Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur and Melaka

I went to sleep on the train in Singapore and woke up at about 6am in Kuala Lumpur's central train terminal. Ray sent me a message that she had already left KL for Melaka because of a stalker situation, so I didn't want to stay in KL long, but there were a couple things I wanted to see. I made my way to the bus station and scheduled a ticket to Melaka and then headed over to the Petronas Towers (tallest twin buildings in the world). They offer free tickets up to the 41st floor walkway, but you have to arrive early (like before 8am) to queue for them. I hopped on the subway amidst a throng of headscarfs and skullcaps. It was 7:30am: rush hour in KL. There was hardly room to breathe, and I was grateful to make it to the towers. I met up in the line with Simon and Geoff, two British backpackers that I had met in the hostel in Singapore, and we were lucky enough to get tickets for the 2nd group to go up the towers (impecable timing...20 minutes later and our tour time would have been noon or 1pm). Petronas is the national oil company, and showed us a short video (complete with 3-D glasses) showing propaganda about how many community initiatives they support, and how great the company is. I was willing to listen to it for the privilege of a free trip to the top. The view of KL was nice. We headed down and over to the Musjid Jamek, the oldest mosque in KL. They gave us robes and me a headscarf and allowed us to walk around the outer prayer platforms at our own place. It's a beautiful building, and very nice of them to allow us to come visit. After spending 20 minutes in a headscarf in the KL heat, I have newfound respect for Muslim women! It is stifflingly hot under there! I don't know how they do it, but their dedication impresses me. We grabbed a bite to eat, looked for the museum which has now been closed, and then split up to catch my bus and their train. Six hours in the bussle and chaos and clatter of KL was all I needed to experience. It was nice while it lasted, but I was glad to be headed to a smaller city. Two hours later I was in Melaka.

Melaka is a city with a rich history. It's strategic location on the Straights of Melaka (between Malaysia and Indonesia, an important channel between the South China Sea and the Andaman Sea and Indian Ocean) has made it a very important and fought-over port. Since the 14th century it has been controlled by a Sultan from Sumatra, the Chinese, Portuguese, Dutch, British, and finally the Malay people. Today Melaka's citizens reflect the diverse groups who came to Melaka, and people called Peranakan are descended from marriages between Chinese and Malays, Indians and Malays, and Portuguese and Malays. The main thing that I wanted to see in Melaka was the Straits, and so I walked around town until I found the tallest bridge possible. Luckily it had a sidewalk and I walked across it, took some photos, returned to the hotel, and made arrangements to return to Singapore to retrieve my thumb drive. Tony, the guesthouse owner, gave me some tips on where to most easily catch a bus. I walked down there with my bags and waited in the hot sun for 45 minutes without seeing anything. Finally I hailed a taxi and I was glad that I did, because the taxi driver was very friendly and gave me good tips on the best bus to take to Singapore. He makes the three hour trip to Singapore often to visit his daughter and grandkids. I bought my ticket, sat down and ate the nicest meal (Roti Canai with curry to dip it in and Biryani for about $1.75) and boarded the bus. The bus was a super VIP bus, which means that there are only 3 seats per row and they resemble lazy-boy recliners. It was heavenly! I got to Singapore, bought a laptop, picked up my thumbdrive, spent one last night with my friends in the hostel in Chinatown, and hoped on a bus headed toward Malaysia again.

At the border, I had a little problem. I checked out of Singapore and I was supposed to get back on the bus downstairs to Johor Bahru (the Malaysian side of the border), but as I came downstairs, the bus pulled away, and as I followed it, I got locked out from Singapore, yet a long causeway separating me from Malaysia. I went around in a circle, checked back into Singapore, then back out (this is the 4th time through Singapore Immigration for me in 1 week, and I'm sure they were wondering what the heck I was doing!) and finally got downstairs and picked up the next bus. By the time I got to Johor Bahru, I was relieved to find that I had just barely made the last bus to Kuala Terengganu for the day. I settled in for the 9 hour journey and enjoyed the sights up the East Coast of Malaysia to Terengganu, where I would meet up with Ray again and explore some of the tropical islands offshore.

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