Friday, June 5, 2009

A whirlwind of a birthday!

Laura and I parted ways with Paolo and headed to a town called Ubud. It is a pretty cool artsy-fartsy town. Although, I think that is was a heck of a lot cooler about 10-15 years ago, but now it seems a bit over run with tourists and philosophical ex-pats. There was a really nice yoga studio in town with daily classes, so we decided to chill-out here for a few days.
Besides doing yoga, we would walk through the small villages on the outskirts of town and try local cuisine at side vendors. One night we attended a Balinese fire dance. There were over 50 people participating in the dance. There are no musical instruments...all sounds are made by mouth and strategic hand clapping. I am going to try to upload a video of it was pretty incredible. We also spent time planning the next few months of travel. We decided our route would be to head up to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos to visit those countries before the height of the rainy season. We purchased plane tickets to Cambodia, which had a stop in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The date that we planned to fly out was my birthday (June 3rd) we decided to stay one night in Kuala Lumpur to party it up before our next flight to Cambodia. It was going to be a 24 hour layover...and a whirlwind of a birthday.
Malaysia is a Muslim country and when we landed in Kuala Lumpur, it was my first experience of seeing the Muslim culture full on. Most of the woman wore these elegant scarfs around their heads and were very modestly dressed. We passed elaborate mosques and you could see people in their knees praying inside. The city is a huge metropolis and one of the most international cities in SE Asia, so there is a major mix of other religions and cultures there as well. It was crazy coming from the small island of Bali and arriving to one of the most modern cities in the world. The Petronas Towers are probably the most iconic image and famous building in the city. Up until 2004 it was the tallest building in the world and is still the tallest towers in the world. We arrived in the evening and after we checked into the hotel, walked to the towers to see it at night. Since it was just me and Laura, I didnt think the night would be that huge....I figured we would grab a few drinks and then get some sleep. We were going to try to visit the observation deck of the towers in the morning before our flight out. Well, I couldn´t have been more incorrect about the was a lot crazier then I had expected.
After the towers, we walked the strip to try and find a decent bar. I recognized a group of people from the airport that we had met in Bali. I ran up to them to say hello...I didnt even know these people, but it seemed weird that we ran into them again, so I took it as a sign that we must have a drink together. It was a group of 4 Finish people: Jaakko, Titta, Kenneth, and Tommy. They were a fun group and I told them to join us for the bday festivities. At the bar, Titta was telling us about this amazing massage that she got in Thailand. She explained how the lady massaged her whole body in oil and then at the end, massaged her breasts and slapped them back and forth. She thought it was odd, but surprisingly enough, enjoyed the experience. I just about coughed up my cocktail as she told the story...I mean, the girls name is TITTA for crying out loud. Titta...who got her titties slapped in Thailand. Laura and I thought it was the funniest story....and laughed throughout the night saying to each other "Titta got her titties slapped" over and over. It was about 1am and Tommy wasnt feeling very well. Him and Titta went home and Kenneth and Jaakko continued on with us through the night. We were on a mission to find a pub to hangout in since none of us really liked the night club scene. We asked taxi after taxi where we could find one and the always dropped us off at a different nightclub. We finally settled at a place where there werent any other tourists around. It was the street that the locals came to party at. As we were hanging outside, a fight started outside of the club. It was a street fight between a group of Malaysians. It was so different then the street fights in the US. There was no punching or beer bottle was straight Martial art style fighting. This guy lifted his hands up and then his knee and after a split second drop kicked the other guy. The fight broke up and the mod of people scattered. I was kind of freaking out because I had only scene stuff like that in Kung Fu movies. After a few minutes, one of the fighters got on his motorbike and then out of nowhere a car came down the street and hit him....he went flying off the bike and landed in the middle of the street. Another huge street fight broke out. We were safely to the side and minding out own business....but it was a pretty crazy scene. The bar closed at 3am so we got in a taxi to go home. The driver told us there was one more bar opened until 5am if we wanted to go there....our senses were partially impaired and it seemed like a great idea at the time, so off we went to another bar. The scene at this place was very young. When I went to the bathroom I was surrounded by 18-21 year old Asian girls (I am an old and wise 27 year old now) was like I took a bathroom from 6th street and dumped it in the middle of Kuala Lumpur. The girls were drunk....some crying over boys, some re-applying make-up, a few throwing up while their friends held their hair, and then the other girls impatiently waiting in line for a stall. I had to laugh at the situation because here I was... this big tall white girl hovering over this chaotic bathroom scene. All I could think about was how it was the asian replica of the bathroom in Paradox on 6th street.
Finally. this bar closed and we headed out to hail a cab when all of a sudden I had this brilliant idea that we should just stay up until 8am and go straight to the Petronas Towers. I knew if we passed out now that we would not wake up in time for the towers. We found a restaurant to get some malaysian food and sober up. When we were eating, this man named Moses came and sat at our table. He was a very peculiar man....for about 30 minutes he explained to us how he was a Pakistani living in the US with his familz. After 9-11 he was removed from America and has been floating around to different countries trying to start a new life. When we were finished eating he asked if he could eat our leftovers still on our plates. I couldnt tell if his life story was true or not or if he was simply trying to get some food to eat....regardless, he was an interesting character.
It was finally 7:30am and Laura and I walked to the Petronas Towers....we had been told that the doors opened at 8am to get the tickets. When we arrived, it turned out that you couldnt get tickets until 8:30 and go to the viewing deck at 9am. I couldnt believe it.....we had made it this far and we still had another hour to wait. I took a few more pictures of the towers and then the exhaustion of travel, alcohol, and lack of sleep snuck up on me. I told Laura that I couldnt make it to the was so close, yet so far away. It was 8:15am and I was going home to go to sleep. We slept until 11am and then got up and headed back to the to Cambodia!
We landed in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that afternoon. It was such a vast change from Kuala more high tech skyscrapers or innovative mass transport. This was a much poorer, underdeveloped city. We took a Tuk Tuk (motorized bike with a carriage attached) into town and found a place to sleep.
Cambodia has a very brutal past and the country is still recovering from much of it. It was only in the mid 1970s where the genocide and the killing fields took place by the Khmer Rouge. Thousands were brutaly murdered. We went to the killing fields to see the memorial and mass grave sites. There are thousands of human skulls inside the was a very eery and disturbing site.
Throughout the city, I saw tons of non profit efforts to help the community. There were stores selling crafts and the proceeds would go to woman and children in an effort to teach them english and skills to find work. There were several restaurants in town giving 100% profits back to the community as well. I am not sure who is running these organizations, but (if they are actually giving money back to the community) then I am pleased to see them and have boughten a few items from the stores. It doesnt appear that the money from the government is trickling down to the is what they call a Kleptocracy...very corrupt.
Cambodia is a Buddhist country and as you walk through the streets you see tons of monks wearing orange robes. I am excited to learn more about the religion and culture as we travel through out to the countryside for the next month.
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind. In just 2 days we traveled through 3 countries....3 religions ((Hindu, Muslim, and Buddhism), and what seemed like 3 different worlds! From the jungles of Bali, to the skyscrapers of Kuala Lumpur, to the underdeveloped city of Phnom Penh.....
Phew! I think I am going to take a nap now....

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