We survived Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam remarkably unscathed and have now landed in the markedly more civilized city of Kuala Lumpur (at least, in my humble opinion). The capital of Malaysia and home to almost 8 million people in the greater metropolitan area. The first impression that struck me was how clean and modern everything was from the airport to the highways. The road signs even looked distinctly ‘western’ in appearance. Our Airbnb dwelling was described as a ‘zen garden’ getaway from the hectic city center on the website. There may be a hint of hyperbole in this description since the dwelling is a small very sparsely furnished apartment on the 19th floor of a 40 story high rise. Geographically, we are in the Soho 2 Tower in Damansara Perdana in Petaling Jaya which is about 7km from the city center and about 75km from the airport. Our exploration of the immediate surrounding neighborhood (on foot) revealed this area to be very much an ‘urban jungle’. It is a time worn phrase to be sure but when you are surrounded by tall concrete buildings and overlapping multi-level freeways and few pedestrian friendly walkways it is an accurate description. To be fair, there are some ‘created’ green spaces amidst the office and hotel towers but by and large, there is nothing very ‘zen’ about this particular location. The local restaurants are ok, some featuring local cuisine and some with a decidedly western slant, but certainly nothing to write home about.
We had a very hectic travel schedule over the holiday season and managed to visit Egypt, Hong Kong and Vietnam in the space of one month. We needed a place to settle down for awhile, catch our breath and get the girls back on schedule with our travel-home schooling. I admit that I did not know much about Malaysia before coming here. One of our good friends on Maui and well known take-away Indian food purveyors at the local farmers’ markets, Uma Dugied is from Malaysia. Uma would often mention returning periodically to visit her family here and replenish her famous spices from her family’s spice mill business in Malaysia.
As a structural engineer, I have also been intrigued by the famous Petronas Twin Towers for many years. The project was designed by Cesar Pelli Architects in 1992 and completed in 1998. The identical towers at 452 meters (88 stories) places them at about 13th highest in the current listing of the world’s tallest buildings. The tours of the tower cost approximately $20 USD for adults and $8 for children. The tour groups are relatively small, spaced about 45 minutes apart and very well staffed and organized. We opted for an early evening appointment at 7:15 so that we could see the city lights. The tour starts at the 41st floor skyway that connects the two towers. We had pre-arranged for a taxi to take us to the towers in the afternoon to avoid rush hour traffic. Our taxi driver, Jason (firstname.lastname@example.org) told us that the skyway floor was originally transparent glass but that there were too many visitors reluctant to venture out onto the glass floor which is 175 meters (570 feet) above the street level and the skyway floor was later changed to a non-transparent floor. Of course, there are still floor to ceiling expanses of glass for the full length of the skyway. The second stop of the building tour is the 82 floor observation deck which has incredible 360 degree views of the city. I thanked my girls for indulging me since the tower tour was my idea but I think that they all enjoyed the experience of visiting one of the world’s tallest buildings.
There have been some outstanding taxi drivers that we have met in the course of our international travels this year and Jason from Blue Cab Malaysia was one of these individuals. We called on him many times during our stay in Malaysia and he was always prompt and courteous. His English was quite good and I really enjoyed talking to him while he transported our troupe across the city and I learned a lot about Malaysia including his political views. I always find this topic to be quite interesting and am always surprised at how open some of the people are that I’ve met even when talking to a foreigner (ie., me). I expressed to him some of my skepticism about politicians and government ‘doublespeak’ in attempts to brainwash the masses and I found him to be a kindred spirit in this regard.
When we first met Jason, we had not done our homework yet about Malaysia and asked him for a recommendation as to what we should see and do. He recommended the Batu Caves and famous Hindu Shrine & Temple which was nearby. The Hindu Shrine and Temple caves are located in a limestone formation accessible only by climbing 272 stairs which was a good cardio workout for all of us. There are hundreds of wild monkeys that live and frolic in the surrounding caves. Our taxi driver suggested that we purchase some peanuts to feed the monkeys. Of course, the girls loved tossing peanuts to the monkeys as they approached us. One particularly brave fellow snatched a whole bag right from Grace’s hands to her surprise. The cave temple contained many intricately carved statues and altars to the various well-known Hindu deities.
We also spent the better part of a day at the Zoo Negara in Kuala Lumpur. The zoo boasts a wide array of the usual popular animals featuring giraffes, elephants, camels, hippos, lions and tigers, etc. even a Giant Panda on tour (on loan from China). There were so few visitors on the day that we attended (Monday) that it was practically deserted. The zoo opened in 1963 and is badly in need of infrastructure repairs and updating. I assume that modernization of this zoo is low on the governments priority list. The admission price for adult ‘foreigners’ at 85rm is almost double that of local residents. To be fair, the price was a bit lower for children but it was still twice the rate that residents paid. All things considered, we would not rate this zoo very highly compared to the Madrid zoo that we visited in Europe.
One of our priorities on our travels has always been to try to find playgrounds for our children. Our taxi driver directed us to a very large park and playground near the Petronas Towers in the city center. We found the playground and off our girls went to explore and run around for awhile. Tiffany and I found a nearby park bench close enough to keep an eye on the girls . Before long, Eleanore came back crying and told us that she had fallen down and hurt her right wrist. She was cradling her wrist and we knew that she was not exaggerating (since she is usually very stoic and won’t readily admit if something is wrong with her). Tiffany decided that the prudent thing to do would be to take Eleanore to a clinic or hospital to have here injury checked out. We contacted our taxi driver, Jason and told him what had happened. He knew immediately where to take us which was a local hospital within about a 20 minute drive. He dropped us off right at the emergency room wing of the hospital and told us to contact him when we were finished. The hospital appeared to be a well-staffed, modern facility with a friendly staff. We were not required to fill out any paperwork. The initial exam fee was 50 Malaysian ringgit (about $12 USD). After a relatively short wait, Tiffany and Eleanore went to see the doctor and her wrist was x-rayed. Tiffany’s instincts were proven correct since Eleanore had indeed partially fractured the radius bone above her wrist. The doctor applied a temporary cast and we scheduled a follow-up visit within a few days with a pediatric doctor at the same hospital. The total hospital bill for this day including the doctors consultation, x-ray and temporary cast and sling was 80 Malaysian ringgit ($20 USD). Eleanore told us that she was not in any pain but we took it easy for the next couple of days and returned for a follow-up visit. The initial diagnosis was confirmed by the pediatric doctor (who specializes in orthopedic injuries). To immobilize the arm and facilitate healing, the doctor applied a fiberglass partial cast. He informed us that the fracture that Eleanore had incurred was very common and that she would normally fully heal in 3 to 4 weeks. Eleanore was a trooper thru the whole ordeal. The final bill for the follow up visit with the specialist was 800 Malaysian ringgits (under $200 USD).
Our trip to Malaysia ended with a whimper and not a bang. We called our favorite taxi driver, Jason who cheerfully drove us to the airport. Bernie had a lively conversation with Jason enroute to the airport and they both had an opportunity to rant a bit about politics and the economy and taxes (all very universal topics of discontentment) in this modern globalist world that we all share.
Onward and upward, back to the islands!