Friday, March 25, 2011

The long way home

I did not fly straight from Kuala Lumpur to Berlin but had a week-long stop over in Great Britain. First I flew into London-Stansted where European reality hit me again. I had always complained about the inefficiency of Malaysian public transport, but now I had to realise that Europe is not much better. It took me 5 hours from leaving the plane to getting to my couchsurfing host in London.

Colin May 2010 in Arizona
Passport control for European citizens is automatized in Stansted. You have to put your passport onto a scanner, then your face will be scanned and compared with your passport picture. Sounds very efficient, but took twice as long as dealing with a human immigration officer. Shuttle buses here were on time, but all full - and therefore I had to wait 45 minutes in the cold in a long bus queue. Things got worse when I got into London Tube. Due to a bomb threat and/or flooding trains were not running on all lines and I had to make great detours. And of course, there are no public phones inside the tube to call my couchsurfing host and tell her that I would be late. Leaving Kuala Lumpur I had been very relaxed, but 3 hours in London transport turned me into a nervous wreck.... Luckily I had a very nice and understanding couchsurfing host!
Colin March 2011 in Scotland

After 2 short days of sightseeing in London I took the train up to Edinburgh in order to meet Colin. I had met Colin and his later partner Kimberlie on the AZT in May 2010. We had always stayed in contact and now Colin had asked me to be the test hiker (or guinea pig) for his new UL backpack. Of course this was an offer I could not resist.... Also Colin had hiked John O'Groats to Land's End in the UK and had offered to help me planning my UK thruhike. And therefore I travelled all the way to Scotland for a long weekend of trail talk - which turned out to be a long weekend of ME talking because Colin had such a sore throat that he could hardly speak....Bad luck, but we still got all the planning done. And then, after a day of sightseeing in freezing cold Edinburgh I eventually headed back to Berlin.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Malaysia: Kuala Lumpur

In the bird park
 I will fly back to Europe tomorrow - hurray!!!! I am ready for it! The last town I stayed in was Kuala Lumpur. And although Kuala Lumpur is definitely not the most interesting or exciting place on earth, it has been quite nice here. I have found a cheap and quiet hostel and having so much time left I visited any crappy museum or crocodile farm that there is here.

I think I have never seen so many zoos, butterfly and bird parks, crocodile farms and aquariums in my entire life before. In Kuala Lumpur alone I went to a bird park, an aquarium, a National zoo with Butterfly Park and a Hibiscus Garden. But I liked it - especially the bird and "multi-animal" shows, where cockatoes  were rising Malaysian flags and cycling on little bird bicycles...

But other than that there was not really much to do except to hang out in posh shopping malls - and there are loads of them. And to my big surprise they are all full, too! Luckily they usually have nice food courts.

My favourite mall
A last highlight was my visit to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. I was very much surprised to find out that there even is such a thing. And I was very delighted to hear that the cheapest ticket is just 4 EUR. But there was one thing I had not expected: There is serious dress code for any concerts. When you buy a ticket you are even given a little piece of paper with the details: No slippers, flip-flops or sneakers, no shorts, no jeans, no T-shirts! Great! With my hiker outfit that did not leave a lot of options - especially shoe wise. But I was assured that I could borrow a pair of shoes for free - and so I bought a ticket and went to a concert featuring Britten and Bruckner. I nearly made it inside without my sneakers being spotted, but in the last minute I was called back and had to get "decent" shoes. They actually had quite a big variety, but no woman's shoe would fit me - and so I ended up with black men's shoes. I would not have won a fashion contest before my shoe change, but afterwards I looked outright ridiculous. But at least I was allowed into the concert. Most of the musicians were Europeans or Americans. Even the conductor was German. And half of the audience was expats as well. But it was a nice change to be in a classical concert again, that's for sure.
Petronas Towers

After my concert visit I discovered that cinema tickets are even cheaper at 3 EUR and so I spent my last evening watching movies - something I never do in Germany. And because there are only about 23 million Malaysians, it is not worth dubbing the movies and therefore they are all in English - great!

Despite all these distractions I was really ready to leave in the end. I was counting days and stretching out my sightseeing options. And finally, on March 2nd I boarded my cheap Air Asia flight (Kuala Lumpur to London Stansted for only 144 EUR!) and went back to Europe... where I am now freezing my butt off!!!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Malaysia and the Islam

One of the things I was really worried about in Malaysia was the influence of Islam. I have travelled in other Muslim countries before and mostly it has not been much fun for a single female. Malaysia is officially a Muslim country, but being such an ethnical mixture it is a pretty relaxed country. Almost half of the population is non-Muslim: The Chinese and Indian.

Malaysian War Memorial
 So let me start with the positive thing: Malaysia really is a very relaxed country. I did not get any of the aggressive hassling I had encountered in North Africa. Actually, I was not hassled at all. But on the other hand I have seen a lot of women in head scarves - and that always makes me feel uneasy. I talked to a Malaysian woman about the headscarf and got a very interesting answer: Malaysian woman like the scarf because this way they do not have to worry about their hair cut!!! Whether this is true or not - I cannot tell.... At least the women here wear bright and colourful scarves and dresses. Only occasionally you see a woman in a full black burkha - and those women are obviously not Malaysian, but Saudi women on a holiday in Malaysia. You only see them in posh shopping malls...

After visiting loads of Malaysian museums I realised another interesting thing. In photos taken before the 1980's Muslim women hardly ever wear headscarves. But after that - up to today - every official portrait of a Muslim woman shows her with a headscarf. On the other hand Chinese women in Malaysia are running around very "lightly" clad here - they would arouse curious stares even in Europe!

Every bigger town has some sort of Islamic museum where you can learn about the Muslim way of life. Mostly these museums are pretty boring, but Kuala Lumpur has a huge Islamic Art Museum that was really fascinating. I was really impressed - until I starting browsing the books in the gift shop. To my big surprise there were a lot of books in English, even children's books. To my great horror I read in a children's picture book that a true Muslim must hate "Jews, Christians and others who are in the way of Islam". Things got even worse when I went to the adult section and started reading a book about how to become a pious Muslim woman: I learnt that a Muslim husband can beat his wife if she does not obey. I also learnt that a Muslim woman should never give birth in a hospital because she might be seen and touched by male doctor there. Luckily they closed the bookshop then before I could read more and get even more upset!


This photo shows an exhibit in the Malay police museum. This innocent looking handkerchief has been confiscated by the police because if you fold it in right way it shows a pornographic picture.... I don't think that many Westerners would go for such a subtle pornography.

Today I went to the Art Museum and there I was expecting a lot of critical modern art, especially some critical outlook on Muslim fundamentalism. But to my big surprise there was absolutely nothing in that direction. Most art works even had an explicit artist's statement - so I am quite sure I did not miss anything. Instead of seeing some critical statements on fundamentalism I was totally surprised to the complete opposite. One artist talked about  "Zionist attacks" on innocent Muslims all over the Muslim world and some installations were even glorifying Koran texts. A lot of artists called themselves "Muslim" artists. There were hardly any female artists exhibited.