Lecka cocka, bullfrogs and missing buckets

Day 1, May 9, 2008: Kuala Lumpur

It was an overnight flight on Malaysia Airlines and early morning on May 9th, we reached the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). The flight was pretty uneventful except that my hair was irritatingly FULL of static and standing at all ends. Also, while I have not flown other international airlines – but have seen and met enough hostesses – I found the hostesses on Malaysian airlines to be very rude and have a peculiar ‘we know better’ attitude. Initially I thought it was my “black armband” as Partner calls it, but over the trip it proved to be more a case with Malaysian Airlines. More on that later…

<--- Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Since we were flying into KL in the morning I could have a birds’ eye view (or plane’s window view) at Malaysia. My first impression was of the country being very, very green. Actually manicured green since all the trees seemed to have the same height. Before it could register, Partner helpfully pointed out that the trees were palm tree plantations for palm oil, one of the biggest sources of income for Malaysia with India being one of the major importer’s. As we got off at KLIA, I was a bit surprised to realize that there were no ‘buses’ waiting to herd-in the passengers, instead you walk out to the terminal, get into a swanky train that then takes you into the main terminal. That was just the beginning; Kuala Lumpur is ALL about efficiency.

The in-flight ad for KLIA says, “It’s impossible to lose your way at the airport,” and they were right. That’s something that super impressed me about both KL and Melbourne – the signage on the streets and the detailing in the road maps – as long as you can read English, even a first-timer to the cities will manage her way around. The same cannot be said about Delhi though: Imagine asking a new-in-town person to find Jhandu Singh Marg*, or locate the right house number in Greater Kailash 1. Once out of immigration, I was further pleasantly surprised that there was no rushing, stomping or fighting over taxis. It’s smooth and was smoother still for us since we had the hotel limousine service waiting for us.

<--- Renaissance Hotel that stands in the KL Golden Triangle
During the ride from the airport to the hotel, we got a complete lowdown about Malaysian economy, politics and a rush-through of places to visit from our cab driver, Malay with origins in Tamil Nadu. Both Partner and I were super impressed with his knowledge of the situation in Malaysia and his individual perspective. Also, unlike Delhi, cabbies in KL don’t keep looking into their rearview to see what’s happening in the back seat. Education, awareness and an opinion were something in common to all the south-Indian-Malay cabbies we rode with in KL. We stayed at Renaissance hotel that was neighbour to the Petronas Twin Towers and Partner took the piss out of me since for a first international holiday, I was having a shamelessly luxurious one. And he should know, his first visit to India was way back in 2000, as a backpacker and here I was staying at a posh five star and then moving to an exclusive, manicured resort for the next four. Funnier still is how fast a human being can adjust to luxury… like showers.

Pic courtesy: http://anneromano.com/images/india_bucket.gif
Some of you might laugh at this – and I do sound like a yokel, but not going to lie – but after having lived in rented accommodations for the last 10 years (17 house shifts) and before that in Army accommodations that aren’t really examples of architecture or amenities – what REALLY struck me were, er, the showers in the bathrooms. Haha, it’s so funny, our perception of how things should be and the kind of things we take for granted. Like in our first winter together, Partner was shocked to find me washing dishes in cold water. “Don’t you have hot water for the dishes?” he had asked incredulously. I had looked at him even more incredulously and pointed out that we didn’t even have a geyser in the bathroom and used an emersion rod for heating water and it was a bit too much to expect hot water for bloody dishes.

ALL my experiences with showers in India have included either houses not having showers at all, or the shower not working, or the shower head skewed at a weird angle where it spews water everywhere but on you, or the knobs rusted with disuse, or the water pressure being too low for the shower to work at all. Or if at all the shower works, most of the holes in the showerhead would be blocked and of course, the faucet head will ALWAYS leak, as a rule. I don’t think we realize, but the balti (bucket) has become SUCH an integral part of the Indian way of life ( also because we are not as toilet-paper friendly). If once I had laughed at Partner because he had been perplexed at the entire procedure of heating-water-bathing-from-bucket, he got his chance when he sweetly laughed at my excitement over “such nice showers”. Ha, ha, no amount of reading or watching movies can prepare you for some things, even if they are just showers. (It’s nice to have a comfort with another to not feel like an ignorant dunce all the time)

<--- KL monorail service makes travel far easier but there is debate on whether it conserves fuel or not
A little rest later we headed out for our first taste of Kuala Lumpur. My first impression of the traffic in Kuala Lumpur can be summarized in two sentences: “I want one of those bikes!” and “What are such young kids doing driving around in such posh cars?” Cabs, few buses for intercity travel, 135 cc bikes, cars, local trains and the ‘monorail’ constitute the transport in KL. Since Renaissance was located bang next to one of the monorail stations, moving around KL was a lark. As I wrote earlier, the maps make things pretty simple and the cab drivers are knowledgeable. From Renaissance we got off at Bukit Bintang, which would be the main shopping area in KL. From small stores with good bargains – we caught 50 per cent clearance sales in almost all stores – to showrooms for the biggest retail chains, KL is like any other major city the world. However, Partner said that the city lacked in “soul,” it was much later that I would be able to make my own judgment of that… For the first few shops, after a long while I was DELIGHTED to find clothes my size. We roamed around for an hour or two in the market and headed back to the hotel since we were to catch up with the family there. Post lunch it was pool time and the beginning of my love affair with the pina colada.

After lunch and burning that lunch in the pool -- constitutes me flapping around -- we all headed to the main market area for some dinner. That’s when I realized that KL comes to life at night. While in the morning people had been out on the streets, it seemed as if the entire city had descended on the roads at night. With lights all around, shops and young people dressed to their heels, it was with surprise that I realized it was 12 am. While the nighttime crowd was mainly young people or families out for a meal, it took only a glance to know that the girls dressed well. If the Chinese girls wore designer outfits, the girls in hijab did up their eyes in the most beautiful way. However, I hardly saw any Indians out…

We were a group of 12 and our dinner was an assortment of fish, bullfrog legs and Malaysian curries. Since I had been practicing using a chopstick in India – simply because Partner could use choppies and I of course was insulted that I didn’t know and therefore HAD to learn, heh – I insisted on having all my meals with chopsticks. For first time chopstick users I would suggest keeping a spoon (even if you have to hide one in your purse) as things slithering off your plate and landing on the floor is not very graceful. Oh yes, bullfrog legs are kinda crispy-chewy... and not something that I would be trying again, no matter what the French say. After dinner some of us headed towards China Town (open 6-11 pm and supposedly has awesome bargains but everything is fake) and four of us – Partner, me and his aunt P and uncle M – went out to check out some nightspots.

Our first stop was this restaurant/bar called ‘Lecka Lecka’, which thanks to my being blind – I am shortsighted and had sat on my specs the night before the trip – I read the sign as “Lecka Cocka” (the logo, look at the bloody logo!). Amused, I also pointed it out to Partner’s aunt, like five seconds before I bit my tongue and realized that that’s NOT something you point out to someone’s relative five hours into meeting them. (scowl) Next time I shall learn to keep my amusing observations to myself. After my initial reluctance at stepping into the place, which was alleviated once I read the sign properly, it turned out to be quite nice. In both Melbourne and KL, I realized that street side cafes are huge business and special care is taken to make the outdoor seating as attractive as the indoor. I couldn’t help but think how a little paint job, some lights and inviting outdoor seating could change the face of Connaught Place in Delhi. For instance, United Coffee House has such a forgotten British charm to it, clean out the exterior, put some umbrellas and chairs and we might just have a truly international shopping experience in CP.

As we smoked our hookah/sheesha at Lecka-Lecka, which was playing some Latino tracks, we all got into the mood to salsa. The fact that neither of us knew how to salsa was not considered and we thought it wasn’t important… We were to be proven wrong. The first salsa place was ‘Q Ba’ where there was a rocking live band belting out tunes with such gusto that we all were dancing even as we approached the bar… However, before we could order a drink we were asked to leave the place as M was in shorts and the place only allowed formal clothes. The seriousness of salsa! While I appreciate keeping the ‘integrity’ of a dance alive, snobbery because some others might know the moves and yet want to revel in it, is not so right… For me dance is about letting go and having fun. Anyway, disappointed we decided to find another joint and after some enquiries, headed off to the Federal Hotel and its bar called ‘Havana’. It was no match for ‘Q Ba’, which was quite obviously a happening place, but it had its share of salsa followers shaking it on the dance floor.

Again, I noticed the lack of Indians both at Q Ba and Havana. KL is supposed to be a multicultural city with many Indian immigrants and locals and yet all day, I had hardly seen any Indians. Senior people I could understand, but didn’t the young Indians go partying? I HAD to ask and cornered the salsa instructor at Havana; he turned out to be Punjabi! My suspicions were right, according to the dude (unfortunately have forgotten his name), most Indians in KL are VERY conservative and do not approve of their kids learning salsa or such. If at all the Indians there party, they apparently usually head for ‘Bollywood’ bars!

Indians abroad being more conservative than those back home is something many people who travel have told me. To me, it seems that it’s either a case of wanting to hold on tight to what you have left behind or a fear of learning new things. Like going to a new restaurant and ending up ordering Indian food all the time. Or it could also be a case of not valuing what we have till we step out of our comfort zones. Hmm… I think I need to travel more to figure that one out. Ha, ha.

After the sojourn on KL streets, it was back to the hotel and sinking into a very tired but happy sleep. My holiday had just started…

PS: Jhandu Singh Marg is the left turn (if you’re coming from South Extension side) before the Hyatt Regency left turn.

PS2: While there weren’t any salsa-ing Indians that I met, it made me very proud that our very own Kaytee Namgyal is VERY well known in the salsa circuits. And to think that I had written about him in the obscure Around Town (published by Ogaan that also publishes Elle, the magazine is now dead) makes me feel real nice. Shows how people with true talent will always prosper…as long as they pursue it with all their energy.

PS3: The other posts wont be this long!!!!


Back in India, holiday withdrawal

Thank god that Delhi has rains, though was much surprised as we flew into the capital on Tuesday night to find clouds hovering and lightning outside. While we had been telling all and sundry that Delhi was boiling at 42 degrees -- the temperature when we left for Malaysia-Melbourne on May 8th and given that Malaysia was not more than 28 degrees while Melbourne was 10 degrees -- it was quite a pleasant change to find Delhi much, much cooler. And to think that Victoria, Melbourne almost has it's third consecutive year of drought (it rained a bit, but nothing like what we get here). Now it's been two days since I've been back and it's taking me some time to get used to. NOT because of any time difference or such but just because I STILL want to holiday... So am moping.

<--- first look at the Himalayas from the plane
Till as such time as I get the Delhi-Malaysia-Melbourne-St Arnaud posts ready, you guys have a look at the rest of the pics from Leh. For those who didn't know or missed, was in Leh-Ladakh for the weekend of April 18-21, 2008. For those who look at the picture and think they want to get to Leh, PLEASE DO SO. The tickets are bloody cheap as we paid Rs 12,000 return for two people and without any prior booking. We flew Jet Airways and came back on Deccan.

<--- Atop the Leh Palace, even today, most constructions are made of sun-dried, mud bricks
Since we were there for the last of the off-season weekends, we got a discount on the hotel room. We paid Rs 1,990 a night for the hotel room and stayed at Omasila Hotel, one of the best in Leh and apparently the one where Brad Pitt stayed during the shooting of Seven Years in Tibet. Amitabh Bachchan has also stayed there and well, now there's me on the list. Bwahahaha.
For those who might decide to stay at Omasila, be sure to ask for the ground floor rooms as those are centrally heated and the upper floors are not. The hotel however has these LPG heaters and you should ask for one if you plan your trip in the colder season. In the tourist season -- which is now to about end October -- accommodation is available starting from Rs 500.
Food is not an issue as there are restaurants and smaller hotels that sell everything from croissants, dal-roti to thukpa and manchurian. However, in the season when it snows, you might not get meat and chicken products -- as was the case with us for a day -- because land slides and snowing might block the road ways.
<-- Etched on stones by the lamas, these messages are either prayers or directions
The most money we spent in Leh was on transport. You can hire a jeep, Innova, Sumo or Qualis, or two wheels are more your style, you can hire an Enfield. However, from the view of fuel consumption and comfort, go for a four-wheeler.
The best way to go around Leh and to chalk out what you want to see would be either a good guide book or asking someone at your hotel. However, it would be better still to ask someone who's been there. Like another day and we would have managed to see the Nubra Valley too, which we missed out.
<--- shot at the Hemis monastery
We visited: The monasteries of Shey, Thiksay, Hemis and Alchi; walked up to the Leh Palace that's in the city, drove up to Pangogtso Lake, which is in a valley after you cross the second-highest motorable pass in the world. Don't be fooled by the monasteries, i.e. don't think that if you have seen one, you've seen all because pretty much all the monasteries have something unique to offer.
One of the smaller monasteries located right below the Leh Palace--->
If you can catch a prayer session, it would be great -- more monks (lamas), the merrier -- it's a simple ceremony but the drums, incense and chanting have a way of entrancing you. Shoes are not allowed inside the monastery, so it's a good idea not to wear footwear with intricate laces etc. While a head-covering is not required, hot pants, backless tops etc are not appreciated. If you're wearing those -- can get warm in the sun during summers -- it's advisable to carry a shawl you can cover up with.

And yes, please carry extra camera battery, an extra storage card (or laptop), don't forget the camera transfer cable, lenses AND the camera charger. It would be absolutely criminal to go there and NOT take pictures or forget some vital camera part at home.
Pangongtso lake, frozen-->
Camera apart, aclimatisation is very important: With far less amounts of oxygen up there, it would be silly to run around without proper rest, particularly if you are flying up. Usually, bedrest is not needed for those who drive up. We crashed out for 6 hours before venturing out.
Confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers --->
Have heard horror stories about army officers' wives who go to Leh to shop -- known for cultured pearls -- dont take adequate bed rest and drop dead in two hours due to pulmonary edema (lungs flood with fluid). So for those who decide to fly up there, please take rest. You really can't enjoy the place if dead. And again, DO give Leh a visit. "Starkly beautiful" will make perfect sense...


Hijab and hooker heels

OR Shit fry for a white guy…

I swear to Jesus or Sai Baba or whomever you may please that this bloody blog is allergic to happy posts. Even as I sat down to convert the notes I have been taking over the days into ‘Episode 1: Virgin Affairs’ – after the mandatory email checking, friend request ignoring and birthday walling – the calmness of my early morning was fucked by ‘a person’ sitting on the computer next to me. I am at a cyber café on Elizabeth Street, Melbourne and was quite happy with the holiday I’ve had so far and with the people of this city TILL ‘a person’ walked into the café, sat on the comp next to me and upon realizing he is sitting next to an Indian, has crossed himself at least six times since.

It’s funny because firstly, it has never happened to me before. Of course people have remembered God when around me or because of me --- bwahahaha – but that’s not usually because of my skin colour. (er, it's called putting the fear of God) Secondly, because I thought one is supposed to cleanse oneself after meeting an Indian, remembering God really doesn’t help, you know. Anyway, so the guy walks in --- (oh wow, he just left, perhaps typing in font size 18 WHILE he was staring into my monitor worked, maybe he will knife me or punch me in the face when I step out, maybe I should kick him in the groin first, NOT going down without a fight unless am shot in the head or something) – takes one look at me and goes, “E gad” and crosses himself. I am surprised at my reaction, since I simply looked away, stared into my monitor, smiled and started typing. Maybe I will hang a laptop around my neck and walk around.

That apart, I really have not felt much of any racist vibes… Maybe two days is not enough to feel it! (Am SUCH a cynic) People are friendly or at least helpful when you ask them for directions or some such thing. In both Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Melbourne, if I have caught another’s eye and smiled, people have smiled back… except for the Indians. In both cities, the Indians or those of Indian origin are the last people to smile at a stranger and first to look uncomfortable when spoken to. At least three people were horrified when I spoke to them in Hindi and pulled a really twangy Australian accent on me with an, “Excuse mai?” All three were women, who had been speaking Hindi (two of them had) just before I spoke to them and were in Indian outfits, one was also wearing chooda (red and white bangles that recently married Punjabi women wear). The first two times I apologized and switched back to English but the third time – the chooda chick – I couldn’t help but go, “Anywhooooo”, wink and walk away.

Both yesterday and today (Friday), I’ve come into the city with Partner at about 9 am. He leaves for work – he’s here on an official thing – and I roam around the city, checking cafes, looking at buildings, drinking loads of coffee (8 cups yesterday, determined to not have as many today), wondering why Melbourne women don’t wear more colours (maybe on the beach? But it’s cold…) and REALLY enjoying the fact that am getting a fair bit of nice-male-attention. No men stared/ checked out/ looked in Kuala Lumpur but a fair bit – both ‘white’ and non-white – have been doing so in Melbourne. It could be because I DO look the smallest creature walking on the roads – I mean there are other 5 feet tall/small women, but WHY do I look such a runt?! – or because I seem to be strolling while everyone else is pacing about. THAT’s one instant way of knowing who is NOT from Melbourne… People here pretty much run instead of walking. Maybe it’s a big city thing, or maybe it’s a city-with-train-network-thing. But even in Delhi (doesn’t have local trains) or Mumbai (has local trains), I’ve never seen people walk this fast. Or purposefully…

When I say nice-male-attention, it means that the blokes check you out but it’s not like in Delhi (or Indian cities) where they seem to strip you with their eyes (and sometimes you can even feel their disgusting paws on you). Here it’s more like a top-to-toe and quick look away if you catch them looking at you, or a longer thorough glance if they don’t know you know they are looking at you or a shy or cheeky smile if you catch them looking and look back. Hmm, however, majority of those who looked were tall boys. Perhaps they thought I was a midget… or perhaps because I look ‘man-handle-able’? (Tsks at self for being SUCH a cynic)

However – and I can’t say it enough – it is SUCH a relief, a huge, huge, relief to just walk around the roads of an unknown city without anyone whistling, without eyes boring into your back, your butt, your breasts, without walking through a throng of people crossing red lights wondering if someone is going to grab your tits. I don’t know the city, I don’t know streets and yet I feel very comfortable just walking or getting on a tram, asking people for directions or sitting alone outside cafeterias with a coffee and a cigarette and watching as the city wakes up. It is such a relief that even when a man looks at you or checks you out, he does not threaten. Of course there are some jackasses, but unlike India (or the Indian subcontinent) where we seem to produce them in masses, not everyone is a jackass. In fact the ONLY dudes who offend with their staring seem to be the Indian/ Pakistani boys here… (Sri Lankans don’t, they are way too cool)

Perhaps some will give the argument that since boys and girls here grow up watching each other on beaches and wearing short skirts or cleavage showing outfits, they are more used to such stuff and therefore don’t stare. (Between, the sari shows much more than jeans and a tee shirt does or with stockings on, you don’t see skin at all while there are no skin outfits worn under saris when our women show off their midriffs) But you know what, in Kuala Lumpur, MOST Malay women wear the hijab (almost like a burqa except that the face is not covered but the rest of the body is) and YET the Malay men do NOT stare. In fact girls in KL – Chinese majority that is –wore MUCH shorter dresses (and higher heels) than the girls in Melbourne (also since its winter here and was bloody warm in KL).

IF hooker heels and hijab can coexist in a country WITHOUT men molesting women on New Year’s and without staring or eve teasing, I say WE need to do something. HOW are the mothers bringing up the boys in these countries that makes them NOT stare? What are we doing wrong that makes generations of men in India into such personal space invading, boob-staring, butt-grabbing monsters? Please don’t give me rape and how it happens in other countries – it does and there’s no denying – but EVE TEASING is what am talking about. It’s different and it’s really rampant.

Anyway, this is getting longer and there is much to write but those will come in subsequent posts. It’s 11.20 am now and I wonder what I can do today till Partner gets free… I checked out the Melbourne aquarium yesterday and I don’t think many will be impressed when I say that I found the jellyfish more impressive than the sharks. But that’s me. Heading out for more coffee, more notes and trying to understand what makes this city tick and why it’s so difficult for Delhi to pick up tips from truly international, truly multicultural cities… And what might it take if at all we were to change our men.

PS: Of all things about India and home, I miss Golu Dawg, he is at a dog resort. IF I move to this city… I will have to find a home for him in Delhi. NOT going to think about it, makes me cry.


Quick note from Melbourne

Pic = St Arnaud, town hall

Hello Everyone,
Apologies for the silence, have been travelling and while I've taken copious notes, haven't really had the opportunity to sit down and put out a post. This is being written from Melbourne, Australia while Partner has gone down to meet his new office people. It was a better idea sitting out here and typing than entering every second store with a sale on and blowing money. Sigh, I can be SUCH a woman at times.

For those who know and those who don't, this is my virgin foray outside India and while I am superstitious about discussing plans before there is a finality to them, I can perhaps say that this won't definitely be the only one. Unless I cop it or something. It's like I've tasted blood. It's like I am craving for more. It's like suddenly, literally, 'clichedly', the entire world is open to me. Of course THAT would require shit loads of money and I don't have any... BUT. I will have money. I need to have money. Money makes the world go round. It can't buy you love - perhaps - but it can bloody well ensure you get to travel a lot.

My first trip outside India included a 4-day stay in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and then another 5 days in Australia. Am gonna be here in Melbourne till May 13th and then drive down to a farm in this village called St. Arnaud (Partner's home town). We were in KL for Partner's cousin's wedding -- an Aussie bloke marrying a very beautiful Malaysian-Indian girl -- and it was super. I have been bloody lucky and both God and Partner have been kind. While perhaps a non-moneyed person's first trip usually involves back-packing and the lot, I'm getting to holiday in luxury. We stayed at a five-star in KL - called Renaissance, faces the Two Towers -- then moved to this resort (called Cyberview) in KL's cyber city (called Cyberjaya), which was opulence all the way. In Melbourne we are staying at Partner's aunt's place and will move to his parents' place in the weekend.

I've never been one to run after money and have been happy earning just about enough that keeps me going. HOWEVER, I am beginning to realise that wanting money does not always have to equate with greed. Money opens doors, money provides a comfortable holiday, hell money makes a holiday possible, money lets you take a break and money lets you buy gifts for your family back home. I've neither been greedy nor materialistic... But my perspective on money is changing. For one, I am beginning to admire it more. I don't necessarily believe in getting it by whatever means, but yes, I am going to lose my hitherto live-on-what-you-have attitude and strive to earn it, earnestly. I've always wanted to do and achieve a whole lot of things -- both for me and those around -- and perhaps money will be the way to get those done.... Hmm, interesting development the way I see it. Let's see where it takes me.

As I said earlier in the post, have taken copious notes and will write those down as posts. Till then, let me get out of here -- my sense of dollar conversion to rupee sucks and I NEED to understand that 5 AUD and Rs 5 DON'T mean the same thing since am still earning in Rupees -- so before I blow the change in my pocket here.... More later!!!
PS: I LOVE Melbourne. No one stares, NO one.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...