Saturday, August 28, 2010

Our Final Days in Malaysia - closing thoughts

Day 10 - Kuala Lumpur - Well, we are back into the big city. I am growing fond of this city and am really liking Malaysia. John says he is ready to move on. He was disappointed from the start as he was expecting some similar debauchery as Thailand but I think Malaysia grew on him as well. Malaysia has some of the most beautiful nature I have seem. Glowing highland hills, amazing jungles, everything is green and clean. The people of Malaysia are the friendliest lot I think I have met. It certainly helps that everyone speaks a fair amount of English, but I think it is more than that. There is a genuine warmness in the people I have met. Everyone is willing to give you the best help they can, everyone will entertain a request for advice or help, and no one tries to cheat you (save taxi drivers).

I have grown used to haggling every inch in SE Asia and never accepting a quoted price, and never buying a product without agreeing to a fair price first. So I was first surprised and then cautious when I was told at the Chinese restaurant today to put food on my plate and then I will be told a price after based on what I take. Anywhere else in SE Asia this seems like a sure fire way to charge a tourist an extortionate price. In Malaysia, you get charged the local price. I loaded up a plate with rice, a pork chop, sweet and sour chicken and some veggies. I showed the Chinese shopkeeper my plate and cringed as I awaited the quoted price. "4.5 Ringits." Really, more food than I could ever eat for less than $1.5usd. Amazing. Big man John comes behind me with a much larger plate of food, more than he ended up eating, 6 ringits ($2usd). Between the friendliness, honesty, religious harmony, amazing amazing food, and beautiful environment, Malaysia has turned out to be a country I truly enjoy. Too bad beers are $2usd a piece or more. But I guess that could be expected in a Muslim country, I guess I should just be thankful at the tolerance of the community for allowing drinking altogether.

So today we woke up in Jerantut and made our way to the bus station for the 9am bus back to KL. We rolled into town at around noon, said goodbye to Sofie, and caught a city bus back to Chinatown to the same Oasis Hostel that we had stayed at before.

After the aforementioned lunch, John left to the airport to grab Beth while Matt and I went exploring. First stop was Merdeka Square which was amazing decorated in huge Malaysian flags in preparation for National Day on the 31st.

Stop two was the old railway station followed by the National Mosque. Visiting the Mosque was a great experience. We dressed up in gowns and talked to ... I guess missionaries?... at the help desk. They talked us through some of the important tenets of Islam and presented me with an English version of the Qur'an which I graciously accepted and intend to read.

Now Beth is in town and we are off to visit the Saturday night Market in Little India. Tomorrow we will try to go up the Petronas Towers early in the morning before catching our 3:45pm flight to Myanmar! Myanmar, here we come!!!!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Goodbye Colonial Penang, Up the Hills, and Welcome to the Jungle

So I am a ways behind on this blog, but I will catch up as much as possible right now. In summary, we left Penang and went to a hill-station called the Cameron Highlands where we stayed in Tanah Rata. After two nights we moved on to Taman Negara where we stayed in Kuala Tenan before our 3 days in the jungle. We are in Jerantut now and off to Kuala Lumpur tomorrow.

Day 5 - Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands - So it was up early in Penang and off to the Cameron Highlands. We caught a minibus at 6am and were in Tanah Rata by 10am. Beautiful. Cool weather as we are at the top of the hills - 25 degrees at the highest. So after settling in to Daniel's Guesthouse (with its big "F*ck the Lonely Planet" sign) it was time to rent motorbikes. Matt doesn't have his license so he rode on the back of mine. So through the hills we went, cool breeze in our hair and occasional rain on our shoulders. First stop was a butterfly garden where we saw tons of amazing insects and animals: leaf bugs, stick bugs, scorpions, leaf frogs, vipers and cobras to name a few. Then it was through the hills again to Boh Tea Estate where we had some tea sans crumpets. The Philistinian I am, I drank iced tea and the Philistinian John is, he added sugar to his tea. Unlike those nobel Brits, us people from the land of Philistine don't know how to enjoy proper tea (/end British mocking). Heading to the tea estate there was a very steep hill to climb. Dropping my bike down to first gear I spun into a wheelie and threw Matt off the back. Luckily he was ok and I caught the bike before it keeled over. After the tea it was back to the bikes and through the hills for another hour until the rain fell hard. Rain meant stopping at a very small, remote village and eating the most delicious Indian food imaginable. Once the rain had passed it was an steep uphill battle back to Tanah Rata. Johnny had to keep waiting for us as Matt and I struggled up the hill with our combined weight. John then had his turn at a wheelie; he started hard in first gear and got his nose in the air. Safe landing with smiles, we all had a good laugh. The evening was spent drinking Thai Chang beer, playing cards, making friends, and sitting around the guesthouse bar's fireplace. Two of our new friends, German Fredricka and Dutch Sophie, joined us to Taman Negara. I got my Malaysian flag!

Day 6 - Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands - Our last day at the hill station was a rather quiet one. Lots more Indian, Chinese and Malay food, a short little hike to the waterfall with Fredricka, reading, napping, and .... no beer. Not drinking is the start of a new trend.

Day 7 - Kuala Tahan, Taman Negara - In the morning we caught an 8am bus to Kuala Tembelling where we had to wait til 2pm to get a river boat up to the Taman Negara National Park enterance at Kuala Tahan. Beautiful boat ride. From there we met our tour guide, Rosali, who Sophie had contacted. We chatted and did preparations for entering the jungle the next day. The Taman Negara jungle is the oldest in the world, 150 million years old. We spent the night at Rippi Guesthouse.

Day 8 - WELCOME TO THE JUNGLE - John, Matt, Sophie, Rosali, Leebam, Sali and I caught a long-tail boat two hours up river and from there we were to take three days to trek back to town. Riding up the river we sang a beautiful rendition of "The Lion Sleeps Tonight." Along river banks we saw monkeys and a montador. So cool. The treking was amazing. Six hours up and down sweating ourselves crazy; John would stop, take off his shirt and wring it out like a wet rag. We got off to a late start and were held up when Rosali (Lee) was stung four times by wasps, he is allergic. So we stopped, Rosali took his medicine, and then lied on the ground for nearly half an hour. After vomiting  and nearly passing our, he recovered. But not after scaring us silly and leading it to get a bit dark. We got to the cave where we spent the night at 7:30. Bats were alive and everywhere by the time we reached the cave and tree roots were beginning to look like snakes. We lit candles, cooked curry, washed in the stream, and just relaxed until falling asleep. I got my first of two leeches washing in the stream, while Matt got a pair of his own. In the night the rats came wanting some food. John woke Matt up to fight the rats, but Matt wanted none of it. After that John didn't sleep. I didn't help... mid dream, I yelled out "HELLLOOOO!" which echoed through the cave, followed by "WE'RE TRAPPPED IN HERRREEE." It woke everyone up... bad dream I guess. As you can imagine, I was the joke of the day for our next day trekking. We were hoping to see more jungle animals, but fresh elephant dung and tracks was the closest we got.

Day 9 - Taman Negara Jungle Trekking - We woke up late, 10am, and by the time we had cooked breakfast in the cave, washed in the stream, relaxed, and packed it was noon by the time we were off. Around 3pm we stopped by a small river where we cooked noodles for lunch. I took a nap in a hammock for a bit before we were off again. We reached the treehouse hide as sun was setting. It's named a "hide" as the treehouse faces a clearing with a salt-lick in the middle intended to attract lions, pumas, ant eaters and other jungle life. So after another dinner of veggies, curry, and rice it was time to take shifts all night watching for animals. I think the full moon worked against us as the only animals we saw once again were rats (stealing our tin cans) and bats. I sat up the 12-1am shift and the 4-5am shift but didn't see any exciting animals. The highlight of the day was seeing a nomadic trip moving villages. Four families with twenty people, mostly children, packed up everything they owned and carried it on their backs. They walk for maybe 3 weeks before finding a new place to call home where they build bamboo huts and live off the land. They have no contact with the outside world, no phones or pots or radios. Everything they need to survive is in the jungle; it is their jungle. These children do not read or write, go to school or have health-care. Rather, they climb trees, kill animals with poisonous blow-darts, light fire by rubbing wood and live off the jungle. An amazing life. Turns out Sali and Leebam are from a similar trip. Leebam would climb up the trees a hundred feet high and bring fruit down. Amazing.

Day 10 - Jerantut - Today we had a short trek out of the jungle where our boat was waiting for us. We went to the tourist canopy walk where you walk on top of trees and look down at the jungle. We then went to Sali's nomadic village where he showed us how to shoot blow darts and light fire using the jungle. I killed an elephant (terrible accuracy) and a squirrel (good accuracy) with my two shots. Amazing lifestyle. We then caught a bus to Jerantut where we are now. In town we had a wonderful dinner of different small finger foods at the ramadan market for calling it an early night and heading to bed.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

From Seoul to KL to Georgetown, Penang

Wednesday night was a final final farewell dinner and party. Fifteen of us went for delicious dalkgalbi, ten of us went for round two beers, and five of us ended up at my apartment with pitchers and bottles of soju until the early morning. The final goodbyes that morning to Joyoung, Jerry, Alex and Krista were the hardest. Certainly the alcohol helped.

----------------------------- MALAYSIA!----------------------------------

Day 1 - Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia - Thursday morning it was bright and early off to the airport. Flight to KL was great; 6 hours direct. Caught a bus into town from the KL airport and the trip began. From Sentral Station we caught the subway to chinatown where we found a place to stay. Of course, we were initially cautious of people approaching us on the streets with room offers. We are all accustomed to the tenacity of SE Asian touts; we have also read the Malaysia is different. Well, how right the reading was; the people trying to sell you rooms are very friendly and not pushy at all. "Come to my place, its ....blah..." Does it have airconditioning? "No, it doesn't, sorry. Try that one tho!" And they walk away. "Come have a bite to eat" Is it Chinese? "No it's Indian, the best Chinese is down the street, turn right... It's great!"  Really? Free and helpful advice... quite a change.

So Thursday evening was Chinese dinner (delicious), some beers and a walk through Chinatown. Then it was off to visit the Petronas Towers at night (beautiful) and the Golden Triange. Some beers, some Indian food, and that was day one.

Day 2 - Georgetown, Penang - Friday we caught a city bus to the express bus station and found a bus to Penang. In true SE Asian fashion the departure time for the bus was when the bus filled. We were the first three to get on this bus, so we waited over an hour for it to finally fill and depart. Gorgeous bus tho... only 3 seats across and plenty of leg room; we all got a pretty good sleep. Five hours later and we were in Penang, the food capital of SE Asia. Caught a taxi into Georgetown, found ourselves a decent guesthouse to stay in Chinatown, and we were all set. We spent the evening exploring little India where we ate an amazing chicken meal with our hand (right hand). Also had a nice feast of skewers with different foods on the end, priced according to the color of the stick. Friday evening was beers at the Espanalde Food Court and exploring the bars along Penang Rd before bed.

Day 3 - Georgetown, Penang - Today we decided to visit Penang Hill. Lo-and-behold, the railway was closed for renovation and we were left to explore LekLok Si Temple. It was stunning, largest buddhist temple in Malaysia. After returning to town, Matt and I visited a couple more Buddhist temples, a Christian church and a couple Muslim mosques. In the evening, back in town, we found ourselves back at the food court drinking beer and eating the best food in SE Asia. Great dinner, each of us picked a different plate to try and we sat for hours eating plate after plate of delicious food with our beer.

The best parts of Malaysia thus far: the friendliness of the people. It is so friendly, so safe and so easy to get along here. It sure contrasts other parts of Asia. The second best part of Malaysia is that EVERYONE speaks English. While English doesn't make traveling very cultural, it makes visiting and exploring very easy.

Another amazing aspect of Malaysia is the cultural integration. Today the Buddhist temple was several Europeans (presumably Christian), many Indians (presumably Hindu), several Malays' covered with headdresses (Muslims), and of course Chinese Buddhists. Seeing four of the main religious groups harmoniously visiting a Buddhist temple in Malaysia, wow. We could learn a thing or two from the multi-culturalism of Malaysia. I am traveling with a little Buddha on my bag and Matt was dotted on his forehead at a Hindu temple today... makes me smile.

The worst parts of Malaysia thus far: expensive beer. Paying 7ringits for a small beer ($2.33) or 12 ringits for a big beer ($4) makes night fun expensive. I spent $27 my first day and $33 the second day. Both days beers accounted for close to half the budget. The second worst part of Malaysia is that I am missing Korean girls. They are the most beautiful girls in the world. Daehanminguk saranghaeyo ^^

Tomorrow we have a bus booked at 6am to the Cameroon Highlands. After that its off to Taman Negra. From there, who knows. We need to be back in KL on the 28th to pick up Beth, other than that we are very flexible!


Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Gloomy Monday Morning in Seoul

There is no rain, little humidity, and it is a cool 20 degrees. Decent weather, but I wish it was sunny...

Busy weekend. Friday my computer broke - Hard drive fried. Luckily I backed up all my important files a week ago, so nothing was lost. I need a new laptop for law school, so the question was to give the computer away before travelling or to travel with it. Well, that questions answered itself.

Friday was my last day of teaching, my first real goodbyes and my first set of tears. I walked my last class of students out of school and waited waving as they walked around the corner. As the last wave back could no longer be seen, a few tears came. Seemingly knowing this, my favorite student came back around the corner for one more wave. He saw me, and came to give me a big hug. We took somemore pictures and then off he went again. Goodbye Sin Chang Middle School.

Friday evening I went with Krista and her host family to Itaewon, it was their first visit to Itaewon and likely my last. I don't like goodbyes, but these past few days have been filled with them. Friday night I met up with Alex, Justin and NoJoon for some beers. We moved from Itaewon to Kon-dae where I got to say 3 more goodbyes, to Justin, NoJoon and to Kon-dae.

Saturday was the going away party for the trifecta of travelling mates: John Hughes, Matt Charlton, and myself. We had a glorious potluck with 30+ guests. Amazing night, great food, good music, and a whole new set of goodbyes. Saving goodbye to MinJeong and Lee was the hardest. "Goodbye brother" she kept saying. Not goodbye, but see you soon!

Sunday was Kim's birthday party. Lebanese dinner in Hongdae. Goodbye Hongdae. Good bye Adam too, we've had some great times... mate.

I've got some great going away gifts tho! A Park-JiSung Korea soccer jersey (my brother), passport holder, luggage tag, fountain pen, and a ton of Korea souveniers (spoon and chopsticks, story board, bookmarks, cellphone charms, key chains, fans). Thanks!

So today I pick up my India visa, it should be a 3-month, triple entry visa. Tonight I will buy travel health insurance. Tomorrow I mail 3 boxes of belongings home - 110lbs. I will also send my money home, pick up some USD and close my Korean bank account. Wednesday will be the final odds and ends: pack my travel bag, clean my apartment, give my cellphone back, a final going away get together. Thursday morning I leave bright and early... 7am I will be heading to Incheon airport for our flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Goodbye Korea.

Dae-han-min-guk sa-rang-hae-yo