Because there was an uneven number of girls on the trip, I ended up scoring my own room on the 13th floor of the hotel (apparently the Malays are not as superstitious as Americans.) I woke up in the morning to a view of the KL Tower, a prime broadcasting spot that resembles the round Sydney Tower, and the Petronas Towers, the world's fourth-tallest building that are referred to as the "Twin Towers." With the morning sun shining down over the already bustling city, this was an absolutely beautiful sight. After a full breakfast at the hotel (which was quite an odd sight: in addition to the usual toast and waffles, there was roti bread and curry, fried rice and noodles, and bowls of broccoli next to the yogurt), we boarded the bus for our morning tour of downtown Kuala Lumpur.
Our first stop was the Petronas Towers, which looked small from where we were standing but were nonetheless stunning.
Alecia, Courtney and I Jo and I
We arrived next at the National Mosque, but we were unable to enter it because the newly elected Prime Minister was in there for his first set of Good Friday prayers. Bugger. Still, the surrounding architecture was fascinating to see, as next to the mosque were very western-looking buildings next to Gothic structures next to Indian-style buildings. Being that Malaysia's past includes so much influence from other cultures (English, Portuguese, Chinese, Indian, etc.), seeing these buildings next to each other on the same streets was striking. While the street signs were mostly in Malay (which is a language written with English letters, rather than Chinese or Arabic characters), surprisingly, many of the signs within the buildings also included English translations.
Next up was Independence Square (which Billy called "Little Britain"), the place where Malaysia's independence flag was first raised in August 1957. Afterwards, we checked out a sweet 140 year old Chinese temple and prayed to various statues for future good health and fortune (and that we'd all earn top marks for this class. Haha.)
For lunch, we stopped at the Central Market, a bustling indoor plethora of coffee and tea houses, snack stands, bakeries, craft stalls, souvenir shops - you name it, you could probably find it here. There were all sorts of food stalls upstairs, so we dispersed to find something interesting to eat for lunch. After considering the various Malaysian, Indian, Chinese and Thai offerings, I settled on "goreng pedas": a bowl of spicy wok-fried rice with mixed vegetables, chicken and shrimp, with an iced coffee. The total cost of the meal amounted to 8RM, or about AUD$3 (in USD, it was even less: the Australian exchange rate was 2.5:1, but the US dollar was getting 3.5:1.) Ridiculous.
The people-watching here was intriguing, as most of Malaysia's population are either Malay, Malay-Chinese or Malay-Indian. Since it's predominately a Muslim country, many of the women were covered head to toe in loose robes and dresses. Others wore more western clothing with just a head scarf, and it was interesting to see the different patterns on their head scarves. It seemed this was the one accessory they could utilize to add a more personal touch to their otherwise traditional outfit, so every woman's scarf featured a different pattern with a multitude of colors.
Most people's English speaking skills were also quite impeccable, making it quite easy to ask for directions, haggle for better prices on souvenirs, order food, etc.
We had some time to wander through the markets, so I stopped in at a Malay teahouse to sample "daun pegaga," a pennywort leaf tea recommended to me by the shopkeeper. I asked her about the strength of Malaysian coffee, and she just smiled: according to a color-coded table detailing the effects of each tea she sold in her shop, Malay coffee is known to be a hormone enhancer for men. Laughing, I stuck with my cup of "better circulation, memory enhancing, cleansing, anti-oxidant" tea.
On my way out, I ran into some friends who'd just been at the "doctor fish spa." Huh? Following them to a corner of the market, I soon figured out what they were talking about. The spa was essentially a shallow, rectangular pool of water filled with little black fish. The edge was surrounded by low swivel chairs, allowing people to sit with their feet in the water so the fish could swim around and nibble at the calluses on their soles. Five ringgit bought you 10 minutes of this fish pedicure, and I can honestly say it was one of the weirdest experiences I've ever gone through.
That night, I caught a few girls in the elevator on their way to a nearby spa (they're pretty abundant throughout Chinatown) for cheap massages. They convinced me to come, so I tagged along and chatted with Andrea and Christina while Aimee had her full body massage. When it was my turn, a fortysomething Chinese man came in and spent 30 glorious minutes kneading out every knot and loosening every tightened muscle in my body (I'm pretty sure he knocked all the toxins out of my body too, as I was coughing up stuff from my chest by the end.) The cost? Thirty ringgit. I knew this wouldn't be my last massage.
Afterwards, we met up with the rest of the group at Reggae Bar, a spot five minutes from the hotel that was literally a Bob Marley shrine converted into a bar and restaurant where the walls had been signed by everyone who'd passed through its doors. The funniest part? They didn't play a single Bob Marley song; the DJ played all the R&B and club hits of 2007. Still, it was love at first sight, and we ended up returning to Reggae Bar several more times over the course of the trip.