Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The Malay Don't Play

What's the one long-lasting memory I'll have of Malaysia? The thing that 50 years from now on my death bed (God willing) I'll still remember? The Malay don't play around when it comes to drug trafficking.

The warnings started before we even landed. First, the stewardess (what's the big deal about calling them stewardess, btw? why is that such an offensive term these days?) passed out our customs cards and in big red bold letters at the bottom it read, "Be forewarned: Death for drug traffickers under Malaysian law." Alright, not a big deal -- most educated people know drug trafficking is a big no-no, especially internationally. Hey, if Malaysia wants to forgo implied wisdom and spell it out, I'm all for it.

It got a little strange though when the stewardess voiced the same sentiment (drug traffickers will be killed so maybe don't try to traffic any drugs here) during her "please raise your seatbacks in preparation for landing" speech. It was more than strange; it was jarring.

When we finally landed and got off the plane, the first sign to greet us wasn't "Baggage claim this way" it was:

Now we've added hanging to the mix. Oh geez, I really hope these people know that Tylenol is over-the-counter. Suddenly I felt like a "Brokedown Palace" moment was right around the corner. Funnily enough, that was the last I saw or heard of drug trafficking punishment.

The second thing I noticed -- although this won't be a lasting memory - is that Malaysians spell things in English phonetically. So when we went to grab a taxi it was spelled "teksi" on the side of the cab. There were other examples of this that I've completely forgotten already. See?

Finally, like a lot of Asian cultures, the Malay have a great hand signal/greeting. When we were in Phuket, the Thai people would put their hands together like they were praying and bow to you. I think it was required for hotel staff because you'd walk from your room to the pool and have like 10 people give you the prayer gesture along the way. The Malay do what I like to call "the pledge of allegiance". They take their right hand and it put it over their heart and also somewhat bow their heads. Let me just say that for white people both gestures feel very affected and stupid and unnatural when you try to return the favor. It's like when you try to casually drop "mate" to an Aussie or say "the loo" in London. You feel like a fake.

Now that we've gotten all of the cultural observations out of the way, the rest of this post is your standard vacation recap. Enjoy!

First off, the food in Malaysia was incredible! We ate like kings! In fact, I think we had satay every single day we were there. For our first dinner, someone at our hotel recommended this seafood place but when we got there all the food was alive and living in these tanks. It just seemed to cruel to sit there and watch them get yanked out of their home and then plucked on our plate. (We were in the minority, though. This spot was hopping!)

Instead, we ended up eating some of the best Indian food ever -- with the entire meal (2 apps, 2 main courses, 1 dessert, a beer and a soda) costing $16US. TOTAL. Vin really loved the Tiger beer; can you tell?!

After dinner we walked around downtown Kota Kinabalu, which is much nicer and more gentrified than I thought it would be. They had a Nine West for crying out loud! We found a cat sitting outside of a restaurant meowing its little head off and decided he must be hungry. So we scared the locals by going inside, purchasing a roasted chicken dinner -- no utensils, no sauces, no thank you -- and feeding it to the cat outside. Unlike the ferral dogs in Athens -- who refused to eat the ham and cheese crepes I bought for them! -- this kitty chowed down.

Oh wait, I should take a step back here and explain where Malaysia is in relation to Hong Kong and well, the globe (because I certainly had no idea before we moved here.) Malasyia is made up of 2 islands that are right next to each other. The eastern one houses Kuala Lumpur and Singapore. The one in the west was originally Burma (or maybe it still is), but has now been divided up between Malaysia and Indonesia. This island -- where KK is located-- is 2 hours due south of Hong Kong on a plane. You feel more educated now, right?

The last day of our trip we connected through Kuala Lumpur (KL, as people in the know call it) so we decided to head into town and see what it was all about. KL reminds me of the other thing I will never forget about Malaysia -- it's hotter than hell on a summer day. Thick, humid, fogs up your sunglasses when you walk outside, can't breathe and can't stop sweating hot. Needless-to-say, stomping around KL in 97 degree heat was no picnic. We went to the famous Central Market which was nice. It's lots of little stores selling local items -- kind of like a bazaar. We decided to grab lunch here at what seemed to be an upscale Thai restaurant. Then a woman and a 4-year old boy with no pants on (it was all hanging out) walked up to the table next to us and sat down. Bare-bottomed on the restaurant chair. Then she put him on top of the table and started changing him...while we ate. Not much else to say about that.

We decided to check out Chinatown (I guess every town has one!) which was nearby and it was a carbon copy of every Chinatown you've ever seen. Between all the men asking Vin if he wanted to buy porn and shoving purses at me we took one stroll and then left.

But not before spotting this awesome graffiti -- a fitting good-bye from KL.

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