Ahhh, Asia. Nothing makes the memories flood back like the little touches – squeezing onto a rush-hour train so crowded that falling over isn’t just not a concern, it’s an impossibility; various shops and stalls lining every free square inch of space selling food that can’t be pronounced easily with a lazy Middle-American tongue used to drawling out words; happening across wet and dry markets, and tourist markets, which are markedly different than either of the former; the way locals smell slightly different, the merest scent of fish or ginger mixed with some unnameable spice. If you think – omg! That’s racist! It’s not, really, it’s merely an observation that happens to be reciprocal – I’ve been told by many an Asian that Westerners usually smell a bit like butter.
Currently, we are crashing at Alex’s Homestay, a spacious and friendly guesthouse conveniently located directly next to a commuter rail station. This would, however, have been pretty helpful for us to realize before we got here – instead, the iPhone received a copy of the map (which was apparently driving directions) from KL Sentral and we walked the 3-4 kilometers up and down steep hills, in the middle of the midday sun, with 30-pound packs on our backs. We actually ended up walking 5-6, since we wandered about a kilometer in the wrong direction first, but no matter. We did end up making it to the Homestay and it was excellent exercise, and in hindsight, would be a lovely walk without packs and in cooler weather.
Last night, Alex (the owner) poured us some 7up and Vodka, and then, when he discovered I love curries, whisked us off to a local Indian street stall, his treat. Rhys looked petrified. Upon finding a parking space (not so easy in KL), we followed the boisterous Alex into the eatery and the employees laid out giant banana leaves which acted as our plates. Brilliant, really, as there’s plenty of space to ladle everything out and you simply fold it up and throw it away when you’re done – it’s even completely biodegradable. Would be great for parties. Rhys stuck with rice, over which Alex ladled some of the milder curries, and beside which the employees piled high a few vegetable concoctions. I let Alex order me a grilled Indian pancake-type dish, which was filled to the brim with yellow curry sauce, cabbage, potato, and other things (?). It was delicious, especially dipped in the spicier chicken curry they delivered in a separate bowl. It was, however, extremely difficult to eat – you eat with your hands, but really just one. You use your right hand only – your left never touches the food. So with your right, you tear off a piece of the pancake, roll up any of the vegetable filling that fell out, dip it into the curry (alternately, you can pour the curry over your meal), and then shove it into your mouth. It’s not as easy as it sounds, and your right hand does get covered with food. By the end of the meal, many different piles of sauces, curries, vegetables, and other assortments were scattered across the three of our leaves – it seemed every few moments a cook would come by with a new pot or pan, and just ladle some out on someone’s leaf. Rhys had a difficult time, as you might imagine – not only is he just beginning to expand his horizons (remember this might have been a difficult meal for anyone, not just the picky – after all, we didn’t know what was in virtually anything), but he’s also a touch OCD, and cannot abide getting his hands dirty. This was a hands-on experience, and he performed well; Alex was disappointed by how little he ate, but it was a filling meal.
During the ensuing ride around town, the subject of me killing watches came up somehow – I don’t recall the conversation that preceded it. For anyone who doesn’t know, both my Papa and I kill watches. I have no idea really why, it just happens – if they’re next to my skin for a while, they stop working, even if you change out the battery. Eventually, I just gave up watches altogether. My Papa tried longer, experimenting with pocket-watches instead, but they died too – just took longer. Other similar incidents regarding light bulbs, computers and cell phones occur but since they’re not constantly next to my skin (I assume), not as often and not usually as disastrously. Alex expressed extreme excitement and interest in this “Power,” as he called it – I laughed and said it wasn’t a very useful power, it was more of a mild irritant. Rhys spoke up and mentioned that he can only remember his dreams when he’s next to me, which he thought may be related. Alex said “Yes, yes, you must talk to Chris.”
Chris is another guest, a long-term one, at the guesthouse. He is a Reiki and Chakra practitioner, with unusual greenish-grey eyes behind Gandhi-round eyeglasses, partially bald with wispy white-grey hair, tall and thin, and he was sitting in the chair next to the door when we came home. Alex accosted him at once, telling him about my “Power,” and listening intently. Chris is very soft-spoken, it’s difficult to hear him at times, and I’m half-deaf, so I was struggling anyway; occasionally though Alex would repeat something incredulously such as “Oh! So you have to be really careful not to scold someone.” And then he looked at me a little fearfully.
Alex wandered in and out of both the room and the conversation, but Chris and I spoke for several hours; he is a fascinating person. It’s likely Rhys and I will be travelling through KL again in the next three months as we travel around Malaysia, and Chris offered to take us to a few places well off the tourist map if we wished. One piece of advice he said was particularly important for me was to announce myself before entering a forest, that I may exit safely on the other side. I enjoy listening, and find beauty in any belief; there is truth wherever there is faith, I think. It’s those tricky man-made rules and regulations and exclusivity that get in the way.
Our time in KL is drawing to a close, sadly, but we are moving on to other, sure-to-be-interesting areas of Malaysia, and have a considerable amount of time on our visa to explore slowly. That being said, I won’t say no to a quiet week or so on one of the many accessory islands’ beaches anytime soon.