Friday, October 31, 2014

The Banana Leaf Restaurant

31 October 2014

Richard and I have eaten at the Indian restaurant across the street from our hotel - they have great chicken biryani, which I enjoy, and Richard likes the lamb murtabak, sort of a cross between a flat wrap and an omelette.  Anyway, good food.  But often, the restaurant is rather smoky since they allow people to smoke in there.

We found out that upstairs, they have a non-smoking section, with AC.  Same menu, although they feature what apparently is the more traditional way of serving food - on a banana leaf.

Yes, we sat down.  We ordered what we wanted, my chicken biryani and Richard's lamb murtabak.  Someone comes over and puts down a cut piece of banana leaf in front of me, and a cup.  Gives us a pitcher of cold water.  Then, someone else walks over with a tray and spoons out the lovely aromatic and spicy rice biryani, with a big chunk of red roasted chicken in the middle.  Next thing we know, the waiter is back with a divided tray and spoons out some spiced roasted potatoes, curried vegs, and pickled cauliflower.  And it goes on and on - we're given chapati, those lovely crispy chickpea flour and spice rounds.  Eventually, I've ended up with soup, two sauces, and a small plate of mutton - and that's all for just me!  

Richard gets his plate of murtabak, with his chapatis (plus a fork and spoon), and I've got this huge spread of food in front of me, way too much to eat.  I look around, and everyone in the restaurant is eating with their hands - or rather, their right hands.  I'm fine with eating with my hand, but rice isn't the easiest thing to scoop up and eat daintily.  Plus I carry a spoon in my purse for these situations, so I whip out my spoon and enjoy the biryani.  I did eat the chicken with my hands, and fortunately there was a sink strategically placed at the front of the restaurant for clean up before paying the bill.

The food was good, just as we remembered - but the banana leaf plate was rather a novelty.  I left quite a bit of food, such as the entire bowl of lamb that I never ordered.  We watched other people's techniques: one man took napkins to dry off his banana leaf, another made little balls of rice to eat more easily.

It was definitely an experience!

We have a great view of the KL Tower from our hotel room, and a partial view of the Petronas Towers.  Some building in front of the towers has an ever-changing colorful banner running around the top, so I had fun trying to catch all the colors and patterns.  

Richard has had a few more dental visits, and I've been working on art projects as well as writing a few articles for a travel fashion blog.  (And getting paid to do so, which is amazing!)  As soon as they're published, I'll let everyone know and attach links so you can read all about what to wear when you travel to Japan, and other exciting news.

So that's our excitement - we travel around KL, seeing new buildings and eating from banana leaves.  And we find things to do while it rains - lots of reading, playing on the internet, and watching really bad movies on the one English language channel on the TV.  (They're having a series of horror movies for Halloween, but most of them are so bad they're laughable!)

I know, exciting times in KL!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Normal Life on the Road

27 October 2014

Somehow, doing those normal everyday things while on the road, in new locations, becomes something of an adventure.  

The day started normally, with breakfast at the hotel, which always has lovely flowers in the public areas.  Then some time figuring out where my hair salon was while Richard made a few phone calls about dentists.  A few more trip-maintenance kinds of things, and eventually lunch.  My lunch was at Starbucks, where a young Malaysian woman was reading "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire."  Part of me thought it was amusing, and part of me thought it was great that these modern-day classics are being read around the world.  (She was reading in English.)

Then I went and found a taxi, negotiated a price, and off we went.  He was absolutely amused by Richard and my life of just travel - he thought it was wonderful, he's heard of people doing this, but he never met anyone who sold everything and just travelled, without a home.  We had a lovely chat, and he dropped me at my new hair salon.

I found the shop, and went in.  Taurus Salon, in Mont' Kiara, if anyone is ever in KL and needs their hair done.  The owner, Klement Ang, talked to me about my hair, which is growing out of the wrong cut - too many layers for wavy hair in humid weather has resulted in wild, crazy cat lady hair.  Okay, so far things are fairly normal.  And then, he started shampooing my hair.  At the chair, not at a sink.  Has anyone else ever had their hair shampooed while sitting upright in a chair?  Very different!  He used a squeeze bottle to add water to the shampoo, and just shampooed away!

Of course, rinsing out the shampoo happened at the sink, but after the scalp massage I'd follow this man anywhere!

We chatted about places to visit in Malaysia, and how we both enjoyed the island of Penang.  He trimmed, he clipped, he agreed I need to avoid thinning shears with my wild hair, we chatted some more.

And before I knew it, I had a new, much more controlled and much cuter hair style.  It won't look like this again, not only do we rarely have hair dryers but I never quite mastered the art of styling and drying my hair at the same time.  I'm a wash and dry kind of person.

But it looks good and I'm sure will be more controlled as I grow out the layers and aim for a simple bob.  Easier for travelling.  (Sorry about the grainy quality of the photo, but taking a photo of myself in the mirror isn't the greatest way of getting a picture.)

Another cab negotiation, a ride home (because this was a part of town where the trains don't go, and the bus only goes by every 90 minutes), and I got back just in time for the afternoon rain storm.  Really, the skies turn this ominous deep grey with yellow edges, and then the thunder and lightening show begins.

So, just another day of life on the road.  Nothing exciting, but an adventure nevertheless.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Deepavali Continues

25 October 2014

It's kind of fun being back in a place we know, where things are familiar.  Or at least certain areas are familiar.  We know some places to visit in our neighborhood, places to eat, even a spot for laundry.  All important things for living or travelling in any location.

We'll be in the KL area for a month, possibly longer.  Richard needs some dental work, so he's shopping around for dentists.  I'm shopping around for a hairdresser to deal with my unruly mop of hair, and have an appointment lines up for Monday.  Exciting things, I know.

Between these various life-maintenance things, we'll explore more of Malaysia.

Our first day, we visited Chinatown, with the market at Petaling Street and all the clamor and craziness of the open-air market and built-in shops.  Colorful, busy, and just crazy.

Then we had a dental consultation at the Kuala Lumpur Twin Towers, also called the Petronas Towers.  Not Patronus like a patronus charm, Petronas, the gas and petrol company here in Malaysia.  

The towers really are remarkable - I don't even know how to describe the shape, sort of alternating right angles and curves making a strangely faceted surface.  The whole thing, or rather the two buildings and the bridge inbetween, are constructed from metal and glass and not much else.  We need to get there and see them at night - we have a partial view from our hotel room, and the twin buildings really glitter and sparkle at night, with a light in every window and lighting along the stepped edges.

According to the Petronas website, the twin towers are based on simple Islamic geometric forms of two interlocking squares, creating a shape of eight-pointed stars.  They say these forms describe important Islamic principles of "unity within unity, harmony, stability, and rationality" in an architectural format.  This eight-pointed star is recessed five times as it tapers into the pinnacle on top of each tower.

"The Towers feature multi-faceted walls of 33,000 stainless steel and 55,000 glass panels. Vision Glass, specialised panels with light filtering and noise reduction properties, provide a comfortable inner environment. The glass is covered by stainless steel visors to further protect visitors from the tropical sun."

Their website: 

And a few facts and figures: Each building is 88 storeys tall, for a total of 452 meters (493 yards, or 1,480 feet) above street level.  The connecting skybridge is 170 meters above street level, and is 58.4 meters long.  (No, we did not walk across.)  


Then on to Bukit Bintang, a fun and rather posh part of town, with a variety of malls, places to shop and eat, and a multi-plex movie theatre.  Plus my favorite Malaysian shopping center and store, Parkson's at The Pavilion.  (This is where I met my nice personal shopper dude.)

Well, because this is a rather posh and upscale mall, they had an upscale (read: "over the top") decoration for Deepavali.  Seriously over the top!

They called it the "Walk of Splendour," which began near the sidewalk and went all the way into the front foyer.  Large round mandala-like decals, the gravel formed into decorations, hanging lights, a variety of small elephant statues made of different materials - it was gorgeous!  Bright, colorful, a wild rainbow celebration of this Festival of Light!!!

The whole things was gorgeous, and each part was beautiful all by itself.  
The info pamphlet the concierge desk was giving out (with a cardboard elephant to cut out and put together, also gorgeously decorated and a work of art I want to save) has this information about the Walk of Splendour:

"Join us as we welcome the Festival of Lights with a series of colourful kolams [the gravel designs], heart-thumping dance performances, and vibrant decorations from 15 till 26 October 2014.

"This Deepavali, witness spectacular kolam designs put together by the students from Raffles College of Higher Education.  The patterns narrate the story of Lord Rama, who after his 14 years of exile returned to the people and defeated evil.

Marvel at the intricate kolam designs that illustrate happiness and victory from the Pavilion Crystal Fountain to the Bukit Bintang Entrance." 

More information is included along the outside walk:  "Kolam is a form of traditional Hindu painting drawn on the ground, and is believes to bestow prosperity and success for homes.
"Walk and see the intricate 14 kolam designs as they tell the story of Lord Rama, one of the Gods of Hindu, and his journey of defeating Evil.

"Your walk will lead you to the kolam materpiece which illustrates victory, happiness, and contentment.  It takes the shape of a majestic elephant, which signifies the 'removal of obstacles' and fulfillment."

Deepavali, or Diwali, celebrations are continuing - apparently much of the celebrating takes place in the home, but we've seen and heard music in the streets, and firecrackers and fireworks after dark.  There's a Hindu temple just a bit down the road and around a corner, and some of the fireworks were coming from that area one evening.  Last night, larger fireworks were being shot off the top of a tall building several blocks away, but we could hear and see them from our hotel room (this is about 10 or 11 PM) so we had a little private fireworks show.  We've enjoyed the pyrotechnics, though we definitely could have done without the three sets of firecrackers going off about 4 AM this morning.  But, well, it's a local celebration and we like being part of that, or at least observing, so we aren't complaining.

This probably doesn't line up with the photo (I have trouble doing that when I enlarge the photos, but I think these beautiful designs should be seen in the larger size so you can see all the detail) - but check out the photo with the large yellow kolam, the one that looks like a giant flower, maybe a sunflower or marigold.  You can see how the design is the digitally-produced kolam decal, stuck on the tiles.  But then you can see the right side of the kolam, where the colored gravel has been added, so that it looks like the traditional kolam, hand-made.  I think this is what the two young men were talking about at our hotel, how some people use the digital design but at our hotel they design it and make it by hand. 

While I like the handmade aspect, I also can understand why the art students combined computer graphics to produce the more intricate designs and images.  And being an art teacher, I also understand that incorporating new technologies is an important aspect of education in today's world.

In either case, kolams are beautiful, and I've been enjoying this part of Deepavali the most!  Couldn't you see these designs in, oh, fabric?  Scarves maybe.  Or repeating on sarongs.  Or maybe embroidered on patches, I wouldn't mind a patch to sew on a jacket.  Or on ceramic tiles, to display or use as something functional.  I know, these are part of a religious and cultural celebration.  I just sort of hate to lose the beautiful designs, to see them be swept away.  But maybe the ephemeral quality of beauty, especially beauty in the natural world, is part of the point. 

The kolams represent different human attributes that Lord Rama used to defeat evil.  (Sorry, Evil with a capital E.)  Human attributes.  Inner qualities. 

So if this Festival of Lights symbolizes the triumph of Good over Evil, and refers to an Inner Light, perhaps represented by these various attributes or maybe even virtues - well, those are underlying and eternal values, but they're intangibles.  We can't see or touch them, we can only feel them internally, not physically.  These virtues/attributes don't exist in a physical sense.  And even though they are, in many ways, universal virtues, they die each time an individual with those virtues dies.  They have to be reborn again in another individual in order to exist.  Kind of an on-going education of individuals and reincarnation of the virtues.

So if the kolam is a physical representation of an intangible, maybe it's important that the kolam NOT be permanent.  The disappearance of the design reminds us that we, too, will disappear; and the virtues represented by the kolams will disappear with us.  Thus it becomes essential that we continue the existence of these virtues by teaching our children, or showing others by example.  By continuing the example of goodwill, and friendship, and hope, and each of our Inner Light.

I don't know, I'm just speculating.  And trying to understand.  Often, as a visitor, an outsider to a culture, one doesn't really understand the intricacies and symbolism of various rituals and practices.  But I find it all fascinating.  Especially when the rituals come wrapped in such incredibly beautiful packages.

We continue to enjoy Malaysia, which is a good thing because we may be in KL for a month or so.  

And yes, it's monsoon season.  But that doesn't mean it rains all day, or even every day.  There are frequent rain showers, but usually in the afternoon or evening.  They're often accompanied by thunder and lightening, and Richard and I both enjoy a good storm.  Especially from the dry warmth of our comfy hotel room.

So yes, we're enjoying monsoon season thus far.  And right now, a great storm is beginning, with loud crashes and rumblings, dark grey skies, and bright flashes of lightening.  It's almost 6 PM, sunset is in about an hour, and we'll enjoy this evening's storm while we decide what to do with the evening.