Thursday, April 23, 2009

Indian Malaysia

About an hour outside of KL (Kuala Lumpur) is the Batu Caves, a series of sacred caves inside the limestone hills. The Batu Caves are dedicated to the Lord Murugan, the Tamil Hindu deity of war. We had planned to visit the sacred temple cave, but was blessed to find out that the Hindu festival of Thaipusam was being celebrated when we were there.

"Devotees prepare for the celebration by cleansing themselves through prayer and fasting. Kavadi-bearing have to perform elaborate ceremonies at the time of assuming the kavadi and at the time of offering it to Murugan. The kavadi-bearer observes celibacy and take only pure Satvik food, once a day, while continuously thinking of God. On the day of the festival, devotees will shave their heads undertake a pilgrimage along a set route while engaging in various acts of devotion notably carrying various types of kavadi (burdens). At its simplest this may entail carrying a pot of milk, but mortification of the flesh by piercing the skin, tongue or cheeks with vel skewers is also common.

The simplest kavadi is a semi circular decorated canopy supported by a wooden rod that is carried on the shoulders, to the temple. In addition, some have a littlespear through their tongue, or a spear through the cheeks. The spear pierced through his tongue or cheeks reminds him constantly of Lord Murugan. It also prevents him from speaking and gives great power of endurance. Other types of kavadi involve hooks stuck into the back and either pulled by a walking behind or being hung from a decorate bullock cart or more recently a tractor, with the point of incisions of the hooks varying the level of pain. The greater the pain the more god-earned merit."
We could not believe our great fortune to be at the Batu Caves during this incredibly fascinating celebration.
Once inside the large cave we witnessed anointing rituals and traditional offering ceremonies.

The shrines inside and outside the caves were elaborate as all the Hindu temples we saw all over Malaysia.

And of course this wouldn't be SE Asia without a few cave monkeys.
We did witness an exorcism of a woman by a shaman with lime hooks in his back, devotees shaving their heads, a Hindu band performing by the river where devotees showered in their beautiful clothes to cleanse themselves, and a shaman in a trance smoking a cigar, seated on a chair made of nails, anointing people. All captured and lost somehow during transferring from camera to laptop. Disappointed and saddened doestn't begin to describe how we felt after we realized the images and video were lost!

We did capture the festival grounds, including all the yummy food.
And all the beautiful people in their colorful festival clothes.

Thaipusam, an incredibly colorful show of devotion and an experience which made us reconsider traveling to India someday.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

K to the L

It is easy to see why a lot people consider Kuala Lumpur an easy city to live in. It is modern, diverse, friendly, and has great public transportation. We made our way to Kuala Lumpur on a 70s disco chic bus and stayed in the heart of Chinatown on Jalal Petling. Jalal is Malay for road and Jalal Petling or Petling Road happens to be a pedestrian only (including scooters of course) road which is also where the huge night market occurs. The night market turned out to be the largest market with fakes we encountered in our travels. But after months of fake gucci bags, watches, clothes, and shoes we weren't very inclined to shop. We were more excited by Pesar (Market) Seni (Central) or Central Market where they sold local arts and crafts, clothes, and food. Much like Penang, Kuala Lumpur was very rich in Malay, Indian, and Chinese culture. So for our first meal we hit the streets and found a curb-side restaurant selling Chinese-Malay cuisine or Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine (cultural mix between ethnic Chinese and Malaysians). By this time we were well versed in changing languages, currency, and culture, but we have to admit we were completely lost when it came to ordering Malaysian food off a menu.
The extremely helpful Malaysian people quickly got us up to speed.
Nasi = rice
Goreng = fried
Ayam = Chicken
Kueh = cakes
Mee = yellow wheat noodles
Soto = soup
Laksa = rice noodle soup
Lemak = thick or sweet (indicates has coconut milk)
We ordered a plate of Malay style ginger beef and spicy hokkien noodles.The food was solid for street-side and the price was just right for alittle over a dollar per plate.
The standout was the canned mango beverage.
Malaysia was the only country where canned beverages were raraly carbonated. The mango beverage, and the soon tasted lychee beverage both had chunks of the fruit in the beverage which made it interesting and an adventure for your mouth. After traveling through the food heavens of Japan and Vietnam we were somewhat jaded to the Malaysian cuisine. We found the cuisine to be slight variations of - fried rice, fried noodles, fried chicken, and incorporated slight variations from Thailand, China, and Indonesia (all of which are our least favorite cuisines). So while we were in Kuala Lumpur we took advantage of its cosmopolitan side and ate whatever we craved.
Including sushibento lunchesand happy hours
Oh how we missed happy hours. Malaysia is a Muslim country and has very strict alcohol laws. Even though Guiness and Carlsberg are brewed in Malaysia it was extremely expensive to buy and usually only available in Chinese establishments. How expensive is beer you ask? A 12-ounce bottle of Budweiser, sold in a grocery store was $8.00 US! Locally brewed Malay beers such as Skol was about $3.00 US a bottle!!!
Now coming from countries where beers were an average of $.60 it was shocking to pay $3. We did partake in our share of street satays
and Indian Rotiand fruit
But the standout street food we found in Kuala Lumpur was at the Chow Kit open market. We noticed a cart with cast iron pans cranking out some sort of pancake that would be neatly stacked in the display case. The smell was incredible and we immediately purchased one.They turned out to be light fluffy cornmeal cakes with a tahini peanut butter consistency paste in the middle. Crispy, doughy, and goey, in other words - yummy.