Malaysia Factor

This is a very photo-heavy and text-light post – the majority of my trip to Malaysia consists of ridiculous inside jokes and near-calamities best suited to being told in person. This post is insanely overdue (my mom aka my number one fan has officially asked me where my posts went, so I knew I was in trouble if I didn’t get this up) – I went to Malaysia at the beginning of April to celebrate my friend Madi’s birthday (if you’ve been religiously reading my blog, AS YOU SHOULD BECAUSE I’M SUPER INTERESTING, you may remember Madi from our adventures last year at Amsterdam Pride). Basically, Madi was supposed to have come to Everest Base Camp with me, but got really sick the week we were supposed to have gone, and the flight ticket prices to Kathmandu jumped up when she was thinking of visiting. Since the Kathmandu life can wear you down, I was more than happy to hop on a plane to Kuala Lumpur and experience a more modern South East Asian city.

Night Market in Melaka

Not only does Malaysia have McDonald’s (Nepal does not, wah wah), it also has VIP stickers for your car to grant you 24 hour drive thru access. Nugget aficionados, rejoice.

Peacing into Malaysia!

The trip started out somewhat disastrously – for one, I am an eternal plane optimist, which means I expect in-flight entertainment and at least a snack. This never works out for me. Then, when I arrived in Malaysia, I found literally the worst cab driver in the world, who first, could not find my Airbnb, and then threatened to take me to the police when I refused to pay him for not taking me to where I was supposed to be. Luckily I met a lovely Malaysian man at the mistaken location where this cabbie had delivered me, who drove me to the Airbnb Madi had booked. The room we were promised ended up being a cubicle with beds in it, and that night, the Malaysia Factor was born into our trip.

Malaysia did not take this memo to heart

We left KL first thing in the morning to head down to Melaka. We knew we didn’t want to spend all our time in KL, so our trip planning went a little something like this:

So in the spirit of choose your own adventure, we followed my desire to see a “magical palace in the sea” (ie. a mosque; my upbringing in a town that identifies as 67% Christian and 33% no religion might be showing) to Melaka.

The person who took this photo has no idea how to frame a shot.

Originally a trading port for the Portuguese and the Dutch, Melaka was also once under British control, and occupied by the Japanese. The city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site, and during its heyday, the port was booming. It’s now a relatively small city of roughly 900,000 people, but the architecture has maintained a definitive Dutch influence – much to my delight.

A WINDMILL! IT FEELS JUST LIKE HOLLAND!

The canals on Melaka River! I was literally so excited. Madi’s response: “It’s a less nice version of The Hague.” DON’T BRING ME DOWN, MADISON.

Just like rolling up to the old house on Kepplerstraat… but with less rain.

K, we didn’t have bikes like this in The Hague.

The influence of different cultures in Melaka was really cool to see – there were definitely Dutch aspects, old Portuguese forts, and a large Chinese influence. The guest house we stayed in originally belonged to the first Chinese family to immigrate to Malaysia, the Baba Nyonyas, who have distinct Chinese-Malay cultures, foods and traditions.

Along the canals

Memorial outside the Chinese graveyard.

Walking through the graveyard

Streets of Melaka

Madi manning the cannons at the Porta de Santiago of A Famosa, the old Portuguese fort

A Famosa Fort – one of the oldest surviving European architectural remains in south east Asia, dating back to 1511.

And of course, the King of Pop, because no city should be without his sweet songs.

As a bonus discovery, Madi and I stumbled upon a church, dedicated to the same saint as our alma mater! I clearly knew nothing about ol St. Franny X, because he dedicated several years of his life to missionary work in Melaka. If I can’t make it into our alumni magazine based on my achievements, I’ll do it by exploiting a photo op.

STFX Human Kinetics Class of 2011… from Antigonish to Melaka!

We were also able to travel a little ways outside Melaka City to a beach, which involved a series of Malaysia-factor incidents. The first, figuring out the bus system in Melaka. The second, getting from the bus stop to the beach. The third, finding the sea turtle sanctuary. The fourth, discovering the state of construction of the sea turtle sanctuary, meaning, no baby sea turtles (obviously that was one of the most appealing aspects of this beach). In the end though, we essentially got to hang out on a locals-only beach for a day, with nobody else around.

Except the occasional fisherman

Swimming vibes!

I was so excited to go swimming –  as someone who grew up on a lake and spent a lot of time on either coast of Canada, I really miss being close to the water, and for some reason, the Bagmati River just doesn’t do it for me.

But, the coolest part of Melaka was the magical palace that drew us there, the Masjid Selat Melaka (Melaka Straits Mosque). The mosque is only ten years old, and is located on Pulau Melaka, a man-made island just off the coast of the city. Right now, the only thing on the island is the mosque and some development projects. The mosque is built on stilts, so when the tide comes in, it appears to be floating.

Water levels not quite high enough!

We went to the mosque in the late afternoon, as we wanted to go inside, and as non-Muslims, are not allowed to enter during prayer time. And, of course, we wanted to see the sunset (though looking back, it would be amazing to have seen at sunrise as well). Living in Kathmandu, I’ve acquired some more modest, and thus, mosque-appropriate, attire.

Annnnnd all the X rugby girls are going to chirp me on my mosque fashion sensibilities.

Madi, on the other hand, needed to rent her gear.

She couldn’t figure out how to put her hijab on properly, which resulted in the mosque attendants having to help her fix it in a several minutes long process.

Madi visiting the mosque – it really is a lot larger than it looks from afar

Heading into the mosque

Dome inside the mosque

The inside of the mosque was really quite plain, which is different than a lot of the mosques I’ve visited in Africa. However, sitting outside, especially with the sun going down and the call for prayer in the background, was one of the most beautiful moments I’ve experienced. When I was in Greece last November, I took one evening where I literally just sat and watched the sun go down over the Aegean Sea for three or four hours, and it was one of the most peaceful and enjoyable moments I had had in a long time. Take time to watch sunsets, is what I’m saying.

Melaka had a couple more Malaysia Factor Moments™ for us, but overall, it was a really cool city, with amazing food, shops, and sights. And, honestly, the busyness of Asian cities can get overwhelming at times, so both Madi and I were happy to have spent time in a city where you could cross the street without having to pull out a whiteboard to draw up a crossing play. Melaka was really relaxing, which was something we both needed!

Plus, I got good coffee, which is very hard to find in Kathmandu.

Madi at Calanthe Art Cafe – just hook the coffee to my veins

Strong Malaysia Factor Move – having a drink that has corn niblets in it. Madi had yet to try it, hence her smile.

Fitting in with Melaka locals – giving up my career as a lawyer to drive a trishaw – Malaysian transportation!

I can never escape the birds.

Calanthe Art Cafe – we went to another fantastic cafe called the Baboon House, which may have been one of the coolest restaurants I’ve ever visited. You have to ring a bell to enter, and there were no photos allowed inside (just like one of my favourite bars, Buck and Breck in Berlin), and it doubled as a gallery for the artist who lives upstairs, Soong Ro Ger. I really loved his work, and bought a couple of his post cards, which I plan on framing, as I’m far too poor to afford any of his larger pieces.

As much fun as it was just chilling in Melaka, I love big modern cities, and especially after being in Kathmandu, I was ready to go to KL and see a modern city skyline.

Just a little different than what I’ve gotten used to in KTM

KL by night

A mall! I hate malls, so the fact that I was excited about this really says something

And fantastic ads with modern hairstyles in the train station! The rattail, making a comeback!

I think Madi thought I had gone a little crazy. I mean, I’m used to living in Kathmandu now, and I really hope that I don’t forget what it feels like to live here, or take for granted all the modern conveniences I’ve been afforded in every other city I’ve lived in. Because we got to KL, and I was like a little kid. A kid with a fixation on city sanitation programmes. I kept telling Madi how clean KL was – there were garbage cans on the street that are emptied by city staff, and city staff picking up litter on the side of the road or sidewalk, there were trees and other plants incorporated into the urban design, there wasn’t any dust in the air, the sidewalks were flat without potholes (huge for someone with weak ankles), there was power for 24 hours, there was running hot water, Uber was available, there was a transit system, with real trains, for Christ’s sake… It felt so bizarre to be back in a city with all those things – it was overwhelming.

I even took a photo of the train station. That’s how amazed I was to be on a metro system again. And note the trees growing along the track. It’s so hard to find green space in Kathmandu.

Roads with more than one lane? And actual lines to separate traffic? WHAT IS THIS WIZARDRY?

Also, I think KL is a pretty underrated city – honestly, the only reason Madi and I chose to meet up there was because it was the cheapest place to fly to from KTM. But it has a lot of cool things to see, very cool neighbourhoods to explore, with quirky cafes, and amazing food. We ate so much.

And drank – giant beers!

And beers that were served in jugs and poured into saucers, which made me feel like a cat.

And food from night markets (featuring a baptist church, naturally)

Grill up them frogs! Seriously though, fried mushrooms on a stick are my life.

One really cool random thing we checked out in KL was Kampung Baru, a residential village in downtown KL, which is the last site in the city where people maintain a traditional Malay village lifestyle. The land was given to the Malay people by the Brits during colonization, as a means to protect their traditional way of life at a time in which there were many Chinese immigrants (and European colonizers) moving into Malaysia. There isn’t much to look at, really, it’s just small houses surrounded by skyscrapers, but it’s pretty cool to have walked on one of the most expensive land tracts in the world – the value is currently roughly US$1.4 billion, due to its location.

On the streets of Kampung Baru with views of the Petronas Towers

One of the mosques just outside Kampung Baru

Not your typical tourist stop, but I always try to throw some lesser known visits into my travels – my theory is that you will never have to worry about missing the places everyone knows about, because you can always go back there, and you won’t forget them.

Of course, we did do a lot of the stereotypical tourist things as well, including going on a hunt for the man with the diaper-wearing monkey (it’s a KL activity you really must do. We were, unfortunately, unsuccessful in our hunt. Next time, sir).

At the base of the Petronas Towers, the tallest twin towers in the world!

Outside the National Mosque – nearly 250 steps to get up that tower!

Fountains outside Masjid Negara – the masjid sits on 13 acres of property

Add fountains to the list of things I miss while living in KTM

Views of the city from Masjid Negara – the domed building is the Malayan Railway Administration Building, one of the coolest architectural designs I’ve seen. The architecture in KL is actually fantastic.

Inside the botanical gardens

Orchids

Baby hibiscus

Strolling through China Town as part of our monkey hunt

Going to a fish spa to have our dead skin eaten! …Please guess whose legs they’re all over. I’m gross.

Masjid Jamek, the former primary mosque of the city, located downtown near all the municipal buildings

Masjid Jamek

The architecture!!!

Views from Merdeka Square, where the Union Jack was lowered and the Malaysian flag was first raised on August 31, 1957

More views – with that huge Malaysian flag!

Outside the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, former home of the Supreme Court of Malaysia – classic law nerd stuff

Le sigh. I really miss cities wherein urban planning was a thing.

And where green spaces were implemented.

And of course, we had to ball hard because it was Madi’s birthday, so in KL, we stayed in an apartment with an infinity pool, with views of the KL skyline.

Right before meeting her new ‘friend,’ who will forever wander KL alone in search of the Platinum Mall

Please note the man swimming under the water’s surface – get out of our shot, bro.

We had an amazing night on Madi’s birthday – from drinks atop the city to being stalked by middle schoolers on the train to an impromptu tapas meal to so many free drinks to the weirdest after hours dance club to the monkey hunt to the being hunted by another taxi to the immediate VIP treatment at Echo to the Petronas Towers to the cyborgs on the cab ride home to the note taking before going to bed – it was quite the way to ring in Madi’s 27th year! And we’ve now managed to cross off three continental explorations together… who knows where we’ll head next!

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