Goodbye India; Hello Malaysia

The Great Escape – Friday, April 4, 2014

The Great Escape

Our last day in India was spent hiding in the lobby of our hotel waiting for our scheduled taxi to the airport.

Because we were more than ready to leave the subcontinent, we decided to set out for the airport a good six hours before our flight.

What’s interesting about the drive from central Delhi to the airport is the route you have to take. As cleverly planned by the Indian government, the drive takes you through the carefully groomed and well maintained streets of the diplomatic enclave, before spitting you out onto modern new highway that leads straight into the terminal.

It’s my bet that when folks like Barack Obama and David Cameron visit India this is the only part they see – a city with great highways, modern infrastructure and well groomed streets.

Unfortunately the reality is that only a few blocks away millions of people are rotting in the streets, completely ignored by the rich and powerful hiding in their “diplomatic enclave,” which could easily be confused with the campus of UCLA.

I’m not saying India is the only country facing these problems. Every country in the world is struggling to deal with the issue of poverty and a growing separation between the rich and poor. We’re all failing to effectively care for our warming planet and provide our citizens with basic healthcare that should be a god-given human right.

But what India does is take all the problems we collectively face in the world, all the vexing issues that impact our society, amplifies them a thousand times and slaps you in the face with them. Over and over again.

In the US we do a pretty good job of sweeping our problems under the rug and pretending they don’t exist. In India all the rugs in the world couldn’t cover up the endless list of ills that will one day destroy our planet.

I left on this trip excited to see the world, meet amazing people and learn a thing or two about how other people live their lives.

After 15 months I’m more cynical about the world than I have ever been. I’ve seen more suffering and injustice than I’ve seen happiness and joy. I’ve seen more problems than solutions, and I’ve seen a world society with growing conflict and shrinking ambitions to stand for what is right and wrong.

At the end if the day there are too many people satisfied staying in the “diplomatic enclave,” or “visiting” India from inside the comforts of a five star hotel and private car.

These people seem to enjoy making a vacation out of watching – from a safe distance – how other, less fortunate people live.

News flash. It’s not a movie taking place outside your private car window. It’s real life. So next time you tell me, “I love India,” enlighten me further, please. Tell me exactly, what do you love?

Air so polluted you can’t breathe? Rivers so filled with garbage and filth you could walk across them? Blind children tapping on the car window begging for money to give to the man who burned their eyes shut? A country filled with a billion rightfully angry, fighting people struggling to make ends meet? Streets filled with human filth and waste because there’s no infrastructure and the country is bursting at its seams?

I guess you wouldn’t know these problems exist, because these things are pretty hard to experience with the A/C on and the windows of the private car firmly rolled up.

When we got on the plane the night of April 4 and lifted up into the night sky leaving Delhi far behind, I’m pretty sure I was just about as relieved to be in the air as Ben Afleck and company were at the end of Argo. But I was also filled with a new determination to stand up and fight for the things I believe in. To do my part, and to encourage others to do their part, to help make the world a better place.

 

Kuala Lumpur – Saturday, April 5, 2014

With the noise, clatter and chaos of India behind us, we flew through the night toward Kuala Lumpur. We touched down at just after five in the morning and booked a budget taxi to our hostel, Matahari Lodge, in Chinatown.

For the first time in three months we had clean sheets and a pleasantly air conditioned room. It was awesome.

We spent our first day in KL stocking up on malaria medication and roaming around the shopping mall looking for things necessary for a successful reintegration into modern society.

Exhausted from three months in India and a red eye flight we went back to the hostel and went to bed early so we could be ready to meet John and Jude the next day.

Reunited – Sunday, April 6, 2014

Apparently we were really exhausted from India and the redeye flight, because we were awoken on Sunday to a loud banging on our room door.

After a few disoriented minutes we realized the guy from reception was bashing on our door because it was 11:55 a.m. and we were supposed to be checking out in five minutes. So much for a productive day getting ready for John and Jude to arrive.

Frustrated that we had slept in so long, we gathered our things and somehow managed to check out only about 15 minutes late. We then hopped on the LRT train and traveled one station down to KL Sentral to the Aloft Hotel where we would spend the next three nights with John and Jude.

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Well, checking into the Aloft was a pretty embarrassing experience. The front desk girl who checked us in took one look at us with our grubby packs and determined that we must not be paying for the room.

Well, she was right. There’s no way we’d have been staying there on our own dime. The place was amazing complete with a restaurant, gym and rooftop pool and bar.

Considering we are usually just hoping that our room price includes toilet paper, it was quite a shock to the system.

Once we got settled in out rooms Tarynne headed out to the shopping mall and I did some work on the computer while I waited for my parents to arrive.

At about 4:30 I finally got a text that said John and Jude had arrived in the lobby. I went down to meet them and it was so exciting to see familiar faces after such a long time.

We spent the rest of the evening catching up before heading out to Jalan Alor (Alor Street) for some food at a restaurant with tables and chairs out in the street under hundreds of Chinese lanterns.

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The food was good and the company was even better. Although we were missing Tarynne because her little shopping spree had extended late into the evening.

The City – Monday, April 7, 2014

Well rested from our first night sleep in a real hotel since Christmas we headed downstairs to meet up for breakfast.

Let’s just say the breakfast buffet at Aloft is pretty much the best thing on planet earth, because Tarynne and I went absolutely nuts. All three mornings spent in KL we piled our plates high with unprecedented amounts of western and Asian breakfast delicacies.

It turned out to be a really nice day, so as soon as we finished eating we set out to explore the city. Our first stop was Merdeka Square, the site the Union Jack flag was lowered and the independent Malaysian flag was raised for the first time in 1957.

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After visiting the square we stopped by the Jamek Mosque on our way to the ascend the KL Tower for sweeping views of the city and the Petronas Towers.

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While the KL Tower isn’t as famous as the Petronas Towers, the view from the top is pretty amazing. It’s also a nice vantage point for a close up view of the Petronas Towers.

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Having successfully summited the tower, we cruised back in the direction of our hotel and made a pit stop in Chinatown to see some temples and the Central Market.

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After perusing the market we relaxed in the Old Town White Coffee Shop before making our way back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.

Dressed in our Sunday best we went back out to Alor Street for dinner under the Chinese lanterns. This time Tarynne was able to join us and we ate, drank and chatted late into the evening.

Entrapment – Tuesday, April 8, 2014

For me this was the most exiting day in KL, because we had tickets booked to visit the Petronas Towers, a place I’d wanted to visit ever since the release of Entrapment (1999).


Thanks to Jude’s forward planning we had our tower tickets booked for 5:30 p.m., so we had most of the day to explore more of the city before heading over to the towers.

With the whole day ahead of us our first order of business was to visit the Batu Caves, which are home to a massive Hindi temple. The caves are located on the outskirts of town at the end of the line of the KTM Komuter train.

The train ride only took about 30 minutes and the caves were far more impressive than I expected. There were also a ton of macaques creeping around the entrance harassing tourists, which was pretty entertaining to watch.

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We spent a fun couple of hours at the caves before getting back on the train and returning to Aloft. We decided to spend the rest of the afternoon hanging by the rooftop pool before getting ready to head into town.

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Just as we started to leave for the towers it started to pour rain. Fortunately, the train line takes you directly into the mall underneath the towers so we were able to get there without getting completely soaked.

Thankfully by the time 5:30 rolled around and we were ready to go up the towers the storm had passed through and some patches of blue sky crept out from behind the clouds.

The first stop on the tour is the sky bridge that connects the two towers. It’s the tallest sky bridge in the world and serves as a passage between the two towers and as an emergency escape from one tower into the next.

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From the sky bridge we then ascended the rest of the way up one of the towers to the observation deck of the tallest twin towers in the world. In fact, when the Petronas Towers first opened in 1998 they were the tallest buildings in the world, but they have since been passed by a number of buildings. The Burj Khalifa, which we visited in Dubai is now the tallest building in the world at 828 meters.

The observation deck boasted incredible views of the city and also contained a bunch of really informative exhibits with models and maps of the city.

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When we got back down to street level it was just starting to get dark, so we walked across the street and into the park for a brilliant view of the towers lighting up the night sky.

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As we walked back toward the base of the towers we were treated to a fountain and light show in the man made pond located just outside the main entrance to the building.

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Craving some western comforts, Tarynne and I convinced John and Jude to take us to an Italian restaurant for dinner where we enjoyed a long, leisurely meal before taking the train back to our hotel.

Once we were back at the hotel we decided to head back up to the rooftop bar for some drinks before bed.

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