Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hala!

We're twelve hours ahead of you guys in New York and Toronto so it's already Tomorrow in Malaysia.

Add to that the fact that it took me more than 24 hours to get from New York to Kuala Lumpur– I'm wiped out.

Annika, I sent you a text, did you get it? My condolences and sorry about your aunt.

Plus sorry to everybody that I didn't say goodbye to anyone in person. I could barely keep up with everything that had to get done. I don't think anyone ever got out of New York and half way around the world as quickly as I did. Zoom!

The trick is to get rid of everything. Gave the mattress went to Goodwill. My super took my desk for his son. Another neighbor relieved me of the couch and bed frame. I stuffed a bunch of stuff down the garbage shoot, too. I hope you guys didn't want anything. I should have asked but I was in a hurry.

Also Fedex'd a bunch of my crapola back home to my mom & dad. Hate to make them store my junk, but its all stuff that I'm still emotionally attached to. Books I may never read again, but I just have to keep. Honestly it would break my heart to relegate Neruda to the trash heap, so I'm not going to do it.

Blah blah blah, well, as you can imagine, it was a mad rush Monday to catch an 8AM Virgin Atlantic flight out of Newark to Kuala Lumpur. I had to change planes and carriers in London and Singapore, too. Would have loved to have spent the day in London, but only had two hours between flights, and less than an hour between flights in Singapore before heading to Kuala Lumpur.

Finally, 24 exhausting hours after departing EWR, we touched down @ 7:40pm @ KLIA.

OK, given visibility at that time in the evening, my first take on Malaysia:

Imagine Margaritaville meets Alphaville.

Though it defines itself as an Islamic state, Malaysia is at first sight a youthful blend of human culture and activity. While driving in from the airport to downtown Kuala Lumpur, the first words that came to my mind were 'Modern Global'. Now, after a couple of days here, I can tell you that cultures collide here at a pace that can make New York seem provincial.

Picture if you can (or just google it) contemporary architecture fused with Asian Pacific and Islamic aesthetics. If New York is an homage the cube, Kuala Lumpur is a study upon the modern arabesque. Spirals are spun out of steel and concrete, while wealth and poverty do no so much clash here as they simultaneously inhabit the same space. And though defined as an Islamic society, this city is infused with prominent numbers of Christians, Buddhists and others –from Europe, the Americas, China, India, all over. Not to mention that it seems like everybody flies by on Vespas or a motorbikes. Think Blade Runner remade as tropical anime.

There's a reason the airport code for Kuala Lumpur International Airport is KUL. It's because Malaysia is a COOL hunter's dream destination. Part of it is certainly how young everyone here seems, which also makes this place remind me of Logan's Run. Who knows what they do with the old people.

It's all very interesting and exotic, but it's not perfect. One immediately apparent price of unregulated progress is the poo air quality. It is so polluted that I wouldn't be surprised to hear asthmatics wax poetic about the healing properties of Los Angeles smog.

And like LA, Malaysia is VERY laid back, to say the least, keeping what people here call 'Malaysian Time'

Malaysian Time basically means that everyone is going to be at least half hour late for everything. Don't even try to fight it, because it's just a given.

Speaking of Malaysian Time, I think it was supposed to be only an hour drive from the airport to downtown Kuala Lumpur, but it took two hours in all. I think the driver took the 'scenic' route. But even though I was getting fleeced, and jet lagged, I didn't mind it so much because it was still so fascinating to take in.

Al Jazeera has an account at the Royale Bintang Hotel, but I took one step into the lobby, and –Annika, you'd kill me– I was like, 'this is way too rich for me' and I left.

Believe it or not, I decided instead to get a room on my own thin dime at a little hostel called Casa Embon. I heard about it from this gay couple, Pat and Glenn, that I met on the flight in from Singapore. Had lunch with them yesterday. They visit Malaysia at least once a year, they told me, so they showed me around a bit. Seemed nice enough fellows, but they left this morning to motorbike up to Batu Ferringhi in Penang. It's what people do, I'm told.

Casa Embon is downscale but friendly. I'm pretty sure I can get reimbursed, and it's perfect for me because it's got broadband internet access and it's teaming with globe trekking students. I'd say it seems like a fair mix of socialist revolutionaries and trust fund babies. I even noticed a couple of boomer couples in the lobby. –Not to mention more than a few gorgeous women among seem to staying here, too. I already can't decide whether to pursue the rail-thin brunette I suspect to be an incognito French actress (I'm quite sure it's her), or a curvy Brazilian Grad student I met in the lobby who told me she wants to move to the states and finish her forensics program in Chicago.

You lot are stuck back in New York, so it's going to be my preoccupation to make some fast friends on this side of the world. Preferably of the female sort, I might add, I have my priorities, ha!

The other thing I like about Casa Embon is that it's located in Bukit Bintang, which is not far where I'll be working in Tower 2 of The Petronas Towers (which the locals call 'KLCC' for 'Kuala Lumpur City Centre').

I already discovered it's within easy walking distance from a bunch of little bars and hang out spots where expats gather. As it happens, Pizza Hut is just up the street. Can you believe there's even a Planet Hollywood here, too? Anyway, no shortage of stuff to do.

In fact, Bukit Bintang could be Orange County, seedier though, if you didn't know you were on the other side of the world.

I was actually a little disappointed to see evidence of American consumerism EVERYWHERE. The irony of it inescapable when over Britney Spears the cabbie in from the airport informed me (with a smile that hinted of pride) that there are over fifty McDonalds restaurants in Kuala Lumpur, alone (!). It would seem all so sad and McSick to me, if I weren't also so impressed, or dying for a Big Mac, ha ha.

Actually, what I really long for is some Lebanese shawarma and baba ghanouj –so easy to find in NYC– not so easy in Kuala Lumpur. And I could use a cup of Cozy Burger Pea soup. Anyone want to fedex me some lunch? Don't forget croutons!

Speaking of things religious, it's funny Annika that you should mention that you are going to visit the new BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Toronto. I leave later this morning to visit the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque in Shah Alam.

Now that I'm here, I want to take a little while and be submerged in all things Islamic.

I know what you're thinking, Jasper, 'next stop Guantánamo Bay'. But I'm Muslim after all, and now here I am in Malaysia. I've lived my whole life in the States, and lived long enough to see the Bushies transform America into a warped version of itself. So kindly spare me the stars and stripes for a just one small moment, while I take in and appreciate what appears to be a magnificent, luminous and rising crescent moon.

I can totally do without the Quranic dress code for women, though. Malaysia is very modern in many respects, but you still see traditional dress. In that respect, you're never going to take the True Blue American out of this Lebanese kid: Ladies, the less you're wearing, the better. And bikinis poolside, please. My God, I sound like a pig! Yes? Yeah, I know but I love the little bikinis on the big butts! Must. Go. To. Brazil. ASAP.

Actually plenty of bikinis in Malaysia, I hear, but I haven't been swimming yet.

That does it, my mind's made up– I will be chasing after the Brazilian after all.

Seriously, Malaysia is simultaneously one of the coolest and hottest places on Earth. I feel like I need to unravel the DNA of this place and discover what inspires these people. Hopefully, I won't disappoint the people who hired me at Al Jazeera, and I'll get to stay long enough to find out just what that is.

Maybe I'll even learn a little something about myself.

I've got a few more days to kill before I start work on Monday, so my plan is to get as much sightseeing in before then. And then, don't worry, when I show up for work it will be on time, and not on Malaysian Time, either!

Ha!

I keep telling myself that I've really got to catch up on some zzzz, but looks like it's not going to happen today or tonight. It seems that every waking moment is Basement Bhangra night in Kuala Lumpur!

SIRAJ!