Family Lines

stories for you

Month: June 2016

Off the beaten track

 

Moko, city street.

Mokpo, a southern port city in South Korea. Twenty years ago, I was supposed to teach English here. Instead, I went to Puyo and Taejon.

I recently returned from a vacation that took me to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. It was my first time landing in Malaysia and Singapore but not South Korea. I had been an English teacher in Korea almost 20 years ago. When I was there, I wrote a bi-weekly column for a Nova Scotia newspaper about my experiences. I’m doing that again except this time, the columns are for my own blog.

South Korea

Part IV of Singapore ‘16

Revisiting Taejon put a part of me at rest. I had left bits and pieces of my DNA there 20 years ago, remnants that had been twisted in uncertainty and pain. Back then, I was either looking into the past or at the future, I hadn’t really been present. This time I was in Taejon in the here and now.

I saw what I needed to see there and did what I needed to do and it was time to move on. After less than 24 hours in Taejon, Jason and I got on a train heading south. We were going to Jindo, South Korea’s third largest island. I had never been there but had seen it on the news. It was close to where the MV Sewol sank in 2014, killing more than 300 passengers, many students. Before the tragedy, Jindo was full of tourists enjoying the ocean air and seafood restaurants. Today, there are still some visitors but not like before.

Train to Mokpo.

Train to Mokpo.

We were going to Jindo because it was off the beaten path for international travellers. Lots of people like to go to Chejudo, another island. (“Do” means island in Korean.) Cheju is a party place and Jason and I wanted to avoid that. I had read that Jindo had some of the highest tides in the world, just like where I grew up near the Bay of Fundy. Our plans were further solidified when we found a place on Airbnb offering a traditional Korean home, a hanok, for the evening. Why not spend a night the old-fashioned way?

Getting to Jindo was going to take some time. We would spend more hours going to and from the island then actually being there. (I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out until we got there.) Edward, our Airbnb host, gave us directions but they were a bit off. After arriving by train from Taejon to Mokpo, a southern port city, we had to transfer to a city bus to get to the regional bus station. We didn’t know how to get there but a few friendly Koreans showed us how to get from Point A to Point B.  One man asked where we were from, and when we said we were Canadian, he proudly exclaimed to us, “Montreal!” I guess he had been there several years ago.

Mokpo train.

All aboard!

We got the first bus and then transferred to a second bus and rode it for an hour to Jindo. At the bus station on the island, we were supposed to take a third bus to our accommodation for the night. Edward’s directions said take the green bus to the village of Oh-il-see.

All the buses were green.

Green buses were coming and going. Going and coming. One pulled in. One pulled out. Which one did we take? We asked the bus drivers but it seemed no bus was going where we wanted to go. A senior waiting on a sunny bench outside the station said something and motioned for us to sit beside her. But without knowing Korean, I didn’t know what she was getting at. There was a man taking tickets and he looked at our tickets and then pointed to the bench the woman was on. That was where the bus would pull up. Ah. We got it.

We were sure we wouldn’t have to wait long for our green bus since there were many green buses buzzing around. But an hour and a half later we boarded our green bus. A 10 minute jaunt and we were dropped off in the middle of Oh-Il-See. Our next move was based on Edward’s description on how to find his house: when you arrive Oh-il-see, there are two super markets, and my place is about 10 min from there on foot.

The village was a maze of narrow quiet streets. Surely someone would know where Edward lived in this tiny place. We asked a shopkeeper and she pointed down the road. That way.

We had told our host we would be at his place between noon and 2 p.m. It was now 2:30. Jason and I started walking in the hazy afternoon and moved off the street when a man with a toddler strapped to the back of his bicycle rode towards us.

“Lea? Jason?” he asked.

It was Edward, concerned his guests were lost since they hadn’t shown up yet. He introduced himself and his daughter Danbi. It was the start of a new friendship and a great time in Jindo.

Jindo dog: a type of dog from Jindo.

Jindo dog: a type of dog from Jindo.

At Edward’s home, he showed us into the hanok. It was basic, rustic, but that was fine. It was all we needed for one night. The small wooden home had enough room for a mat on the floor for sleeping, two pillows filled with hay and our two backpacks. There was a pit toilet outside. Jason and I had wanted to do something different while we were in Korea. We didn’t just want to stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. We had wanted to meet people and experience some of the culture. Here was our chance.

Edward and Danbi on the porch.

Edward and Danbi.

While we were getting our stuff organized, Edward brought us out some lunch. We sat at his outdoor kitchen table and ate kimchi and rice. Danbi brought out books and then musical toys and so we had an impromptu concert with our meal. Then we went for a hike into the surrounding hills where we passed rice fields and a lake. While Danbi played in a trickling stream, Edward told us some of the history of the island and why he and his wife Han were on Jindo.

Hanok bed - complete with hay pillows.

Hanok bed – complete with hay pillows.

Edward’s a musician as well as a fairy tale writer and philosopher. He liked the slower pace of life on the island, an island where a lot of artists live too. He asked why we were spending only one night in Jindo and we told him it was all the time we had. He asked why we had chosen Jindo and I told him the tides were a main drawn. That was when he decided to put us in his car and take us to the beach.

Dani peeking over her dad's shoulder.

So cute. Danbi peeks at me while we walk down the mountain and into the village.

The sun had stayed in Taejon. Rain started to fall in big heavy drops while we drove to the water. Edward let us out of the car with an umbrella and he went to visit a friend with Danbi. The tide was out and there was a familiarity with the scene: the mud flats stretching into the horizon, rope strewn on the beach and the smell of the sea. If I looked hard enough into the fog, maybe I’d see Parrsboro.

Jindo tide.

Jindo tide.

I shivered. The rain was cooling. This was the first time in a couple of weeks that I was cold outside. About 20 minutes into our beach foray, Edward pulled up. It was suppertime and so we tried out a few restaurants. The first one was for kimbap (Korean sushi) and mando (Korean dumplings). The second for duk bo gi (spicy rice cakes) and the third for sweet fried chicken. Everything was delicious and the way I remembered it.

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After supper, Edward was going to take us back to the hanok before picking up his wife at a potluck. Jason and I knew this would add hours onto his evening so we said we could all squeeze into the car. That was how we ended up being invited into the party when we arrived to pick up Han — and being serenaded by a talented musician. It was a completely random moment that made Jason and I feel like we had friends in Jindo.

A party in Jindo.

Party time.

Back at our hanok, we had no trouble drifting off to sleep on the floor. I did wake up a few times because the hay pillow was hard as a rock. Who knew straw could be molded into a brick? We woke up to the sounds of birds and the Jindo dogs barking instead of chugging motors and busy people starting their hectic day. It was a good break for my spirit. Seoul was the next and final stop on our journey and it would be filled to the brim with activities.

Hanok ceiling.

Hanok ceiling.

Breakfast was served to us: an apple and a piece of chocolate cake, and then Edward and Danbi dropped us off at the bus station. They stuck around while we boarded the bus and then waved goodbye as we drove away.

Edward and Danbi wave goodbye at the bus station in Jindo.

Edward and Danbi wave goodbye at the bus station in Jindo.

We had left Jindo too soon but we had certainly felt its magic. It has a different kind of energy: the type that’s used to being in the shadows of other, more popular places, but knows it’s special. The people are genuine and that doesn’t mean they’re all friendly. They can be grouchy too but they’ll be grouchy to everyone, not just the tourists. In Jindo, people came up to us and asked us where we were from. Then they would ask why we came to Jindo. We would tell them because we wanted to go somewhere different. Because we wanted fuller memories and stories rather than just photos taken in museums or conversations had only with other travellers.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Moments of the past and the present and the future

Rice field.

Rice field in Jindo.

I recently returned from a vacation that took me to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. It was my first time landing in Malaysia and Singapore but not South Korea. I had been an English teacher in Korea almost 20 years ago. When I was there, I wrote a bi-weekly column for a Nova Scotia newspaper about my experiences. I’m doing that again except this time, the columns are for my own blog.

South Korea
Part III of Singapore ‘16

While planning our trip, my husband Jason and I tried to figure out how to get to South Korea from Singapore. Flights from Changi Airport were expensive. Flights from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) were cheap. We decided the best way to get to Korea was to flying back to KLIA from Singapore and then go on from there. So that’s what we did.

South Korea was my home for six months in 1997. I went after graduating from journalism school in Toronto and not being able to find a job as a reporter. (I had a job at The Gap.) As well, the guy I had been dating broke up with me and broke my heart and I decided the best way to mend it was to go far, far away. Where I knew no one and no one knew me.

I spent a lot of time on my own my first two months as an English teacher in Korea. I couldn’t speak or read Korean. I was illiterate and didn’t even understand street signs. However, my experiences forced me to grow up. Now, almost 20 years later, I was going back to Taejon, where I had once taught.

teach er and students.

My teen students twenty years ago. Photo credit: 이광림.

Jason and I landed at KLIA, an airport well-known to us by now. We planned our incoming and outgoing flights with many hours in between in case anything happened. Jason whiled away the eight hours by reading and I went from shop to shop trying to spend all our Malaysian ringgit, currency we wouldn’t be needing anymore. (I bought postcards, a Singaporean cookbook, tea and cookies. We still have a few ringgit left.)

Finally, it was check in time for our overnight flight to Korea on Vietnam Airlines. We went to the counter where the agents scared us by telling us we may be turned away at customs in Korea if we didn’t have a return trip booked. We had tickets home — albeit on a different airline — and when we showed them our itinerary, they checked us in and we were good to go.

Our first flight landed in Ho Chi Minh City at night. The airplane taxied past Air Force One on the apron. Turns out U.S. President Barack Obama was in Vietnam. But he wasn’t hanging out in the terminal, where we parked ourselves amidst noisy French tourists. For some reason, they had to congregate right by us even though there were rows of empty seats a couple of steps away. They chitter-chatted loudly, interrupting my thoughts and sleep, until their plane to Paris left an hour before our connecting flight.

Our second flight to Incheon International Airport was late leaving but that was fine. We didn’t have another plane to catch, only a train, and they ran numerous times a day. We were going to Taejon (also known as Daejeon) first, where I had lived for most of my time in South Korea. In my head Taejon, a city 140 km south of Seoul, hadn’t changed at all. But of course I knew it would be different. How different, I wondered.

After an almost seven-hour flight, we had outrun the heat and arrived in a cooler Incheon at 6:30 a.m. among what seemed to be a billion Rotarians from all over the world. (There was a Rotary International Convention going on in Seoul the last week of May.) Jason and I got our bags (both of them) and went downstairs to the Korea Train Express (KTX) station. We had missed the first train to Taejon but another one was coming along at 9 a.m.

I don’t think there was an express train to Taejon when I lived there. I took the bus everywhere then. But the train is certainly a faster way to travel – speeding up to 300 km an hour at some points. I was excited to go to Taejon. Excited to be back in a place I once knew as home. But entering the outskirts of Taejon, nothing looked familiar. Sky high apartment buildings, new to me, sprouted out of what used to be rural rice fields. I didn’t know where I was.

Street in Taejon.

Street in Taejon.

At the train station, Jason and I stowed our backpacks in a locker and found a tourist information booth. I wanted to find out just exactly we were. I don’t remember this station in 1997 and I thought if I could figure out where in the city we were, I could get us to my old neighbourhood.

When I told the tourist information officer where I wanted to go, she had no idea what I was talking about. Taejon had grown, grown, grown and was huge. There were many new communities, too many to know. I did remember that I had lived near a large department store, Say, and asked where it was. She pointed it out on a map.
IMG_1696
Jason and I went outside into the sunny afternoon and I was pulled left by an invisible force. I knew we had to go left. Checking the map, that was the way we were supposed to go. We walked and walked. Walked some more. Walked by Say and the park where I had played with the toddlers enrolled in my school. Jason and I walked by markets and shops that I must have visited a long time ago. Except it didn’t seem like a long time ago.

As I’ve said before, my experiences in Korea made me grow up. Yet being back in Taejon I felt like I was the same person. I didn’t feel any older or wiser or mature. How could twenty years have passed? They had. The grey in my hair told me I was no longer a young adult. The streets that had multiplied in Taejon said it wasn’t the same place. Then we got to a place that hadn’t changed at all: the river.

I stood on the bridge and looked down at the water. It still moved in the same direction. It still rippled when the wind hit it. It still offered herons a place to fish. People still walked along the pathway beside the Geum River. I used to run alongside it. I used to mull over what I was going to do next with my life. I was lonely and mourning a Toronto boyfriend when I was here the last time. I had no clue what I was going to do next. I had been lost. Now here I was, with my husband, no longer wandering and wondering. I knew my future was secure. This river was a conduit to a different time. Moments of the past and the present and the future chained together.

Geum River.

Geum River.

We walked on and found my old neighbourhood but couldn’t find my Taejon home or where I had worked, Kwak’s English Country School. We had already been walking for over four hours and had to turn around. A former student of mine, Suzan, was meeting us at our hotel room and Jason and I had to boot it back to the station to pick up our bags before we checked in.

We were sunburned and our feet hurt by the time we made it to our room. Tired too. Suzan came by at 6 p.m. and took us out for a drink. She was 13 when I last saw her. Now she was over 30. She had been one of my favourite students because she was spunky and said what was on her mind. We had stayed in touch via letters, e-mail and Facebook through the years.
IMG_1683Over grapefruit Soju (a distilled rice drink), I reminded Suzan that she once said she was never going to get married. She laughed and told me her parents were trying hard to match her up. Maybe if she visited Canada we could find her someone? Suzan’s friend Sun-Mi joined our little party and suggested we go to a traditional Korean restaurant in a village about 30 minutes away. Jason and I had been sleepy but the conversation (and drinks) gave us a boost of energy and we said sure to the offer. I’m glad we did.

Sun-Mi and Suzan drinking rice wine.

Sun-Mi and Suzan.

The place was truly magical. The sun was setting behind some large pottery kimchi jars (jars used to make a fermented spicy cabbage dish) and the air glowed blue behind them, profiling the mountains in the distance. I had seen this before. Not this exact scene but this setting. It was a perfect Korea moment. One made richer by the presence of old friends and new memories.

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Part 1 One and a half days in KL

Part 11  Who we used to be, who we are     

 

Who we used to be, who we are

I recently returned from a vacation that took me to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea. It was my first time landing in Malaysia and Singapore but not South Korea. I had been an English teacher in Korea almost 20 years ago. When I was there, I wrote a bi-weekly column for a Nova Scotia newspaper about my experiences. I’m doing that again except this time, the columns are for my own blog.

Singapore

Part II of Singapore ‘16

Family_Lines_orchids

Singapore Botanical Gardens

We’re were only in Malaysia for less than 72 hours. There was a lot to see in the country but we had other plans. Friends were waiting for us in Singapore. After 12 hours of sleep, my husband and I packed up our stuff and walked to the train station to board a car to Kuala Lumpur Sentral, the main station, and then take an express train to airport.

The heat was there, as always, and rotating fans whirred above our heads on the train platform. It sounded like hundreds of bees are buzzing around. Which is what Kuala Lumpur reminds me of: a busy bee flying from brightly coloured flower to brightly coloured flower. Always on the move. Like most of its people. Always going from here to there to here. And here we are. At the airport.

Thankfully, my husband’s backpack is here too. He exchanged his passport for a security pass and was allowed to lug his baggage from arrivals to departures. We checked in to our AirAsia flight and soon, are up, up and away to Singapore.

Singapore is a place I’ve never thought about visiting until close friends moved there a couple of years ago. They told us that their new apartment had lots of room if we ever wanted to visit the city state. So about two years ago, Singapore ’16 came into focus. Jason and I added side trips to Malaysia and South Korea. Malaysia was close, bordering Singapore, so why not see it? The reasoning for South Korea was that I lived there 20 years ago and wanted to see it again.

After landing at Singapore’s airport, Changi, Jason and I got a taxi to take us to our friends’ home. Driving through the roads, I noticed how everything was in order: nothing was out of place. The lush vegetation around and along the streets was trimmed neatly. Traffic streamed at a comfortable pace. No one going too fast or too slow. There was no litter on the sidewalks. Everything was tidy. Except that heat. It was an unruly beast that smashed into me again.

The temperatures were high again in Singapore but we had a lovely respite. Our friends’ have an apartment with air conditioning and cool tile floors. There’s also an outdoor pool and refreshing gin and tonics to wind down a hot day. Our first full day on the island was our hottest. That was when the sun came out from behind thunder clouds.

We went for a morning walk to the Singapore Botanical Gardens, a 156-year-old green oasis and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The garden with its orchids and glass-still ponds is a leftover from British colonial times. Some of my Scottish relations had also lived in Singapore during this time and I wondered if they had ever been to see the flowers. Orchids bloomed everywhere I looked and were abundant as weeds.

I thought I was dealing with the high temperatures and humidity well. I felt calm, cool and collected. Until I looked into a mirror at the gift shop. There was so much sweat that it couldn’t even trickle or stream down my face. It pooled above my lips and in the hollows of my cheeks. I was a mess. Time to find a place to mop up. We hopped — or really slid sloppily — into a taxi to a hip area of town, Tiong Bahru, and had drinks with huge chunks of ice and a chocolate cupcake.

Our time in Singapore, just short of a week, was more about hanging out with friends than

View from Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

View from Marina Bay Sands Hotel.

sightseeing. We saw a lot though from the outstanding city view from the Marina Bay Sands Hotel to shopping on Orchard Road, to eating and eating and more eating. Singapore has a lot of restaurants with its own local flavours and from away. For one lunch we went to a hawker centre at a busy market. A hawker centre is like a giant food court. The different smells of things frying and cooking as well as the steam blasting out of the tiny food booths was overwhelming. There were too many choices. We ended up having one of Singapore’s national dishes, Hainanese chicken rice, (basically rice with chicken and spices) from a booth where there was a long line-up. There was a lot of choice too when it came to sit-down restaurants. We had steamed pork buns, Thai shrimp dishes and sushi. Not at all the same place. We also got to eat Tasmanian beef, mangoes, jackfruit and snake fruit. (The snake fruit didn’t bite.)

Singapore Sling.

Bad photo of a Singapore Sling. (I only had one.)

In between eating we had gin and tonics and went to Raffles for a Singapore Sling. Raffles is a renowned hotel from 1887 and named after the founder of Singapore Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles. The place was a stopping point for anyone who was anyone. Now anyone and everyone can have a drink at the Long Bar (even in acid wash denim jean shortshorts. Which mortified our host.) I enjoyed a sweet Singapore Sling, a drink created at the establishment in 1915 by bartender Ngiam Tong Boon.

On our last day, Jason and I went to Pulau Ubin, an island off the eastern side of Singapore. Ubin is the last of the rural and traditional villages in the area. We took a bus to the ferry terminal and then hopped on a “bumboat” for the 10-minute ride out to the small hunk of land in the sea.

Bumboat driver.

Bumboat driver.

We hired two bikes in the busy village for $16 Family_Lines_bikeSingapore dollars and pedalled around the island being pummelled by sunlight. At first, we cycled along shaded paved roads and there was a cool (ish) breeze pushing the heat away from our bodies. But then I wanted to see the German Girl Shrine and we started going uphill on a sandy pathway, out from underneath the protection of the green canopy and into the scorching sun. Jason and I had some heated words while we both melted into the dirt trail trying to find the shrine. He wanted to turn around and I wanted to find the spot where a young German woman died and then became a deity. The 18 year old had lived on the island with her coffee growing family in World War I. She ran off during a British raid on the property and died. Her body was found by locals and she has since been turned into a divine being who smiles upon gamblers.

German Girl Shrine.

German Girl Shrine.

We did turn around and stumbled upon the path to the shrine. It’s filled with offerings of flowers and dolls. A stray dog met us there. He looked at me and then walked away. We followed him out and back into the tangled cover of the jungle. We left the island shortly after on another chugging boat filled with tourists like us. The sea breeze dried our sweat and calmed our tempers.

Stray dog.

Me.

Me on the boat.

Back at the ferry terminal, I spotted the word Brewery stenciled on a building. My husband is a beer geek and so we walked over to the Little Island Brewery Company, a pub and restaurant.

“Where are you from?” the Singapore server asked us.

“Calgary, Canada,” we replied.

“Oh, I went to school in Halifax, Nova Scotia.”

“I went to Acadia!” I shared proudly. Of course he had been there. It is a small world after all.

After a drink, my husband and I went to a Peranakan restaurant. Peranakans are people of mixed local and foreign ancestry. They have great food. Jason and I shared ayam buah keluak, a beef dish with some kind of nut used for flavouring. We asked our server about the nut and she said we could eat it. So I chomped down on the hard shell. Ouch.

“No, no,” she laughed. “You eat what’s in the shell.”

She told us the nuts are harvested and then buried in the ground for a period of time. Then they’re dug up and used in food. They have to turn a certain colour before they’re used, otherwise, they’re poisonous. What kind of cooking spice is this? Turns out, the nut is actually a fruit produced by the pangium edule tree. The “football” fruit contains hydrogen cyanide but when it’s fermented, it lets go of its deadly flavour. Yum!

We saw a lot in our short time in Singapore but friends were the impetus for the trip. They were why we went and it was here we reminded each other of who we used to be with stories from high school and university. It was here we told each other who we were now as we spoke about our lives today. It was here we told each other who we hoped to be in the years to come.Family_lines_flags

Almost every morning, around 6:30 a.m., I got up to do laps in the pool at my friends’ complex. Even that early, the temperature was still 27 C and the water was warm, actually too warm to do long sets, but inviting enough that I didn’t shiver when I got in. The sun was always just rising and sending tendrils of light into the sky. The only noises then were of birds and insects, calling the city to wake up. I had already started my morning and was propelling my body through the water and into a new day with new stories.

Part I

One and a half days in KL

I recently returned from a vacation that took me to Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea this past May. It was my first time landing in Malaysia and Singapore but not South Korea. I had been an English teacher in Korea almost 20 years ago. When I was there, I wrote a bi-weekly column for a Nova Scotia newspaper about my experiences. I’ve decided to share my experiences this time around — only this time, on my own blog.

One and a half days in KL

Part I of Singapore ’16

Batu_Caves_oneStepping off the train in Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia, the heat grabbed me in a bear hug. It was only 7 a.m. but the warmth of the early morning wasn’t going to let me go. It was only going to squeeze me tighter and tighter until my clothes were saturated with sweat and I was dizzy. There was too much to see, too much to do though, and I tried to settle into the May temperatures of a place several thousand kilometres — and several degrees — removed from home.

I had thought maybe KL might spark some kind of recognition in my veins. Some sort of ancient feeling deep in my bones. Ancestors used to live in Malaysia. I talked to my grandmother about it before coming here. She told me she used to get letters with the return address stamped Kuala Lumpur. Our relatives either owned or ran rubber and tea plantations outside of the city and in Singapore as well. The resistance to the heat that had been built up in their blood had dissipated by the time it trickled down to me.

Since there were no traces of old memories or ghosts to chase, KL was mine to explore. After arriving at from Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) at 1 a.m. and trying to find out why my husband’s backpack had missed the plane, we laid down on a long bench in the arrival’s lounge and tried to find sleep amongst the other tired travellers. When rest refused to come, we boarded a train to visit Batumalai Sri Muruga Perumal Kovil, otherwise known as the Batu Caves. The caves are massive limestone hollows that were once used as shelter and now are part of a Hindu shrine. They also open at 6 a.m.

A stormed had rolled through about half an hour earlier and did nothing to lower the temperature. It just made the grounds of the religious site wet and the air sticky with humidity. Grey clouds still languished in the sky creating a perfect backdrop for giant golden statues. I had never seen such things before. Seven or eight skinny dogs stretched out amongst the puddles in the parking lot. They looked hungry but never wandered over to us looking for food.

At odds with the poor dogs, was the smell of rich incense in the air. Everywhere I went in KL, there was the smell of spices, a warm aroma of seasonings that I’ve never learned the names of since I don’t know how to cook. The spices coloured the scenes around me, making everything that much more exotic, even a stair climb in the damp heat.

My husband and I went up 272 concrete steps with the other tourists, chickens and monkeys to the largest of the caves, the Temple Cave. Once at the top, music from two musicians blessed a ritual being performed by a man who washed a pure white sheet in clear water flowing from a hidden tap. The darkness of the cave held in the warmth. Sweat made my grasp on the camera slippery. I took a few photos of the beige walls marbled with black and then went back down the stairs, stopping on every one. I was being hypnotized by each step and felt I was going to fall if I went at any other speed other than slow. At the bottom, my husband and I got back on the train and headed into the central train station and breakfast.

After our meal of laksa, a spicy noodle soup, and a milk tea (it came with a lot of milk, duh, and tons of sugar already added) we tried to walk around KL. Not the best idea. Sidewalks ended abruptly in the middle of intersections and crosswalks are almost non-existent. Cars and trucks and motorcycles whiz and scream and buzz by so closely that their side mirrors almost touch me. Oh yes, the sun had come out.

If I had thought it was hot before, now it was excruciating. It smothered me with its softness and overtook my brain. All I could think of was escaping the brightness. The brilliance of the heat that bored into my pores. We had to stop but found a cool drink of water near shaded botanical gardens and listened to crickets sing and watched butterflies and giant moths fly overhead.

On the other side of KL are the Petronas Twin Towers,

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

buildings that were once the tallest buildings in the world until 2004. (Now it’s Taipei 101.) We took the subway to the office towers and looked up, way up. There are 88 floors and the Skybridge, a walkway connecting the towers, is supposed to be incredible. We really wanted to go on a tour and one left in 15 minutes. We were almost at the front of the line with a couple ahead of us.

The lanky stringbean Westerners used up the whole 15 minutes to ask the tour clerk questions. We missed that tour and had to move on. Our Airbnb host was meeting us at 3 p.m. and we didn’t want to be late. We were anyway.

Navigating the train and metro system wasn’t the problem. Finding the tall apartment building where we were staying for the night wasn’t either. We could see the white concrete structure sticking out amongst the other skyscraper residences from the train. We were late because we couldn’t find the front door. Then someone told us we had to go down some crumbling stairs cut into the side of a steep but short hill, and then round a corner. There it was. Home for the night.

There was a pool in the building and so I went for a swim. That’s when the heat loosened its hot grip on me, slid off my sweat-slicked arms and withered away. It wouldn’t be gone for good on this trip. It would find me again. For now, it was banished by the apartment’s air conditioning.

Traffic.

View from the apartment. Too bad my camera phone is terrible.

The view from the 15th floor apartment was amazing: traffic,

traffic, traffic. The one-room place had floor to ceiling windows that suspended me over the busy roads. I couldn’t stop watching the trucks and cars push and shove each other looking for free space. In-between them, motorcycles zipped along, lane-splitting in a way that’s illegal in Canada, but a highly effective way to get downtown quickly in KL.

It was only early evening, 7 p.m., but the travel, the 14-hour time difference with Calgary and the battle with the stifling heat invaded my brain. It shut down my body and I closed my eyes. Waking up 12 hours later.

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