Tag Archives: travel

Happy Birthday, Marine Corps!

During our two years in China, I spent weeks (or possibly months) plotting the details of each Marine Ball. Along with friends, we searched for hours online to find the perfect dresses, used the top floor bathroom to take measurements at lunch one day and then ordered our beautiful custom creations. We scanned page after page of up-do options and had endless talks over steaming bowls of noodles about whether to go with gold or silver accessories. As CLO, I organized make-up tutorials with one of our wonderful community members who was a professional make-up artist, so all of the women could sign up for a personalized rundown of what exactly to do with all those little boxes of cosmetics in their drawers. I also hosted a mani/pedi party each year, where all the women and girls were invited over for an evening of drinks and snacks and full-access to my nail polish collection. Yes, in the giant scheme of things, none of this is important, but it was fun to plan for a nice of playing princess and it was a good way to pass smoggy Chengdu Saturdays and the annual ball created a great excuse for all of the ladies to get together and play dress-up together.

Coming into fall this year, I assumed we would attend the Kuala Lumpur Marine Ball, but without my plotting partner Stephanie, didn’t spend a lot of time dwelling on the various permutations of gowns and shoes and jewelry. Tickets went on sale the week we were in Kota Kinabalu for Thad’s work, but I didn’t worry about it, figuring we’d pick up tickets the following week when we were back in town. Chengdu’s small ex-pat population meant you could get tickets up until the week before the event. Not so in KL! With a much larger ex-pat community and an embassy three times the size of our previous consulate, this year’s tickets were gone before we even got back to the peninsula! I was bummed when we missed out on the chance to go, but not heartbroken. It just wouldn’t be the same anyway…

But then, out of the blue, a week before the ball, Thad got an email asking if he wanted to buy tickets! He texted me to see what I wanted to do, but I was in class, so didn’t hear about it until I called him at the end of the day. Initially, I begged off, saying we didn’t need to go and to pass them along to someone else. Not one to usually change my mind, I surprised us both when I immediately called him back (stuck sitting in lovely KL traffic, so lots of time to spare) to say that yes, we should get the tickets and go. Why not!? Of course it isn’t going to be the same as last year when it felt like a party with all of our closest Chengdu-ren, but that’s the point to the lifestyle, right? New adventures. New experiences. New sidewalks to explore.

With just a week to prepare, I knew I’d be wearing last year’s dress (heavens, no!) which needed to be dropped at the dry cleaners ASAP. This was also the perfect excuse to go get my highlights redone, something I had been putting off since I haven’t been working and ex-pat salons here are a pretty penny. Before Thad got home from work that afternoon, the dress was at the cleaners, my hair appointments were scheduled (one for color earlier in the week and another for the up-do that day) and I had found a place for him to rent a tux. When I need to, I can move and shake, even in a crazy new country!

No, it wasn’t the same as last year. We didn’t sit at the head table and I didn’t trade plates with the boss’s wife when she liked the look of my dish better. We didn’t dance Gangnam Style with the consul general and we didn’t get photos taken with the best Marines ever. But, we did have the chance to meet eight new people, our fellow tablemates, who were great dinner company. We enjoyed a well-done ceremony celebrating the birth of the Marine Corps and we (okay, I) had a fantastic time checking out the myriad of dresses, all colors and styles, that danced the night away. It wasn’t Chengdu and that is okay. It is Kuala Lumpur, a post we are learning more about each week and a great place to spend Thad’s second State Department tour.

Happy birthday, Marines!

(To see pictures from Marine Ball 2013, click here. To see pictures from Marine Ball 2012, click here. Enjoy!)

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Superlatives and Cockroaches

Trying to be calm and collected, I deftly maneuvered around the room, looking over students’ shoulders to see their progress on a foldable activity charting comparative and superlative forms of adjectives. Praising a student for writing “more fun” instead of “funner” and then quickly hopping over to the other table to re-explain that you can’t always just put “-est” on the end of any adjective to make it superlative, I was only 70% focused on my larger lesson. The other 30% of my brain was entirely honed in on tracking the movements of the mid-sized cockroach who had joined our class for the day. Knowing that my students lived in rooms very much like the one we were using as a classroom, cockroaches are a part of their lives on a daily basis and I didn’t want to be the wimpy foreigner who couldn’t handle a couple of oversized antennae wiggling across the floor. But, being barefoot, it was essential that that dang, prehistoric bug didn’t get anywhere near my feet! (Yes, I also have cockroaches in my house, but they are mostly confined to the first floor laundry room, and when I see them, I always squawk like a terrified owl and run for higher ground, hollering at Thad to come destroy the evil that can’t scurry across my floor with impunity. Such a reaction would probably not gain me much respectability in the classroom, so I use every ounce of my willpower to keep my shit together, at least temporarily.)

Some days it is cockroaches and others it is rats. Always there are lizards. The abundant wildlife in my classrooms would lead one to believe that I’ve taken up a new career as a middle school science teacher, but alas, English is still my first love and my new little friends are just an added bonus.

Moving every couple of years means it can be difficult to have a prolonged career trajectory, but we knew that would be the case when Thad joined the State Department. Trading my career for the ability to have a lifestyle that not only settles us in far-flung locations for a few years at a time, but also gives us the chance to travel on a regular basis was not a spur-of-the-moment decision, nor was it an easy one. At the time, I’m not sure I realized just what it meant, employment-wise, to uproot every couple of years, but with a few moves behind us now, I’ve come to see that while there can be a lot of frustration inherent in the process, there is also a level of freedom that would be unachievable if we had stayed as educators in Idaho.

This go-round, unable to find a position at the embassy in KL, I decided to look beyond the official diplomatic community and see what other opportunities existed around the city. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees, the branch of the UN that deals with helping refugees resettle into safer countries. Malaysia is home to a huge number of refugees, many of them coming out of Burma. These displaced families are here trying to get their documents and paperwork in order so that they can apply for visas to resettle to any number of western countries, including the US, UK, Canada and Australia. Families can be here for years as they get in line for resettlement, which means certain “daily-life” activities need to carry on- schooling being one of them. To facilitate their continued education, the UNHCR supports dozens of refugee schools across the city, where students take daily courses in English, math, science and their local language. After filling out the forms and getting the necessary background checks, I was assigned to a Chin refugee school in the center of the city. The neighborhood is a rundown one and the school is merely a set of rooms in an apartment building, but volunteering there two days a week has quickly taken me back to my days as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

In class, when I am not stealthily dodging cockroaches, we review basic grammar points (like most TOEFL students, there are problem areas that need constant attention) and talk a lot about western culture. Since the ultimate goal of these students’ families is to move to an English-speaking country, we talk a lot about western holidays, mannerisms and classroom behaviors, but there are also a whole lot of pop culture chats. Who knew Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber were so beloved by Chin students from Burma? I’ve learned vast amounts about soccer, as they all have favorite teams and players and most of the boys are horrified at my immense lack of knowledge of anything “football”-related.

When we learned we were headed to Malaysia for our second posting, I was disappointed to find out I wouldn’t be able to teach at the international schools due to visa regulations. (This rule has since changed, but the modifications came about too late for me to apply for positions since international schools hire in January/February of each year and the visa requirements didn’t adapt to fit my needs until late April.) Thinking that I couldn’t teach, I turned my eye to other positions within the embassy community, looking at a couple that seemed to be perfect fits with my background in education and volunteering, but when neither of those worked out, after a few days of wallowing in the misery of rejection, it was back to teaching I found myself, although in a different manner than I had ever imagined. Now, I spend two days a week in small rooms, with just ceiling fans for ventilation and a not-quite-erasable white boards, helping upper elementary and middle school aged kids prepare for a life-changing move, but couching it all in lessons about Thanksgiving and One Direction. It may not be what I had planned for myself for this second State posting, but, as it often turns out, the unplanned experiences are the most rewarding.

(*Note on photos- Because my students are minors and refugees, I did not want to post any pictures of individuals to the internet, as they have fled their home country out of concerns for their safety and security.)

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Ready to Apply for my Gen X Membership Card

Concerts and live music have never been my thing. It’s not that I haven’t been to a handful of events, but I am sure my count is much lower than most people my age. Yes, I skipped a few class periods (who needs geometry anyway?) to stand in line for concert tickets with my best friend when I was in high school (skipping pre-approved by the parents, of course!) and I’ve been to a few smaller, more intimate local band concerts, usually when A Seasonal Disguise is on the schedule, but concerts are not something I go out of my way to track down. I think I may have been scarred by my first concert and now have very little interest in that scene.

Recap of my first concert: New Kids on the Block played at the Boise State Pavilion, in the days before Taco Bell paid a huge sponsorship fee and got the building named after their middle-of-the-night, munchies fueled brand. I was in the 6th grade, pretty shy and introverted, thinking a good afternoon entailed a cozy blanket thrown over the heat vent and a book. One of my aunts, who I thought of as young and cool, got my sister and me tickets for our birthdays, which fall just a couple of weeks apart. The tickets were fantastic seats, on the floor, just a few rows from the stage- much nicer than a niece’s birthday called for! (Sorry niblings, no floor-seating concert tickets for you!) With my aunt as our chaperone, off we headed to see the ever-dashing NKOTB boy-band dance their way through the evening. While I loved their music, spending hours sitting in front of my radio with my finger hovering over the “record” button, just waiting to add the newest release to my mix-tape, in person, it was too much for my eleven-year old self. I mostly remember it being so incredibly loud that I couldn’t even tell which song was playing- the thumping of the bass and the squealing of the teenaged girls (okay, sadly, there were a lot of forty-year old woman who were there solo, also shrieking like adolescents) overpowered any music that was actually being made. This was not the night I had dreamed it would be. Maybe I was just too young or maybe my personality inherently leans away from such events, but either way, that first concert didn’t instill in me a love of live music. (It is also telling of my taste in music. I will be the first to admit I have none. I’d never make it as a hipster, as I don’t care who the newest unknown band is and I don’t follow music reviews at all- my review reading is saved for BookPage. I’m pretty content with what I know is terrible pop music, starting with when video killed the radio star and bumping right on up to it currently being all about that bass, with no room for our good friend, treble.)

Part of the draw of Thad’s joining the Foreign Service as the opportunity to do things we wouldn’t normally do, to travel to little known locales and to take part in experiences that are sometimes outside our comfort zones. So, while grunge rock was a huge part of my generation’s teenage years and with Seattle just a day’s drive away from home, it’s not that I never had the opportunity to participate in the scene, but either way, I didn’t. Yes, I know all the words to a number of Nirvana songs and I have a strangely odd amount of Kurt Cobain knowledge (that is mostly due to a student who wrote an entire multi-genre research report on him in one of my classes, which between helping him with research, proofing rough drafts and grading the final project gave me an oddly broad swath of Cobain knowledge for someone who is rather indifferent- thank you for that, Kevin H.) and can rattle off band names like Alice in Chains and Stone Temple Pilots and I had a number of flannel shirts that would have camouflaged me well amongst the angst-y crowds. But, until a few nights ago, I’d never been to a grunge concert.

That is, until Grungezilla 2014 came along.

Now, maybe I can apply for my official “generation X” membership card.

Not sure what one wears to a grunge concert in Malaysia and without my old flannel shirts on-hand, I went with a sundress and sandals, but soon discovered by Chucks would have been more fitting. (Notice I didn’t say they would have helped me blend in. As the only white woman in the room, there was no way I was going to blend in with blonde hair halfway down my back and pasty white skin. A pair of black shoes with white rubber toes would not have fooled anyone.)

We stayed for three sets, with the middle being the best. There were a lot of covers, including some Smashing Pumpkins, with a few original songs thrown in, but overall it was just fascinating to see this Seattle-culture come to life in Kuala Lumpur. The venue was a small place, with the grunge scene being very much an underground happening. There were maybe fifty people there when we arrived, which translated to a mosh pit of four and a couple of head bangers whipping around near the stage. I had to laugh out loud as I watched two guys sipping on juice boxes towards the back of the crowd. Honest to goodness juice boxes- lychee juice, I believe. Take a moment to image yourself at a Soundgarden concert, Doc Martins laced up, flannel shirt tied around your waist and extra-eyeliner carefully placed to look haphazard. Oh yes, and a box of juice with a bendy straw in-hand. Hardcore, all the way.

The event may have been small, but I loved that the people there were willing to break out of the box and follow their bliss, even if their style isn’t hugely popular and recognition isn’t forthcoming. Some of the guitarists had some real talent and all of the musicians had a passion for their music, making the event a success, even if it wasn’t a packed house.

Grunge in KL may not be on everyone’s Saturday evening schedule and probably won’t be taking up a regular slot on my calendar, but it was an interesting way to round out a week and for a mere 15 ringgit, well-worth the investment.

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A Canopy Walk, Hidden in Fine Print

With work beckoning Thad to Kota Kinabalu for the short week of the Columbus Day, we decided to make a trip of it, going early to enjoy the long weekend, before he had to hit the ground running with site visits and American Citizen Services for those living on the Malaysian island. We were last here in the summer of 2009, when we stayed in a hostel just a few blocks from the hotel that provides our lodging this time around. While the accommodations are different, the city is much the same. (Originally, I wrote “drastically different,” but then I realized that it isn’t necessarily *that* different. The hostel we stayed at a few years ago had private rooms with small private bathrooms. The hotel we are at this time around gave us a huge room, but it is mostly unused space. I could easily host a Zumba class with the vast expanses of open area available. But, while the bathroom is larger, the shower leaks, creating a lovely ode to Lake Superior each time we bathe, just going to prove the old adage, “bigger isn’t always better.” To be fair, I didn’t have to schlep a backpack up several flights of stairs on Sunday evening, instead my luggage was delivered to my room by a bellhop and the view is much nicer this time around. It turns out, our current digs might not be “drastically” better, but they are definitely several rungs up the accommodation ladder- maybe even a few coveted stars.)

Thanks to Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas, we had an extra day to play before Thad’s calendar was overwhelmed with a variety of appointments, so we decided to get out of the city for the day and see what Mt. Kinabalu had to offer. Last week, Borneo was lashed with a massive amount of rain, making the windy road up the mountain a bit slower of a route due to several landslides that had recently been cleared, but other than a few bumps and jolts, the ride was enjoyable. We stopped at the base of the mountain for pictures and were regaled with our tour guide’s stories of how there is a race up the mountain each year, the fastest climber having done both the ascent and decent in a mere two hours. (Two hours wouldn’t even be enough for me to get a few kilometers from the trailhead!) As a part of our day-long tour (on which we were the only participants- yay!), we also stopped at a small botanical garden where Bibo (the tour guide) enumerated the various orchids found in the park, which ferns were safe to eat and the story of why he had renamed one tree in the park as “the sexy tree.” (I had a hard time following the whole story, but something to do with the fact it didn’t have bark or had peeling bark, so it looked naked. Needless to say, even without full comprehension, it was an awkward moment in the tour!) After an overwhelming number of flora-related facts, all starting with “For your information…” it was off to the pinnacle of the day’s events- the hot springs.

When we signed up for the tour on Sunday evening, I saw a vague reference to a “canopy walk,” but it was hidden in the fine print of the brochure, not really registering with me as a part of the day’s events. It may be wise, in the future, to pay a bit more attention to those tiny details scribbled at the bottom of schedules. As it turns out, before we could have a go at the hot springs, we had the “opportunity” to enjoy a canopy walk through the treetops of the Borneo rainforest. Even as I type this, it sounds beautiful and relaxing and a pleasurable way to spend a bit of time. How have I forgotten the torture so soon? (It’s the traveler’s version of childbirth. Combinations of strange chemicals override your memory, lessening the horrors of the event so that you will sign up to do it again and again! One propagates the species while the other seems to keep this blog alive!)

To the canopy walk we went.

To get to the tiny walkways in the treetops, we first had to trek our way up the mountainside, which in a rainforest means a rather humid and sticky climb. From here on out, I’d like to blame the sweaty palms, shaky legs and general irritable mood on this ascent, rather than them being symptoms of my irrationally strong dislike of all things high.

The problem with this canopy walk, and I would imagine many such ventures worldwide, is that once you make the initial choice to start through the maze, you are stuck a gazillion meters above the ground with no recourse other than to continue forward. There is no way to step off the course, wave to your friends and promise to meet them at the other end. Start and you must finish.

So, with sweaty palms, shaky legs and a generally irritable demeanor, forward I went. Foot in front of foot, eyes locked on the next platform (slightly more stable, but not exceedingly) and party to a continual running dialog with myself. (This ongoing self-talk was not the uplifting and encouraging pep talk one might imagine, but rather included a slew of words my mother doesn’t know I know and self-chastisement for having gotten myself in a 40-meter-above-the-forest-floor predicament.)

One would think the reward of some time relaxing in the hot springs would be incentive enough to get across those high wire-esque paths, but, again when you travel, you never know what you are going to get. Rather than the highly heated hot spring pools of Idaho (both Givens outside of Marsing and Zimm’s in New Meadows were childhood favorites), these “springs” were a series of small, deep tubs that the bathers filled themselves from slow-release spigots. After about fifteen minutes and enough lukewarm water to cover our shins, we decided we had experienced this strange version of relaxation to our hearts’ content and headed back to the van; I figure I’d just take a hot soak in the tub back at the hotel and get the same experience, but with the bonus of reading material!

Kota Kinabalu (lovingly referred to as KK to Kuala Lumpur’s KL) is a fantastic town on the ocean with a much more chill vibe than KL offers, even on its quietest day . If State ever decides to open a consulate here, I’ll be pushing for a bid in a heartbeat. It has enough western “stuff” going on to feel less alien than many places we’ve traveled, but still retains more of its core personality than does KL, where foreign influence is seen on every corner, both because of historical occupations and the current fervor for all things western.

Even after tricking me into a death-defying walk through the jungle treetops, Kota Kinabalu still earns a top spot in my ever-burgeoning “Things to do in Malaysia” list and will definitely be a destination for future visiting friends.

 

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Penang- Where Street Art Meets Street Food

With yet another long weekend upon us, it was time to venture out on the first road trip of our “Ross’ in Malaysia adventure-time.” (I have no complaints about another long weekend- the holidays are one advantage of this lifestyle, as Thad gets both American and local holidays. Last weekend was Hari Raya and this upcoming weekend will be Columbus Day. We celebrate all the things!)

Maybe we chose poorly.

You see, it seems everyone in Malaysia owns a car, or maybe two. The government has done a lot to subsidize the prices for vehicles, so many families actually own more cars than they have people able to operate them, which makes for some horrific traffic, any day of the week. Then, add on top of that a national holiday and maybe one should consider holing up in the house for the extended weekend.

But of course, we did not do that.

Instead, we joined the masses leaving the city, heading to a variety of vacation spots around the country. Our destination of choice was Penang, an island off the west coast of the country, known for two main attractions- the street food and the street art. A mere four hours away, I thought this would be the perfect getaway for a few days.

But, there was traffic. Lots of it.

Oh yes, and a monsoon.

We headed out for our four hour road trip at 3:45PM and finally made it to Paradise (Who wouldn’t book a hotel on the beach called Paradise?) at midnight.

Eight hours.

Painful.

Really, traffic was flowing okay until we got to about twenty kilometers outside of Penang. (Yup, I now judge distances in kilometers. I still have to look up the Fahrenheit to Celsius conversion every time I turn on the oven, but my driving references are all KM these days.) Once we hit that last stretch though, our path was blocked first by the most inanely set-up toll both known to man (three lanes of traffic filtered into no lanes- just a jumble of cars trying to get through the station) and then by the pouring rain. After finally paying our toll and getting across the bridge to the island, we came to a literal standstill on the surface streets of Penang, as the heavy rain backed up traffic for hours. From the edge of the island to our hotel should have taken maybe twenty minutes, but it ended up taking nearly two hours. I can’t even begin to tell you how excruciating that last stretch was! (But, we did get to list to the entirety of Ryan Seacrest’s Top 30 Countdown, so I am up on how to “Shake it Off” with Taylor Swift and that Demi Lovato “really doesn’t care” anymore.)

Not wanting to let Friday night’s journey get us down, on Saturday morning we headed into George Town to check out the sights. The sky was cloudy, but the roads were dry, which made it seem like a perfect day to take a walking tour of the area. In retrospect, we should have taken some umbrellas along with us. (They were in the car, but we figured we wouldn’t need them. What were we thinking?!) Before long, Thad was drawn in by the lure of the hawker stalls, because who couldn’t resist steaming bowls of noodles, plates of fried chicken skin or a bit of offal? Luckily, his tummy rumblings coincided perfectly with the start of Saturday’s rain. It rained.

And rained.

And rained.

With our umbrellas safely tucked into the trunk of our car, we were stuck at the hawker stalls for almost two hours! A bowl of noodles and several skewers of chicken gizzards later, we decided the rain had let up enough to make a break for it. The food was good and bountiful- possibly too bountiful. I am not sure Thad will be craving the gizzards anytime soon!

Our hours-long journey and shorter, but still seemingly endless wait at the hawker stalls, was rewarded though with some fantastic street art. Scattered throughout the old city of George Town, visitors can find graffiti/murals on alleyway walls, many incorporating 3D artifacts into the images. My favorite was two young kids playing on a swing, but I was also drawn to the Asian dolls in a pool of purple. With an art map in hand, we searched high and low to find the various installations, Thad getting good shots of nearly all of them. (Most of the photos below, as with most of the photos on this blog, are his doing.) As we wandered, I couldn’t help but think of a few friends at home and one particular former student who is now an artist in Seattle, all of whom would have absolutely loved these narrow city streets and inventive public art.

Penang is definitely an island worth visiting and we’ll be headed back there, after rainy season has passed. I still need to ride the funicular and check out the national park on the tip of the island, none of which were accessible through the sheets of rain and, at times, heavy winds.

Knowing that the traffic back to KL would rival that of Friday night, we headed back in the morning, hoping to beat the rush. And that we did. As it turns out, Penang really is only four hours from Kuala Lumpur!

Holiday or no though, I think next time we’ll be flying.

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A Rainy Reminder

I cannot overstate how much I love these crazy afternoon rainstorms that we’ve been having lately in Kuala Lumpur. If this is how rainy season is going to be, bring it on!

To be fair though, I am in the best position possible to love the sheets of water streaming from the sky, the blinding flashes of lightning that coincide exactly with cracks of thunder that jar even the most solid foundations. I’m lucky enough to be sitting in the office space of my house, which is softly lit by a floor lamp and a candle, cozy as can be, doing some online reading while the rain splatters against my window and the wind rushes through the palm trees in the driveway.

As I wander to the balcony to sit and watch the cars slink by in the onslaught and murky visiblity, I can’t help but think at how devastating this storm could be for those who don’t have the advantages and comforts that I have. All it would take is a slightly leaky roof or less than steady walls and this afternoon’s storm would mean small lakes in a home, coteries of critters seeking refuge and a sleepless night ahead as moisture pools in fabrics and mattresses.

What brings comfort and coziness to one can mean discomfort and disaster for another. As I press forward with my afternoon agenda of lesson plans and a bit of light literary theory reading, this dichotomy rests with me. It is always good to stop and count ones blessings, as the littlest things can make the biggest differences.

 

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BASE-ically Crazy, If You Ask Me

People travel for different reasons. For some, it is the lure man-made wonders- ancient temples and towering skyscrapers. For others, natural wonders call their names- deep, rainbow colored canyons and breathtaking mountaintops. Those who travel for work are in search of new connections, new deals and higher profits for their companies. Some travelers are looking to find something or someone, escape a situation or try to outrun a memory.

And some travelers are just looking for a new place to jump off the highest point possible.

 

Those are the folks we went to visit this weekend. Kuala Lumpur was holding its annual KL Tower BASE Jump event, meaning folks from all over the world gathered to hurl themselves off the top of a nearly 1400 foot high radio tower in the center of the city. We had heard rumblings that the jumpers were going to be in town this last weekend, but couldn’t find any specifics about when the jumps would be taking place. As I was driving to school on Friday, I saw a single parachute open mid-sky and was easily convinced we needed to find out more. As it turns out, the participants would be jumping most of the day Saturday and Sunday. (There were evening jumps planned too, but with KL storms, I’m not sure those happened.)

Sunday morning, after a quick shower and bowl of cereal, we headed into town. (I can actually see the KL Tower from my kitchen, but just the top bulb, which is where they jumpers take off, but because of the skyscraper-heavy skyline, we wouldn’t be able to see the rainbow of parachutes open.) We parked along the road, which means we actually parked in the traffic lane, but I figured it was all legit since I paid five ringgit and got a ticket to place in my window. Who cares that it was blocking future traffic; I had the official slip of tissue paper with a number on it. Too legit to quit. As we walked to the top of the hill upon which the KL Tower sits, we had to stop multiple times to watch the BASE jumpers coming off the building. From below, it is hard to see the initial leap, but the snap of an opening parachute draws eyes upward, creating a constant need to stop and stare.

We hadn’t planned on going into the tower itself, but when we got there, we were told we could go to the top and watch them jump from above. On a regular day, I’m not sure the tower entrance fee is worth it, but how often do you get to see people throwing themselves off a building with just a small backpack and a GoPro-sporting helmet? So, we quickly signed away our lives (not their fault if we fall off!) and headed up the elevator, which we shared with a jumper from California. When we told him we were from Idaho, he was excited and said that many of the jumpers loved going to Idaho to jump from the bridge in Twin Falls. He said that on Friday he made the KL jump nineteen times and did twenty-six more on Saturday and he was on number seven for Sunday and he was definitely feeling it in his joints. (I’m not sure what the long-term effects of the sport are, but I am guessing knee-replacements come early for some of these folks!)

Watching these guys (and gals! We saw three female participants) was incredible. I squawk if I even get near the edge of the building, but they would fly off of it on a rope swing with nary a peep. Are you serious? How does one not squeal as they dangle from a rope, suspended 1400 feet above the ground?

And how does one become so accustomed to hurling themselves off buildings that it merely jumping isn’t’ enough, but to up the game you must launch one another off by the feet, go piggy-back style or bail as a group, just to keep in interesting?

Most of the jumpers were young, in their 20s and this is what they do for fun. They travel the world in search of buildings, antennae, span (bridges) and earth (cliffs) from which to jump. (BASE.) I don’t know if these guys have “real” jobs or they just wander the earth, seeking the next thrill, but one young man made me laugh as he awaited his next turn to go over the edge. He was chatting with other jumpers on the platform, saying, “Man, I think I am going to ask my mom for a new helmet for Christmas.” Haha! Really? You jump off buildings for fun, but you are hoping Santa will bring you new equipment to shield your noggin? Cool, dude!

As an acrophobic of highest order, I can’t imagine strapping a self-packed chute to my back, snapping on a bike helmet and then leaning over the side of a building. Heck, I can barely get myself to the edge of the many tourist-trap viewing balconies we’ve visited all over the world. BASE jumpers travel in pursuit of actual, physical high points. I, on the other hand, will happily stick to the quest for cultural peaks and the summits of humanity.

 

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