We didn’t have school this week for the semester holiday and due to the national holiday Hari Raya Haji, so I spent my week exploring the more touristy parts of Malaysia with our guests Ilaria (first host daughter, 2012-13) and her family. Jalan-jalan means “travelling around,” which I did a lot of this week: Kuala Lumpur, Melaka, Ipoh… I saw a lot of amazing places and overall had a great time!
Monday was the Muslim holiday Hari Raya Haji, otherwise known as Eid al-Adha or Aidiladha. This the Muslim holiday marking the end of the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca undertaken by Muslims as one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a sacrifice festival, and goats, cows, or other livestock are slaughtered as part of the festival. Read more about the holiday here or here.
I didn’t get to see the festival, but I did see cows that were tied up in a park the night before. (Remember, it’s not good, not bad, just different(lah).)
On Monday, Ilaria, Amma, Anne, and I went to the office building of the Malaysian Indian Congress (which Amma is a part of) for an exhibit opening.
We went to Kuala Lumpur’s Little India.
On Tuesday, we went to a Malay wedding for the sibling of one of Ilaria’s former classmates.
That evening, we visited a Buddhist prayer center for the lantern festival that is part of the Chinese Mid-Autumn/ Moon Festival. (Read about this festival here!)
We left before the actual lanterns were played with, but it was nice to see the lanterns that children had made.
We met another of my host aunts and went to a Tamil movie, Uru Mugan, in my first-ever fancy Malaysian movie theater. (Though this one seemed pretty much the same as a U.S. theater). The movie was very good (I am able know this because there were subtitles, thankfully).
On Wednesday, my host aunt (Kanaka Periamma– translated to “Kanaka Aunt”), host brother (Anne), Ilaria, and I went in a nearby river, Batu Tujuh. There was also a natural hot spring right next to it (which apparently is actually very very hot, as I found out when I stepped in it.) Some people bring eggs or other food and cook it using the hot spring. When there started to be a torrential downpour, we fled to a covered changing area and enjoyed Malaysian snacks.
The next day, we met up with Ibe’s host family for breakfast and then visited a cooking class geared towards teaching unmarried women to cook.
We went to Ipoh later in the day and went to a fancy grocery store that even had pretzels and tortilla chips! It had an amazing selection of baking ingredients that I will definitely be returning for. We purchased ingredients for Ilaria to make some authentic Italian lasagna that Anne was adamant about having.
I bought my first saree! I got it from the same saree shop I had fallen in love with a few weeks before.
I helped Ilaria to make lasagna the next day, which tasted incredible. Later, we drove to Kuala Lumpur to pick up Ilaria’s parents from the airport. (They stayed in Malaysia for a week and then went to Thailand to visit their own host daughter, while Ilaria stayed here another week.)
Later that night, we explored Putrajaya, visiting a beautiful mosque (though it was closed so we couldn’t go inside), the prime minister’s palace, and a famous bridge.
First, we went to Mini Malaysia, a tourist attraction featuring models of traditional Malaysian homes. Each of the 13 states was represented by the traditional home from its region.
Then we went to Taman Buaya, another tourist-centric park/zoo which had many crocodile enclosures, a reptile house, a bird enclosure, a rabbit petting zoo, human-sized versions of Malaysian landmarks, and a children’s water park. The park had dozens of crocodiles in conditions that probably wouldn’t be allowed under US zoo regulations but that seem to be the norm in Malaysian zoos. (Not good, not bad, just different. I’m not here to judge.)
The ‘reptile house’ had a raccoon on display, which I thought was amusing considering that in the U.S., we can find them in trash cans or our backyards. (But I guess this is comparable to my immense excitement upon seeing MONKEYS! More on that later.)
Then we went into the city of Melaka, one of my favorite places I’ve visited so far. (But I think I say that about almost every place)
Melaka is a World Heritage City, meaning that the Malaysian government cannot demolish any of its buildings. The European history of the city was very apparent in the architecture, and I loved the atmosphere of the city.
I visited the thirteen-day prayers that are celebrated as part of a Malayalee funeral. (Note: Malaysia is home to Tamil Indians, Malay Alee Indians, and Telugu Indians, who all speak different languages and have slightly different traditions. Punjabi Indians (Sikhs) have different religious customs altogether.
On Sunday, I FaceTimed my U.S. brother for the first time, which was really really nice.
Later, we explored Kuala Lumpur! We went to the famous Batu Caves in the morning. It was amazing to see the caves, since I distinctly remember seeing a photo of them in my AP World History textbook while we were studying Hinduism and wanting to see it firsthand, before I had any way of imagining that I would find myself living in Malaysia less than two years later.
Batu Caves is the Malaysian focal point for the celebration of Thaipussam, the major Indian harvest festival held in January. The main cave, reached by climbing 272 steep steps, is devoted to worshipping Lord Murugan.
I saw monkeys!!! This was very exciting for me. The monkeys seem to have learned all the tricks for extracting food from tourists, many of whom take selfies with their smiling faces inches from a monkey. I felt that this was not a particularly intelligent idea, so I settled for photographing them from a distance (although I later put a boa constrictor/ ball python around my neck. More on that later.)
After visiting the temple portion of the cave, we went to the Cave Villas tourist attractions. This included a beautiful pond and a cave with Hindu stories from the holy book illustrated along the walls. At the end of the cave, we entered the reptile house exhibit, where we saw snakes in questionably secure cages, and I took a photo with a boa constrictor around my shoulders!
Later, we took the LRT (the Kuala Lumpur equivalent of Baltimore’s light rail, but bigger and with very nice new trains) into downtown Kuala Lumpur, arriving at Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur’s famous shopping mall that is part of the Petronas Towers. Kuala Lumpur’s most famous landmark is arguably the Petronas Towers, twin towers with a skywalk connecting them, the most noticeable aspect of the KL skyline. I enjoyed the healthiest meal I’ve had in weeks from the KLCC mall food court, something I found a bit ironic. Outside, we saw the Petrosains festival, and then walked through the park in front of the Petronas Towers.
I got to try a G-force ride that is used for astronaut testing, and it was awesome!
Back in KLCC, I paid RM2 (about 50 cents) to use the fancy Luxury Toilets on the first floor, and also went to Starbucks! Both were amazing. (It’s surprising how valuable simple things begin to seem when they’re a rare symbol of home. In a group message with the six American AFS students in Malaysia, we excitedly message each other any time we see foreigners, find ketchup, see Mexican restaurants (very very rare) or see women wearing shorts)
On the way to the TBS bus station to send Ilaria’s family to the Perhentian Islands, my host brother, a new friend, and I stopped by a Hindu temple she had always dreamed of visiting. The temple was beautiful, of course, but it was nothing overly spectacular— so I was surprised by the extent of my 18-year-old friend’s happiness that came from going somewhere to pray. She was so ecstatically happy about finally visiting this temple— I was very pleasantly surprised, since I can’t say I’ve ever seen American teenagers be so excited about praying. A sign said we couldn’t take pictures, and the priest scolded my friend when she tried to, but then told her to just do so faster.
We drove home to Tapah that night.
This week was really enjoyable and exciting, but it still wasn’t all just fun and games. At times it was hard seeing Ilaria’s family together since it reminded me of my parents and made me quite homesick, but overall I really enjoyed spending time with them! Studying abroad really is an emotional roller coaster, and even though I remember this week primarily for how fun it was, there were definitely still moments of sadness or being upset. But mostly, this was an awesome week and I loved seeing so much of Malaysia!