around would have thought had I purchased the shirt! That would have thrown them for a loop (and no, I do not support him). It just seems odd to have that much support for him when so much of KL mimics the US. Judging by the stores that I have seen along the streets and in the malls, one could almost mistake being in the US! Many US brands such as McDonalds, Burger King, Pepsi, Coke, Starbucks, Salem, Marlboro are prevalent all around. Even the Malaysian flag very closely resembles the US flag. Upon leaving the city, it started to rain heavily. Rain is very common in KL. In fact, it usually rains at least once if not twice a day every day almost like clockwork. Naguib commented on how the afternoon’s shower was a bit early…4pm instead of 5pm. Looking around at all of the lush greenery along the highway, I couldn’t help but to think about the automatic sprinklers over the veggies in the produce department of many grocery stores back in the US. Naguib wanted to show us one of the new principalities in Malaysia: Putrajaya. It is kind of like Washington D.C., central Florida, and Salt Lake City all rolled into one. The buildings in the area are fairly new and are part of a 20 year project to rejuvenate the country. The climate and fauna reminded me much of central Florida except the terrain there is actually quite hilly. The Prime Minister, one of the Sultans, and many of the governmental figures have homes there, though much of the area seemed eerily deserted. The roads were nearly empty and the apartment complexes were devoid of any apparent activity. I guess much of the population intended for the area just hasn’t decided to move yet. I say Putrajaya is sort of like Salt Lake City in that it is also a religous center in the region. It is home to one of the largest mosques in the area and located next to the building containing the Prime Minister’s office. We arrived at the mosque around 4:45pm, midway into the prayer ceremony being held there. Visitors are not allowed to go in until 5:30pm. We decided to wait around until then just for the experience. It was kind of odd to be there considering the state of the world after the events of September 11 and the subsequent bombing of Afghanistan. I could feel the eyes fall upon my dad and I as we passed through the gate in the wall surrounding the mosque. I felt a little out of place and perhaps a little scared, but I reasoned to myself that nothing bad would happen in this place of worship. The ground between the surrounding wall and the mosque was laid with marble. People can wear shoes in this area but must remove them before ascending the few steps up to the mosque. We were not sure we would be allowed to go inside, so we waited outside while Naguib went in to pray for a few minutes. When he returned, he notified us that it was okay for us to go in, but that we had to stay on the blue carpet that led into the center of the mosque and could not wander into the area where they kneel and pray. It was a fairly humbling experience entering into this large, holy structure, though not unlike the cathedrals I have been in in Europe. There was a pulpit up front, scripture (in Arabic) on the walls, an upper level with balcony, an ornate ceiling…it’s amazing how much Christianity and Islam have in common as much as they would like to disagree. Later in the evening, we went on a mission to find a vendor peddling a fruit called “durion”. Durion is well known for having a nasty odor. Hotels in the area post signs prohibiting the fruit on the premises. The fruit itself tastes quite good once you get past the smell. Since we leave for Australia early in the morning tomorrow, my dad insisted that I needed to partake in a piece of this pungent pleasure before leaving Malaysia. After driving through several towns in the outlying KL regions, we finally happened upon a number of fruit stands selling durion. The fruit didn’t smell has bad as I had thought, perhaps because I had raised my expectation of just how bad it was going to smell from what various people told me. However, the phrase from a Monty Python skit “[it] has the bouquet of an Aborigine’s armpit” did come to mind. The fruit was pretty good, though the subsequent belches have been leaving a funny taste in my mouth. We also bought some Lychee fruit at the stands. It has the consistency of a grape (once you peel the skin off) but tastes like honeydew and has a pit that looks like a wild cherry.
So I’m writing this post from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia at around 6:30am in the morning. I woke up earlier but haven’t been able to sleep. Darn jet lag. I’ve been here with my dad on business since Tuesday (We left San Jose on Sunday evening!). It was my first time flying Business Class and I have to say I highly recommend it. The seats are bigger, they recline, each one has a personal flat screen TV that folds out of the armrest. Oh, and the stewardesses come around and fill up your drink every 30 minutes or so if you’re not sleeping. It rocks.I haven’t gotten a chance to see much of Kuala Lumpur yet. All I’ve seen so far has been from the Cititel Hotel where we are staying, the Mid Valley MegaMall that is adjacent to the hotel, and the Sime Darby Tyre technology building. I have seen a little bit of the area surrounding the Sime Darby facility when we go to lunch, too. Today, one of the Sime guys will be taking us on a tour of KL (his boss is giving him Monday off in return!). It should be fun! We leave for Australia on Sunday.