Friday, May 28, 2010

Cameron Highlands and some Penang

The last 2 days have been such a relief from the muggy weather. Cameron Highlands was such a tranquil place to be. Although there might not be much to do up there, I can see why backpackers end up staying a few weeks before they up and leave. In a half a day, I toured a butterfly farm, tea plantation, honeybee farm, strawberry farm, and rose garden. It sounds better than it actually was- half the butterflies in the butterfly garden were dead. Not to mention that it also had this mini zoo with snakes, spiders, and other weird insects- 50% of them were dead in their tanks, which the other 50% were...missing. It was a sunny day so we were warned at the honeybee farm that the bees were particularly active today. I took one look at the swarms of bees flying about in the garden and went straight back to the bus. But the tea plantation was excellent, and so serene. Here's a look from their cafe:

After the tour, I decided to go on a what Lonelyplanet called a "easy and quick hike"- it was supposed to take me past a waterfall and then back to a main road within an hour. Well, 2 hours later, I was still trekking through the jungly mountainside and the sun was threatening to set. I was grateful for my two adorable tourguides despite the fact that they knew no english:

Finally, my two local friends (ages 10 and 11) drew the line and decided to turn back. Shortly after I crossed paths with a Chinese Malaysian family where the lady exclaimed, "You're the young girl the other hikers were mentioning. Come, we were all so worried!" Apparently a few hikers I've passed on the trail mentioned that a young girl was walking by herself and someone needed to find her. Well, now that I was found, we were all quite lost since backtracking would take too long and we wouldn't make it out of the jungle before dark. So, we scooted our way down the mountain to a farm and found the main road. The family phoned to have another family member to pick us up. It took a half hour to drive back up, and at that point, the family was nice enough to invite me to dinner! I have concluded that Malaysians are super nice.

After a long needed shower, I joined fellow guests at the hostel's bonfire where stories were exchanged and guitars were being strummed. The fun quickly faded away when my nickname changed from "China Girl" to "Stupid American" so I headed to bed. Most of it was in good fun, but there were some serious problems when I couldn't name the neighboring states of Austria or describe what a weinershnitzal was. One guy from the UK only addressed me once to say, "Only 20% of Americans own a passport and 60% can't locate the US on a world map" and then he turned around to talk to the Germans. And I thought New Yorkers were mean.

I headed out early today and am now in Georgetown- a quirky town that comes to life at night on the island of Penang. My spanish is being tested to the max since the only other travellers on the bus were two friends from the North of Spain. We toured the city together when we arrived, only to bump into someone they knew (who was also from Spain) who invited us to his Flamenco performance at the ritziest hotel on the island. The hotel was charging $100 USD per guest to attend this dinner + flamenco event, but Raul (the guitarist) led us in and told the hotel attendants that we were his photographers (Sabil had his fancy camera with him) and we got front row. Not to mention free (and wonderful) food afterward. The spanish chattering was getting to be too much for me at the end of the night so I opted to leave early- only to have them fret over my safety to get back to the hostel. In conclusion, I was carted away on a trishaw (a bicycle like thing with a passenger seat in front) and was either ridiculed or, ridiculed by everyone we passed by.

The past 2 days have been so quirky that I jumped off the trishaw and came straight to my blog to write. I hope you are all amused and I would write more but the man in charge of the internet usage is staring me down and waiting for me to finish. Until next time, eat some cheese for me please- I'm beginning to miss it!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Malaysia: First sights, tastes, and experiences

Ok ok so my blog hasn't really been interesting. I've spent the past 2 days in a city right outside of Kuala Lumpur, which by the way, is a very impressive city. If you don't want to take the train, they have a monorail. If you don't want to take the monorail, you can take the lightrail. Or the usual buses, taxis, etc. My favorite was the monorail which soared above normal roads so it gave you the best views of the city. I literally sat on it from one end of the city to the other on a wild good chase for a bus station. This is because the main bus station, Pudaraya, was shut down for renovations. Imagine shutting down Grand Central Station- what the hell are you supposed to do? I ended up finding a bus station (with the help of Afiqah) on the outskirts of KL which was definitely not listed in my Lonely Planet (a guidebook which I swear by).

Most of KL that I saw was very much like Hong Kong. I went to some extremely classy shopping malls and was surrounded by stores like LV, Gucci, Fendi, Prada, yada yada. It was like I never left NY. If it weren't for the exterior (the mall was in the shape of an Egyptian pyramid- sphinx and all), I would have never have guessed I was not in the US (well it could have passed as Vegas)!

I've been introduced to some delicious and not so delicious meals and drinks. The best was tei terik which is a hot milk tea. If only it has tapioca bubbles! Otherwise, there was a pretty popular Pepto Bismal-colored drink which unsurprisingly tasted like the medicine itself. Was it all in my head? As for food, I haven't had a bad meal yet. Malaysia has a fusion of Indian, Chinese, and Thai food so my meals always consisted of either noodles or curry or both. You can never go wrong with roti cani which is a type of Indian naan (but thinner) mixed with egg for breakfast. I've had fish prepared in outrageous ways- as chewy sausage-like links, as fishballs, and as fish chip/crackers. Needless to say, they certainly like their fish here. On my way to the bus stop I stopped at a stand with fresh cut fruit. BE SMART RULE #1: Never eat pre-cut fruit. You never know what type of water was used to wash it with (tap water is not safe to drink in Asia). I stared at the delicious cut mango, then stared at the sewer stream behind the store, back to the mango, and gave the lady 2 ringget (About 75 cents). And here I am, 6 hours later, still kickin (in my defense, I saw Afiqah eat some cut fruit on the street the other day and she seemed fine).

Last night, Afiqah's parents took us to a seasideish restaurant for fresh seafood. Ignoring the polluted beach, the restaurant was very cute. There are bins of raw fish, squid, shrimp, etc (some of which were still alive and flopping around) where you pick up (literally, with your hands) which one you want and then they cook it right there. Some of you are probably scrunching your face as this doesn't seem appetizing while others (like my brother) are probably licking their lips to how delicious that sounds.

Ok so today I left KL for the Cameron Highlands- a gruesome 2 1/2 hour bus ride just to get up the mountain (4 hours total from KL). The Highlands are known for their cooler temperature (thank God!), tea plantations, strawberry fields, and butterfly farms- all of which I will see tomorrow. I am staying in a hostel that cost me 3.75 USD a night. Looking forward to the tranquility here after the bustling city...

Ok well this novel just about sums up the highlights of my trip so far. Hopefully next time I'll upload pictures as well! Hope all is well on the other side of the world :)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Not much to write about a total of 19 hours of flying unless you want movie reviews on "Twilight", "I Love You, Man", or "The Devil Wears Prada". It was a huge relief to find my friend Afiqah waiting for me at the airport. We go (or shall I say, went) to UW together and she's home (right outside of Kuala Lumpur) for the summer. I forgot about Asia's mattresses being a whopping 1" thick. But it doesn't matter- tempur pedic or not I am sleeping like a baby tonight!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

I've Graduated- Now What?

As most of you know (well, you all know since you've asked enough times to lead me to create this blog), I am about to embark on a 6 week adventure in Southeast Asia. What many of you don't know is that this was all made possible because of my mother. This was her graduation gift to me. You wouldn't think it by the worried expression she wears on her face whenever a certain word starting with 'Thai' and ending with 'land' is mentioned, but she was never one to prevent my dreams coming true. So thanks, Mom, for making this dream a reality.

I cannot promise you that my writing will be often, nor will it be beautiful. I've tried writing in a journal once when I studied abroad in China- only to find that most of my writing trailed off the page as I dozed off before my thoughts were complete. I'm glad typing will prevent this from happening, but I must warn you- just because I have an audience does NOT mean my thoughts will make sense!

So the adventure begins Saturday, when I take my first steps in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. For now, I will be stuffing my face full of cheese, pizza, ice cream, and other mouth-watering food that doesn't involve noodles or rice!