On a day we had originally designated to being a lazy one, a solo Dutch traveler we met at our guest house convinced us to go inner tubing with her. We didn’t have anything better to do so we changed into our swimsuits and met up with Marijn in the restaurant lounge area, where the young local guys lazed about in the downtime when the tourists were all out hiking the jungles.
When Putra — one of the intrepid jungle guides — came into the lounge with a guitar cradled in his arms, Marijn asked him to come along. He shrugged and agreed, put down his guitar and led us across the river to a small restaurant/inner tube rental shop where we rented two large inner tubes. There were no helmets or life jackets offered or even for rent, nor were there waivers to sign. But that was expected. We carried the inner tubes to the river below, and after we clumsily clambered on and situated ourselves inside, we pushed off.
We immediately got wedged on some rocks in the river while Marijn and Putra drifted ahead of us. Putra noticed, jumped out of his inner tube and came to our rescue to pull us off and back onto the current. This was the first of many times he had to save us from something; there would be spiders, brambles hanging in the water, heavy machinery and more rocks coming up. We didn’t have any string to tie the inner tubes together so we wouldn’t go drifting off again, so Putra held us together with his arms, all 90lbs of him. This was a guy who wrestled Mina — an aggressive female orangutan feared by all jungle guides for attacking humans — off of a tourist, and bears the scars from her bite marks on his arms.
It was a sunny afternoon, and the cool water felt amazing on our hot skin. We bounced along the shallow and light rapids and twirled around in the calmer waters, and got to a gravelly sandbar where we got out to take a rest. Well, more like to let poor Putra rest since he was doing all of the work. We sat on the tubes and talked with Marijn about her five-week travel plans in Indonesia while Putra smoked nearby, most likely regretting having agreed to come along with these useless tourists.
After spending two weeks with a total of 3 dining options in Tanote Bay we, and our bellies, were very excited to get to Kuala Lumpur. KL is the federal capital of Malaysia and one of the more diverse cities we’ve visited in Southeast Asia. The three main ethnic groups are Malay, Chinese, and Indian which is only important to me becaue it means I can get deliciously diverse food. If you’re interested in the cultural, social, or political dynamics of these peoples living together go read another blog because I can only tell you about how these three cuisines intermingled in my belly.
You’re probably familiar with Indian and Chinese food, but Malay food isn’t as common. At least not in the U.S. Malay food is like a marriage of Indian and Chinese cuisines, but I’d say it’s an unequal marriage because you can really see the Indian influence in the strong spices used in most dishes. If you didn’t know Malay food, you could easily mistake it for Indian. Popular Malay dishes include nasi lemak, satay, and nasi goreng. Just to name a few. Another popular cuisine in Malaysia is Nyonya food which came from the literal marriage between the early Chinese migrants and the local Malays parts of Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. If you’re like me you’ll call it “Malaysian” food, but technically it’s a distinct cuisine with it’s own history and signature dishes. KL isn’t known for Nyonya food so if you want the best of this cuisine you will have to go to Penang or Melaka.
I love Indian food. I love it so much that if I couldn’t marry ice cream and cake I would marry Indian cuisine. Wait, who says I can’t marry ice cream and cake? I figured since same-sex marriage is legal food marrying should be too. Damn these religious zealots and their lies!
I’m less enthusiastic about Chinese food, but there are some great dishes in KL that you should try while you’re there. We were lucky enough to have a local introduce us to some of the best Chinese chow in KL.
Our arrival in Kuala Lumpur just happened to coincide with Eid, the Muslim New Year. Having done no research prior to arriving in Malaysia and underestimating just how Muslim this country actually is, we were thoroughly punished with the unbelievably insane crowds converging on the nation’s capital for the holiday.
Compared to the craziness of Kuala Lumpur (or “KL”, as the locals call it), neighboring Petaling Jaya (or “PJ”) was sounding very pleasant, and we heard that excellent food could be had there. We decided to hop on a bus and visit Grace, a Malaysian local we had met three months back on a tour bus in Vietnam. Upon getting to her quiet neighborhood, we immediately sensed that this was more our style. She walked us to her house to relax before tackling the night market.
Grace and I had met briefly on a tour bus and talked for maybe ten minutes. After that we kept in touch through Facebook, but in reality we were strangers to each other. I was touched that despite this fact, Grace took on the role of hostess since we landed in KL.
So there we were in PJ, sipping on soy milk and chatting with Grace, Goh and their surprisingly tall daughter Pei Ji. Soon, we were walking down the narrow streets towards PJ’s smaller Thursday night market, checking out the various fruit, candies, electronic accessories, and of course, the food stalls. Grace had warned us not to eat too much because we were having durian for dinner, so we just drooled our way past the deep-fried fruit, satay, dofu fa, and other delights. After purchasing a salt-encrusted smoked chicken leg and two kilos of mangosteens (they were crazy cheap), we headed to the durian tents.