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Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur Creek GraffitiOur blood was boiling as 6:30am came and went. Dawn’s searing heat welcomed us to Singapore’s Depression era Tanjong Pagar Railway Station bound for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. First impressions are not always correct, thank goodness. The rusty, dated international train was not a sauna on rails as its fledgling air conditioner fought bravely. Ash fell into a deep slumber as I passed the seven hour train ride watching the Malaysian countryside race by with occasional stops at rural villages. The modern Kuala Lumpur rail station welcomed us, but where was Customs? Not at the train depot. Entering Malaysia illegally proved unproblematic when two weeks later en route to Thiruvananthapuram, India, the Malaysian Customs Agent kindly backdated our visa stamps. Crisis averted.

Ash Loves Indian NaanAfter settling into our surprisingly cheap hotel, both of us were jolted to attention by a loudspeaker blaring Arabic prayers. Maybe our lodging was heavily discounted due to its location next to the active mosque. On cue each morning before sunrise, the Muslim prayers were broadcast for all to hear and then four more times daily. Coming from America where the media instills fear in every Westerner’s heart when we see Islamic men or women, Ash and I were admittedly nervous during our first stroll through KL’s Masjid Jamek district. Fully veiled women strolled the narrow streets and men sporting traditional Islamic threads laughed together. The scene was similar to a Saturday morning in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, albeit with different dress. But it was one of those moments we yearned for on our adventure around the world. To contest deeply held instincts that are utterly incorrect. We discussed the uncomfortable intuitive feelings that only our eyes had shared minutes earlier over a delicious street bazaar lunch where we fell in love with the Indian delight of naan. Experiences like these have strengthened our relationship, to be certain.

Do You Understand "Just A Little Off The Top?"Anxious to explore Kuala Lumpur with our Salomon TrailRunners firmly strapped to our feet, we hit the winding streets. But not before our first of three visits to the Indian Visa Center… that is a whole other story. In KL’s Bukit Bingtang district on a rainy night we indulged in a sushi train and polished off a respectable 14 dishes of raw fish. While in Masjid Jamek, our infatuation with street markets was born. Aimlessly wandering the Times Square district, we crossed a pedestrian bridge jammed with hurried shoppers. On this bridge is where my first haircut in over five months took place, unexpectedly. My buzzed head had grown much like a Chia Pet… water twice daily and watch it bust out of control. The strange fellow at Speedy Cuts whose command of the English language was similar to Ashley’s miniature yorkshire terrier, Gidget, made quick work of my mop. Scissors blazing, the young barber removed what seemed like pounds of hair. I was free once more! We woke early the next day and quickly made our way to Sid’s Pub via Kuala Lumpur’s tremendous rapid transit system. Why would we be drinking Tiger Beer at 7:30am with sailors from the American aircraft carrier USS Nimitz in port nearby? To watch commercial repeat after repeat for the hit television show “Hunting Down Pedophiles” of course. Instead of Betty White getting form tackled in a Snickers ad, that is what we got during Super Bowl XLIV commercial breaks. The second half was entertaining football until Tracy Porter, hailing from my alma mater of Indiana University, took Peyton Manning’s errant pass for a touchdown.

Sushi Train Superbowl Commercial at Sid's Bukit Bintang Wildlife

Murugan StatueWe had seen the city, but what about the countryside? Our white skin sticking out like a sore thumb, we were aboard the train towards the Batu Caves, just outside KL. A friendly Malay-Indian suggested we follow him and his daughter to the bus stop for a cheap fare to the Hindu shrine before certainly being ripped off by a taxi driver. Not soon after disembarking from the sweltering autobus, the murugan statue came into focus even though we were a 20 minute walk away. The hulking gold painted sculpture dwarfed the 272 step staircase immediately adjacent. Reaching the limestone cave’s entrance is not for the faint of heart. Though religious duty seemingly will overcome a Hindu’s physical limitation as evidenced by the resilient woman whom toiled at least one hour climbing the daunting stairs. The caves themselves were impressive on their own and enjoyable to explore despite reeking of monkey, chicken, and feline urine. However, our most lasting impression were the Hindu services taking place at various temples built amongst the caverns. Our knee pits brimming with sweat (a South East Asia tradition it seems), Ash bought a strange orange drink from a street hawker outside the Batu Caves that was laced with enough pure sugar to raise the dead.

Devoted Hindu Muguran Gold Face

Singapore broke us into South East Asia. But Kuala Lumpur pulled back the curtain on what it is all about. A region of dichotomy: religious culture among Western ideals, upscale dining abutting street stalls, and traditional mosques beneath skyscrapers.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Photography, while in most cases is quite alright, is not always acceptable. People wearing traditional dress in particular don’t necessarily like being caught on film. In those situations, try our tried and true method. I have Ashley move ahead of me by ten paces and then fake pose for a picture while I train the camera lense just beyond her.

2) America is blessed with air conditioning at every turn. Not so much in the rest of the world. There is no silver bullet to staying cool other than getting after it early in the morning (Ash forbids me from wearing my hat outfitted with a misting bottle on the brim). Acceptance is the key. Just know you will bake and seek shade at all costs.

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