Archive for October 14th, 2010

14th October
2010
written by Ilana

Right now (Oct. 6)  I am sitting in our jungle cabin on a hillside in Bukit Lawang, which is in Sumatra, which is in Indonesia, which, is a country made up of around 17,000 islands in South East Asia.  Our cabin is a small room with an attached bathroom and balcony.  The bathroom has a toilet and a shower.  The shower is a bamboo pipe with cold water running out of it and onto the bathroom floor, and the toilet does not flush on its own, instead you fill a bucket with water from the shower and flush it yourself.

If you read the South America parts of this blog, then you might think that this sounds like my worst nightmare.  You might even expect me to tell some stories about how horribly wrong everything went, and how I proceeded to breakdown and cry.  Well, friends, I’ve got some news—I love it here.  I love Asia.  I love the jungle.  I love the food.  I love the ambiance.  I love cold showers and do-it-yourself flush toilets.  Ok, that last part is obviously a lie, I’m not a masochistic lunatic or anything!

I don’t know what has happened to me.  Why is Asia (or more specifically Malaysia and Indonesia and even more specifically Kuala Lumpur and Sumatra) working for me?

A few theories:

  1. Asia is warm, and warm weather makes everything better
  2. Asia has delicious, cheap, easily accessible vegetarian food, so we do not have to stress about where to find food, and we eat well.
  3. After having an existential somewhat nihilist crisis over Rosh Hashanah and then spending many many yuntif days re-reading Heschel I made peace with the world and am now living in a state of Radical Amazement trying to find God everywhere I go.
  4. I have only been in Asia for four days, so maybe I just need to be given more time here and then I will freak out.

I think all of the above are decent possibilities, with number 3 being possibly a bit of an exaggeration, but only a bit.  (Side note:  Everyone needs to read Heschel ASAP.  Anything by Heschel is brilliant, and I had forgotten how inspiring he can be.  I actually feel like I am going through withdrawl since I had to leave the Heschel book in Australia since it belongs to Bloom’s dad.  I just want to read Heschel all day.)

Whatever the reason, I feel totally at peace with the trip right now, which is a great feeling, and not a feeling I had in South America.

Oct.3– We got off the plane in Kuala Lumpur and I felt excited to be there.  I was excited about the heat, about being in a new country, and about the ridiculous sunset that we saw on our drive into the city from the airport.  The airport bus dropped us off a few blocks from our pre-booked cheap hotel in Chinatown and we made our way through a very crowded night market, past many different designer purses, wallets, sunglasses and fruit.  By the time we got to the hotel, I felt like I was drenched in sweat.  My backpack weighs a little over 15 kilos (33 lbs), and I was still wearing  the pants and hiking boots that I had worn on the plane, and it was insanely hot and humid, which is to be expected, I guess, when so close to the equator.

We went to our room, which fit a double bed and our backpacks, but not much else.  There were no windows and the place stunk of cigarettes and possibly mildew.  I opened the sliding accordion-like door to the bathroom to discover a closet with a toilet in it.  I was sure that this place was advertised as having a shower…  I looked around and discovered a shower head above the toilet.  It was not clear to me if this is meant purely for space saving purposes, or if it is also meant as a time-saver, since you can now be on the toilet and showering at the same time.  What a world.

We left the hotel and decided to find a vegetarian restaurant nearby.  In my need to be organized, I had made a list of ten vegetarian restaurants in KL, and we now followed a map to the nearest one.  When we got there we saw that everything was closed.  We saw some men standing around on an otherwise empty street, so we asked them if they knew of any vegetarian restaurants.  One of them told us he was a vegetarian and he would be glad to walk us to a restaurant  not too far away.

This was an amazing start.  I thought about how nice this man was to take two random people to a restaurant.   The euphoric hippie in my head was loving this.  However, the angry cynic is not dead yet and I heard it asking questions, “ it’s dark and the streets are empty.  What if this guy is taking us to an alley to rob us, and maybe even kill us??  He can’t really be just a nice guy…What does he want from us…?”

The angry cynic was forced to shut up when, after a few minutes, we arrived in an Indian section of town, to a strictly vegetarian restaurant.  The euphoric hippie was giddy.

We sat and ate delicious Indian food with a bunch of Indian families, and it was lovely.  When I went to the bathroom I was happy to discover a toilet bowl and not a hole in the ground.  However, instead of toilet paper there was a hose with a spray nozzle, which I think is meant to be used in lieu of toilet paper.  There was water all over the floor, so I’m guessing that while this may be a more environmentally friendly approach than toilet paper, it is a whole lot messier.  Also, what happens when you pull up your pants and you have a wet butt?  Do your clothes get all wet too?  I am sure I will learn more about this in due time.

The next day, our one full day in KL, we spent the morning booking some flights and then decided to go to the famous Petronas towers, two of the tallest buildings in the world.

Posing in front of the Petronas Towers

We took the subway there, which was cheap, clean and fast, but before we explored the towers, or more specifically the mall at the base of the towers, we wanted to look for lunch.  According to my research there was a Buddhist monastery near here that served a vegetarian buffet.  We asked many different people about this place, and not one of them knew where it was.  We wandered aimlessly for a while, until we finally found a monastery with golden buddhas and some chanting people.  We walked around the side of the monastery and found a very large cafeteria, where we proceeded to eat lunch  for very cheap.

And now, on to Petronas.  The buildings are actually beautiful in their own way, and the mall was fantastic.  We spent a lot of time looking at 3D TVs, and just wandering aimlessly.  It was a classy place with fancy stores galore.  The craziest thing was the bathroom.  Yes, I am writing about a bathroom again, get used to it.  So the bathrooms looked pretty nice.  Clean sinks, clean looking stalls, but then I walked into a stall and saw just a hole in the floor.  How did it make sense that in a random small Indian restaurant I managed to find a toilet bowl and here there was only a squatter?  And the squat toilet even flushed automatically when you walked away.  I am guessing this is one of the classier squat toilets out there.  I told Bloom about this discovery, and he informed me that in many places in Asia they offer both squat toilets and “Western” toilets.  This also strikes me as odd.  What woman would choose a hole in the floor over a toilet bowl?  Ahh yes, my Western biases are at it again.  But seriously… is there any advantage to a hole in the floor toilet??  Asians must have thighs of steel with all this squatting.

Anyway, enough toilet talk.  We wandered through the mall and then I noticed that “Eat, Pray, Love” was playing, and that a ticket was less than $4 a person, I was beyond happy.  I was still feeling tired from the flight the day before, and this seemed like a perfect way to really relax.

Inside the mall. Glorious.

Every so often I had this guilty feeling about being all the way in KL and then seeing a movie I could see anywhere.  But, I quieted the guilt and reminded myself that I needed to learn to move slowly and rest and watch movies sometimes instead of tiredly treading through the humid streets to take pictures of God knows what.  Also, I loved the book “Eat, Pray, Love,” and was really looking forward to the movie.   I know that my love of this book will make some of you judge me, since there are those who see it was self-indulgent crap.  I am aware of that, but I still loved the book.  The movie was just ok, but I loved watching it anyway, and even Bloom unexpectedly enjoyed himself.

We went to the Petronas park to see the towers from a different angle, and then took the monorail in search of yet another vegetarian restaurant.  It took us over an hour to find it, but eventually we ate a delicious vegetarian Malaysian dinner.

And that was it for KL.   The next morning at 5 am, we were off to the airport for our flight to Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia.  KL was awesome.  It had a great vibe.  The city is made up of Malays, Chinese and Indians, which makes for some good food and a multicultural feel.  Also, the city is pretty clean with good public transport options and ultra-modern shops, but at the same time, it feels Asian within the markets and the street food, and the fact that I can’t drink the water.  It was a nice balance.

Of course I am still me, so I did have to feel guilty or weird about something, and in Malaysia I felt guilty about loving it so much as a Jew.  Malaysia, as a country, is not so into Jews.  You cannot enter Malaysia with an Israeli passport.  Same goes for Indonesia.  I feel very weird about being a Jew travelling around these parts.  More to come on that later.