Top Ten After Ten

With a full ten days under my belt in the sweltering city of Kuala Lumpur, I can’t help but continually marvel at how different it is from Chengdu. Yes, there are some similarities, but with the large Chinese population in Malaysia, I really expected to see a lot more Mainland mannerisms than I do here. So, after just under a fortnight in our new home, here are my top ten KL observations:

  • Daily life takes less energy. The other day, I went to the 7-11 to top up my phone. As I slowly ambled towards the store (I made the poor choice of going at 2PM, at which point in the day anything more than an amble is not likely to happen), in my head I was making a plan of what exactly I needed to ask for and figuring out how to make sure I got my point across. With the chill of high power AC hitting my damp skin, I was greeted with, “Hello ma’am!” and realized that I no longer needed to think through my requests. English was the go-to language in most stores throughout the city, so there was no need to think through vocabulary or rehearse grammatical structures in preparation for a small purchase. (Although, I have found that utilizing the correct local phrase is key. It is vital that I ask for my phone to be “topped up” rather than just ask to have money put on it. The latter request just got me a quizzical look, eyebrows raised and head cocked to the left. Topped up, on the other hand, immediately registered and my phone was once again in working order.)
  • Right-hand driving is odd, but learnable. Upon my first foray into the wild, wild world of wrong side of the road driving, I was sweating bullets (with the AC on high) and nervous at every turn. I actually missed the roundabout I needed to go around because I was freaked out by entering it on the left. I ended up having to go all the way around the block and come at it a second time, which was still disconcerting, but I made it into the flow of traffic and back out again, all with no scrapes or scratches on the new car. I’ve yet to make an entire trip anywhere without accidentally turning on the windshield wipers instead of the blinker, but I’m assuming eventually that too will become second nature. But, the X-Trail and I have been out on a variety of solo trips (all rather short) and one longer trek to the IKEA with the GPS/Thad as my navigator. (Again, we may have missed a few turns, mostly because there are a ridiculous number of flyovers here, which don’t register on the GPS as different from the main road, so it isn’t until long past the point of no return that the GPS either gives me the quiet thumbs up or loudly recalculates as I try to keep my panic to a minimum, reminding myself that we are on no timeline and that the IKEA towels will await my arrival.)
  • Life is all about the malls here. They are large. They are air conditioned. And they are full of high-end stores that I choose not to afford. But, if I am ever in need of a Prada handbag, a Rolex watch or some Versace heels, I have a bead on where to burn my ringgits.
  • Not all grocery stores are equal. In Chengdu, we were all thrilled when a new imported item showed up in the Treat or at Metro and I scheduled by trips to the Trust-Mart to all take place before noon, as it was early afternoon when the hanging chunks of chicken and bins of meat started to really take on a funk. In KL, there are three supermarkets within a mile of our place, all of which are chalked full of foods I recognize and not a single piece of raw meat is seen outside of a cooled display case.
  • Speaking of food: halal and non-halal. Learn it and don’t mix it. I learned this lesson the slightly awkward way. (I wouldn’t say hard way, as I was corrected before I could make too large of a blunder, but it still brought a blush to my cheeks.) Last week, upon my first solo outing in the X-Trail, I went to the Cold Storage grocery store to get the basics to fill our fridge and cupboards. Thad had very few requests, but one in particular was for some lunch meat. We had seen it in the grocery store earlier in the week and it was something that was pretty hard to come by in western China, so it was on the top of my shopping list. I grabbed a package of chicken from the refrigerated section of the store, continued my shopping through the spices and condiments, cookies and crackers and eventually found myself in the far back corner of the store, prominently labeled “non-halal.” There, amongst the bacon and sausage, I saw some packages of deli ham and thought it would be a good addition to the chicken. Picking up two packages, I placed them in my cart and turned to check out the cereal and snack section of the store, but was quickly stopped by a clerk. Gently and without any obvious horror on her face, she told me that all non-halal items had to be purchased within the non-halal section of the store and placed in a separate bag from the rest of the available items. Thank goodness that woman was there! I can’t imagine the embarrassment if I had made it up to the regular registers with my pork products, effectively offending two-thirds of the shopping population that morning. Lesson learned. Make all non-halal purchases separately and bag them individually.
  • Purse paranoia has me in its clutches. Purse snatching is a huge problem here, with everyone I’ve met at the embassy either having had it happen to them or to someone they know well. Men on motorbikes ride by and grab purses off of women walking along the sidewalks on a fairly regular basis. Enough that everyone talks about it, all of the time. In Chengdu, I walked a lot of places, with nary a thought to the safety of it. I’d plug in my headphones and enjoy lovely combination of Bon Jovi, Britney and Backstreet Boys as I went on my merry way. No such thing will happen here. Instead, when walking here, it’s important to be constantly aware of the surroundings, watching the motorbikes (especially those with double riders) and keeping an eye on which side of the road to walk on and handbag placement (always on the shoulder away from the road). It’s been on to feel such a slight paranoia on a regular basis. The longer we are here, the more obvious it is to me why everyone has a car and drives here. It isn’t just because of the heat.
  • Starbucks is my friend. Chengdu was the first time I ever spent money in a Starbucks and there I became a semi-regular, going for an oversized chocolate muffing for a Friday morning snack or frequenting the peppermint hot chocolate counter from November through January (seriously, it was like Christmas in my mouth.) Now though, I am no longer looking for a mid-morning work break (no job makes that easier to avoid) or a steaming cup of anything (more ice!), but I am in real need of their Wi-Fi connection. Our home internet has yet to be hooked up, so currently, my only connection to the world of newsfeeds, blogs and online shopping is through a cup of iced passion fruit tea and a maximum of two hours from the free passcode. (Due to the lack of internet, but the time this post actually makes it onto In Search of the End of the Sidewalk we will be well passed the ten day mark, but I’m trying…trying…trying to be patient.)
  • Not working is weird. I know I did it for a year when we were in DC for training, but I think over time I forgot what it was like to not have that daily schedule. On the outside it sounds like a great deal- not having a job to check in at each day, but I know myself well enough to know that I don’t stay home well. After two years of CLO-ing, I thought it would be great to have a bit of time off between jobs, but apparently two months is more than enough for me. I am ready to go back to work, to have my days full of assignments and emails and colleagues. (Right now, the household lizards, all of whom I have dubbed “Lenny” are my only colleagues. I haven’t yet started to talk to them, so that’s good, but it is just a matter of time.) I’ve applied to several positions at the embassy, so now it is just a matter of waiting. Waiting. Waiting.
  • Lizards are to be loved, mosquitoes are to be avoided. With a 280% increase in dengue fever over this time last year, the bug-eating reptiles are man’s new best friend. Knowing that these four-legged, squirmy creatures are actually a health-benefit, I try not to squeal too loudly when I open the cupboard below the sink and see one scurry under the pipes or squawk too loudly when one dashes over the top of the clothes dryer when I wander in to the laundry room first thing in the morning or even screech when a Lenny scampers over my foot on his way to the wall when I get up for a glass of water in the middle of the night. New house rule: No wimpy-girly noises that potentially scare off the critters that do nothing more than nosh on blood sucking, disease-carrying insects.
  • Although they share a continent and a time zone, on the surface, Kuala Lumpur and Chengdu share very little else. To have a great tour here, I need to put the comparing aside and love Kuala Lumpur for what it is- a great city with a few bumps and bruises, making it not that different from Chengdu, after all.

One thought on “Top Ten After Ten

  1. I really enjoyed your blog this time out. I learned more from your experiences and descriptions than I did Wiki and a couple of Bing sites. I chuckle when you talk about driving. I had a car in Japan and Iwakuni has a gigantic traffic round. The street I needed to exit on to access the highway to Hiroshima was narrow, on the left side of course, and was one way. A mistake here and there was no way to correct it. Also the incoming traffic had right of way, so I cannot tell you how many times I drive around and round before getting the nerve to make the dash leave the circle. I am really looking forward to your adventures in your new locale!

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