“You want in my country, you pay 350 ringitt!” yelled the short, ugly hijabed woman.
The only reason Zucchini and I flew to Malaysia was because it was cheap stopover on the way to Bali. We’d spend three days in Kuala Lumpur; then 10 in Bali, where I wanted to surf and she meet a friend. We never made it to Bali, however.
After arriving in Kuala Lumpur from Bangkok, I stood in line at immigration. The official looked at my passport and said: “It expires in less than six months,” put a yellow post-it note on it and sent me to a waiting room full of Indians and Asians.
Zucchini was quiet at first, playing games on her iPad. Hours passed and she became angry. It was my fault. I should have renewed my passport already, after our last trip when Air Asia Airlines had warned me Cambodian might not let me in; but they did, and so had Thailand. So I’d wrongfully thought Malaysia and Indonesia wouldn’t give a damn about a passport expiring in three months, either.
An Indian woman vomited on the floor and we moved to the other side of the room. A blond Asian stormed in and out, arguing with officials behind the counter. I hoped they’d throw the cuffs on her and reward my patience.
After waiting three hours, an official called my name. I showed him proof of my departing flight from the country.
“How much money do you have on you?” the man asked.
He laughed and said something to the hijab woman next to him who said, “You want in my country, you must pay 350 ringitt.”
“How much is that in dollars or baht?”
They didn’t know. I left and searched for wifi, which I barely was able to connect to in one little area. 350 ringitt was $360 American dollars!
My ATM card has a $300 withdrawal limit. But that didn’t matter because the week before, when I used my card at an ATM outside my apartment, the machine ate it and never spat it back out. I called Bangkok Bank and they said there was nothing they could do . I had to order a new card from my American bank, have it mailed to my dad, and have him send it on to me. Still waiting on it.
I was bumming money from Zucchini. Traveling with a woman, bumming money from a woman—recipe for disaster.
“Zucchini, how much money do you have?”
“Give me $100.”
“You idiot. Now I can’t see my friend in Bali. You’ve wasted her time, my time, and now my money. I told you to renew your passport a month ago.”
“I told you I’d pay you back. And your friend and her fiance don’t really want to spend time with us anyway.”
“Maybe not with you.”
“Give me $100 and shut up.”
I showed the officials $100. He motioned for me to sit back down. Another two hours passed. Finally a different man called me forward, the only guy I saw who smiled, joked, and displayed leniency.
“What did you think? That you can just enter Malaysia and Indonesia on a passport that expires within six months? We are not Thailand or Cambodia. Indonesia is even stricter than us. They’d never let you in. I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to let you enter, give you a one month tourist visa. You go straight to your embassy tomorrow, maybe they can help you and you can still depart to Bali in three days.”
He didn’t even ask for the money. Zucchini said the man had been glancing over at her while talking to me and probably was nice after seeing how pissed off she looked.
“Well that was fun, huh, Zucchini.”
“You son of a bitch!” was what she wanted to say if she spoke English.
We rode a 30 minute express train from the airport to KL Sentral. It had free high-speed wifi. I don’t know bullet trains in Japan to even have that. We caught a taxi. Our driver, with his shaven head and mustache, looked like a muscular Montel Williams. The Malaysians didn’t look like their northern Thai neighbors.
The first thing I noticed, while on the highway to our hotel, was how new every car was. If anything, I expected Malaysia to be a mix of poverty between Thailand and Cambodia. I forgot about that oil money.
“Put on your seat belts,” said Montel Williams, at a police checkpoint.
“They checking for drunk drivers?” I asked.
“No, they’re checking for stolen motorbikes.”
“This place looks like Vegas,” I commented. There were two separate towers like the Stratosphere, and the Petronas Towers, the tallest towers in Southeast Asia.
“What’s the national sport in Malaysia?” I asked.
“Badminton. Right now we’re ranked number one in the world. China and South Korea are strong, and I think Japan too.”
In the hotel I did some research, found out my embassy couldn’t issue me a new passport sooner than two weeks. I postponed the Bali flight till next month, paying a penalty, and extended our time in Malaysia two more days for five days total. I’d apply for a new passport in Bangkok.
The next day we spent in and around the Petronas Towers. The city was clean, at least near here. Starbucks, H&M, and Zara shopping malls; everything you find everywhere else.
A Mannequin had the same dinosaur posture as me.
Behind the towers is a park and water for kids to play. At night, when the towers light up, there’s an unimpressive fountain show and everyone takes out their selfie sticks.
I sat and drank coffee in the mall while Zucchini went shopping for expensive cosmetic products to avoid droopy skin and wrinkles.
Kuala Lumpur is like the set of a Stars Wars movie. Sixty percent of the country is muslim. Women wear ugly hijabs and their favorite color is peach, which makes them look bald. Everyone, especially those who were married, had a fat ass. And in such a great number that I had to do a search on the internet. I read, Malaysia is the fattest country in Asia. “Almost one in two are overweight.”
Then there were the Sith Lords, the wives of Arabs in burkas whose bodies were almost perfect spheres. If I gave them a push down a hill they’d never stop rolling. Concealing the body in a blank blanket incentivizes obesity.
What I found odd was their heavy use of eye makeup; dark mascara and eyeshadow, which accentuated their eyes, and some did have pretty eyes, which you could not fail to notice because that was all you could see. Doesn’t it defeat the purpose of wearing the burka? By the few who were not whales, I felt tempted to crawl underneath their burkas to see the goods. My imagination had to work like never before.
The next day we went to the Batu Caves, where there are crowds of tourists and Indians. We decided to eat before climbing up the stairs to the caves.
The only good thing about Kuala Lumpur was the Indian curry. We ate it for a third time this trip, after walking into a second restaurant because no one served us in the first.
There were no napkins to wipe our hands but there was a long sink against the back wall of the restaurant. The sign above it read, “No spitting in the sink.”
We approached the 272 steps to the caves. There was a dress code. Two Indian women at the bottom handed out scarves to cover the leg flesh of white women.
Monkeys ran up and down the handrails, stealing and scavenging what they could from tourists and trash bins. One chewed on a sucker. Babies clung to their mothers and sucked on their tits. Some aggressively charged people. A woman screamed and jumped, almost knocking an old man in front of her down the stairs.
We bought tickets for a tour of the cave.
While waiting for our group’s turn, we sat on steps and watched the monkeys. One chased a Korean man who ran away while looking over his shoulder. Then a gay European sat close enough to me that our arms touched, even though there was plenty of space elsewhere.
Our tour guide, a young girl in her hijab, spoke perfect English. She knew all the science words. Her mission, and that of the tour, was to promote the conservation of caves and their ecosystems.
Our group of 12 wore white hard hats and flashlights around our wrists. A Turkish couple wanted to shine their lights on the bats above.
“That’s not allowed,” the guide said. “If you shine the bats, you’ll scare them out of the cave and they won’t return. The population is already decreasing.”
“Does anyone know what guano is?” she then asked.
“Bat shit,” someone said.
Laughing, “Yes, bat shit,” she said. “Keep your mouth closed when you look up. See that dark space over here to the right? That’s two meters deep of guano. When bats exit the cave at night they can travel up to 100 kilometers. Like bees, they pollinate many of Malaysia’s flowers and plants. When they return they give energy and life to this ecosystem in the form of guano.”
Sometimes she’d stop and we’d gather around her to be shown pictures of cave-dwelling creatures: centipedes, spiders and snakes that were two meters long and climbed the walls to eat bats.
“This is the trapdoor spider. It’s one of the rarest spiders in the world and resembles a species of spider from the Jurassic period. It burrows a hole in the ground and makes a trapdoor entry of silk so that when it senses a vibration it can jump out and catch its prey. However, if the vibration is too big, say such as that caused by a large centipede, the spider can escape out a second hole, an emergency exit.”
Chinese used to mine the guano for farming fertilizer.
Some walls had graffiti. Water dripped down, forming stalactites – cave icicles – some of them reaching all the way to the ground. They lengthen 10cm per 1,000 years, I read.
Noticing a spec of green on my shoulder, I touched it with my finger. Bat shit. I rinsed my hands in dripping cave water, afraid that if I didn’t do it right away I’d forget my finger was contaminated and rub my eye, touch my face or mouth. I remembered hearing Joe Rogan telling a story about researchers who waited outside a cave to study bats. At night, when all the bats flew out at once, they rained shit down upon the three researchers. They later died from disease.
After the cave tour, we explored more of Kuala Lumpur on foot while loudspeakers played praise Allah music.
We ate dinner at the Hard Rock cafe, the highlight of the trip because everything else was that bad.
A biker gang, the Night Stalkers, or something like that, sat next to me. When they left they sat on their bikes in the parking lot and reved their engines over and over, putting an end to everyone’s conversation. No one dared to protest.
Kuala Lumpur is the least appealing city I’ve ever spent time in. Just for something to do, we walked towards a popular bird park. It didn’t seem that far away on a map. I let Zucchini lead the way. It’s sad for me to admit, but she’s better with maps and directions. Some people have an internal compass and some don’t. She could find her way through New York city with a bird’s eye view. I lose my way after making two turns.
“If I had a strong chin like yours I’d have an innate sense of direction too,” I always tell her.
Her chin failed us this time and we couldn’t find the bird park. Rivers and highways forced us to travel in round and about ways. I took the lead, but she insisted I was going the wrong way, and she was probably right. We were sweaty and hungry. The tension high.
“Let’s just take a taxi,” I said.
“No. It’s close. And it was your suggestion we walk. Why take a taxi now.”
A wide highway separated us from where she claimed the bird park to be, but there was no visible way to cross.
“It’s too hot and miserable. Come on, let’s get a damn taxi.”
“You don’t have any money for a taxi!”
“Oh, you bitch.”
“What is a bitch?”
“It’s what you’re being right now. Bitch bitch bitch.”
She, pouting, followed me back the way we came, towards Central Market. We went inside, sat under the air conditioning and ate roasted duck. Our appetites satisfied, peace was restored. For a little while anyway.
We found a cafe with good wifi. She studied English as I was worked a college statistics course. After an hour she became bored and interrupted my studies. I half-jokingly said something like: “Look at me, I’m Zuchinni. I like to walk around for hours under the hot sun and get lost. I can never find where I want to go. I’m Zucchini.”
“Put this in your bag,” she said, jamming me in the ribs with her iPad.
“Don’t you fucking jam me in the ribs with that thing.” I smacked it out of her hands.
She stormed out of the shop and out the mall. I didn’t think she’d make the 30 minute walk back to the hotel at night alone, not a Japanese girl who’s afraid to walk down the most dangerous streets of Tokyo, streets that are safer than anywhere else in the world.
I exited the shop and went to the restroom, but like every other restroom we came across in shopping malls, in the evening you had to pay 50 cents to pee. And Zucchini was the one with the money.
I stood outside the mall for a while, waited to see if she really walked home or was bluffing. Sure enough, crossing the intersection in front of me, she returned, sulking. We walked back together in silence, her always 20 feet ahead of me.
The day we returned to the airport, she had 28 ringitts reining that we had to split for lunch. I ordered Chinese noodles for 12, and when the Chinese man asked if I wanted some fried dumplings too, I asked him how much they were. With his accent, I couldn’t understand him so I just said “yes,” knowing I’d see the total price displayed on the cash register and I could cancel if it was over 14 ringitt.
As soon as I said yes, always-now-pissed-off Zucchini jumped down my throat. “Idiot!” she said.
The price was over 14 ringitt. I canceled the dumplings. She shoved money in my hand and disappeared to order food from somewhere else in the food court.
I didn’t follow her with my tray of noodles, but found a hidden table and sat and ate without her. This infuriated her further, and we ate alone without talking.
We checked in for our flight, got our tickets, went through immigration. When arriving at security I took my laptop out, set it on a tray and put it on the belt. Zucchini’s iPad was also in my bag.
“Don’t you have to take out iPads too?” she asked.
“I don’t think so. Let’s find out,” I said, and left it in my bag.
We passed through the metal detector. Security examined my bag on the X-ray screen longer than usual. Then the guy asked if it was mine and if I could open it.
“You idiot! I told you!” Zucchini snapped.
“Do you have any liquids?” he asked.
I pulled out all of Zucchini’s hair and cosmetic products, two ziploc bags of them, but they were under 100 fluid ounces so it was okay. Then they made Zucchini open her bag, in which they found a big bottle of a cosmetic solution that was a part of a facial package she’d bought for over $100 during the trip. A rare brand, she said, from a company not found in Japan.
“Ask him if I can pour it into smaller bottles,” she said to me.
“No,” said the agent, throwing it into the trash.
I couldn’t help myself. I looked at her and said: “YOU IDIOT.”
“I HATE MALAYSIA!” she said, and stormed off ahead of me to our departure gate.