Thursday, December 31st. We spent today hiking around town and visited a Hindu temple before marching up and down escalators exploring the countless shops for gifts, electronic gadgets, computer hardware, and possibly a silk carpet. By lunchtime, we opted for a change of scene and strolled through a short tropical shower to the Botanical Gardens which is like an equatorial jungle designed by an Englishman - dozens of orchids on display, palms, rose gardens, and tropical hardwoods that I'd never seen before. We celebrated New Year's Eve together with dinner at the hotel (other places were booked anyway).
Friday, January 1st. Before our flight to Malaysia today, we returned to a store to buy a silk carpet which we had picked out after browsing through many stores, and, at a bargain price and made arrangements to ship it to the USA. On the way to the airport, we did notice the simple spire which is Singapore's War Memorial and the only visible reminder of the Japanese occupation during WWII. Our boarding passes for Malaysia welcomed us as visitors and politely reminded us that the penalty for carrying controlled substances is death. Other than that, we found the capital, Kuala Lumpur very gracious: Selamat Datang Ke Malaysia! - and much greener than Manila or Taipei, with parks and boulevards planted with lush vegetation. We were thoughtfully booked into the Chinese-run Imperial Hotel (we probably didn't look Muslim enough) and discovered the T.V. programming included regular prayer services and defenses of Islam ("Reasons For the Revelations") as well as plenty of pop secular programming. We caught a rerun of "Return of the Jedi".
Saturday, January 2nd. Armed with our maps, we hiked around town, favoring the shady side of the street when possible. We visited the austere and beautiful National Mosque and the nearby Center for Islamic Studies where the displays were mainly in Malaysian but interesting all the same, especially the calligraphic artwork. The best part of the tour, apart from the public Hibiscus Garden and the Orchid Garden, was the Bird Park where netting stretched over multistory pylons encloses several acres of tropical trees and thousands of birds, many as small as sparrows but, rather than brown and grey, they were iridescent green, vivid scarlet and deep indigo. We spent hours just enjoying the birds, the waterfall, and chatting with people. An older Malaysian couple who were escorting a British visitor confessed that they had driven past the park for years without bothering to see it. They reminded us that, in a REAL jungle, it would be quite dark, not at all like the aviary. We went down to the lake and enjoyed the afternoon before going to see the collection of costumes, stuffed animals, and historical displays at the National Museum. Malaysia is trying to decide whether the Rulers are above the law, and the privileges of the Rulers are much in the news. Trying to find some local food on the menu, we ended up with some Indonesian fare called nisa lemack which was spicier than either of us bargained for.
Sunday, January 3rd. We packed up and bustled down to the airport early this morning for our flight to Bangkok and wound up waiting and people-watching for hours before flying to Thailand. It was a beautiful afternoon in Bangkok as we boarded a shuttle to another adequate-but-no-Sheraton facility called the Florida Hotel complete with Tampa and Orlando "theme" restaurants which Clyde remembered from his youth and which was, in all respects, undoubtedly untouched in the interim. We saw many more Western tourists (including single guys) some of whom were probably in town for the well-advertised services of "masseurs and masseuses". We spent the evening walking around our neighborhood browsing shops for cheap quality leather goods and getting a feel for the area.
Monday, January 4th. Bangkok is pretty hot and humid (and this is the most comfortable season) but we have a good time touring the city. The three-wheeled cabs (tuk-tuks) got us around for only a few bhat and we visited the Marble Temple, the Golden Mount, the Reclining Buddha, and hiked down to the Golden Palace Complex where we circled the walls a few times. We toured the spectacular palace, Chapel of the Emerald Buddha and royal buildings covered in gold and sparking in the sun like immense jewel boxes - no colonial architecture here! It was more than we could take in, really, so we just paid close attention. I tried to slake my thirst with sugar cane water.
We decided to cross the river to see another Wat (temple) but, after hunting around the dock area looking for a ferry, and, after negotiating the price of a ferry and the time involved, we decided to just take a tuk-tuk to see the Golden Buddha. Our driver wanted to take us instead to a special government store which would pay for his gas if we browsed their merchandise. More bargaining and entreaties, but we finally complied. Later that evening, we wound up our tour with Clyde searching out (and finding) some beautiful but inexpensive leather wallets.
Tuesday, January 5th. This morning we walked down to the Bak House which is an old restored royal residence and took time to appreciate the artifacts, furnishings, and the amazing lacquer pavilion. 7,000 year old Ban Chiang pottery was on display as well as the sea shell collection of a royal princess. It was a beautiful historical oasis in the middle of metropolitan Bangkok. Our Thai Airways flight to Hong Kong was late and, since our last Thai Airways flight had also been delayed, Clyde was not impressed with their service. My hair was pretty shaggy, so I used the time to get a haircut. When we landed in Hong Kong, it felt like a homecoming of sorts, especially when we were welcomed by the mob of hustling hoteliers trying to steer us to their respective accommodations.
Wednesday, January 6th. Clyde went to the north part of town computer-shopping while I stayed put studying philosophy. That evening, we watch the T.V. news, and, behind the Chinese commentary, we realized that something spectacular and violent had happened a few blocks up the street - namely, an armed robbery of a jewelry store with a car chase across town. Just as well that neither of us were shopping on that corner. In the afternoon, we went down to the harbor to talk and to watch the boats and caught the Omni feature at the planetarium entitled "Antarctica", switching our headphones from Cantonese to English. I tried to convince Clyde that we should plan a trip to Antarctica but he wasn't "warm" to the idea.
Thursday, January 7th. We buckled ourselves in for our long Cathay Pacific flight back to Los Angeles today but it turned out to be "only" 12 hours rather than 15 - courtesy of friendly winds. All the same, there were a number of people who didn't know that the flight was completely non-smoking, and, just as on the trip to Hong Kong, they popped up and were ready when the jet landed, cigarettes and lighters in hand, desperate to get someplace where they could light up. Steve Flannery greeted us in L.A. that rainy day and drove us to meet the family for dinner and a celebration of Joe's birthday. We were happy to be back but so zonked from jet lag that we weren't quite awake.
Friday, January 8th. Today we flew from L.A. to Durham via Nashville, and, without losing a bag or our sense of humor, and we arrived in Durham to find a ton of Christmas cards, bills, and magazines waiting for us, along with winter and its viruses. We'd love to go back and spend more time as soon as we can arrange it.
If you follow this link, use the "Back" button to return to the travelogue: Thailand pictures courtesy of Siam Net