Thursday, September 30, 2010

Reads

Thursday, September 30, 2010


Of the books I’ve read these past three months, eight are nonfiction; two are essay collections; two are about traveling around Asia; two are on photography; three were made into movies; three made me change the way I think about food; one made me proud to be a snoot; one taught me the meaning of the words baksheesh and duffilled; and one gave me the superb idea to put curry on scrambled eggs.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Five: The Soothing Rhythm of a Bus Ride

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sitting by the bus window through which I can freely gape at the world, I was lulled by the sameness of the landscape as we traveled northwards to Penang. The oil palm trees stood like soldiers in formation, erect and unmoving against the brilliant azure of a picture-postcard sky. The countryside was motionless and unchanging, and as I gazed at its calm beauty a sense of gladness came over me--like a lovely warmth that stole through my body. The bus moved in a soothing rhythm along the expressway: it stayed in motion, but my heart was quiet and my mind still.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Even if it Kills Me

Monday, September 27, 2010

Our passion for magnificent ruins and rugged terrain whetted by our previous trips, D and I have now started saving for another adventure – the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. This four-day hike through the mountainous regions of the Andes covers 43 kilometers of uneven, rocky terrain along hand-hewn stairs and trails through river valleys, mountain passes, Inca ruins and cloud forests. With maximum altitude reaching 4200 meters above sea level, the temperature along the trail ranges from -4 to 28 degrees Celsius. According to travel guides, the trek is fairly difficult and one should be well prepared, moderately fit and healthy prior to starting it. As told by someone who recently completed the trek:

“The climb to Dead Woman’s Pass was relentless. Up and up and up and up along the ancient Inca pathway made up of enormous stone steps. My heart was beating wildly, my lungs were tight and seemingly too small for the task and my legs felt like cement as I tried to lift them over and over again up onto the next step.”

The more I read about the trek, the more determined I am to be physically prepared for it: Instead of taking the elevator, I opt for the stairs even if it means climbing all the way to the 12th floor; with a pedometer strapped to my waist, I go on long walks while trying to talk myself into believing that every step that I take compensates for my lack of trekking experience; I avoid processed, fat-laden food and stuff myself with fruits and vegetables, instead. Repeating “you can do it” like an incantation, I’ve almost—but not quite--convinced myself that those words embody reality, and not simply wishful thinking.

All these preparations I’d gladly do for that once-in-a-lifetime chance to hike the ancient royal route to Peru's fabled lost city of the Incas; for the simple satisfaction of being able to put one foot in front of the other for hours and days on end; for the utmost pleasure in struggling to make a dream come true, even if it kills me.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Railway Bazaar

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The trains in any country contain the essential paraphernalia of the culture: Thai trains have the shower jar with the glazed dragon on its side, Ceylonese ones the car reserved for Buddhist monks, Indian ones a vegetarian kitchen and six classes, Iranian ones prayer mats, Malaysian ones a noodle stall, Vietnamese ones bulletproof glass on the locomotive, and on every carriage of a Russian train there is a samovar. The railway bazaar, with its gadgets and passengers, represented the society so completely that to board it was to be challenged by the national character. At times it was like a leisurely seminar, but I also felt on some occasions that it was like being jailed and then assaulted by the monstrously typical.

~ Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar: By Train Trough Asia, 1975

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

All-nighter

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I used to pull all-nighters cramming for exams when I was in college. Now I wonder how I managed to go through days without sleep with my mental faculties still intact. Several days ago, while lounging at the pool side and listening to my colleagues belt god-awful songs on the karaoke and trade beer-induced stories at three in the morning, I kept asking myself, where is the fun in all of this? It’s not fun when your limbs want to fall off from sleepiness and exhaustion and your eyes are crying out in pain from the prolonged use of contact lenses, yet you want to stay on and not be a party pooper. Perhaps I am simply too old to stay up all night watching people have fun while I ward off the lure of a good night’s sleep.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Unassisted Beauty

Monday, September 20, 2010

The impulse to show herself in a splendid setting...had yielded to the truer instinct of trusting to her unassisted beauty, and she had purposely chosen a picture without distracting accessories of dress or surroundings....divested of the trivialities of her little world, and catching for a moment a note of that eternal harmony of which her beauty was a part. 
(Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth, 1905)

Makeup creates a deceptive aura of beauty around an otherwise ordinary face, and without it I feel vulnerable.  For a girl like me who was not endowed with unembellished good looks, going au naturel is not an option. By putting on makeup, I can feign beauty, hide imperfections and appear poised, polished, put together.


Yet when I’m away from home and life’s daily pressures, I do not feel the need to pretty up. Being away from everything, I don’t have to maintain that veneer of impeccability. I can go fresh-faced and natural and, surprisingly, be at ease about it. On the road I can do without cosmetics and ornamentation because I have the unequaled admiration of the one person who believes that I am beautiful though drenched in perspiration, dressed in mussed and mismatched clothes and with hair in disarray. With him I feel beautiful, though I know I’m not.

My puerile preoccupation with pulchritude, I realized, is simply an attempt to conceal some deep-seated insecurities lurking underneath the dolled up surface. And it is only when I feel secure and my ghosts momentarily put to rest that I can do without any assistance and go au naturel.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Four: KL Bird Park

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The one place that I really wanted to visit in Kuala Lumpur is its Bird Park. Except for the lone maya chirping outside my apartment window, birds are such a rare sight from where I live that I can’t but seize the chance to see them at close range. Located within the Lake Gardens, the city’s 8.5-hectare free-flight walk-in aviary houses 800 birds of 60 local and foreign species, which include:

Oriental Pied Hornbill
Indian Blue Peacock
Flamingos
   


Crowned Pigeons
   
Sun Conures and Ring-necked Parakeets

The birds were fascinating, but the park itself was breathtaking. We spent the entire morning exploring the place and taking delight in its verdurous vista.
Flamingo Pond

Monday, September 13, 2010

For what then would that shape be?

Monday, September 13, 2010


“He said that whether a man’s life was writ in a book someplace or whether it took its form day by day was one and the same for it had but one reality and that was the living of it. He said that while it was true that men shape their own lives it was also true that they could have no shape other for what then would that shape be?”

~ Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing, 1994

Morning


As the long weekend rolled into another Monday, I tried to muster some amount of enthusiasm, just enough to open my eyes and see the morning’s brilliance peeking in through the window slats. As the sunshine heralded the start of a new day and I struggled to fend off sleep, a resolve formed. Life is too short, too fragile to be spent dwelling on superfluities. In that morning’s moment of clarity, I realized that I have become so inured to thinking the blues that I’m actually living it. As I threw back the covers and got out of bed, I shook the listlessness from my soul and let the day’s vibrance set in.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Three: Best Experiences

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Abroad is the place where we stay up late, follow impulse and find ourselves as wide open as when we are in love. We live without a past or future, for a moment at least, and are ourselves up for grabs and open to interpretation. We even may become mysterious—to others, at first, and sometimes to ourselves—and, as no less a dignitary than Oliver Cromwell once noted, “A man never goes so far as when he doesn’t know where he is going.” - Pico Iyer, Why We Travel

Hitting the road from Kuala Lumpur to Selangor to Pahang and all the way to Penang, I got to experience a lot of wonderful things.  Here are the best of them:

1. The trek to Bukit Teresek in Taman Negara

2. Traipsing along the shores of Batu Ferringhi after a huge lunch of peppered crabs

3. Savoring a bowl of hokkien me at the Red Garden Food Paradise in George Town, Penang

4. Riding bareback on a newly bathed elephant

5. The two-hour boat ride along the Tembeling River amidst soaring rain forest trees
  

6. The climb up the hill to the Kek Lok Si Temple

7. The delectable taste of those freshly cooked curry puffs sold along Kuala Lumpur’s Petaling Street

8. Racing with my man up the 342 stairs that lead to Batu Caves

9. Relishing a banana split at Bayview Hotel George Town’s revolving restaurant, which gave us a 360-degree view of the entire city

10. Shopping for  bargain-priced dresses at Berjaya Times Square KL without trying them on (and later finding out that they fit me perfectly)

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Confirmation

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Honey, did you see that?  It’s beautiful, isn’t it?

A simple yes--a confirmation of how you feel, of what your senses are telling you, of what you think--is, sometimes, the only thing you need or seek for.  Unanchored, wandering, you relentlessly pursue that thing, that person, that moment that would affirm your existence. And what joy it is to find the confirmation you need in your significant other.   It is your partner you turn to whenever you’re hurt, thrilled, angry, happy, or frustrated.  Not asking for counsel, help or solution, you simply need him to be there.  Things from the inane and everyday to the important and insurmountable you can share with him without the fear of being ignored, judged or appearing silly.

Honey, did you see that? It’s beautiful, isn’t it?
Yes, it is.

And it is, indeed. With him by your side everything becomes even more beautiful.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles Two: Taman Negara

Sunday, September 5, 2010

If it not for my boyfriend who is into camping and trekking and all else related to nature in the rough, I would not have been to Taman Negara, one of the world’s oldest tropical rain forests whose history stretches back to 130 million years ago; I would have kept to traveling with ease and comfort, and I would not have had such a thrilling adventure as I did back there.


the entrance to Taman Negara National Park


According to the introductory video we watched on our first night at the park headquarters, Taman Negara covers 4343 sq kms that spans across three states in Malaysia (Kelantan, Terengganu, and Pahang) and has its highest point at Gunung Tahan (2187 m), the tallest mountain in Peninsular Malaysia. It houses over 10,000 species of plants, over 350 species of birds and local mammals including deer, wild oxen, monkeys, wild boars, elephants, leopards and tigers.  And during the night trekking we did see some of these species: we spotted a number of insects and some mating frogs.



The following morning, after a strictly halal yet completely nourishing breakfast at one of the floating restaurants, we crossed the river and set out on a two-hour trek up Bukit Teresek, a 342-meter hill. With the trail so steep and the humidity quite high that I had to catch my breath every step of the way, the climb was truly exhausting, but the view at the top made it all worthwhile.

   



The highlight of the trek was, of course, the Canopy Walk along a 550-meter walkway suspended 40 meters above the ground among towering trees. It didn’t feel scary at first, not until the narrow walkway began to sway, and I stood there frozen, holding on to the ropes for dear life.  I had to block out everything and concentrate on making one brave step after another. It was only by sheer focus and willpower that I reached the end of the canopy walkway.  And when I did, it was exhilarating and I felt as if I accomplished something big.


the canopy walkway


  


Our adventure continued on a boat ride upstream Trenggan River, where we shot rapids that soaked us to the skin.  As the waters swelled and poured inside our boat, sudden whoops and shrieks of laughter filled the air. Remembering that wet, shaky, thrilling boat ride always makes me smile.


  


Back at our durian-scented inn for some much needed rest, I thought to myself, this shabby room isn’t bad at after all.  It may not have the amenities as other hotels do, but it has a bed, a bathroom and a view of the mountains. What else do we really need? What do we need wifi, TV, a swimming pool for if we have the entire Taman Negara within our reach?

 
the Mama Chop floating restaurant where we have our meals


Kuala Tahan, park headquarters

Our guide told me that only a few Asians visit the area.  I looked across our group, composed mostly of Europeans, and realized that only my boyfriend and I are the sole Asians. Until now, I’m still wondering why Taman Negara with its history and biodiversity is not a prominent an attraction for Asian travelers as it is for others.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Why does parting always have to be this hard?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Why does parting always have to be this hard? When, thinking that you’ve grown so used to it that you can handle it with grace, you try to smile but the corners of your mouth start to tremble and you feel the tears swell up uncontrollably, you know that you’re in for another heartache. For another round of waiting. For another battle against despondency until his return, once again, draws near.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Malaysia Chronicles One: Shunning Glitter

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Favoring the kitschy charm of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown, we stayed away from glitzy shopping malls, glamorous hotels, the circus atmosphere of theme parks, and the soaring magnificence of the Petronas Towers. The only glitter that captivated us is that of the dusty, red lanterns that adorn the entire length of Petaling Street. For several days we lived in the city, in an area where the old exists in harmony with the new and tradition commingles with change. The place’s horrors and delights are revealed to us, and we took them all in.


By early morning, the streets are filled with locals languorously savoring their breakfast of tea with noodles, pastry or congee. As two among a few tourists in the area who are always up before 8 am, we are privileged to experience the serenity of the place before it turns into a mecca for shoppers fond of counterfeit items by midmorning. By night, Chinatown is transformed into one big, raucous party where Tiger beer reigns supreme, alfresco dining is the norm and people watching is the best form of entertainment. The aroma of grilling satay, the untiring energy that permeates the place, the melodious blend of different languages and the soft radiance of lit lanterns are intoxicating.






During our two-week stay in Malaysia, Chinatown became our home. We traveled to other parts of the country but always came back to the same place to experience its horrors and delights over and over again.
 
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