Thursday, May 20, 2010

Good Morning Malaysia


3 AM, Friday. Good morning from Genting Highlands in Malaysia, about an hour's drive from central Kuala Lumpur. Travelife's editorial team and I arrived at Kuala Lumpur's international airport close to midnight, and from there we took a van towards Genting Highlands, where we are to stay for three days before heading off elsewhere around Malaysia. It's been a very long day that started with lots of work at the Travelife office in Legazpi Village on Thursday morning; and we would have arrived at our hotel much sooner, had we not decided to stop for a midnight snack at a 24-hour modern food stall in the heart of KL, about a kilometer or so from KLCC.

We'd left Manila at 630 PM Thursday on a Malaysian Airlines flight, which was comfortable and spacious. We spent the entire time discussing magazine strategy and all sorts of rather wacky promotional ideas over a fish and fried rice dinner -- and before we knew it, the pilot was already announcing our descent into Kuala Lumpur. Usually I spend most of the flight reading a book or watching a movie -- but this time, the movie was so-so and the company was better so it was good to catch up on what'd been happening and to brainstorm after a few very busy weeks.

From the airport, it was about 45 minutes in the van to KL. It was not exactly a great time to be awake for a drive through the dark, but Eddie, our incredibly perky guide, kept us laughing through most of it with jokes and odd humor interspersed by bits of history and culture. "No talk about politics or the economy, okay?" He requested. "Culture and history are much more interesting." At midnight, this was certainly fine with us. If he had mentioned Malaysia's GDP even once, I would probably have fallen asleep.

Again, time passed quickly and we were soon pulling into the last remaining parking space at the 24-hour food stall.

"This may not look very good but a lot of wealthy people and VIPs eat here all the time," explained Eddie. "Just look at all the fancy cars in the driveway."

True enough, it was basically a concrete version of a hawker's food stall. But all around, well-dressed diners tucked into noodles and various rice toppings. We all went around the stalls trying to decide what to order. Having just been in India two months ago, it struck me how great the influence of India is on Malaysian cuisine. Every stall had the usual Malaysian noodles, but they also offered colorful curries, nan, and tandoori-style meats.Jon, our managing editor, picked some spicy noodles; while Dexter, our creative director, came back with a heaping bowl of rice topped with all sorts of curry sauces and some chicken. Brian, our photographer, also happily tucked into a bowl of noodles. Meanwhile, I opted for two chopped-up salt-fried crabs and some spicy fried rice, accompanied by a bowl of curry. Too much for a midnight snack, actually, but I just couldn't resist. And when I placed it to share in the middle of the table, the crabs quickly disappeared.

From KL, it was another hour to Genting; and we found ourselves wearily checking in just after 2 AM. The upside over here is that the weather is wonderfully cool and nice. Driving up the mountain, we turned off the van's airconditioner and opened the windows to let in the lovely mountain breeze. Everyone immediately felt the difference between the sweltering heat of Manila and the comfortable coolness of Genting. In fact, we all slept with the windows open.

2 PM, Friday. This morning, I finally went to sleep at about 4 AM only to be woken up an hour later by a ringing phone with no one on the line. About 45 minutes later, it rang again, still with a mute caller. This time I pulled the plug on the phone and went back to sleep.

Later on, I mentioned this to Martin, one of the members of our group. "Strange," he said, and I could almost detect a shiver when he said this. We were both thinking the same thing but neither of us wanted to actually say it. Especially since I'm here in this hotel for another night.

Anyway, when I woke up, it was 10 AM and I'd missed breakfast and the van to the strawberry farm. Fortunately, when I eventually made my way to the lobby, there were a group of strangers going to the same place, so I ended up hitching a ride with them. My group had tried to call me from the lobby but of course I'd pulled the phone out. They'd figured that as usual I'd gotten stuck somewhere doing stuff on the Internet.

Genting is a pretty place that's good for families. Apart from the casino, the great weather and its relative proximity to KL, it hosts a multitude of shows for every generation and inclination of visitors. Last weekend, for example, Deep Purple and a top Hong Kong singing sensation had played to full houses. Meanwhile, this weekend, Englebert Humperdick (yes, he's still around...) is apparently coming to town. There are also a huge number of theme parks and stuff for children, including the organic strawberry farm we visited this morning. At the farm, where I caught up with my group, we were allowed to pick strawberries straight from the vines and eat it. Good for me, as I'd missed breakfast and so the strawberries were brunch.

Tonight, there's a wonderful traditional Malaysian dinner in a log house in the mountains. The dress code tonight is national dress and we're going there by car; but on the way back, we're walking through the mountains via a path strewn with traditional lanterns. This should be a wondrous sight to behold.


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