Monday, January 9, 2012

South East Asia December 2011: The Beginning

I'm in my apartment and I can see my breath in little steam clouds as I stretch a little and prepare to take on the task of writing about my trip.

It's different this time; the trip was different. It was bigger, I guess.. quite literally in one way, as I was gone for a full two weeks, and I didn't even do that last year. But also in scope and meaning. It was one of those weeks where every day feels like a week all on its own, for what you see and do and try to comprehend. (GHP is like that. From the high to the low, the mad and the meaningful, fellow group members and I found ourselves agreeing that this was just what we needed.

Because yes, in step one I did want to get away from the cold. That is not the primary motivation, exploration and learning are that, but it is the beginning place. But I think if I had spent that week lying on a beach in south-someplace or other, I might still feel vaguely unsettled. It's not that I don't love the beach, and also that I don't see the importance of indulging oneself, nor the value in merely escaping the workaday responsibilities. I had, I confess, more internet access than I was wont to make public. I mean, I could get at the computers and internet if I wanted to, if I worked at it, but damn I just didn't want to work at it.

There was far too much else going on, really. And I want to share that stuff with you.

So I'm going to break it up into parts, because really, writing the entire thing at one go would be a beast for me to do, and also you would be far less likely to read it.

So, first, I'll just do the very beginning, before we even got to Cambodia: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (our "stopover")
What day is it today?
Today? Why today sir, it's Christmas Day!

On December 25th, I spent the morning cleaning up and getting ready to leave. I walked myself and my suitcase to the interstate bus stop through the sunny windy winter brightness. Everything was smooth and quiet, the bus nearly empty, with lots of time to spare, so no rushing. I met up with group members Miriam (not the same one as last year, though) and Simon, and we exchanged money into US dollars and Malaysian ringgits for the days ahead. I shamelessly tried to run the exchange booth out of $1 bills because I heard it's better to have small bills in Cambodia. Also, in case you haven't noticed, the exchange rate from yen to $ is still pretty ballin.

The flight to Malaysia from KIX is a new addition, but it is no less long. It was a six-and-a-half hour bore-a-thon in some ways, but mostly I just read in my book and cracked open my newly designated 'travel journal' that I got for my birthday from Erin, and tried to sleep a little.

Getting off the plane in KL requires stepping right out of the doors onto a wheeled stairway, not a jetbridge, so you're immediately in that air. The temperature in KL was like 34, that's sweatin weather, for those of you that don't use Celsius, and what I can tell you is that my room this morning was 4 degrees cold, and that change, so instant, from chilly airplane to hot-humid air above the tarmac, will make you take a deep breath and just be grateful to be able to do it.

We arrived at eleven-something, and then had to go through the normal processes of entering a foreign country. Then it was another hour ride from the airport to the city center. When we got in, I was pretty zonked, but the group was united for the first time, so we all went out to eat (at whatever place was open!), and even had time to get a quick drink along a street teeming with bars and clubs in the middle of KL. Our hotel was next to the KLCC towers, as you can see:

We didn't get back until about 4, and promptly crashed into sleep. We decided just to sleep til we were done, which ended up being around noon. Which was when I caught up with Anis, who was already on her way to pick me up to take me to her cousin's wedding reception! She was even bringing me a dress, becauase I'd asked her what to wear. I get really self conscious about wearing inappropriate things to other culture's/family's events.

Being in KL and being able to see Anis again was a huge bonus addition to the Cambodia trip. It was strange but good to be back so soon to the place I went for vacay only last year. We caught up briefly in the car, her story, like so many this past year, "same old, mostly." Even though it was only for a day, I am glad I got to spend time with her!

About weddings, she explained that they do it over several days. I'm just writing from memory, so don't quote me on this, but first there is the ceremony, the official wedding thing. After that, they have a reception for the bride's family and friends, and the next day, one for the groom's family and friends. Her cousin was the groom, although her younger sister was to be married the following weekend, and for that, Anis was the maid of honor.
Anis and I with the bride and groom!

Eating (of course)! That's her dad on the left.
  Meeting her family was really fun, too. I always love to see the backgrounds from which my favorite people came. Everyone was very warm and welcoming, and I felt fine there. Sometimes I have a tendency to feel like an outsider or intruder on events like that, even as I get treated as special, not foreign. But the combination of their demeanor, Anis's presence, and my vacational vow to just let shit go helped allow me to just enjoy the festivities. Her sister, who was as friendly and warm as Anis, said she wished I would still be around for her wedding ceremony.

Afterward, Anis took me to Putrajaya (where I'd never been, actually!) so we could see at least a little of touristy things before she had to go back and take care of some things (helping plan her sister's wedding!). We visited the Putra Mosque where Anis wrapped my scarf around my head so I wouldn't have to wear the pink cloak-things they give to visitors. You have to be fully covered, and nothing real form-fitting either. But with my borrowed dress, I was already halfway there. The place was beautiful and peaceful, and it was my first visit to a mosque! (Having been to several types of temples and churches, both for events and just to sightsee..) You can also see the Perdana Putra, where they keep the Prime Minister's office, from the mosque.

She dropped me off, and I changed back back into westerner, and joined my friends at the rooftop pool to frolic until the pool closed at 7, then we ordered mojitos. We had a 4:30 departure time for the airport, which is an insane wake-up proposition.. still we didn't manage to get to bed until about 11 or 12, just hanging out in the hotel chatting with the group (Miriam, Nohea, Simon, Katie, Kameron, myself, and our chance meetup Brian, who was touring the same areas of Asia as us at the same time).


Brian, Miriam, Kameron, and myself... mojito time

Group: Katie, Brian, me, Kameron, Simon (not pictured: Nohea, Miriam)
Just as a note... Malaysia is one hour behind Japan, and Cambodia is two hours behind. Laos is on the same time as Cambodia. And here are the photos from that day:


So then we dragged ourselves out of bed, into cabs, to the airport, where Miriam, Nohea, and I stopped for coffee/kayatoast, which caused us a little delay that others worried might cost us the flight (others worried, but not I... well so long as we jogged).

But finally secured in our seats, we took off for our early morning arrival in Siem Reap, Cambodia.


  1. I'm excited to read about the other parts of your trip! A few questions, though: was that hot tub surrounded by water lilies/plants (if so, SWEET)? That whole rooftop pool area looked totally ballin', btw. And what's kayatoast? Glad you had such a good time (you in the last group picture is teh awesome)!

  2. It wasn't too hot for a hot tub, but yes, that was the idea!
    Kayatoast is toast with kaya and butter on it. Kaya is a sort of spreadable made with coconut and honey and stuff. It's so delicious.