Category Archives: Malaysia

Penang in Pictures


Firstly, I have to apologize for the lengthy time that has passed without a blog post. We had some trouble in paradise over the last week, and the internet was costly. However, before we embarked on our trip of “relaxation” on the islands of southern Thailand, we spent a couple of days wandering Penang, where we took enough pictures for a little gallery. Penang is a little city of heritage-enriched houses, all containing a family and countless stories. Our area was very chinese; every house had its two lanterns with their trade and a sign with the family name. There were used book stores, little guesthouses, and cafes that had been passed down through the generations. There were countless delicious hawker stands and street food and markets, as well as temples filled with smoky incense (so smoky you could barely see a thing, much less actually breathe –  this takes a seat behind the teachings of Buddha for a while). There was, as there usually is in Malaysia, a Little India filled with vibrant colors and the smell of fresh naan and tandoori chicken, and a colonial part of town, still wearing the outer shell of white washed buildings and western historical architecture we are so used to. The becaks rode around giving rides, the sign maker hammered away at his trade, the people set up their food stands in the morning light, and the entire atmosphere was one of going back in time, if only for a little while.

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On the Road again…


After 2 weeks in Kuala Lumpur, we are headed out once again! And from now on, we will be traveling from one spot to another without another big “break” (which is defined as more than one week in one spot) until we are back in Chicago. This trip has felt like an eternity, but it has gone so fast. I still have Zurich in front of my eyes, but at times it feels a million years away. It will probably feel even more so after another 8 weeks of traveling.

Anyway, we left Kuala Lumpur and arrived in the Cameron Highlands, thereby effectively losing all acclimation to the warm climate. The Cameron Highlands were very strange at first. The weather was “chilly” (as if 65 degrees is chilly) and windy. We all had the feeling that we were in Switzerland. Not because it was clean, but because there were mountains surrounding us, we were elevated, and there was that crispness to the air and wind. Many houses looked like the old-fashioned mountain style in Germany, white with dark brown roofs and windowsills. The atmosphere was very mountainous. Anyone who has been on a mountain in a little village knows what I mean. And there were huge pine trees, all giving the feeling of being in Europe. Until you looked further and saw the palm trees, the jungle, and smelled the food.

The little town we stayed in had a couple little streets, filled with hodgepodge stores, tour services, and Indian and Chinese restaurants. After being in a big city for so long, it was nice to be in a place where everything is close together and in walkable distances. However, there was a Starbucks! It looked perfectly out of place, but put here for obvious reasons. It is backpacker heaven, and we saw more white people than we had in a long time. So Starbucks is there to get them their fix of coffee they’re used to. It was obviously a splurge compared to what things cost next door, but I guess Starbucks is Starbucks and always will be.

To get a little education in, we took a day tour and they brought us to one of the Boh tea plantations. The rolling hills were blanketed in thick lines of bushes, curving and rising like Van Gogh’s paintings. And it stretches on and on and on quite beautifully. We learned all about the plants, how the quality of the tea is determined by the age of the leaf (younger is better) and the different levels of tenin (the equivalent of caffeine in coffee). After seeing the plantation, we also saw the factory and learned about the steps the leaves go through to create tea. They are dried and then rolled. They roll them because the younger buds, when rolled, do not break into small pieces as easily as old leaves do, so when they are dried again and put in a massive colander, the largest pieces will be the youngest leaves, and the highest quality. I never knew that black tea, udong tea (red tea) and green tea all come from the same plant! The only difference they make is how long they are left in the open air for fermentation. To make mango tea, or cinnamon or jasmine tea, they just put mango or cinnamon oil or jasmine leaves in. So you can make endless teas out of one plant, which in my opinion makes everything a whole lot easier.

The original rolling machines, still in use

This tour was called the mossy forest tour, so we went into the mossy forest for a while. Our tour guide was great, explaining all sorts of plants, what you can do with them if you are ever desperate, which I hope I never am, where they come from, and why many continents have a piece of the oldest rainforest in the world (the mountain range in Malaysia prevented the Ice Age from destroying the 220 million year old forest, and when Pangea broke up, other continents took pieces with them – everyone has a slice!). We saw many many pitcher plants, the passive carnivorous plant that lure insects into their depths with the sweet smelling nectar, and once they fall in, breaking down their proteins in the acidic gloop inside. They come complete with umbrellas overhead, 2 rows of spikes on the side (to act as ladders for the insects in case the pitcher plant is on the ground), and pretty colors and patterns on the outside. We saw them everywhere; they hung in the trees like dangerous flowers.

For myself, the Cameron Highlands were the start of the end of this trip, the 8 weeks we have left are going to be spent in full-on traveling mode, something we are all looking forward to. So here we go!

Josephine's new fashion statement

Take Two – The Girls that are Shopped Out


First a little apology for the previous post, half-finished and without pictures. I guess that is what happens when I press Shift-P while typing… I would have prefered to learn that without a first-hand experience, but now you have seen what a rough draft looks like.  

Yes, we are the girls that are shopped out. Not that we’ve bought a ton; in fact, we’ve bought nothing. What we’ve discovered is that the cultural atmosphere in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia consists of shopping,  shopping, and really only shopping. And I guess you could say we’ve seen a little too much of it, so now we’re shopped out.

Unlike Singapore, where the outside world is clean, decorated, and interesting, Kuala Lumpur is pretty gray, consisting of highways that are always stopped up, regardless of it being 10 am on a Tuesday, and gray concrete blocks. There is construction in every crevice, there’s no green space, and the sparse little spots you see are overrun with trash (at least where we are staying). On the outside, it doesn’t look like a lot of culture; it’s a little bland. If you go inside, then you don’t really get anything that screams “Malaysia!” either. Unless you count millions of ads, merchandise, and price tags a culture. For a shopaholic it’s dangerous, for a boutique sort of girl it’s too brandy, for a designer-brand-only-the-best-for-me girl there are too many choices, and for us, well it’s just too much! At first we looked at things, liking them, but now, I don’t even want to try it on! It’s a curious feeling… as if we’ve become oblivious to wanting anything, and everything to buy is only a distraction, an obstacle to overcome, on the way to the ice cream store. Although I have the excuse to go shopping (my sisters and I all share one single bag! see here for its size), I wouldn’t really want to. Amazing and very strange.

Shop mania!

Massaging stations placed around the mall

Why I would want to be Muslim here

I envy the women with headscarves in the subway. I truly do. Because every time we go into the hour-long ordeal of going into the city we have to bundle up like Eskimos – in a city just north of the Equator. It’s like a battle against nature – how can we make this tropical climate mimic northern Siberia? Air conditioning that blows freezing air at your face, as if you were ice cream they’re trying to solidify! And so, I rather envy the women who wear headscarves and burkas, they’re much more adapted to the environment here: the subway, shops, houses, and workplaces are all air-conditioned. And because it’s not a very pedestrian friendly city (it’s a battle and waiting game every time we cross the street) everyone here sticks to the cabs and to the subways instead of walking. This doesn’t lead to much improvement among the street lights and places where people (that don’t seem to be there) are theoretically supposed to cross. So the cause of this problem might be the other way around.

One of the largest sites in Kuala Lumpur are the Petronas Towers. They are the highest twin towers in the world, and were the highest regular towers in the world from 1998 until 2004 when Taipei 101 came along. The Petronas Towers were designed by Cesar Pelli and they don’t actually look as tall as they are. It could be because they are silver, or because there are two of them, or that there are less floors and less surrounding skyscrapers, but it’s true that they don’t look as tall as you would have thought. At first I couldn’t believe that they would be taller than the Sears (Willis) Towers in Chicago, and it turns out that without their spires on top, they would be shorter. In accordance with the CTBUH guidelines, the spires on top of the Petronas Towers count, but the ones of top of the Sears (Willis) Towers don’t, which makes me a little annoyed as a Chicagoan.

Here in Kuala Lumpur we have our own little apartment and have been doing a lot and a little at the same time. A lot of homeschooling, pool time, grocery shopping, job searching, travel-planning and visa acquirement, and little sight-seeing. So in the end it ends up boiling down to a lot.

Eating where the sushi plates come by on a track, complete with iPad ordering system (waitresses beware!)

The daily thunderstorm... by now we've learned the uselessness of weather forecasting here - it's the same every day!