Was Malaysia a bit of an unusual place to start an Asian adventure? Maybe.
Most people do tend to say that Thailand and Singapore are the best places to get your feet wet in Asia, but we had it on very good authority that Malaysia was home to a spellbinding combination of arts, culture, and history. Oh, who do I think I’m kidding, it was the food.
Being a melting pot of Malays, Chinese, and Indians, Malaysian cuisine is regarded as one of the most tantalizing in the world according to at least two slideshows that we had seen online.
We had arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in the wee hours of the morning and as thus had to wait for the first train of the day from the airport into the city. I was really hoping to see some monkeys swinging from trees or better yet, throwing coconuts at the train, but since it was still dark out, there was no funny business. Instead, we were treated to an unending loop of the trailer for the latest Let’s Step Up And Do Dance Moves movie and by time we reached our end destination could recite it word-for-word. Incidentally, we never ended up seeing the film, so if anyone out there knows if those kids ended up winning the big Las Vegas competition, please get in touch.
Eventually, we arrived at our station and emerged into the muggy Malaysian morning. In keeping with local custom, we each made an obligatory observation about the humidity level and how you could cut it with a knife, then slashed our way through the steam to our guesthouse.
We had chosen to stay at Explorers Guesthouse, and it was a stylish little place that immediately showed us how much further our money was going to stretch in Asia compared to Australasia. We took off our shoes upon entering, checked in, scurried to the room, then slept the flight off for a few hours in air conditioned and humidity-free comfort.
Consequently, when I woke up, it all felt like a bit of a dream.
I knew I was really in Asia, but it just didn’t feel real, and the following hours were filled with fits of what I would call culture “surprise”. No extreme culture shock or anything, just a bit of awkwardness getting used to being on the eastern side of the world for the very first time.
Kuala Lumpur was pretty loud, smelled strong, and had the most garbage strewn streets I had seen since college. Most of my culture surprise though had to do with what we had come there for in the first place: food.
I’ve always been a bit of a worrywart when it comes to whether or not dishes have been cleaned properly, and I knew that was going to have to go out of the window when eating Asian street food. I just wasn’t ready to toss it out yet. So that first day, we went to a touristy food court near the guesthouse and I just ordered Chicken Rice, which while revered by many in Malaysia and beyond as a real delicacy, is essentially just chicken, rice, and a tasty little sugary-spicy side sauce. It helped ease me in. I had another plain meal for dinner and then was almost all the way there.
Later that night, we took a scenic stroll around town looking at things called buildings, admiring the strands of lights hanging from trees, and finalizing our acclimation to the climate and to the city. I was so enthralled by the buzz of the city above me and my eyes so transfixed on some shimmering something or another that I violently tripped over something pretty big on the sidewalk.
After looking like a fool, I gathered my wits about me and whipped around to shower the thing I just tripped over in scorn and the universal “how in the hell did that get there?” look.
That’s when the thing I tripped over decided to scurry off. You see, the thing I tripped over was a rat. Seemed like a nice rat though, for the record.
So say what you want about Singapore and Bangkok being better places to get your feet wet in Asia, I can personally attest that Kuala Lumpur is the finest place on the continent to get your feet, well, whatever kicking a rat qualifies for.