Getting Fat and Heatstroke in Kuala Lumpur, Part Two

Today I went to the Orchid Garden, which wasn’t too terribly spectacular, save for a foot-long brown skink that I spotted slithering away. Later I saw a smaller one and was able to get a few pictures as it crawled through the grass, munching on insects. There was an area with water lilies, where three red dragonflies cavorted with a yellow one, while a smaller blue one flitted around.

Afterwards I did something I typically do when I travel…walk somewhere, get lost, stop to ask people for directions, look at my map, can’t figure it out, end up somewhere else, change my plans, and swear at my neverending difficulty with a sense of direction. Even with the map in front of me, some of the roads marked, AND tall landmarks (like towers visible from blocks away) to navigate with, I still couldn’t figure it out.

I was rationing the water I had left in my bottle and could tell I was dangerously close to heatstroke, my head feeling like it was burning and my arms and legs feeling sunburnt. Fortunately, a large fountain bubbled in front of City Hall, so I scooped up some water and doused my head with it, thinking all the while that it was a good way to get myself arrested, so I hoped nobody in a position to do so would be looking out the window just then.

As I sat trying to make sense of my map, a Muslim woman with a covered head and umbrella (yah, yah, I brought mine but forgot to put it in my bag when I left this morning, lah!) stopped and began talking to me in Malaysian. All I could understand was buku, book, and since her feet stopped in front of me, and she was still talking, I looked up to answer her.

I asked how to get to Chinatown, which she didn’t seem to understand. “The place with the Chinese people,” I said.

She asked me something which I thought was, “Are you Chinese?”

“No, I’m Japanese,” I answered. I often get asked if I’m Chinese while I travel. She said something that seemed to be insisting I was Chinese. “I’m half white and half Japanese,” I explained. My mother is Japanese, my father is white.

“Ah,” she said, seeming satisfied, displaying a mouth with most of her upper teeth missing.

“Are you a mother,” she asked. It’s common here and in Indonesia and Japan to be asked if you are married or have children. Unlike in our culture, these questions are not considered prying at all. In fact, in Indonesia (and maybe here also), your given first name changes when you have your first child. In other words, instead of Alina, if I had a son, my name would then become Ibu Percy, or “Mother of Percy” (or whatever the name of my first child was.) If my firstborn dies, my name changes to the mother of my second child.

The old woman asked if I went to Chinese school, since she still didn’t seem to understand I wasn’t Chinese. So I asked her again how to get to Petaling Street, the center of Chinatown. She gave me directions, opposite to the way I was planning to go, of course. I left, so she wouldn’t keep asking about my non-existent Chinese background.

To make a long story short, I spent the next 20 minutes walking back and forth on the same street, trying to cross at the same busy intersections without being hit by the aggressive motorbike drivers, always being mindful and alert to not put myself in a position to become a victim of a bag snatching, which is a common crime here. They drive by on motorbikes, with their passenger behind them, who grabs your bag as you walk distracted on the sidewalk.

In fact, it’s easy to be distracted, because there are uneven sidewalks, gaping holes with missing or wrong-sized grates, puddles of slimy liquid, beggars and the like in many places, so if you don’t stare at the ground while walking, you may end up regretting it. The sidewalks here curved edges, which are easy to put your foot down and slide off, like a skateboard sliding down one of those trick ramps. I hope I don’t experience that when it rains.

Fortunately, I stumbled upon an Indian vegetarian restaurant, so I went in, feeling more like a piece of naan on the side of the tandoor oven than a person at that point, after being in the sun for so long. I ordered a set lunch meal, which was a tray topped with a banana leaf, on which were placed small silver bowls, each containing a different food, plus three tiny roasted chiles, a savory doughnut, a chapati flatbread, and a deep-fried flatbread.

I’m not sure if burnt is one of the flavors in Indian food, along with sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory or umami, but several of the dishes contained a definite burnt flavor. One of them was a soupy yellowish liquid with bits of black and one charred chile pepper in it.

I’ll have to post later about the dishes themselves, since the photos add so much. But I especially enjoyed a fake fried thing in sauce, which reminded me exactly of the breading around Chinese sweet-sour shrimp pineapple, even including the red color, without the shrimp and the pineapple, of course. I found it had some cauliflower in it, but otherwise, I have no idea how they made it taste so good. There’s a whole world of delicious food out there…


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