Day 7 to 10 – Kualu Lumpur

When reflecting on my experience in a new country, I tend to base my evaluation on whether or not I see myself living there.  Singapore?  For its warm people, unparalleled cleanliness, and electrifying cityscape, absolutely.  Taipei?  For its bustling streets, unapologetic great, and strangely-shaped-yet-tantalizing street food, hell yes.

Clearly I have a wide range of tastes.  That is why Malaysia’s capital is somewhat of an enigma.  Would I live in Kuala Lumpur?  No way.  I’ve been having quite a hard time writing this post for this reason.  Don’t get me wrong – the city itself is beautiful, matching at times the same level or architectural elegance as its neighbor to the south.  But perhaps because of its visual similarities to Singapore, it becomes easier to take notice of Kuala Lumpur’s stark differences.

At the heart of my dissatisfaction with Kuala Lumpur is the fact that beneath its technological modernity is a society deep within the trenches of orthodox religious customs and values which has led to some pretty unsatisfactory encounters.  Look, I’m not expecting any special treatment or grand welcomes for being a white foreigner.  I am not so plagued with any Eurocentric expectations that I expect the country I visit to conform to me – I am a guest and am lucky to even have the opportunity to experience life in this corner of the world.

But I will express my discontentment in my on space on my own blog when Jessie is too afraid to walk more than a few feet away from me because men like to stare at and shame her about her uncovered ankles, let alone her bare arms.  When we receive nothing more than a grunt and an eye roll when we buy fruit at the market.  When cab drivers would more eagerly rip us off rather than simply point us in the right direction.  I felt like an annoyance more than a traveler; Jess more a target than a person.

On the bright side, being subject to this kind of treatment is eyeopening, especially when I realize that this so-called “plight” is nothing compared to what others must live with daily.  More than anything else, I thank Kuala Lumpur for the lesson.


But don’t worry!  I captured all the awesome times in Malaysia on camera so check out the video to see something very different from what you just read (i.e. monkeys, night markets, and happiness)!

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Day 6 – Chaos

Singapore to Malaysia.  Doesn’t get much easier than that, right?  The two countries share a border after all.  As I’m sure you have figured out by this post’s title, things didn’t run so smoothly.  Let me elaborate –

Goal: Board the 10:00am train from Johor Bahru (JB) Sentral to Kuala Lumpur – Malaysia’s capital city.

Problem: JB Sentral is on the Malaysian side of the border.  We, obviously, are not.

“Solution”: No Problem!  We’ll leave way earlier than needed to make sure we make our train.  After all, our hostel is only 18 miles away from the border.


The morning of the rapture – 

6:30 – We’re hopping on the metro line to Marsiling Station.  From there we will catch a bus to Woodlands Train Checkpoint, only 4 miles away from the border and the final stop before JB Sentral.

7:30 – From Marsiling we board an overcrowded bus to Woodlands.  Google Maps assures me that this 2 mile journey will take us 8 minutes.  We’re making great time.  Well… 8 minutes turns into 15 minutes which turns into an hour and a half.  I repeat – 2 miles, 90 minutes, with speeds ranging from 0 to 3mph thanks to an intersection from Hell in which three separate four-lane roads coming from the east, west, and south all converge onto a two-lane northbound funnel into Woodlands Train Checkpoint.

8:45 – We’re still on the bus with Woodlands in sight less than a quarter mile away.  “Fuck it” I imagine the driver mumbles in Malay as he swings opens the bus doors.  Passengers push and shove their way out, spilling onto the highway packed with cars, buses, and motorcycles as they make their way to Woodlands on foot.  We follow suit.

9:00 – Woodlands Checkpoint.  We’re still in Singapore.  Things aren’t looking so hot.  We get our passports stamped and rush to find a bus that will take us to JB Sentral only 3 miles away.  The bus station is a madhouse.  Hundreds of people trying to board dozens of buses that treat a two land road like its a five.  We join a crowd of roughly 300 people who are all trying to board the same bus.  The crowd funnels into itself into increasingly tight railings until we are force to line up one by one – like cattle at a slaughterhouse.  We’re not going to make this damn train.

9:50 – ‘Luckily’ for us, the bus was so packed that we had to stand in the doorway next to the driver.  Once the doors opened, we took off sprinting.  JB Sentral is the building next door.  There’s still hope!  And then I saw the line for Immigration.  We explained our situation to some kind soul who (probably had no idea what we were saying but could see the desperation in our eyes) let us cut in line.  But it was too late.  By the time we we’re handing over our passports we could hear the train whistling in the distance.

4:00pm – Thank God there was another train to Kuala Lumpur that day.  We made it to Malaysia’s capital by midnight.

TL;DR – It took three and a half hours to travel a whopping 21 miles.  Missed our train.  I was sad. 

Day 4 and 5 – Utopia

The year is 2100 – 

Towers of oscillating and reflective panels borrow from the marina’s shimmering water below to create the illusion of an infinite skyline.

Steel branches race over the water, twisting in a helix formation to assemble a grand walkway.

Massive electric trees fill the darkened sky with a symphony of light – a miraculous display of human achievement.

Just kidding – the year is 2017 and I’m talking about Singapore.

This futuristic utopia is made even more impressive in that just this month, Singaporeans are celebrating their country’s 52nd birthday.  #OneNationTogether can be found everywhere throughout the country, from Singapore’s Youth Olympic Park to any of their dozens of metro stations.  Singapore stands in testament to what can be accomplished when all races and cultures – in their case Malay, Indian, Chinese, and Eurasian – live and work together in harmony.

Highlights of our short time here include sightseeing in Singapore’s 182 acre botanic garden (I’m sure my grandparents appreciate this), checking out the dazzling Gardens by the Bay at sunset, and bar hopping in Chinatown.  I would have stayed longer if a damned cocktail didn’t cost S$20.

Overall, I loved Singapore.  My bank account did not.  Still 10/10.  

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Day 2 – Shilin Night Market

Night markets – the impetus of my original draw to Southeast Asia.  Needless to say, I had particularly high expectations.

Nevertheless, the Shilin Night Market exceeded anything I ever imagined.

No need for directions to find this midnight carnival after exiting the Shilin metro station.  If the flashing neon signs and tantalizing aroma of the street food vendors don’t lure you in, just follow the one-way flow of the overpacked sidewalks as both tourists and locals funnel their way into any of the animated alleyways.

Ornate temples provide a backdrop to dozens of steaming food stalls.  Hawkers fight for your attention with their emphatic mix of Mandarin and broken English.  Neon lights above paint the buzzing scene below a mix of dynamic colors and shadows .

The Shilin Night Market is truly out of this world. 

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Day 1 – Change of Plans

Thailand.  Singapore.  Taiwan.

  • 12 hour flight to Taoyuan: .
  • Immediately get lost in Taipei: .
  • Eat fried squid and scallop balls for dinner at 1:00am: .

So far so good.  But lets back up 24 hours.

For those who do not know, I am lucky enough to have an airline pilot as a father through which I receive travel benefits – aka free United flights as a standby passenger.  Being that United does not fly directly into Thailand, the original plan was to fly into Singapore where I would eventually enter Thailand via bus or train.  Waking up Sunday morning however, checking the plane seat map revealed that the once-daily flight from SFO to SIN had been booked up – for the next 3 days.

Hey!  Lets go to Taiwan instead!  And boom, here I am on the 9th floor of a high-rise apartment building in the heart of a country I don’t know the first thing about (God bless Lonely Planet).  Not bad for my first time out of the U.S.

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