Tag Archives: Kuala Lumpur

Bersih 2.0 Rally – An Eyewitness Account


Yelling all around, shoving my way through a crowd of 20 men to squeeze through a two-foot gate with angry, baton-holding police at our heels, those few minutes during the Kuala Lumpur Bersih 2.0 rally ended up being some of the most terrifying minutes of my life.

Some few seconds before, I naively assumed my friend Jullian and I were in the “safe” zone, a quieter area on a hill above the city streets looking down on the now-vacant intersection of Jalan Pudu and Jalan Tun Perak that, minutes before, had been full of thousands of protesters demanding fair and frequent elections and an end to corruption.

Jullian and I had arrived earlier that day to Masjid Jamek – one of the protesters’ several gathering points throughout Kuala Lumpur – to witness a major political rally that had the potential to completely change the Malaysian government. After failing to compromise on a suitable protest location, the government had declared the street rally illegal, blocked all major accesses into the city and threatened to arrest anyone who disobeyed that day.  Armed with a backpack full of bottled water, extra clothes, snacks and surgical masks, we had prepared for the worst.

Me at Masjid Jamek before the rally - not really sure what's going to happen

Jullian and I had arrived at the Masjid Jamek subway station around noon, a full two hours before the protests were supposed to start. As I looked around outside, I was surprised to find things quite calm. As all major roads to the city had been shut down the night before, nearly all the shops were closed and most of the streets had been deserted. Local police officers in their dark blue uniforms casually patrolled the streets, as patches of reporters, gawkers and protestors stood around, some taking pictures, some chatting amongst themselves but all waiting for what was about to happen.

Behind the first line, however, it was clear that police were prepared for anything but a casual afternoon. Dark blue “Black Maria” trucks with benches in the boot and gates in the back waited to take away protesters. Behind them, giant red trucks stood patiently for their turn to hose down the crowds. All around, riot police, donned in black uniforms and red helmets, wielded their weapons, some toying with their tear gas guns, others tapping their batons against the plastic of their shin protectors.

To avoid trouble, Jullian and I had decided to play the roles of tourist and tourist guide, despite the fact that I’ve been in Malaysia for a year now, and he is one of my best friends and colleagues. We did our best to smile and act normal as we walked behind the police lines and decided to join the cops and get an ice cream with the vendor on the corner. To my surprise, the police were really friendly with me. They welcomed my requests to take pictures and even invited me to pose with them, as they slouched on the steps, also enjoying their ice creams.

Riot police relaxing and eating ice cream before the rally

But within minutes, before I could even finish my ice cream, that peace was ended. Suddenly, the random crowds began to turn the corner, journalists running, and Jullian and I followed to find the rally had officially begun. With rhythmic chants of “Hidup, Hidup, Keadlian!” and “Reformasi!” (“Long Live Justice!” and “Reformation!”) several hundred protesters had begun to march.

To my surprise, the protesting crowd was quite small, far less than the tens of thousands of people the organizers had expected. But as we made our way to Jalan Tun Perak, it soon became apparent that our little crowd was just the beginning. As we stood on the steps of the Maybank Tower, the apparent gathering point of the rally, we watched as swarms of protesters from all corners of the intersection joined in what soon became a massive crowd of thousands.  Around us, people continued to chant, brandishing Malaysian flags and waving around smuggled in yellow t-shirts and balloons – representations of Bersih’s official color. Somewhere in the distance, instructions were being given in Malay from a loudspeaker connected to a phone from unseen leaders who had been banned from entering the city, while police on the outside began to warn the crowd to disperse immediately or they would move in.

Thousands of protesters gathered in Kuala Lumpur demanding fair and free elections

Jullian and I decided our best bet was to stay close to the police, with easy access to move behind the line and run if necessary. As we stood on the side, directly in line with the riot police, I realized the careless, relaxed faces I had seen earlier had been completely replaced with expressions of anger and threat.

As we watched the large red truck enter into the intersection, my heart began to race: the water cannons were coming first. Safe behind the police line, we watched as gallons of water were turned on the crowds, spewing around 180 degrees. It wasn’t until the red truck started reversing toward us and the tear gas came out that we began to run. Loud shots fired from behind and my heart began to pound as we headed even further behind the police line and stopped to watch what was going on. A haze of gas and water lie ahead of us in the street and all around people began to cough, some rinsing their eyes out with bottles of water to relieve the sting. It took a few minutes for me to feel the effects, but soon my eyes began to sting and tear, as if I had just cut up a lot of onions, and my throat began to burn. Jullian and I quickly joined with the others in rinsing our eyes with water and headed to higher ground in hopes of both escaping the gas and gaining a vantage point on what had happened to the crowds.

Riot police make an arrest during the Bersih 2.0 rally

As we reached the top of the hill, the saturated, foam-covered pavement below revealed there was clearly something other than just water in those cannons – and clearly that substance had done its job.  Crowds began dispersing into other streets of the city, and though we were in front of the police line, I didn’t realize that the small crowd gathered around us, some praying fervently, would be next in line for arrest. As I stood photographing those who were praying, ignoring Jullian’s calls to move, I didn’t realize that a band of riot police were beginning to surround us, ready to charge. It wasn’t until Jullian screamed at me to run that I realized they were coming for us – and they had weapons. In front of me a group of men were fervently trying to squeeze through a narrow gate and Jullian kept pushing and yelling at me to run and get out. The prospect of brushing up and competing to escape against this aggressive, stampede of men more than terrified me,  but when I turned around to see a line of angry riot police waving their batons and grasping for arrests, I was scared out of my mind. As the police grabbed one of the men and pulled him to the ground, I ran behind them and pressed myself against the wall of the building, clinging to Jullian and shaking in fear. For some reason, they didn’t bother with us and Jullian and I ducked slowly back to the “safe zone” to recuperate and observe.

Around, police began to bring in the new arrests, one dragged by his arms, another with torn clothing and still another, donned in bright yellow, wearing a tribal indigenous hat with a big smile on his face. Even old ladies were detained, and soon those earlier empty “Black Marias” were fully-loaded and headed for the jails.

Physically and emotionally exhausted, Jullian and I returned to Masjid Jamak – now vacant – to sit, relax and regroup. The angry crowds that had filled the street just hours before had vanished, though the groups of local police officers patrolling the now-closed subway entrance made it clear the battle was not yet over. Every now and then, Jullian and I caught a glimpse of a crowd turn the corner, smaller now, but chanting with every bit of passion they had displayed some few hours before.

Despite an exhausting cat and mouse game, protesters refused to give up

Word on the street was that the crowds were headed to the Kuala Lumpur City Centre, the heart of the capital and the site of its famous Petronas Twin Towers, for what could have been a dramatic end to the rally. But as we arrived in front of the gleaming iconic landmarks – representations of Malaysia’s growing strength and development – protesters were nowhere to be found. Instead, rows of riot police roamed the streets, this time on horseback, in an ironic contrast to the modern monuments behind them.

In the end, both the government and the protesters declared that day a success and as Jullian and I left the city centre, tired, sore and starving, I realized our day, too had been a success. Chased, tear-gassed and nearly arrested, we managed to walk away completely unscathed. And as I read of the more than 1600 people that were arrested that day, I recalled the images of the tattered shirts, dragging knees and grounded men and realized how truly lucky we were. Though no physical marks remain, the memory of the Bersih 2.0 rally was a life-changing experience that will stay with me forever.

To hear my live radio interview with WDET Detroit Public Radio on the event, please click here.



I know I am getting very behind in my blogs here, but there are so many things I want to write about, and with all my recent travels, I have hardly had any time to catch up!

That being said, there was one holiday in January I got to experience that I would really like to share here: Thaipusam. Since my first visit to the Batu Caves in August, I have been looking forward to this event to witness first-hand the more than one million Tamil Hindu devotees who flock to the caves to pay homage to the deity Lord Murugan, to whom the cave’s shrine is dedicated.

What makes the event interesting is that the pilgrims show their devotion by carrying burdens called “kavadi” on their bodies, which generally include carrying large, heavy decorations on their shoulders and/or attaching small fruits and flowers to their bodies with hooks as they climb the 272 steps to the top of the cave. Others, especially women, carry jugs of milk. Each devotee has an entourage who accompanies him or her on the journey, and those who are especially hard core get a small band who help them get into and stay in a trance.

I gotta say, the whole experience was AWESOME! But I must admit, Thaipusam, for both the devotee and the gawking tourist, is not easy. First, it is hot! Since I work in air conditioning all day long, sometimes I forget how hot Malaysia really is (last time I checked the temperature it was 95°F, “feels like 106°F”), but being out in the open sun in a crowd (plus a sunburn) is a quick reminder that I am only 3° above the equator.

Second, it is crowded! More than a million people came out to the Batu Caves that day and within an hour, I had lost everyone in my 30-person group. At one point, the police were fighting to keep the non-participant crowds from going up the stairs into the caves, and I found myself constantly squished up next tons of sweaty, stinky strangers.

Usually, I hate crowds but for some reason, I actually didn’t mind them during Thaipusam. There was a really exciting energy in the crowds, and though I obviously wasn’t participating, I definitely felt like I was right in the event. At one point, exhausted, sweaty and dehydrated, I decided to head home, but then I found out they had opened up the stairs to the caves to the non-participants. Though part of me wanted to crash, my curiosity got the best of me and I managed to haul my butt up the steps to see what I could find.

All around, people were removing their kavadi and many of the devotees were passed out or lying down with their attendants rushing to cool them down and take care of them. Though all I saw was the actual carrying of the kavadi, these people undergo weeks of purification rituals to prepare, including fasting, where they eat only one simple meal a day. Though I know the act is gruelling, I was still surprised to see how strong of a physical toll it took on some of these people. Many perform it as a form of thanksgiving or penance to Lord Murugan to receive blessings from him, especially if there is an impending crisis like a severely ill family member.  I suppose people can do anything with the right motivation!

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Festivities and Saris!


It’s one of Malaysia’s many holiday seasons this month, and let me just say, things have been crazy busy! After several weeks of fasting, Ramadan is coming to an end this week, which means lots of preparations and excitement in Malaysia. It’s almost like Christmas season here, with people sending gift baskets and greeting cards to each other and getting ready for Hari Raya, the Malaysian version of Eid ul-Fitr, to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

It’s really interesting being in a Muslim country during Ramadan. Though I usually noticed when it occurred when I was in the U.S., here the whole country changes for the month to accommodate the Malays, all of whom are Muslim and who make up the largest majority in the country. At work, Malays come in early and leave early to make up for the shortened “lunch” break and allow them time to go home and prepare for “buka puasa,” when they break the fast after dark. More than just a suggestion, all Malays are REQUIRED to observe Ramadan by Sharia Law. In fact, when I went out to lunch with some co-workers a couple weeks ago, my Malay friend (who was sick and therefore not fasting) had to hide behind us when we ate out in public for fear of getting fined by Sharia police. While the Chinese, Indians and other “obvious” non-Muslims have no problem during Ramadan, people who are half Indian half Chinese, known as “Chindians,” sometimes get into trouble, because they physically look Malay and Sharia Law is enforced through racial profiling. Definitely not in Kansas anymore…

Aside from Ramadan, last week Malaysia also celebrated Merdeka Day to recognize the day it gained its independence from British colonial rule. I’m still not exactly sure what Malaysians do to celebrate, but it seemed to me everyone just enjoyed an extra day off from work. I decided to use my day off to go hiking with a friend in a local park called Bukit Gasing which, though not exactly the deep jungle, was still pretty cool.

Me holding a Malaysian flag on Merdeka Day while hiking in Bukit Gasing

Let me tell you, hiking on the equator is like hiking in a sauna! Though the park was relatively tame, after just a short distance I was completed soaked in sweat and my face was bright red. The huge rainstorm that poured down half-way through the hike was more than welcome and felt amazing after all the heat and humidity. All was fun and games until I realized that the rain had soaked through the backpack, destroying my phone and severely damaging my camera…yeah…not cool…

In addition to the national festivities, I have also been getting ready to go to my first Indian wedding later this week. The guy getting married, Prakash, was one of my cab drivers when I first got here who I made friends with. Though I don’t know him well, he was very excited that I come to the wedding, and there is no way I am going to pass up this opportunity!

Being an Indian wedding, I want to dress appropriately, so of course that means I had to get a sari! Unfortunately, I don’t know any Indian women here very well, so my Indian Malaysian friend Jullian offered to take me sari shopping, which, as a guy, he had never done either…

Jullian took me to an area in KL called Brickfields, also known as Little India, to shop. Though I didn’t exactly know what to expect, I was hoping to meet a nice, English-speaking Indian female at the shop who could help me pick out a sari and show me how to tie it. Unfortunately for me, the shopkeeper was a man, who though very nice, only spoke Tamil…

Somehow between me awkwardly pointing at things, Jullian translating and the shopkeeper wrapping me up like a doll (like I’m going to be able to repeat this!), I managed to find this beautiful dark pink and gold sari as well as matching bangles and jewelry. Then it was off to the tailor’s (another man) where I was measured for a custom-made sari shirt to wear under my new sari (fun conversation moment: tailor: “Do you want cups sewn in?” me: “I have no idea. This is awkward…”). After pointing out pictures in a book, some translating from Jullian and advice from the tailor’s wife (“Yes, get the cups…”) I think I picked out a really pretty design that I can’t wait to see when I pick it up on Wednesday!

Along with getting Indian dress, I also learned how to properly eat Indian food, with my hands! A couple weeks ago my co-workers and I were interviewing an Indian Malaysian family for a university ad and afterward took them out for an Indian banana leaf lunch. Though I had done this before, I have always used a fork, but this time, I had proper tutors :).

To start, a banana leaf is placed in front of everyone and the server comes around and puts rice and different ladles of curry and other sauces around it. You then use your hand to mix things together and put it in your mouth. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong!

Turns out, eating with your hands is hard!  You only use your right hand and you’re not supposed to get messy past your second knuckle. Much easier said than done…  After several awkward, elbow-raising attempts with very little food getting into my mouth and much taunting from certain co-workers, Saha, the Indian Malaysian student we interviewed, told me the rule of thumb is not to use your thumb, except to push food into your mouth. Apparently the key is to scoop up the food with the tips of your fingers then use the back of your thumb to push it in your mouth.

In the end, I left with a full stomach and a sense of accomplishment. Next step, learning to use chopsticks!

Batu Caves and Monkey Attacks!


I told myself to allow at least one month before expecting to really start enjoying my new surroundings, and like my previous experiences abroad, I think things are really starting to get better.

Last week I was finally able to be a tourist, something I had been struggling to do while in the midst of starting a new job, finding an apartment, settling into the apartment, etc. But last weekend I was able to escape Cheras for a few hours and headed to the Batu Caves, one of Kuala Lumpur’s main attractions.

The 140-foot tall Lord Murugun statue outside the Batu Caves

Ok, so honestly, I am a bit embarrassed that I cannot tell you more about the caves, because there really weren’t a lot of signs and things to read about while I was there ( I am definitely the type that thrives on reading all the things posted in museums). But from what I understand, the Batu Caves are basically a big shrine to Lord Murugun, one of the Hindu gods. In fact, a 140-foot gold statue of Lord Murugun – the largest in the world – stands at the foot of the 272 to steps that lead up into the cave itself. It is actually quite a stunning sight to see.

Once at the top there are a few shrines where Hindus come to pray and make offerings. While there were mostly tourists everywhere, I did see a few people dressed in saris and religious clothing who came for other purposes. But the main event at the Batu Caves comes in late January/ early February when devotees from all over come for the Thaipusam festival to show penance by walking up the steps carrying things attached to their body by hooks. I will definitely be back for that.

With the big Lord Murugun statue and a few shrines, many criticize the Batu Caves for being underwhelming or just a tourist trap. I, on the other hand, found the trip amazing but mostly because of one, non-religious reason: monkeys! The Batu Caves are ABSOLUTELY SWARMING with them!

As many of you know (especially after reading some of my former posts) I was really looking forward to seeing monkeys here but have been a little disappointed that I have only seen a couple so far. Let’s just say after last weekend, I have had my fill for awhile…

A monkey enjoying the bananas I bought it

After a lovely Indian lunch of tosai and curry, my new friends and I decided to trek up the steps to the top. I had heard about the monkeys (though I hadn’t seen any yet) and bought a bunch of small bananas to give to them when I saw them. I don’t why I thought I’d be so brave, but the minute I saw the first monkey walking across the steps I screamed! Everybody stared, but after not seeing any monkeys at the base of the cave, seeing them on the steps, on the handrails and in the trees nearby was overwhelming! I immediately started shouting at my friends to take my bananas away and started freaking out they would come and attack me, something the nice Indian women outside the restaurant warned me about.

Luckily, Arnaud (my new French friend) was able to give my bananas away without harm, and after I calmed down, the whole experience was incredible! The monkeys, at least the ones at the Batu Caves, are used to tourists and would come right up to people looking for food. At the top of the caves, the show was amazing! The monkeys were everywhere, swinging on rails, pillaging through garbage or playfully chasing each other around the cave. I watched one of them pull at this woman’s long skirt looking for food while another had to be shooed off a woman’s bag! The adrenaline rush of just being that close to them was incredible, and I finally started to remember why it was I came to Malaysia in the first place. I started to feel a sense of contentment…

That moment was short-lived.

A Hindu woman prays to a shrine in the Batu Caves

After what might have been several hours at the top of the caves, I decided to climb back down and go home. As I approached the first set of steps, the steepest and most narrow of the bunch, I saw the monkeys had taken over the staircase, with at least six sitting on both sets of handrails (and one couple having sex on them). It was like looking at a group of bullies waiting to pick on the small kids as they walked home from school. The monkeys had mostly stayed away from me so far, and since I no longer had any food, I thought I’d be safe to walk down.


After just a few steps, one of the monkeys jumped right in front of me, looked me straight in the eyes and started hissing (or whatever it is monkeys do when they are ready to attack). It then ran straight at my legs!

I am telling you, I can’t remember the last time I felt that much terror. I immediately started running back up the steps (hoping to God I wouldn’t fall and break my neck) and this time, I really screamed! Though he chased me a little ways, the monkey left me alone, and I survived the “attack” with no physical harm done. Luckily, this nice English lady who was behind me held my hand on the way back down, because I was shaking so badly. It seemed like it took hours for my heart rate to go back to normal and to regain full motor functions, but the experience is one I will never forget.

Next time, I’m bringing a stick ;).



In the future, as I look back on these first couple weeks, I hope to see them as a period of intense character-building that have helped me to become a better person.

That’s code for these past two weeks have sucked.

I am happy to report that I am now mostly settled in to my new three-bedroom apartment, sitting on my soft, 500 thread-count new dusty rose-colored sheets in a room that is no longer cluttered with half unpacked suitcases.

But getting to this point has not been fun.

So after verbally committing to the over-priced, 600 square foot “luxury” studio condo with the see-through bathroom, I decided to give apartment-hunting one more go. Lucky for me, the day before I was supposed to check out of my hotel I finally found what I was looking for: a clean, fully-furnished unit in a decent location with room for guests – all for the same price as the “luxury” studio on the next street over.

After weeks of living out of a suitcase, I was quite excited to have finally found a place that didn’t make me want to instantly disinfect everything and was not going to make me feel guilty for spending so much, so I called the agent that night to ask him when I could move in. Unfortunately, the soonest I could move in was Saturday, three days after I was supposed to have checked out of my hotel and the day of UCSI’s graduation ceremony – a mandatory work day for us and one of my department’s busiest weeks of the year.

I talked with my agent and we agreed I would move in Saturday night after work. Somehow, between moving into my friends’ condo for a few days, meeting with the agent to sign paperwork and working late nearly every night to get ready for graduation, I managed to get through the week, constantly thinking “just wait for Saturday night, just wait for Saturday night…”

On Saturday afternoon, as I stood in crowded room full of students and their parents taking endless photos, feeling grouchy, sleep-deprived, and fantasizing about finally being able to sleep in my own bed that night, I get a text from my agent. He says he cannot reach my landlord and wants to reschedule the move-in for the next day.  Reluctantly, I agree (Iike I have a choice) and ask if we can at least do it in the morning so I can have most of Sunday to move in. Hours later, my agent responds saying my landlord says 1 p.m. – final answer. Again, I “agree,” mentally rearranging my weekend plans to adjust. Then, at 11 a.m. on Sunday, I get another text – my landlord has an “emergency” and can’t meet me until 9 p.m. that night… (side note, my landlord is a 25-year-old Malay children’s TV show star who is apparently rising in fame, according to his talent agent who is handling all of the housing stuff). Long story short – at 11 p.m. Sunday, the night before my third week of work, I finally move in with no time for cleaning, no time for laundry, no time for shopping, just enough time to cram in about six hours of sleep on the old, unwashed bedding left over from the previous tenants. Not exactly how I wanted to start my time here.

Despite the sleep deprivation and frustration (trust me, there was lots of it), I decided to roll with the punches. As I am quickly learning here, you have to be patient to get what you want (though patience has never been one of my stronger qualities). So I did an assessment of what needed to be done in my apartment and decided to do a little each day after work. As I soon discovered, there’s a lot to do.

Fortunately for me, the previous tenants left me a fully-furnished apartment complete with tons of extra household items – all sorts of extra household items. In addition to three beds, two couches, three wardrobes, a vanity, bookshelf, TV and a beautiful, six-chair wooden table, I have a toaster, microwave, blender, dishes and a thick, Middle Eastern “magic” carpet in my living room. I also inherited eight plants, seven pairs of men’s shoes, four Iranian magazines, a used toothbrush and a kitchen full of ants and cockroaches. Yeah…

So the battle this week has been getting rid of the stuff that I don’t want, cleaning the stuff that I do want, shopping for what I don’t have and organizing everything. Oh, and to add to the fun, one of my wisdom teeth decided to make a very painful appearance this week, causing me two trips to the dentist, including an extraction this morning.

But as I sit here now, after two full days of sleeping in and settling in, things have finally started going my way. The Ikea men came on time yesterday to assemble my new dresser, I hired a cleaning lady to take care of the kitchen, my luggage is unpacked and I have new, pink bedding that at least makes one aspect of my apartment feel like home now. Even my wisdom tooth extraction took less than a half hour, with no complications and relatively minimal pain. Hopefully things will continue to look up.

Now the next step is making the rest of the place feel like home – starting with the living room. One of the things I was looking forward to most about living on my own was being able to decorate how I wanted, but the big, burgundy, navy blue and beige Middle Eastern carpet on my floor that matches my beige couches perfectly is putting a damper on my artistic options. Aside from the fact that I hate beige, I am not a big fan of dark colors, especially when living in a tropical environment. Not to mention the fact that the former tenants thought it best to match the room with black and white floral curtains and bright neon orange throw pillows (no joke). But as the carpet is incredibly soft and probably expensive, I have now coined it my “magic” carpet and am determined to make it work to my liking. I have removed the orange pillows and am now looking for matching drapes. Hence starts week four…

Apartments and monkeys


For those of you who know me pretty well, you know that making decisions has never been my strong point. Just going to the mall and picking out a simple pair of shoes or a sweater can take hours, so you can imagine my difficulty in trying to find an apartment, especially when practically all of them require a one-year commitment.  To make matters worse, my two-week free stay at Hotel Caliber runs out in three days. The clock is ticking…

So basically my dreams of commuting to Cheras from KLCC every day were squashed the day I got to work when practically everyone told me I was crazy. Not only is KLCC exponentially more expensive to live in than Cheras, but the commute during rush hour could take hours, even though it could be as short as a 20-minute drive. So I have decided to stay in Cheras, but settling on where exactly to live in Cheras has been a whole other issue. The problem is finding a place I am comfortable in that is accessible to both work and shopping without a car, not an easy feat here. I did find a newly-opened “luxury” studio apartment complex that is within an acceptable distance from work. The only problem is, while this place is technically affordable, it is small. Don’t get me wrong, it is beautiful, very clean and would be very easy to maintain. But for the same price and even less (sometimes a lot less), I could get a multi-bedroom, fully furnished apartment elsewhere that is in a much more rundown condition. It’s not that I need a ton of space, but aside from saving money, it would be nice to have a kitchen table and extra space for when I have guests. (Sidenote: the “luxury” apartment has a very lovely bathroom that separates the bedroom from the main room – completely encased in glass walls…)

Technically, I have made a verbal commitment to rent the see-through, “luxury” condo, but one of my real estate agents said he has a cheaper, two-bedroom nearby to show me Tuesday. Plus, a new cab-driver friend I made said he is going to recommend me some condos within walking distance of work that would be even cheaper. Sigh, thank goodness I have friends to stay with after Wednesday… Hopefully by the end of this week I’ll have a home. Fingers crossed.

On a positive note, I am much more comfortable here. I have gotten over the initial feeling of “Oh my goodness, am I really going to be living here for two years?” to a growing excitement of all the cool things I want to do. Seriously, I am learning soooo much every day, I cannot even begin to write it all down right now. Everything from Malaysia’s religion(s) to its politics to its climate and living conditions is so vastly different than what  I have experienced before. This is definitely not an experience I would have gotten staying in the U.S. or western Europe.

For instance,Wednesday I saw my first wild monkeys ever. Let me tell you, it was SOOOO COOL!!! I was such a giddy, little girl, it was ridiculous. My boss was like, “I don’t think I have ever seen someone quite so excited about monkeys before…,” but to someone who has only seen monkeys in zoos, to see them within feet of you with no bars was incredible. There was a mom, her baby (so cute!) and two, what I presume, were males, eating garbage outside the homes surrounding the university where I work. Though no official contact was made (they have been known to snatch stuff from people), the few times they caught me staring at them was enough to make me run away a few times. Very, very cool just the same. 🙂

The other highlight of the week was eating possibly the most delicious Indian food I have ever had. My co-worker Joyce and I went out to check out an apartment in a trendy, expat suburb called Bangsar (though too far away and too expensive) and had dinner in this open, noisy restaurant with no menus and terrible service. However, the delicious chicken tandoori (with three types of curry) and garlic cheese naan that was brought out after finally convincing our server to take our order made the whole experience worth it. It was incredible! And that, plus two chocolate milks, cost less than $4. Amazing.

Work has also been going well. My official title is manager in the corporate affairs office for UCSI Group, which is largely made up of UCSI University. Though I am still not exactly sure what all my responsibilities are,  my job so far has been editing and writing speeches and articles for the university. So far everyone in my office has been really friendly and really helpful, especially when it came to housing recommendations, and we seem to get along well. Hopefully the good vibes will continue. Tomorrow starts week two!

And so the adventure begins…


Part of being out of your comfort zone is being uncomfortable, and part of my reason for coming to Malaysia was to get out of my comfort zone. Let’s just say mission accomplished.

I’m not going to lie, it has been a difficult week, and the culture shock of being in a developing, southeastern Asian country is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

As much as I love traveling and new adventures, much of the past few days has been spent desperately clinging to anything and everything western, as I cautiously come out of my shell. There is a big difference between jumping into experience a new culture while on vacation and accepting the realization that you will be living in this very (VERY) different country for the next two years.

So soon after arriving in Malaysia, I learned that my office is actually not in the Kuala Lumpur city center (the downtown), but instead in Cheras, one of the city’s suburbs. In fact, UCSI thought it best to put me in Hotel Caliber for my first two weeks, which is in a dirty, all-Chinese district of the city where practically no one speaks English, at least not well. In fact, I am the ONLY non-Asian here, which has made things a bit lonely.

Luckily, I discovered the city center is a $4, 15-minute cab ride away, and vastly different than its surrounding areas. KLCC is actually quite modern. It is dominated by the Petronas Towers, two quite stunning twin towers that were the world’s largest between 1998 and 2004. Attached to it is the ridiculously huge, six-level Suria KLCC shopping mall, which not only has practically every popular American brand, but loads of high-end designer stores and my favorite European shops that I could never find in the U.S. (Zara, Mango, TopShop etc.). In front of that is KLCC Park which features a large, pool/fountain that comes to life in the evenings with a pretty impressive water show. The area also has practically any kind of food you could want ranging from every type of Asian cuisine and lots of American restaurants and fast food places. Interesting side note: as a mostly Muslim country, it is really difficult to find pork products around here. Instead, I have noticed restaurants offer chicken “bacon” and chicken “ham,” products that look like the pork equivalent, but in fact, are not. I find it very amusing :).

So on Day 2, I decided to sneak a peak at the UCSI University campus (my employer) to see if I would like to live in the area. While the university itself looks nice, my reaction to living nearby was a loud, hell no! The surrounding area is mostly residential but absolutely reeks of sewage and is full of open gaps in the sidewalk that reveal the dirty running water below. There are random piles of garbage everywhere, and I found myself holding my breath on a number of occasions. I quickly decided it was worth the money and the time to commute from KLCC.

So the last few days have been spent looking at apartments, and hopefully, I will be moved into one by the end of this week. I found a nice one today that is about a five-minute walk from the Petronas Towers that I like and tomorrow I will see a few more.

Me posing with the birds at KL Bird Park.

Though it has been a difficult week, I have been slowly but steadily pushing myself further out of my cocoon (and KLCC). Today I went on my first tourist excursion and visited the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park which is supposedly the largest, free-flight aviary in the world. Though I have never been much of a bird person, the park was pretty impressive. It is huge and full of  lush green vegetation, waterfalls and ponds. Nearly the whole thing is covered in a large net, which allows many of the birds to fly and trot around with the tourists. The more exotic species are in their own contained areas but are still pretty cool to see. Some of the highlights of my visit were listening to the hornbill birds bark at each other (I swear they sounded like dogs!) and watching the storks and flamingoes feed near the waterfall, some a little too close for comfort… Perhaps the coolest part of my trip was getting my photo taken with some of the birds. For RM8 (about $2.50), you pick two birds to perch on you while one of the park employees takes your picture. I was just a tad squeamish and thought the whole thing would be a quick photo and move on. But my photo lady had other plans. To my (slightly terrified) delight, she took like five photos and kept moving the birds around in different positions and insisted that I pet them. I must say, it was pretty cool and an experience I’m not sure I could have gotten in the U.S.

Tomorrow will be my first day at work, which I am looking forward to. It will be nice to get more settled in and start meeting new people. So for now, onwards and upwards!