Two Savages in Southeast Asia

Birthday Training

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More time and more thoughts,
Settling in behind a
Reckless, moving girl.

My birthday! We’ve switched up a few blog dates so that I get to write about it. :) I’ll avoid going into a rambling post about it (although, in some sense, that’s what we advertise for this blog); we’ll just say that I had a chance to reflect on it and am quite satisfied (though life is, of course, never perfect).

We dragged ourselves out of bed at 8:45, much later than we had anticipated, and got the chance to talk to my mom and dad (hi, Mom and Dad!) on Google for a little while. The internet is so magic. After a disappointing hostel breakfast of toast and bad muesli, we walked over to a nearby mall and grabbed some real breakfast that contained, uh, actual food. Inside the mall is a staircase which you can play like a piano: the notes go up and down as you do. Evan used this to play me a wonderful version of Happy Birthday. :) <3

We strapped our packs on and headed to the train station to get tickets for the afternoon train north. It ultimately seems sensible to head north, especially since we got a response from a CouchSurfing host in that direction, and not in the south. Still packing (har har), we decided to pop over to the Islamic Art Museum and the National Mosque, since muslim culture hasn’t figured very prominently in our trip yet.

The National Mosque was, not surprisingly, closed to tourists. It’s unclear whether that was just for the noontime prayers, or whether this is a Ramadan-long embargo, but either way we only got to inspect the outside. It’s a fascinatingly geometric building, not just in decoration but also in design. The central worship hall looks like a degenerate geodesic dome with beautiful blue facets, and the minaret is a perfect cone on a perfect cylinder. I’m always amazed by Islamic art and architecture.

The museum was no less impressive. In addition to galleries filled with illuminated Qu’rans from ancient kingdoms, rooms of architectural miniature mosques, and cases of ornate weaponry, there were also tapestries and jewelry pieces with verses built into them, as well as displays describing the evolution of the Arabic script. It was a fascinating, if brief because of our impending train, time spent there. We intended to grab some lunch at their cafe, which we idiotically didn’t realize was closed (because of the Ramadan fast, yes we are big, stupid white people).

We instead grabbed some terrifically spicy and delicious fish from the food court upstairs in the train station, as well as some little bags of snacks for our ride. Evan bought me a useful, if unromantic, birthday present of adheisive bandages, since putting gauze on my knee every day is a beast. We puttered around the Internet for a bit on our computers while waiting for the train, which was about 20 minutes late into the station. Once on board, we read the newspaper we’d purchased, learning about such exciting stories as a local television station in SF getting sued for naming pilots in an Air Korea crash such things as “Sum Ting Wong”; talks progressing between Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia over summertime haze in the region; and a random shooting of an 8-year-old, a 19-year-old, and a 56-year-old in northern Malaysia in front of a Hindu temple. News is cheery everywhere in the world.

When we finished with the newspaper, the train finally heaved its way out of the station, now around an hour and a half behind schedule. Apparently this is par for the course on Malaysian intercity trains, but we fell more and more behind schedule as we had to pull to the side for freight trains to pass (this is similar to the arrangement of the train system in the US). The seating compartments were glacially cold with AC, but the train food was decent and cheap so it wasn’t all bad.

Malaysia is pretty conservative in most places, so thus far we’ve refrained from holding hands or embracing in public. We did, though, get to sneak a quick kiss between the train cars where no one could see. Birthday!

A bit over two hours late and just after midnight, we pulled into Butterworth station. Our host informed us that she was on the night train back, so we had to seek a hotel room for the night. We found one just beyond the train station sketchy area. Apparently there are some fairly conservative attitudes in this area, as the desk staff would not even speak to me (preferring to deal with the male in the group). I know this attitude is something I’ll have to get used to if I want to travel everywhere, but it still riles me up.

Anyhow, we’re settled into our (not glacial) hotel room to sleep. Evan seems to be coming down with another bout of digestive troubles, but hopefully he’ll recover quickly. Tomorrow, we meet our host!