Choking haze fills lungs
A walk becomes a slow slog
We awoke this morning and stepped out of our hostel, barely able to breathe in the choking cloud of Indonesia’s forest fires. We were told that it was much worse before, but this seems ridiculous. Evan’s sentences are punctuated by coughing and choking, even a moderate walking speed tires us out as oxygen fails to absorb into our lungs. Our extremeties feel slightly tingly, and we find ourselves squinting into the thick air.
We debate what to do. We could head back to KL and try to weather our last few days there, where there are more air-conditioned cafes and exciting things to do. Then again, it’s more expensive and hectic, so why not just stay here? It’s hard to know where the haze will be worse, since Indonesia fronts the whole of peninsular Malaysia. The haze partially lifts after breakfast, and we settle on staying here.
We do move to a different hostel, dissatisfied by the noise and poor management of the Merchant Cafe. The bar downstairs has kept us up the past nights, and there never seems to be toilet paper in the bathroom. It’s as though the bar owner realized that he could make money off the space upstairs and decided to put in a hostel, but neither cares about running it nor knows how to do so.
At any rate, we check into a new place, run by a fellow named Sean who claims to get all his sustenance from cigarettes and beer. He’s quite a character. We drop our stuff and set out for a walk.
We visit the temples of Jonker Street, the hilltop graves of the colonial settlers, and the famous Melaka Straits Mosque. For the first time, I’m told I have to cover my hair to enter, and I don a robe and hijab from a rack clearly set out for tourists. One of the Muslim worshippers calls to me that I look beautiful in the modesty sack, but I feel clumsy and awkward, now lacking peripheral vision and tripping over the loose skirts of the robe. The mosque is beautiful, but of course the photos we’d seen looked much more impressive, and we count the cultural experience of playing dressup to be our favorite part of the trip out to it.
Lunch includes a food we haven’t encountered before called kampong rojak. It tasted like jicama, fried tofu, and pineapple in sauce, but the Internet seems to say that the tofu was actually just bread. I can’t find what the jicama-like fruit was. Anyway, it’s a totally fresh-tasting dish (the vegetables are not heavily cooked) that was a great lunch.
We finally make time to research the list of food and music that the kids in Perak provided us. We learn that we’ve actually eaten more of the recommended foods than we realized, and that it shouldn’t be too hard to find the remaining ones, except perhaps Lemang which requires several hours and large hollow bamboo stalks to cook.
We spent the heat of the day exploring the two large malls near our hostel, which are connected through three buildings by a series of sky bridges. Both malls have archery ranges? Both are also host to arcades and movie theatres. One has a “6D motion ride”, an aquarium, a midway, pool club, karaoke bar, and roller disco. We are astonished by this, although by this point I suppose we shouldn’t be. We agree to come back for archery tomorrow, but this afternoon we see a Cantonese short film compilation about ghosts called “Tales from the Dark Part I”. It gives an interesting view on Chinese culture, including villain hitting. We shuffle out of the movie theatre to dinner in Little India.
We return to the hostel to waste some time, research Jeju more, and meet any other travelers. Later, a CouchSurfing host drops by to pick us up for second dinner with a group of CSers. We have a great time, talking politics and food and everything else. CS around these parts seems to be a mixture of expat community and traveler community, with a super active message board and meetups nearly every night. It’s interesting, too, the amount of drama that surrounds it here, where the cultural context is totally different. Learning about people! It’s good!