I went to the 6th Putrajaya International Balloon Fiesta before heading to the Malaysian Grand Prix.
As I am walking out of the Formula 1 race my body is tired and sticky from head to toe. My all black shirt now has a few white stripes around the middle from sweating all day but I am not concerned as everybody is glistening in the warm evening air and many men, regardless of their physique have shed their shirts long ago. A combination of satisfaction from witnessing my first race, hunger because breakfast was my last meal and anxiety fill my body as walk towards the entrance to the raceway. I had $100 ringgits in my pocket that I had been holding on to since the early afternoon and still did not know if that would cover the cost of a taxi back to my hotel. Last resort is I would try and bargain with the driver and let them know that is all I had and just hope he would take the bait. As I emerged from the entrance and walked towards the Calvin Harris concert beginning across the parking lot I see a long line of free shuttle buses waiting for the crowd. I walked up to an attendant and asked if the buses could get me back to KL. He spoke English pretty good, but in my anxiety I caught about 20 percent of what he said and really only heard the word yeah out of the 20 or so he spoke. I ended up staying at the concert for over an hour and actually enjoyed the music more than I thought I would. I had YouTube’d the DJ earlier in the week because I recognized the name but could not recall any songs. I did not care for any of his videos I found online but during his concert he was playing a number of classic 80’s and 90’s cuts over his house beats and actually enjoyed it more than I assumed I would. After feeling rejuvenated by the musical interlude an air of confidence befell me and I mustered the courage to hop on the bus to see where it would take me. After spending about 25 minutes dropping people off at various parking lots while circling the whole KL Motor Speedway our final destination was a huge parking lot full of buses. I followed the crowd to the ticket counter and ask for the bus that will get me closest to my hotel. A mere 18 ringgits and huge sigh of relief later, I was on a bus headed for KL central.
New F1 race car, very fuel efficient!
On the bus I end up standing next to two people from England, in their early 20’s, and a couple from KL that spoke English. As I moved around trying to find the most comfortable position for my weary legs I began eavesdropping on their conversations about the race. I was surprised that the fanfare was actually similar to how I would talk about a basketball or football game back home. They all shared their allegiance to a team and/or driver and the young English woman even shared her story about jumping the wall and getting to the winners circle to witness the celebration. I was in awe with the commitment of the F1 fans, not just on this bus, but even the ones sitting next to me during the race that discussed traveling the world to support their racers. I am sure that the people on the bus thought I was a little creepy listening to their conversations without speaking a word as they discussed the F1 season and traveling across Southeast Asia on holiday. But there was never a natural time to introduce myself as I sadly had absolutely nothing to add to the conversation. I found myself envious of the confidence they displayed while were in talking about all their international adventures and how much they knew about so many foreign places. I felt very insignificant next to these four twenty-something’s so all I could do was just keep my eyes on the road hoping that the bus was taking me in the right direction.
After one subway transfer and short taxi ride later my exhausting yet very fulfilling day ended with a delicious meal of Malaysian street food and I even made it to the hotel with 40 ringgits still in my pocket. As I spoke to Rosie and the boys about my adventures of the day I began to contemplate the adventures awaiting me in Southeast Asia and how I too could have the confidence of my fellow bus riders. I went to bed feeling good about what I experienced but I could have never anticipated what would await me the next day.
Day two of my KL adventure started with a workout and some much needed relaxation at the hotel pool. While at the pool I ordered a Dr. Pepper and was pleasantly surprised that my drink came with glass full of Sonic ice. Now there are many different foods that I miss from back home because they are either expensive like the $9 Doritos I refuse to buy or it is just difficult to find at any store. Well of all the food my roommate and I talk about, Sonic drinks during happy hour may be the most frequent request. I can’t remember ever drinking a Dr. Pepper so slowly and even had my glass filled twice with ice. It might sound like I’m being a little over dramatic about ice, but it is difficult to put in words my affinity for eating Sonic ice.
Poolside enjoying my Dr. Pepper with Sonic ice!
As I prepared to leave my hotel for the afternoon I did some quick research online I found out there were two stores in the mall next to my hotel that sold clothes my size. This was very exciting as I can count on one hand the items of clothes and shoes I have found in Asia that fit me and still have a couple of fingers left over. I also wanted to visit the Petronas twin towers but unfortunately they are closed on Monday’s. Instead I decided to head to the Batu Caves, a huge Hindu shrine carved into limestone mountains on the edge of KL. It looked cool online, except for the attack monkeys with a taste for food and soda, so I figured I would give it a try. After easily navigating one bus ride and two subway transfers I felt content coming out of the station but still hoped the walk to the caves would not be far. Once I came out of the station I was immediately met with a huge statue of Hanuman who guards the entrance to the shrine.
Within and surrounding the caves were Hindu temples and idols of all sizes including a gold painted statue of Murugan that has to be at least 6 stories tall. After walking from the stations I began to get overwhelmed by the beauty and extravagance of everything. As I reached the bottom of the stairs I was met with a flock of 300 pigeons who were not fazed by my presence. Anxiety crept into my body as I considered the birds along with this huge staircase that seemed to rise at a 70 degree angle and disappeared into the massive mouth of the cave. As I scanned the stairs looking for monkey and the sky looking for bats I spent a few moments truly contemplating turning around and just going back to the hotel. Finally I stepped back to take a picture so I could at least provide evidence that I went there when I finally decided I needed to do this. I needed to face all these fears if I was going to accomplish anything on this side of the world. Suddenly this was about more than being afraid of heights, monkeys, bats or even God, it’s a religious site after all, and at that moment I took the first of over three hundred steps it takes to get to the top and decided I was not going to look back.
Murugan guarding the 300+ steps up to the caves
The Batu Caves literally took my breath away. My thighs were burning with each step I took as I grumbled to myself between heavy breathing about doing that extra 10 minutes on the treadmill that morning. I could have paced myself so that I didn’t get winded but I knew if I stopped even once on the way up I might just turn around and go back down. Once I got to the top I was met with four other staircases that took me to other shrines and levels of the caves. The natural beauty of the cave walls and roof provided a contrasting backdrop of the dirt, trash and rats surrounding the stunning shrines and idols painted in bright vivid colors depicting various Hindu Gods and characters scattered throughout the caves.
By the time I arrived back at the top of the main staircase, I was grateful that I took the opportunity to see the caves. I was fortunate that I went on Monday evening because it allowed me an intimate moment that was not disrupted by the usual vendors peddling trinkets or food. As I walked backed through the subway station and waited for my train I was physically and emotionally exhausted even though my trip to the caves lasted less than an hour and a half. Overcoming the fears that surrounded me in the caves ended up being a very spiritual experience for me and it was surprisingly the perfect way to end my short visit to Kuala Lumpur. During my flight back to Jakarta I felt invigorated, ready to take on the rest of the semester and to prepare to bring my family to Indonesia. It was as if all the concerns and doubts I had about moving to Jakarta had been left in the cave and for the first time I was able to fully embrace my new life.
Top of the stairs at Batu Caves overlooking Kuala Lumpur