Caves and Why I’ll Never Be A Pewter Craftsman

When your hotel has a pool, it’s a sin not to use it before breakfast except when it’s still dark at 7 am and you keep hitting the snooze button, hoping it’ll be lighter when it goes off again. Then, when even that fails, you rip off the covers, poke in your contacts, don the swimsuit damp from last night’s swim, and weasel your way down to the pool. Step, step, swoosh. Water is freedom. Eventually, quickly actually, I woke up and was so happy I’d forced myself up. My swim was only about 15 minutes in order to wash up for breakfast and be ready by 9 am departure. But oh my was it marvelous.

As we drove to Batu Caves some 15km from the city, my guide debriefed me on the Hindu religion as background for the temples I would see there. He warned me I didn’t have to do the climb, but 270 steps? Easy peasy. Five minutes after we parked I was already at the top. And my bum will thank me too considering the amount of food I’ve been consuming. The view was incredible: gods placed between limestone enclaves, monkeys running around, a temple at the top opening to the cave. I couldn’t stop staring at everything around me.

After descending, I explorer the nearby temples and the shrine of the holy pee god. The latter granted my every urgent wish. The former were beautiful and educative– watching locals pray and mingle was very humbling. One temple contained a cave which called for an entrance fee. Refusing to part with my money on the grounds of a tourist trap, I walked away. But then, at the next temple, curiosity kicked in and I found my feet returning and my hand handing out the bill I’d wadded in my fist. Completely worth it. The cave contained massive statues depicting the stories of Hindu gods. Look at what I almost missed by letting pride keep me from returning after I’d already walked away.

Before leaving around 11 am, I bought a coconut for the journey, and my guide was kind enough to take me back to the stall to have them cut it into pieces for easy scooping. Then he went even further to scoop it out for me into a doggie bag for the van. What a nice man.

Next stop, a batik textile shop, where I saw the process of using paraffin wax to draw designs on silk to keep the colors later painted on from bleeding through the silk. The result? Beautiful hand-painted silk scarves, sarongs, and larger cloths. I couldn’t resist a summery addition to my wardrobe.

After that, we moved on to the pewter factory. Founded by a Chinese man in the 1800s, the factory now produces designs with more western designs, as well as fine art and jewelry. Undoubtedly skilled and lovely, but my wallet doesn’t extend that far. During the factory tour, I got to see multiple parts of the process. I even got to try my hand at hammering small decorative indents into the side of a pewter mug. Harder than expected– no wonder training takes months. I joked with the young tour guide that my design must not look too pretty and I received a shockingly funny reply: you would be fired. Haha well that’s settled. Guess I won’t be producing my own pewter works. Dream crusher.

It was then the much anticipated time of day called lunch. Only because I wasn’t hungry and I was the only one on the tour, my guide and driver indulged my need to see Chinatown and Little India so we did a nearly two hour (darn you traffic!) drive, stop and walk tour of both. Yay. By the time we arrived to the lunch buffet, it was nearly empty but I’m tired of stuffing my face anyway. The manager, who has know. My guide for some ten years, demanded I try the traditional tea with condensed milk. No way out of it, I took a few polite sips of the warm, smooth, but too sweet beverage. Thanks, boss.

Afternoon freedom once more! I decided to get some exercise since 270 steps and random walkabouts is not enough. The walk to Center Market / Chinatown area was about half an hour, relying on an iPhone map that couldn’t update for lack of service. Success! Picked up some fruit from Chinatown (coti?) and headed to the market when the heavens opened and poured out a flood of rain. Why, hello. I made it to the market only marginally wet but then again I love warm weather rainstorms.

The market was a nice collection of small stores, some carrying beautiful handcrafts and others low quality clothing. Somehow I didn’t indulge at all. Good girl. When the rain let up, I moved on to Merdeka Square for one last look. By this point my bladder was about to explode so I entered a touristy building which didn’t have facilities but did have an awesome replica of the city in neon lights in a pitch black room. I moved on quickly, found the metro some 10 minute walk away, hopped on toward KLCC and the Petronas Towers. Halleluyah! Heaven must either A. have toilets or B. eliminate the need to pee. Otherwise I’m not interested.

The shopping area in the Petronas Towers caters to luxury shoppers and foreign tourists. Surely no one else can afford such a heavy dosage of brand labels. The irritating part is that everything is imported and despite the currency exchange rates, nothing is particularly cheaper. Good thing I’m not really a destination shopper, though I do appreciate having a distinctly different closet than everyone else and a collection from around the world. At, you know, reasonable prices. But enough about shopping! Let’s now on to the awesome part of the evening, where I grabbed an iced latte from Coffee Bean and strolled through the gardens once more. Ah. Two young girls on a bridge over the lake requested I take photos not of them but with them. A foreign resident of Japan, I know how this game works. Smile, say yes, and work the camera. Don’t mind them hugging you for the camera as if we’ve been life-long friends. Didn’t you know photography is the best illusion?

Hold on to your seats, the best is yet to come. This would be when I decided to stroll over to the Traders Hotel, which I read had one of the best views of the city. Alrighty let’s try this. An elevator whisked me up to the 33 floor and Sky Bar. All seats facing the towers and where sunset would be seen were apparently taken. Doesn’t hurt to inquire, right? A bus boy was my key. If I left by 8 pm (reservation time) the poolside window seat table was all mine. Uh yeah. And toss in a Serin Collins (mocktail of lime, mint and lemongrass, no sugar, shaken not stirred). Undoubtedly an incredible view and worth every penny. A seven dollar drink wouldn’t buy you these views anywhere else in the world. I was taking some photos through glass when the lone middle aged gentleman at the table beside me gave me a noteworthy tip: stand up, that’s right don’t be shy, get up on those padded seats and look out: there’s no top glass. And then my photos were clear, unclouded by weathered glass. Thank you!

Turns out my neighbor is a freelance photographer for National Geographic with two daughters just slightly older than me. At his invitation, I joined his table, and the roaming table lions pounced on mine immediately. As the sun set and transformed into a vivid illumination of the towers and garden lake, we chatted about life and travels. Meeting new and interesting people is one of the best parts of traveling alone. I am do thankful for gradually becoming less shy and just getting out there. If my danger alarm isn’t going off, I have nothing to lose by learning from a perfect stranger. And a whole lot to gain.

My night ended with a rosemary chicken and caramelized onion pita panini and raspberry/black currant smoothie at Il faro in the Pavillion shopping mall. And a poolside chat with my dad. Good night, Kuala Lumpur.

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