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July 13, 2006 – Kota Kinabalu (KK) to Kuala Lumpur

We flew to Kuala Lumpur at 10:30 and met JJ, our Kuala Lumpur guide, at the airport. He’s Indian and Hindu and very cool. I loved his dry humor, vast knowledge and cute British accent. He said a chubby little gal from his office was here to evaluate how he was doing (maybe a peer review – God, I hated those!).

JJ and his "boss"

Backward shirt on motorcyclist

JJ was excellent. During the hour’s drive from the airport to the city he entertained us with wonderful stories.

JJ Stories on the Bus ride

He was assigned to Sean Connery during the making of Entrapment,” great movie starring Sean Connery, Katherine Zeta Jones and The Patronas Towers. He told us Sean was only in the kissing scenes a not the exciting chase scenes. He said Sean encouraged him to grow a beard – which he did (looks very nice).

Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s Capital.

Kuala Lumpur is the third cleanest city in the world behind Singapore and Tokyo.

The landscaping along the freeway during the entire hours’ drive was gorgeous.

Car tax – 300%.

2020 – Target date for every Malaysian to have a house. (There are other milestones -- past, present and future -- in the Vision 2020 related stuff inaugurated by former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Mahathir Mohamed.)

Everyone works until they die – no social security.

People wear their jackets on backwards when they’re riding motorcycles. (Actually it’s not a bad idea because it keeps the wind, rain and cold air off one’s chest.)

Our first stop was The King’s Palace (Istana Negara). Built in 1928, the palace is the official residence of the King and Queen of Malaysia. (All nine Sultans of Malaysia take turns at being king for five years each. Great system!) JJ told us that the king spends most of his time at his other residence in KL.

The building sits on a well manicured and beautifully landscaped 28-acre plot surrounded by a high fence and gorgeous entrance gates to the palace. We watched the changing of the guards. The guards’ day ends at 5 pm; the horses' day ends at 3 pm.

Guard protecting palace from Nancy

The Palace is safe with this guy

Palace Driveway


Guards in front of Palace

Horse guard

Our next stop was the National Museum, located at Lake Gardens. The original museum, built in 1888, was heavily bombed by the Japanese in WWII. The museum wasn’t put back together again until 1963. The place was packed with lots of Malaysian stuff – cultural, archaeology, trains, model villages, stuffed animals, art, weapons, musical instruments, costumes and so on. Although in need of repair, the exhibits fascinated me.

Using the manikins in the display cases, JJ pointed out the different ways Malay, Muslim, and Chinese all celebrate their weddings. JJ made the displays come to life for me with his wonderful stories.

JJ showed us the famous Malay wedding bed set up in the mother-in-law’s house. Mommy-in-law would check the bed the next morning for evidence that the bride was a virgin. If she found that the bride was not a virgin, the son was free to find another wife. JJ also showed us how the big bed is really a combination of one single bed and one double bed. If the wife curls up on the single bed, that means she has a headache.

National Museum

Wedding bed

Crocodile (stuffed)

Another display case showed the royal circumcision rite practiced long ago. The poor teenage prince was seated on a log by the river (for added shrinkage, I’m sure), with “Dr. Circumciser” ready to do his job with a long knife. Added to this scene was a “Mr. Executioner” with his axe aimed at the head of “Dr. Circumciser.” If the prince cried, “Dr. Circumciser” got his head chopped off. Beetle nut juice, an important drug to calm the nerves, probably saved many heads during this rite. JJ said nobody realizes this, but we really celebrate Jesus’ circumcision on New Year’s Day. The Jewish babies were circumcised 7 days after their birth – The equation fits – Dec. 25 plus 7 days equals New Year’s Day. I’ll never think of New Year’s Day in the same way again.

JJ gave us a mere 20 minutes to see the rest of the museum. I dashed through the housing section to see the people in their daily lives, and then through the dusty old stuffed animals – poor things (giant crocs, flying squirrels, Hornbills, King fish, etc.) and made a quick stop at the gift shop before it was time to climb back on the bus. (My brain was exploding with so much stuff jammed in.)

Our third stop of the day was the National War Memorial. Measuring about 50 feet high, this bronze sculpture is the largest freestanding sculpture in the world. Designed by Felix de Weldon in 1966, the sculpture and gardens honor the country's fallen heroes. A pool filled with the bluest water and sculpted pewter water lilies surrounds this awesome monument.

We walked around the gardens that elicited such peace and tranquility (could it be some feng shui?). The views of the city beyond the gardens were spectacular. What a place!

War Memorial

Downtown KL from War Memorial

Lake Garden

Blossoms in Lake Garden

JJ gave an overview of how Malaysia was affected by WWII and expressed his outrage and anger against what Japan did to their country. He prefaced his comments by saying, “History must be SAID, not HAD.” He was angry at the suffering and slaughter the Japanese inflected upon the Malaysians. He was angry that Thailand let the Japanese soldiers pass through their country. West Malaysia was expecting Japan to attack Singapore. The British troops stationed there were called home to defend London against the daily bombings so there was little protection. The Japanese finally sunk their main military ship by one suicide bomber.

JJ in front of War Memorial

The emotion of the place left us when Rick bought a much-coveted Magnum ice cream bar at the War Memorial gift shop and hopped on the bus ready to go. He and Judy enjoyed their long licks, much to the chagrin of Bill, Jaime and Terry.

On our way to China Town (the next scheduled stop), JJ pointed out the remarkable architecture with an abundantly green city. I loved the historical Moorish and British architecture mixed in with the most modern of skyscrapers.

Built in 1910, the KL Railway Station is a beautiful example of Moorish architecture with its elegant domes and arches. Arthur Benison Hubback, architect for this station, worked as Architectural Assistant to the Director of Public Works. He previously worked in India (in government service) before he came to Kuala Lumpur. This may help to explain his passion for Moorish / Northern Indian designs.

Old and New

Old Railway Station

The Sultan Abdul Samad building was constructed in 1897 by British architect A.C Norman who worked for the Public Works Department at that time. He took into consideration some of the features of buildings in several Islamic countries and added a clock tower, dubbed Big Ben. This beautiful building is located at the center of the old mining town of Kuala Lumpur. It once served as the Colonial Secretariat offices, but now houses the Supreme and High Courts.

Sultan Abdul Samad building

"Big Ben" in KL

Just opposite the Sultan Abdul Samad building, is the Selangor Club. Between the two buildings is Independence Square, formerly known as the Selangor Club field where only the British were allowed to play cricket on the field. In their imperialistic colonial heyday, proper British ladies brought their Dalmatians to have afternoon tea at the very exclusive Royal Selangor Club House. Selangor Club building, once nicknamed the Dalmatian Club, is still in operation today.

Independence Square

On Independence Square at midnight of August 31, 1957, the Malayan flag was raised for the first time in the country's history after it gained independence from the British. As a remembrance to this event, a 300-foot high flagpole - the world tallest flagpole - was erected. On August 31 every year an independence day parade (Merdeka Day) is held on the square – like our 4th of July celebrations and parades.

By the time we got to China Town, Bill was on a major mission for a Magnum, but none could be found. (Jaime joined the quest and asked JJ where can you buy a Magnum in this town. JJ said at the War Memorial. (I don’t think he meant to be cruel.)

China Town's main street--Petaling--was junk. We saw piles of running shoes, watches, dresses, etc. JJ instructed us to offer 70% – 80% off the asking price – but we didn’t see anything we had to have, even with an 80% discount.

Petaling Street, China Town

A genuine Rolex for $6?

Interesting produce

Tea time

Back on the bus, we enjoyed a “honey cake” Jimmie and Alex bought from a bakery in China Town. Jimmie likes to eat and will try anything, and lucky for us, will share anything -- the cake was good!

At 5:30, they delivered the weary travelers to our lovely hotel – New World Wing – Renaissance. It took awhile to sort out the keys and get us settled in.

We loved the view of the Petronas Towers from our 6th floor room.

Renaissance Hotel in KL

Petronas Towers - View from our Room

We found our pals Rick and Judy already in the hotel bar having a Happy Hour two-pints-of-Carlsberg-for-the-price-of-one. The bar was a lovely, relaxing place decorated with the theme of Black Jazz singers from the U.S.

We met the group at 7:15 in the lobby and walked across the street for our farewell dinner at Saloma (named for a famous Malaysian singer). What a spread –a huge, beautiful buffet to top all buffets. I got to know the deep fried prawn chef quite well. I also loved the okra. (Okra is becoming my thing.) The dessert table was overwhelming. I’m now a card-carrying member of the American Gluttony Society. (This has got to stop!)

Our table was right in front of the stage. The after dinner show was another traditional-dress performance. The costumes were gorgeous and the dancers so professional. Of course, when they asked tourists to join in with them at the end of the show, I was there, along with several other of my traveling pals. In one dance, we had to ride a straw horse. I spent most of my time on stage dancing with a cute little guy who was wearing lots of make-up. He was fun and put up with my two left feet.

Performers in KL

The dancers were so professional

Traditional dance

Beautiful costumes

Our hotel room was very noisy that night with a Food Festival on the street, six floors below us. I took an extra sleeping pill (Ambien), crawled under the covers and with a flashlight, finished reading my wonderful book about walking across Borneo. Felt like a kid again. I was sad when I finished the book and sad not to be sleeping.

July 14, 2006 – Last Day – On Our Own in Kuala Lumpur

The last day of our trip – another hotel breakfast buffet – another omelet, another bowl of cereal with yogurt and lots of fruit.

At 7:30 am, we hooked up with Terry and Jamie to do the MUST VISIT famous Petronas Towers, built by the Malaysian national oil company. We easily found the towers by looking up and got in line for the free tickets to the sky bridge (on the 41st floor connecting the two towers). The ticket booth opened at 8:15 and we got in the 9 am group – the first group to go up into this amazing structure. (They only issue 800 free tickets a day and that’s it!)

Petronas Towers

Looking up

View from the sky bridge
Looking down from the bridge

Inside the Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

At 1,453 feet, the towers were the world's tallest building (until Taiwan built a taller tower just recently) and the symbol for the growth that has taken place in Malaysia over the last two decades. The two 88-storey gleaming freestanding towers are connected by a sky bridge. (As the story goes, a Japanese company built one tower and a Korean company built the other. They raced to see who would finish first and collect the mighty fine incentives. After three years, they both finished on the same date!)

The towers house a huge shopping plaza (called SURIA KLCC), food court, the Petronas Philharmonic Hall, the Petronas Art Gallery and offices for Kuala Lumpur City Centre, high tech companies and others.

I loved the dramatic shots we were able to get of that incredible building. In some strange way, it seemed like a living being to me. The views of the city from the towers knocked my socks off!

We walked back to our hotel amazed by this clean, modern, incredible city.

Bill, Jaime and I got a cab to Batu Caves, about 7 miles north of KL for 35 ringgets ($12). Batu Caves are the sacred place for the Hindu's in Malaysia. A giant Hindu statue, seen for miles around, stood at the entrance of Temple Cave (or Cathedral Cave). Temple Cave, Dark Cave, Gallery Cave and some other smaller caves were discovered in 1892. They are made of limestone and are 1200 ft. long and 300 ft. high.

We had to climb 272 steps to Temple Cave’s entrance. On our way up, we spotted Alex and Jimmie and some others from our group going down. We said our goodbyes on the steps.

Statue in front of Batu Cave

Entrance to Temple Cave

The view from the top was amazing.

We entered the huge cavern with filtered sunlight, heavy smoke and the smell of incense. The place was eerie and strange to us Westerners.

Inside Batu Cave

Let the sun shine in

Temple inside the cave
Temple art

We met some naughty long tailed-macaque monkeys having their way with the tourists. One was drinking from a coke can he absconded from a tourist.

I got some cow dung smeared on my head and a blessing for “long life and happiness” from a very hairy Hindu religious guy. (Hope it works!)

Jaime stopped to get his photo with a Boa constrictor while Bill went in search of a Magnum. (There were other reptiles there as well that could be purchased as a photo prop.)

Komodo dragon in the cave

Jaime and the boa constrictor

SUCCESS -- Bill found his Magnum!

Bill and what's left of his Magnum

After our Hindu religious experience, we got a taxi back to the hotel to hook up with Bev and Terry. We took the underground to the Central Market and found a food court overlooking the main floor. We ate our lunches and watched the Muslim women shop.

After lunch we went on a 30-minute shopping spree. I bought a jade circle charm (donut shaped) from a Chinese vendor. Priced at 180 ringgets ($60 US), I offered 50 ringgets ($16) through my negotiator Bill. Much to my surprise, the Chinese vendor accepted Bill’s offer and said, “I’m happy when you’re happy.” Wondered just what did I buy?

Jaime took me to a store to show me the tackiest souvenir of the century – a bobble head crocodile with a baby on it’s back (which opened into a box). I said $20 US – but the price stood at $24 US. I still regret not buying that crazy thing.

After shopping, we went to Lake Gardens, the city’s lovely central park. Lake Gardens is like New York’s Central Park. Established in 1888, it’s a gorgeous area filled with parks and gardens right in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. The gardens contain the National Monument (which we visited the day before), Bird Park, Deer Park, Butterfly Park, Orchid and Hibiscus Garden and others.

We had trouble finding the right place to cross the train tracks to get to Lake Gardens and then, when we got to Lake Gardens, we had trouble finding the entrance to Bird Park. Must have walked 3 extra miles just to get there.

At the entrance to Bird Park I saw some potted orchids for sale – beautiful.

Bird Park entrance

Orchids at the entrance

In that heat, we were looking for a place for our afternoon Tiger beer – but this is Muslim country and they are serious tea totalers and water was all we could come up with.

We paid 3 ringgets ($1 US) to get into the famous Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, home to more than 3,000 birds from approximately 200 species of local and worldwide birds. KL Bird Park opened in 1991 and is the world's largest covered bird park and the world's largest free flight aviary.

We passed cage after cage with little excitement, except for the intriguing Muslim women with their burkas and veils.

In spite of the Bird Flu popping up in the Pacific Rim, I’m glad we went to Bird Park because I got some very up close and personal shots of the birds – especially the Hornbills – the only place we saw them. I really liked photographing the birds. They were looking out of the corner of their eye at me and posing oh so nicely.


Another bird

A multicolored bird

A bird with a long bill

Bill and I paid 5 ringgets ($1.50) to sit among the birds to get our photograph taken with them. We had birds on our arms, heads, and shoulders. They all seemed mellow enough. With those strong claws and beaks, I didn’t want any of my companions to start fighting each other. (A father and his little son got their pictures taken right before us. The poor little kid was petrified of the birds and begging for mercy – such fear in that little face.)

Bill, Nancy and friends

The next Tour de France winner?

We went to the 3:30 Bird Show – it was pretty boring – parrots riding bikes, ringing bells, doing puzzles. We’re so spoiled and jaded by the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park's Hollywood-razzle dazzle bird show productions.

The best part of the show was watching cranes (or were they storks?) flying overhead – so graceful in the air, yet so clunky on the ground. We stopped at the gift shop on the way out. I got Kay and Joe a carved bird.

Bev, Terry and Jaime took a cab back to the hotel while Bill and I looked for the Orchid Building. (We stopped in at the Civil Service Museum – so intrigued by the display, but no time to absorb any meaning.) By the time we figured out where the entrance to the Orchid garden was, we had gone way past it. It was hot and we just couldn’t bear to double back again, so we grabbed a taxi for the hotel as well. (I regret missing the orchids – oh well – try as I may, I just can’t do everything!)

Our taxi driver insisted on 10 ringgets ($3 US) and no meter to clock the actual miles. Bill and I insisted on using the meter, but then, the honest son of a gun said, “On the meter the ride will cost you 7 ringgets ($2.50 US) – but I’m adding 3 ringgets ($1 US) because 3 ringgets is a lot to me, but nothing to you.” We were charmed by his honesty and sense of humor. His home is in Malacca. (We visited Malacca a few years ago so we had some common knowledge.) Our driver continued the theme of Malaysian national pride that so many of its citizen’s share – 2020 Housing for all, education is the government’s top priority, etc. He apologized for some litter in one area of the park. He said that there was a big parade there in the morning and the crews hadn’t picked up the mess yet. They are so proud of their clean, beautiful city.

He told us Malaysia is building a tourism industry and people are coming because they feel safe here. He told us to please come back and tell our American friends about what we had seen (which I suppose I am doing right now). He said sometimes he takes his cab riders home for dinner so that they can experience a real Muslim dinner in a Muslim household. (I kinda feel sorry for his wife!) We asked him where the locals go for a beer. He said I’m sorry I’m Muslim and we do not drink, but go to the Shining Malay for a very good dinner. Our ride was delightful and well worth the extra buck it cost us.

Taxi driver

Terry and Jaime joined Bill and me for Happy Hour at the hotel bar before dinner. Our last night in KL and Bev requested Italian (so much for the Shining Malay recommended by our cabbie buddy). The hotel conciergel recommended a place called Sicilian as a good Italian restaurant. Unfortunately, he marked the wrong spot on the map so we were condemned to wander aimlessly through busy traffic for another 30 minutes until we found the place. Sicilian turned out to be too fru-fru for me and not nearly as good as the Taste of Italy in KK and over 3 times the price. We were all disappointed – but hey, it’s just one meal.

We got back to our room at 9:30 and did our final packing for tomorrow’s long trip back home.

July 15, 2006 – Going On a Jet Plane

After an early breakfast, we said our “Good-bye’s” to Thomas – going to miss that darling little guy. It took an hour to get to the airport.

There was nothing but chaos at the airport with the long lines and typical hassles, but we managed to get to the right plane and to the right seat.

A young, sweet Indian guy was seated between me (at the window) and Bill (on the aisle). His name was Vidhya Sagar (should have been Sugar). He came bouncing in, shook our hands and told us he was delighted to be traveling with us. We learned that this was the very first time he had ever flown. He was going to L.A. to attend a two-month trading program on Windows development. He was excited, but also sad to be away from his wife and two young children. We used the in-flight magazine maps to discuss world issues. India is mighty close to a lot of countries getting ripped apart by war. He was such a gentlemen, always offering to get up so I could stretch my legs. “In India,” he said, “We always show respect to a lady.” (I adored him and wanted to adopt him immediately.)

24 hours later and a couple of yucky plane meals, a book and a few stupid movies, we finally landed in LAX at 1:05 pm - local time. We caught a shuttle to Budget to get our car, but had to stand in line for over an hour. We got the keys to a Jeep Cherokee and thought we were home free, but traffic to San Diego was ungodly – over 3 more hours.

We arrived home about 6 or 7. The kids come by. Zi (my precious 5 year old granddaughter) gave me the biggest, longest hug ever. I missed her so much. They stayed around for an hour. Zi wanted to stay longer and help me unpack – I don’t think so.

We were back in our life as we know it – but thinking of the wonderful people we met and the wonderful things we saw and how very thankful we are for these great adventures.


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