Friday, May 1, 2009

Plucking your own

Gregg had a 4 a.m. wakeup call, and had to return home from Bangkok. :(

I, however, have continued on to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where I've been staying with a friend. Malaysia has a saying here: "same same, but different". That's what Malaysia is to Thailand... so many similarities, but also striking differences. And this time I'm traveling with some locals, so I've had the rare opportunity to see a country from a slightly different angle. I've seen a small slice, anyway, and like what I see.

Kuala Lumpur is a modern city - surprisingly western. KFC dominates street corners and shopping malls, and Starbucks is plentiful, but not yet on every corner. The population is mixed, so half the time you don't really know where you are - there's Malay, Chinese, Indian, Bangladeshi, Phillipino - a lot of them muslims. Women in colourful head scarves eating at McDonalds: that's Kuala Lumpur.

The city is not unlike any other... it's expansive, clean, has some green space, and clogged arteries running throughout. The traffic is arguably worse here than in Bangkok. I read somewhere that Asians here drive in the Buddhist way... I'm not entirely sure how this could be considered buddhist. Everyone ignores traffic signs, doesn't signal, crowds into any vacant spot, changes lanes whenever they feel like it, pushes and squeezes until 3 lanes is 6... with motorcycles finding their way to weave in and out of the hordes. You aren't allowed to hand gesture or express your anger in any way - it's considered bad manners.

We left the congested hazy city after a few days to find fresher air and produce. We headed for the Cameron Highlands, where the soil is bright red and produces an amazing bounty. We visited a bee farm, 'plucked' some strawberries (you pay MORE to pick them yourself), visited a local market in the pouring rain, and went to a tea plantation. Everything grows in the Highlands. I've never seen markets like this in my life... I ate love fruit, pomello, bitter gourd, dried cherry tomatoes, dried roses, bergamot.... and we filled up the trunk with produce. What would easily cost $300 in Canada, we bought for about $30. All organic and locally grown. I even saw a dragon fruit bush and a fiddelhead umbrella tree.

The tea plantation spread as far as the eye could see - vivid green patchwork carpet. And I learned that all tea is from the same plant - the same leaf makes oolong, earl grey, orange pekoe, mango, peppermint.... it's the processing that changes it into types of tea. I'd honestly never given a second thought to how tea was made.

I'm back in KL for one more night before we travel on to Singapore for a few days. Then I will fly home from there...


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