Malaysia Diary #2: Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur, or KL as most Malaysians call it, is often overlooked despite being the capital – usually, people view it as a stopover to get to other destinations or just a place for shopping. However, for the city traveler like me on this trip, it can have a lot of great stuff if you know where to look.

I arrived in KL from Melaka in the afternoon. After checking in at the Melange Boutique Hotel, I headed out to visit the famous Petronas Twin Towers. You can buy a ticket to go up on the walkway between the towers, but the very thought of it made me break out in a cold sweat, so I was quite happy snapping photos from the ground. I also popped into the huge shopping mall underneath – Suria KLCC – to buy a nice watch for myself. Know what you’re looking for and where it is, or you’ll waste hours inside (unless you’re into window shopping!)

Watch-buying mission accomplished, I continued to Thean Hou Temple, a Chinese temple dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy (the name is literally translated into “Heaven’s Queen”). It’s located outside of the city – you can walk there from KL Sentral, the main hub of transportation, but it’s a bit long (about 2 miles), and there are some scary parts where you have to cross the road with no traffic light or pavement. I find KL not a very walkable city, unlike, say, Singapore, for example. While most of the attractions are free, their locations are not convenient, so you end up paying for transport anyway.

I opted to walk because the road leads through Brickfields, KL’s Little India. It’s just one main street, but because of its small size, it feels much more… concentrated. The sights, sounds, and smells make it feel like a street plucked straight from New Delhi.

Finally, after an uphill trudge, I made my way to the temple. It looked quite impressive, with five storeys rising up on the hillside under the setting sun, and the intricate decorations on the roofs and ceilings are simply gorgeous. Another plus is that it wasn’t very crowded, which makes it a nice place to relax and watch the sunset.

As it was getting dark, I booked a Grab (SE Asian version of Uber) back into town and headed to Jalan Alor for dinner. This famous pedestrian street is a giant food court, and there were so many choices that I got overwhelmed. I’ve said before that I’m not much of a foodie while I’m traveling – to me, food is just fuel. But if you love food, then Jalan Alor is the place to be.

Afterward, I walked to KLCC Park to watch the light show at the fountains in front of the Twin Towers. However, I got the time wrong – I thought the show started at 10 PM, but it actually starts at 9:45 PM – so I only caught the tail end of it. It looked great though.

The next morning, I headed out early to go to the Batu Caves, the site of a famous Hindu shrine. Most guides say to get there early, but unfortunately, my train got delayed, so by the time I arrived, it was super crowded and super hot. So after climbing the 272 steps up the hill, wandering around the main cave for a bit, and taking some photos of the cheeky monkeys there, I returned to KL Sentral. It would’ve been nice to spend more time at the Caves and take in all the colorful architecture of the temples, but the crowd was stressing me out.


They may look cute, but they’ll steal your stuff – don’t have any food or drink hanging out!

I ended up seeking refuge from both the crowd and the sun at the Botanic Garden.

From there, I walked to Merdeka (Freedom) Square and Central Market for some souvenir shopping (my niece’s initial is KL too, so it was great fun looking for KL-themed things for her.) I briefly considered going back to KLCC Park to see the light show properly, but I was exhausted after a full day of walking, plus I had to pack, so it was back to the hotel for me.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building on Merdeka Square

The Jamek Mosque

The Jamek Mosque viewed from the “River of Life” walk


The HQ of the Malaysian national oil & gas company, and Katsuri Walk, next to Central Market

The next day, I had some time before my flight, so I went out hunting for street art. My hotel is located in the hipster area of the town (Bukit Bintang) and there is plenty of street art just around the corner. It’s a great way to pass the time; plus as it was early in the morning, I practically had the streets to myself!

The view from my room

And that concludes my travel in Malaysia. If I had more time, I would’ve checked out some other destinations (like the Cameron Highlands), but I’ve had a good taste of the country too. And frankly, the experience of seeing Snow Patrol live is so wonderful already that this is really just the icing on the cake.

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Malaysia Diary #1: Melaka

As mentioned in my post about the Snow Patrol concert, I chose to go to Malaysia because I wanted to combine seeing the show with some traveling, and Malaysia makes the most sense with the short time that I had (4 days).

So, the morning after the show, I set out for the city of Melaka (or Malacca), which is 1.5 hours away from Kuala Lumpur by bus (I booked the ticket online; you don’t have to as there is a bus once every 30 minutes, but as it was the holiday weekend in Malaysia, I thought it was better to be prepared.) Arriving in Melaka Central Bus Station, I was picked up by a driver from my hotel, Tripod – it is located outside of the Old Town, but it provides free transport to all the touristy areas, which is a big draw for me.

After checking in, I got dropped off at the Red Square in the center of the Old Town, so called because of the red colors of its Christ Church and the Stadhuys (town hall.) The Old Town of Melaka reminds me a lot of Hoi An, with its rows of traditional shop houses lining the river, but in a way, it reminds me of the Netherlands as well, with a river instead of a canal – not surprising, considering Melaka was under Dutch rule for over 100 years.

I had lunch at a riverside café and spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering around, turning down any alley or side street that caught my eyes.

Colorful houses of Melaka

I also had a great time searching for street art – it appears to be a Malaysian specialty, with every town and city having its own famous pieces:

I also came upon this gang of street cats

When it got too hot for walking, I took a river cruise (30 RM, which is about $7, for 40 minutes), which is a good way to cool off, rest your legs, and see the town.

More street art from the river!

You can also get a ride in one of the decked-out trishaws gathered on the Red Square, but they’re more expensive (about 25 RM/15 minutes) and a bit too touristy for me. Yes, the river cruise is touristy too, but I’d feel like a wimp riding around in a Hello Kitty or Minion-themed trishaw blasting “Gangnam Style” or “Let It Go” or whatever (but if that’s your thing, feel free!)

They’re certainly fun to look at though

Later in the afternoon, I got picked up by the hotel’s driver again to go to the Masjid Selat Melaka, or Melaka Straits Mosque, a mosque built on a manmade island on the Melaka Straits. It is almost prosaic compared to the outrageous mosques of Iran, but it’s cool in a modern kind of way. Besides, the best view is from the outside, at sunset and all lit up at nightfall. You’re not allowed to go out on the rocks to take photos, but everyone does anyway.

Afterward, the driver dropped me and a few other guests off at the Old Town again for the Jonker Walk night market, which sells everything from housewares to souvenirs and snack food. This is when the Old Town really comes to life. Everywhere there was a riot of colors, sounds, and smells. Even the river got lit up.

I went through Jonker Walk twice, nibbling on a few snacks in lieu of dinner, but eventually, the crowd got too much for me (though according to the river, it was nothing yet!) so I retreated to the river and just sat there taking in the colors until it was time to go back to the hotel.

The next day (August 31) was the National Day of Malaysia and there was a big parade in town, but I’m not keen on crowds, so I just had a lazy morning at the hotel before heading to the bus station and back to Kuala Lumpur. If you’re a foodie, you may want another day in Melaka, but for me, one full day is just enough to see all that this small but lovely town has to offer.


Whispers And Roars Like An Orchestra

Last weekend I just went on a 4-day trip to Malaysia. It was partly a holiday because I didn’t get to travel this summer, but the main reason was to see a Snow Patrol show (hence the post title, which is a line from their song Heal Me.) Now, if you’ve been reading the blog for a while, you know that they are my favorite band ever, so when I found out they were doing an acoustic tour in SE Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore – I jumped at it.


Me, basically

After some consideration, I settled on Malaysia. I’ve never been there before, so it would be nice to combine the show with some traveling. My plane landed in Kuala Lumpur early in the afternoon – the show was at 8, and I figured I would have plenty of time to settle in. However, between waiting in the longest line ever at immigration, navigating two trains, and my exquisite sense of direction, I didn’t get to the hotel until 5. Luckily, the venue is literally next door, so after checking in and a quick wash, I popped over. The venue looked so unassuming that I wasn’t even sure it was the right place, but as soon as I arrived, I heard the sound of Run floating down – they were doing sound check – and my heart skipped a beat. There were a few people in line already, so I decided to just grab a quick bite and queue up. The line wasn’t too long, certainly nowhere as ridiculous as when I went to see them in LA (though that line was mostly Ed Sheeran fans) but I didn’t want to take any chances.

The outside of the venue

After 2 hours of waiting, we were let in and the place soon filled up. Then it was more waiting, first for the opening act, Ryan McMullan (who was filling in on piano for an injured Johnny McDaid), and then for Gary and Nathan to join him. Still, Ryan McMullan was good, and I had fun chatting with some people in the front row and we got a kick out of watching the roadies setting up – they were all big guys, yet they had to stand on tiptoes to check Gary’s mic because he is so tall.

Finally, it was time for Snow Patrol. And though it wasn’t my first SP concert, it still felt like the first, so amazing it was. No, “amazing” wasn’t the right word. It was magical. I read in an article or an interview that Gary has this ability to make a stadium feel intimate and a small venue feel like a stadium, and it was absolutely true in this case. Though I missed the rest of the band, their absence didn’t affect the show in any way. And all this when Gary had a throat and chest infection. Despite his voice cracking a few times, he said he didn’t want to cancel the show and soldiered on.

And that’s what made everything so special. The music is great, but it was Gary’s charms and his bantering with the crowd and the rest of the band that brought a fun, unique touch to the show (there was a moment when they were tuning up and Gary asked Nathan “Are you all right there, sweetheart?” that melted all our hearts.)

My crappy phone photos couldn’t do the show justice, so here are a couple of videos – we were quite happy to sing along and give Gary’s voice a rest 🙂

And here’s What If This Is All The Love You Ever Get for the encore, because Gary is adorable in it:

As it turned out, they did have to cancel the last two shows in Indonesia and Singapore. I was so glad that I decided on Malaysia and felt incredibly lucky that I got to see them. Here’s to hoping that I will get to see another show with the entire band one of these days. Thank you, Snow Patrol, and get better soon, Gary!


Book Reviews: August 2019

Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham:

Growing up, the only thing I know about the Chernobyl Disaster is that when it happened, my mom was in Russia, 5 months pregnant with me (but she was quite a safe distance away in Siberia.) However, I just finished the HBO mini-series Chernobyl, and it was so brilliant (very hard to watch sometimes, but brilliant nonetheless) that I knew I had to read more about it. This book is a very well-researched, very detailed exploration of the disaster – from the construction of the power plant to the night of the explosion itself and the long, ongoing cleanup process that follows. It helps that I’ve watched the mini-series though, because there are a lot of characters and a lot of scientific information that it can be a bit overwhelming at times – thankfully, it’s told in chronological order so it’s never difficult to follow. 5/5

Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller:

It’s hard to believe, but I haven’t read any new sci-fi book this year, so when I saw this book being praised for its unique world-building, I decided to check it out. The story certainly sounds interesting – it takes place in a post-apocalyptic floating city, controlled by landlords and crime bosses, where its inhabitants struggle to eke out a living while facing the threat of a contagious neurological disease. Into this setting, a mysterious woman appears, atop an orca with a polar bear by her side, rumored to be the last surviving member of a group of people that had their minds bonded with animals. As various characters react to her appearance, we slowly find out why she is there and what connects them all. From that synopsis, you can probably tell that the book is a bit much, right? And it is. All the elements are good, and the characters are interesting, but as the book keeps jumping from one POV to another, it never really comes together. The first 2/3 of it drags, while the last 1/3 of it is really rushed. Disappointing. 2/5

So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish and Mostly Harmless by Douglas Adams:

I just finished translating these two books in the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, and while they are still good, they’re not as enjoyable as the previous three. “So Long” is slightly better in terms of tone, while “Mostly Harmless” is better in terms of plot (then again, you don’t read Douglas Adams for the plot, which is why I’m not going to include any summary), but it’s kind of depressing, and, as the final book in the series, it leaves you feeling so bad for Arthur Dent. The poor guy just wants to be left alone and have a cup of tea, dammit! Still, I’m very proud to say that I’ve translated three out of the five Hitchhiker’s Guide books. It’s a major boost to my nerd cred. 3/5

What did you guys read this month?


Stripey Sense

Summer vacation is ending, so here are the last few casual outfits before school starts again. I wore this to see Spider-Man: Far from Home last week (hence the title, it’s a terrible pun on “Spidey-sense”, see?) Yes, yes, I know, another pair of culottes, but these are so comfy and I just can’t get enough of them.

Anyway, I really enjoyed the movie, which did a great job of exploring the MCU post-Endgame. However, a friend then pointed out that in both MCU Spider-Man movies, the villains are just normal people whose lives were ruined by the Avengers (or more specifically Iron Man, in the case of Far from Home). It makes them more compelling and it makes sense for the scope of these movies, but it’s kind of messed up that the “little guys” are portrayed as the bad guys. I know the idea of superheroes being accountable for their actions has been touched upon in Civil War, but I still want the MCU to really address it. In Phase 4, maybe?


Book Reviews: July 2019

I’ve been reading a lot of heavy non-fiction books lately, so this month I wanted something a little lighter. Here goes:

Geisha, a Life by Mineko Iwasaki:

Mineko Iwasaki is one of the real-life geishas that Arthur Golden interviewed for his novel “Memoirs of a Geisha”. Upset that he revealed her name (despite agreeing not to do so) and twisted the facts to make his story more sensational (the most egregious of all is to add a sexual aspect to the work of geishas, making them appear little more than high-end prostitutes), Iwasaki sued Golden and later wrote her own autobiography to clear things up. While I enjoyed “Memoirs of a Geisha” in a superficial kind of way, I absolutely hate the fact that the main character became a geisha simply because she wants to please a man, so I appreciate Iwasaki’s book for showing us the more accurate and intricate details of the geisha’s world. Unfortunately, her writing leaves a lot to be desired – it’s so dry and plodding that even when she describes some moments of great passion or sadness, I can’t connect to it at all. 2.5/5

Thud! and Wintersmith by Terry Pratchett:

I haven’t read any Discworld book in a while – there aren’t many of them left, so I’ve been trying to pace myself. But I wanted some books I knew I would enjoy, so Discworld it is.

Thud! is a Night Watch book, in which Sam Vimes has to solve a case of a murdered dwarf while tension in Ankh-Morpork is running high as the anniversary of a legendary battle between dwarves and trolls approaches. It is a standard Watch novel, which starts with a murder mystery and develops into something much more profound and philosophical, but it has the additional adorable/emotional touch with the appearance of Young Sam, Vimes’ baby son. I dare you to read their scenes together without laughing and crying at the same time. 5/5

Wintersmith is a Tiffany Aching book, which revolves around our young witch-in-training, with the help of her loyal Nac Mac Feegle, dealing with the personification of winter, after she accidentally interrupts the seasonal dance to signify the transition between winter and summer and draw the Wintersmith’s attention. It’s not as funny as the other Tiffany Aching books, but it’s still very good, and I especially love the explanation of what a witch’s work entails – you don’t always see that from the Witches book, but since Tiffany is still in training, you get to learn along with her. 5/5

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert:

Yes, the author is Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame. This is pure chick flick and therefore not my taste at all, but like I said, after so many non-fiction books, I just wanted some fluff. This novel follows Vivian, a 19-year-old girl who, in 1940, is sent to New York City to live with her aunt in a rundown theater and gets swept up in the glamorous, hedonistic lifestyle of theater folks and showgirls. That part is fun, and Vivian is a seamstress, so there are a lot of descriptions of beautiful clothes and outfits, which I must admit that I love to read in any book.

The problem is, the book doesn’t stop there. It’s written in the form of a letter from Vivian, now an old woman, to another woman, Angela, about her relationship with Angela’s father, and this guy doesn’t show up until the last 90 pages or so of a 470-page book! So you keep waiting for this supposedly important guy to appear, and when he does, it feels incredibly rushed and doesn’t have much to do with the main character’s development – in fact, her character arc seems all but finished by the time he shows up. Imagine if you’re watching Titanic and old Rose starts telling her story about Jack, and Jack himself only appears during the last 20 minutes of the movie. That would just be terrible storytelling, wouldn’t it? If this was just a book about NYC and theater life during WWII, it would’ve been much better. 3/5

The Gown by Jennifer Robson:

This came up in Goodreads’ recommendations after I finished City of Girls, and I can see why – it also takes place in the 1940s (1947, in this case, and it’s set in London, not NY) and also features seamstresses, or more exactly, embroiderers who are assigned to work on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown. The story focuses on two particular women, both struggling with the memories of the war, their personal lives, and with keeping their work on the gown a secret. There is also a storyline in the present as the granddaughter of one of these women tries to uncover her grandmother’s past life. It’s a little light on drama and predictable, but the descriptions of the embroideries are exquisite, and the characters are relatable (much more relatable than City of Girls!) 4/5


Where’s My Vacation?

Last weekend, I took my niece and nephew to see Toy Story 4 and pizzas afterward. It was kind of a reward for the kids and for myself too, because I’ve been too busy to take them on our annual trip, and with less than a month left before the new semester, it looks like I’m not going to have the time after all. I know, I know, it’s totally a #firstworldproblem, not having a vacation. At least it was nice to have one day when I didn’t have to worry about scripts or books or deadlines. And even if I’m not on vacation, I could still dress like I was!

As for the movie – I enjoyed it but found it rather sad. Not even sad in a moving way like Toy Story 3; just sad. Like, the entire Toy Story franchise has always been about how a toy should always be there for their kid, but this… (mild spoiler) it didn’t go against that theme exactly, it just took it in a different direction that I’m not sure I like. Toy Story 3 is the perfect ending already, they should’ve stopped at that. But I guess the calling of the $$$ is too strong to resist, even for Pixar.