Issue 75: Monkeys in Malaysia – Part 1

-Read Part 2 Here-

One day last spring, Lam Hoac popped over for a visit. Lam is prone to doing this since he lives mere blocks away, so I end up seeing him on a fairly regular basis, which I like.

We talk kites, life and share an apple juice or two. But this time, Lam had a question.

Since he was already booked to go to Hanoi in late September for Vietnam’s 1000 year anniversary (a city he has not been back to since the 70s!), would I have any interest at all in doing a festival in Malaysia that same weekend? Well, just let me check my schedule…(3 seconds later) OK, LET’S GO, when do we leave?

And after a flurry of email back and forth with the 6th Annual Borneo Kite Festival organizers, it was all set to happen. In a change of pace from what’s been my usual travel plans over the past 4 years, this time out, I was going with my wife, Meaghan, instead of the usual iQuad crew, so, in plotting out the trip, we decided to extend it a little bit and take in some of the general area. All in all, the entire trip was roughly 11 days. I say roughly because otherwise I would need to break out a calculator to figure out the time zone shifts back and forth, and well, 11 is close enough. I will see there were times when it felt like the quickest 11 days ever! As there is quite a few stories to be told, I’m going to split the trip into twp separate articles, this being the first which will cover the first half of the trip, and the second half will show up in the February 1st edition of Kitelife.

The trip started much like any other would, a trip to the airport, but for a nice change of pace, we were leaving from Vancouver’s airport instead of having to do the drive down to Seatac. As much as it would have been nice to fly direct to Singapore, our first stop in what was to become 11 separate plane flights was a short jaunt from Vancouver to San Francisco where we managed to sneak in a lunch with Tracy Erzin during our layover before the longest segment of the trip, the 14 hour flight to Hong Kong, followed by another somewhat brief layover and then the final segment to Singapore. All told, 24 hours of travel which with the time change too from 6AM Friday to about midnight, Saturday, in Singapore, where we met up with my cousin’s family for a day before heading up to Kuala Lumpur.

Now, the initial plan had been to simply decompress and de-jetlag in Singapore at my cousin’s rather posh condo a mere 10 minutes away from the airport, complete with a stunning view of the bay, 3 pools and a bar, and do no kite flying. But as we were catching up late Saturday night (or, was it Sunday morning) over some home delivered MacDonalds (yes, you can really order it for home delivery!) my cousin and his family decided they were utterly fascinated by the whole kite flying thing and maybe we could go do some of that on the Sunday? Well, ok, twist my arm, I guess I could be cajoled into that. At that moment, I remembered that weeks back, a Singapore Rev flyer, Chua Lin, had emailed me to see if I’d be doing any flying in Singapore while I was there. I quickly dashed off a reply to him to get an idea where they may be out flying on Sunday.

By the time I woke up Sunday morning, I had a reply and nicely, it wasn’t too far from where we were staying either!

One thing I had been told repeatedly before arriving was to watch out for the heat and humidity. And wow, were all those people ever right. If you have never experienced life in that kind of weather, it’s a real eye opener. Basically, at the coolest, say, 3am in the morning, you are looking at roughly 90 degrees, with 100% humidity. It’s an awful lot like living in a sauna really. If you step out from any air conditioned place (most, at least in Singapore, are) you will find yourself drenched with sweat in fairly short order. So, light clothing is the order of the day as much as possible. And this is the point where I opened up my suitcase to find that I had managed to not pack any short pants whatsoever.

Nicely done, supposed travel expert! Ooops. I figured we could remedy that in Kuala Lumpur fairly easily so, into jeans I went! We grabbed a handful of kites and headed off towards where Chua Lin said that they’d be flying. As we walked up the beach, my cousin asked “So, how will you recognize these guys” Well, they will be flying Revs, it’ll be easy to spot. “Have you met any of them before?” Only via Facebook! “How will you be able to fly with them?” Through the modern science of Rev team flying…

And sure enough, right at the jetty they said they’d be at, I found a bunch of kite flyers, 3 of which (Chua Lin, Zul and Uncle Peter!) were flying Revs. So, I got a kite out of the bag, unrolled some lines and jumped right on in. And for the most part, all of the calls were precisely what I’d expect to hear out of John Barresi on any given day with only really one exception. It was truly an amazing feeling to find myself halfway around the world, flying team with a group of people I had met a mere 10 minutes beforehand. It was really a fine way to spend the afternoon. I would easily call it one of the highlights of the trip for the amount of smiles it produced. That evening, we got back to my cousin’s place and settled into a Turkish feast of food while we watched the Singapore Gran Prix! Ideally we would have gone and watched it in person however the ticket prices were ludicrously expensive and really, we got to see much more of the actual race in the comfort of an air conditioned home, so, it worked out well anyways. Next stop? Kuala Lumpur!

One of the things that came up in the initial trip planning was the cost of airfare for the trip. If one drops “Bintulu, Malaysia” into Expedia or Orbitz, you will get back a shocking figure of roughly 4000 dollars to do the trip, PER PERSON! But early one, one of the Malaysian flyers, Chris Tan, got a hold of me and helped guide me through the process and pointed out that once you are over there, start using some of the budget airlines for the internal travel and voila, the cost of airfare immediately dropped to much more sane levels. You could even call it downright cheap! And given how many flights we flew on Air Asia for this event, I can very safely say that the budget airline was easily on par with any of the inexpensive airlines I’ve flown over here, and on some levels, service most noticeably, even better. Early Monday morning, Meaghan and I repacked up our stuff and headed off to Changsi airport in Singapore to head up to Kuala Lumpur. There, we were met by Chris Tan who was to become the most indispensible part of the whole trip. Chris was simply wonderful to be around on so many levels. He helped us out in so many ways, I’m not sure we could ever repay the hospitality shown during our trip there. He quite literally didn’t leave our sides for the entire trip, always ready to help with suggestions, ideas, things to do and most of all, as he lived in Kuala Lumpur, he knew his way around like a local. When you do a trip like this, you really have two approaches you can take, You can do the guided tour type approach of a “package” tour, or, you can head out and do the non tourist types of things. Chris made it possible for us to do the latter with ease. We popped into our hotel (which was simply spectacular, right across from the Petronas Towers!), changed clothes and headed off in Chris’s car to get some food.

I’ve seen some crazy traffic before on my travels but, nothing will quite compare you for your first experience with this in foreign lands. The closest I had come previously was iQuad’s trip to Japan in 2008 but, really, Tokyo was a walk in the park of calm in comparison to downtown Kuala Lumpur! Imagine 1000s of tiny little cars, all working their way through small streets that were likely designed for dozens of cars initially. Now, toss in 1000s of little tiny motorcycles that are not quite scooters, but, not much more.

Traffic laws? Those are merely guidelines to be loosely adhered to! There was more than a few times when I figured my end on this earthly plane of existence was mere seconds away, not once because of Chris’s driving (He was the epitome of good driving, at all times and his patience was amazing) but because I’d watch some motorbike go howling past us, mere inches away, at which point they’d cut directly in front of you in order to change lanes. On some levels, it was fantastically amusing!

Our first stop to head into the Little India section of town. We were going to pop into the Hanuman temple, which was very close to where Chris had grown up but, alas, it was closed for renovation so we opted for a tiny little restaurant that served banana leaf curry. This would be the first of many stops involving pictures of food, a pastime that seems to be pretty popular with the Malaysians! And I must say, this was easily some of the best curry I have ever eaten in my entire life. Yum! After this, we toured around the city a little more and then took a long tour through the National Museum of Malaysia, getting a feel for how the country came to be, what it’s made up of and where it’s going.

Afterwards, we had our first experience with the massive downpours of rain that come crashing into the city. Not quite monsoon levels but, pretty darn close! And pretty short as well, the worst of it lasted less than half an hour, at which point it settled down into more of a regular rain. Of course, as you can imagine, the traffic then only gets worse and it certainly didn’t slow down the motorbike riders at all! After a quick snack of some fantastic coffee and Kaya (a crustless toast with a delicious coconut jam), Meaghan and I were utterly beat. Chris dropped us off and we popped upstairs to the lounge, which sits directly across from the legendary Petronas Towers, had a gin and tonic and then slept like logs until the next morning.

Tuesday meant two separate adventures for us. The first stop was the historic Batu Caves. For a more detailed look at what the place is, check here :

But essentially, it’s a series of limestone caves that have acted as Hindu temples for 1000s of years. Not only is it a beautiful site full of amazing art and the caves themselves are stunning, but it is also home to 100s of Macaque monkeys. As you can well imagine, I spent quite a good long time snapping pictures of monkeys, only a few of which are in this article, however if you ever feel the need to see all 500 odd pictures, you just let me know and I’ll pull the slide projector out of the attic and we can make popcorn. Easily the best story from that trip involved a woman, standing there chatting to friends, with a plastic bag in one hand. A plastic bag with FRUIT in it. As I looked up the huge staircase that leads up to and into the caves, I spied this larger male monkey sitting on one of the banisters. Sure enough, he has his eye on the woman, or, more specifically, his eye on the bag of fruit, while watching her for the perfect opportunity.

Sure enough, she turns her back a little bit towards him and BANG, he’s off like a shot.

He scrambled across two stair ways, snatched the bag from her hand and zipped up a nearby tree. I’m pretty sure he was cackling to himself while the woman shrieked in dismay. It was one of those moments when I wished I had a video camera handy. At least someone did, here’s a look at the Caves themselves.

Once we had finished our exploration of the caves, Chris introduced us to the ultimate in cooling down beverages, raw coconut milk, directly out of the shell.

Mmmmmm, this became a fairly regular drink for us during the entire trip. That, and Sports 100, a drink that’s very similar to Gatorade, except it’s carbonated.

But, the basic idea is the same, keep oneself hydrated. The two things I watched for as much as possible was liquid intake and sunscreen. I was a little lax about it the morning of our cave trip, because I allowed myself to be fooled by the cloudiness and thus, managed to get a bit too much sun on my forehead. Thankfully, this was the sole time it happened on the entire trip. In many ways, it was like an endurance test. I somehow had to manage to stay hydrated and non sunburned for the entire trip. When one gets invited to a kite festival many many miles from home, it simply does not do to be sideswiped and sidelined by a bad sunburn and or heat exhaustion! This means suntan lotion, really strong stuff, all the time. It also means drink lots of water AND something with electrolytes in it, which in KL means “Sports100”! I am sure there are other types available, but, I grew to love the stuff. I am sure I went through DOZENS of cans of it during the time I was in Malaysia.

I mentioned two adventures on the docket for the day, the second was a chance to meet up with some of the local Kuala Lumpur rev flyers at one of their fields. And what a nice field it was! A green grassy park with lots of (much needed) shade and a few ponds. Alas, we didn’t get a whole pile of wind for the afternoon but, we did get some and managed to get some fun flying in anyways. At one point, I dragged a Zen out of the bag and it flew great in the light winds. There one was one little guy who particularly stands out in my memory of that afternoon. His name was Faiz and he was roughly half my height, probably about 10-11 years old. Quiet as could be but, WOW could he ever fly a rev! And a dual line as well, a really talented flyer at such a young age. I set him loose on the Zen for a little while and I look over at one point and he’s doing double axels with it! At the end of the day, I handed over my well used, traveled a bajillion miles, been to every festival I have been, iQuad golf ball stake to him as a present. I think he loved it. And then he ran off to fly some more, that’s the spirit!

The evening was quite entertaining as well, we started off with a bunch of us heading to a Satay BBQ place for dozens and dozens of chicken satay sticks, and then after a smallish drive, we ended up at a great little dessert place to round out the evening.

Oddly, the table we sat out actually sat half out in the street the restaurant was on, however Chris assured us we would not be plowed into by motorcyclists, or a car and sure enough, as was usually the case in anything we asked him about, he was right.

Again we ended up back at the hotel and utterly exhausted from yet another brilliant day in Malaysia. The next morning was time to repack and get ready to head over to the Borneo Island, where the town of Bintulu would host the kite festival. Wednesday morning we popped over to the mall underneath the Petronas Towers for a quick look around and to restock suntan lotion and look for a larger hat (baseball hats just do not cut it for THAT kind of sun!). Chris picked us up once more, as he was also headed to Bintulu on our flight and off we went to the airport to meet up with Gary Mark from Canada and roughly 49 other kite flyers making the same flight over on Air Asia… But, to hear about that part of the trip, you can tune in to the next issue of Kitelife…

Selamat tinggal untuk sekarang, (Goodbye for now…)

David Hathaway