Two Savages in Southeast Asia

Atas-k Completion

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First: if Valkyrie didn’t already cover this, a tidbit of Malaysian vocabulary. Atas literally means “up”, but is used to describe all things upper-class. Rich people, the things they own, the places they frequent – all can be called atas, as in “that restaurant is very atas” or “Borders is an atas book store.” (Yes, Borders still exists here. Sometimes travelling can feel like you’re in a parallel economic universe.)

The morning starts with a trip to the local curry mee (“mee” is a type of noodle, thin and yellowish in color) stand. They specialize in white curry mee with pig’s blood, which comes in the form of coagulated cubes. Curry mee is often served with a reddish sambal sauce that you can stir into the broth, thus making it less white. (No idea what’s in the white curry paste; we’d heard of yellow, green, and red before, but not white!) We’re lucky to get in before they close up; usually everything is sold out before 0900, which is not surprising considering that it’s both delicious and cheap!

We join Shobee on her way into Georgetown, where she usually works from various cafes. The Teach For Malaysia office there has no Internet connection, a matter that the office in KL has tried but so far not succeeded in addressing. Their staff in the area take it in stride, though, for isn’t adversity part of the fun of launching and sustaining a new organization? Atas cafes are usually best for working – they’re clean and quiet, and they offer a level of wifi connectivity that puts the overstressed coffee shop networks back in San Francisco to shame. All three of us work from one such cafe, Lighthouse Coffee, until Shobee leaves for her office in Georgetown just before noon.

Side note: as a former software engineer, it’s really hard to get used to the non-engineering side of business. All the comfort of well-defined progress goes out the window: no lines of code, no working test cases, only messy human psychology and writing and planning and the vagaries of communication (which, I can tell you, time differences of multiple hours do not improve.)

We’re peckish by 1330, so we grab some delicious vegetarian Indian food around the corner before taking a brisk walk about the town. Our choice of restaurant for lunch brings us into Little India, which is but a short walk away from the town hall and some old British fort. Colonialism leaves strange marks…but apparently this fort was never used in a defensive capacity. Instead, it served as an administrative center during British colonial rule.

On our way back from the quick walk, we end up taking a less pedestrian-friendly turn onto the main waterfront road. Urban Malaysia isn’t exactly designed for walking around even in the best of places, and this is no exception. Nevertheless, we soldier on and make it back to the ferry terminal.

Shobee’s got a full evening of work ahead of her, so we decide to repay a tiny portion of our karmic debt by preparing a sort of fusion cuisine feast: polenta with grated purple sweet potato; braised green leafy vegetable of some variety; and shiitake bacon, which is one of our staple meat substitutes back home. It takes a while longer than expected, and we’re still cooking by the time Shobee returns, but after much work and patience we’re all rewarded with yet another delicious meal to round out our day of culinary delights.