A Travellerspoint blog

CNN's Islam

Rich is amused that there isn’t a city I have met that I haven’t liked. Well, met one that didn’t do much for me. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Petronas Towers, a few old buildings, and that’s it. It’s a city busy in the business of living, with no time for pretty. I did happen upon the Masjid Negara (National mosque), where 15000 men can pray at one time. The mosque had volunteers explaining Islam. I got to talk 1:1 with Dr. Mohammed (PhD Political Science from British Columbia, Canada).

I asked Dr. Mohd why he was volunteering, what’s in it for him. And he responded, “Most people either don’t know anything about Islam or what they know is CNN’s version of Islam, and we all know CNN gets it wrong 5 times a day!” He spent an hour walking me through some basics, answering my many questions (what’s with the veil and burqa, do men have a dress code, what about the month long fasting). I found it interesting that some of the answers were as simple as “The Quran Says So.” Kinda sorta sounds like "Because mom said so."

I walked away being impressed with people volunteering their time to educate others, with how gentle and non-radical the conversation was, and thinking about what Mahatma Gandhi said, “I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

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To get away from KL, I went 2 hours south to Melaka. In school, I studied all about Malacca Straits and how it was the gateway to the spice trade in India. The place is perfectly preserved, almost an anomaly in the midst of modernity. It’s a UN World Heritage Site with a wonderful street named Harmony. Harmony Street has a Hindu temple, a mosque, and a Buddhist temple all in one row, built 400 years ago. The people of Malaysia are very proud of their multi-racial, multi-religion state, in the spirit of what they call One Malaysia.

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Random bits of KL stuff:
1. The National Monument of Malaysia honoring soldiers is designed by the person who designed the Iwojima Memorial in DC. They look eerily alike as does the flag.
2. The Amazing Race had an episode in which contestants had to get their feet cleaned in a fish spa. You stick your feet in a tub full of fish and the fish eat away the dead skin. Ewww. KL had a street with a row of such fish spas.
3. Lots of motorcycles in Malaysia. I didn’t see a single woman on one. What’s up with that!

Photos from KL
Photos from Melaka

Posted by Goofy9 04:32 Comments (4)

Scary monsters under the bed

Some thoughts are best written cold...

I’ll tackle the relatively easy one first:

A few weeks ago, on the train, I was flipping through the State sponsored newspaper. And I was surprised by the number of ads for weight loss. Let me explain the surpriseà You don’t really see heavy people here. Maybe a few for every thousand skinny ones. The ad clearly proclaimed that women could lose up to 10 kgs (~22 lbs) using this drug, or this method, or whatever. The lady featured in the ad looked like me, 5 feet something, probably in her late 30s. The text below her photo read “Overweight.” According to the ad, she was overweight at 118lbs. Now, here’s the shocker: The ad promoted that the perfect size for a woman like her is (wait for it....)—101 lbs! Oh my god. At 101 lbs, for 5 feet 2 inches, she would be under weight, she couldn’t donate blood, and would be unhealthy. I flipped the pages and there may have been 5 ads all promoting 100 lbs skinnies. It got me thinking how pervasive is this epitome of beauty being equated to being skinny. Skinny at what cost. And why.

Okay, now on to the topic de jour that I have rolled around in my head, attempting to process how I feel about this particular situation. I’ve wondered if I should even write about it – after all, this blog has been more about food than about anything else. Anyway, here goes...when I look up from my desk, there are 12 people from country A, 4 Singaporeans, and me. Singaporean 1 and I were having lunch and she asked me if I had noticed that Girl From Country A did not talk to the Singaporeans. I almost choked on my fish soup, because I had noticed that but I didn’t think anyone would comment about it. The very same day, on the shuttle ride home Singaporean 2 told me, “Girl from Country A doesn’t like us, and she’s racist. She has no right to be that way especially when she is in my country.” Yep. That’s what she said. As plain as day. It’s the first time EVER that someone has so clearly come out and expressed that. (Side note, most think of me as more American than Indian. I don’t know what to make of that!)

1. The problem is Girl from Country A. She’s just a shy person and doesn’t talk to anyone, nothing to do with being racist (not true: She talks to non Singaporeans).
2. Now that two people have told me this, what do I do with this information and my own observations.

Do I stand around and watch (the classic dilemma of do you watch someone get beaten on the street or do you stop and help them)?

Posted by Goofy9 03:36 Comments (2)

I heart buildings.

Singapore is confusing. Very. It feels like India in the sense of contradictions. A shiny, glass high rise, right next to old, old, shophouses. Curvy streets with 200-year old trees next to a perfectly man-made garden complex, with mature trees imported from Malaysia. There’s nothing uniform, and nothing predictable. No, the Walgreens in one neighborhood, does not look like the Walgreens in the other.

I went on a tour of Marina Barrage. It’s a dam that separates river water from the sea, creating a small reservoir. It is one of the most aesthetically pleasing buildings I have ever seen. It’s built as interlocking 9s, as the Chinese believe that 9 represents longevity. They spent money (a lot of it) on a dam pump house just so that it would be pleasing to the eye. What! Why! The rationalist in me thinks it’s a waste of government money, therefore, a waste of my money.
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But you should truly see this building – I want to live on its roof! It’s a green/eco sod roof, the outflow from the pump house is channelled into beautiful rivulets. None of those ugly pipes jettisoning water, as is typical of most dams I have seen. Just lovely, soothing, running water. People gather here over the weekends to fly kits, 100s of kites. The dam is now a lifestyle attraction. Note, not just a tourist attraction. It attracts locals who want to picnic on the green roof. Now, think about Hoover Dam. Engineering marvel, yes. But how many locals did you see hanging out at Hoover? I mean, imagine building something truly for the people in every sense – not just the practical sense but also the aesthetic sense.

Government buildings here fascinate me. Who approves their budget, I say! For the lack of a better descriptor, these buildings are sexy. The Treasury is a tall tube(interestingly, my office is in this building), the Supreme Court looks like a space ship, the City Hall is a superbly preserved colonial, Immigration Services is housed in a trendy Riverwalk area.

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Seriously, I wonder what they are trying to convey to their people. Every government building says something – it says Take me seriously (FBI’s bland building in DC), I have money (the gold dome of the Colorado State Capital), I am history (10 Downing Street). What language do swanky, expensive buildings speak?

I heard that the maximum income tax paid by Singaporeans is 18%.

Posted by Goofy9 19:20 Comments (5)

This and that

Almost every European and Australian I have talked to so far (more than a handful) has been to India. Is it accessibility or interest, I wonder. I guess it does help that a cross-Atlantic flight is not involved. I am impressed by how well travelled folks are, not in a I-went-to Egypt-and-stayed-at-the-Four-Seasons sort of way. But more in terms of experiencing the local life the way the locals do (riding a moped around in Vietnam, eating at hawker centres in Singapore, taking a pilgrimage to Tibet), beyond the typical tourist stuff.

Cultural highlight of the day: I logged into a system today that allows us to share documents. I tried an action like upload and I got this incredibly polite error message, “Unfortunately, you are unable to complete your request as you do not have the right access. Kindly contact your administrator. We apologize for the inconvenience.” Now compare that with an abrupt “Access Denied.”

I noticed that in the lift (elevator) people do not make eye contact or talk. It got me thinking about elevator psychology, and how it possibly is different in the US and in India/Singapore. In India, I recollect hanging out with my friends and being very chatty but not ever really talking to someone in a lift, on the street, in a pub, any stranger for that matter. But in the US, we/I talk to everyone – on ski lifts, waiting in lines, to the person next to me on the aeroplane, etc. A sentence in this book Geography of Thought starts to explain this mentality. "Easterners feel embedded in their in-groups and distant from their out-groups. Westerners tend not to make as great distinctions between in-groups and out-groups." In India, people will talk to their best friend all loud and happy, but will absolutely refuse to talk to a stranger.

On a closing note, here’s to the localization of Starbucks: Earl Grey Custard. It makes my heart go flutter-flutter when I see companies that truly make an effort to localize their global footprint.

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Posted by Goofy9 07:13 Comments (3)

Efficiency par excellence

I had a 12.45pm appointment at the Ministry of Manpower (affectionately called MoM by expats) to get my work permit. I got there at 12.30 (I am the classic hurry up and wait sorta gal!) and to my surprise, it didn’t look like a government office. There were two people impeccably dressed in pant suits to help me scan my documents. My name was up on a monitor and I was called to the counter in 2 minutes. I was finger printed and handed some documents and asked to come back on Friday. I was done by 12.40. I promise you this is the only government office I know that runs ahead of schedule!

A small comparison is warranted. When I went for my driver’s license in IL, I distinctly recollect being impressed that there was a queue, that it was organized and that it was all done in under two hours. My benchmark was India – where it took 2-3 days!

This Sunday, a colleague, Renee, took me to see a Taiwanese movie. She assured me the boys would be cute, and I attest that they were! It was a gangster movie, beautifully made, Godfather-esque. It surprised me that it was a Warner Brother film. Somehow, it was as surprising if Warner started making Bollywood movies. Next on the charts is a Japanese movie.

Surprise - No food report today! Not because there isn't anything to report, but I just thought I'd mix it up a bit.

Posted by Goofy9 05:40 Comments (0)

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