You see, my internal clock was still living and begging to sleep on Tulsa time—a 14 hour difference. The key to beating jet lag, according to Jim’s brother Jeremy (and the guy should know, he travels ALL the time), was to get out into the sunlight. Force the need for a nap away while soaking up some vitamin D. So on Sunday morning, when my internal clock was very sure it was actually Saturday night anything-but-live, the guys all headed out for a run in the neighborhood while I decided to head down to the fitness center by the pool to hop on a treadmill.
The plan was to get my blood pumping and erase the last traces of the cankles from our long trip. If you have never traveled for hours upon hours on a plane in economy class, where there are no lovely foot stools, you may not be aware that your feet and ankles will swell to the point where there is no distinction between your ankles and your calves. It’s lovely.
I donned my exercise togs and headed into the nice little glass-walled, bright and sunny workout facility. It was still early in the morning, so there was only one other person there—a friendly Indian man who gave a polite nod and smile as I hopped on a treadmill down the row from his.
Ok, ready to go. I punched the button that should have started the machine. Nothing. Hmm. I punched the button again, several times, because if at first you don’t succeed, repeat, repeat, repeat, right? Nada. Ok. Check to see if it is plugged in (learned that one from a washing machine repair guy because…well…you get the picture). Yes. Plugged in.
By now the nice Indian gentleman is starting to glance my way. I shrug and say it must be broken. He smiles, shakes his head, and says something with a beautiful accent, while pointing toward the front of the machine. Listening with ears apparently not yet tuned in to unfamiliar accents, I had NO earthly idea what he was trying to say. He pointed…I moved toward the front of the machine. He pointed some more, I moved to the left. He pointed some more, I moved to the right. It was a bizarre game of hot/cold and I was losing.
Finally I heard him say “button.” Ok, there was a button somewhere. And then I heard “plug.” AH HAH! Let me give you a piece of international travel advice…there is often a button on the outlet that you have to push to get the electricity flowing. Top right corner by the plug in this case. Valuable information. I looked like a pro later when I went into the kitchen to use the toaster oven.
Yay. Working treadmill. Thank you kind Indian man.
Now, why am I telling you about my morning workout? I am supposed to be detailing my experiences in a foreign land and telling you of profound sightseeing excursions. What could a treadmill possibly lend to this story? Stick with me because my time on the treadmill was my first true dose of “cultural awareness,” the catchphrase I invented that will come into play a good deal as I chronicle my experiences on this trip.
As I trudged the sandman away, I was soon joined by a lovely young woman wearing workout gear that consisted of a shirt with long sleeves, long pants, running shoes, and a scarf carefully wrapped around her head and neck. Now I had previously seen ladies wearing hijabs (the correct term for this specific style of head covering…I’ve been studying). There are a few Muslim women in my home area and we had certainly seen Muslim women on our trip to Kuala Lumpur. I guess what caught me off guard was seeing a woman wear such full coverage in a setting that normally inspires shorts, tank tops, and sweat bands.
To be honest, this was my first experience seeing Muslim attire in a setting outside of say, a shopping mall or an airport, and I never really thought about how these devout women participate in all of the normal stuff that everyone does. It is possible I have led a somewhat sheltered life.
I was in short sleeves and knee-length running tights and I was sweating. Although my quiet new workout friend seemed to favor really toasty workout gear, she immediately set her treadmill to a fast walking pace and set off with no problem. Oh, and she totally knew to press the button on the outlet to get the machine rolling.
In just a few more minutes, another woman joined us. This woman was wearing a long, full skirt with an ornate jacket made of a tapestry-style fabric, and also with a hijab covering her head. Oh, and she was wearing flat sandals with thin leather straps crisscrossing the tops of her feet.
This is your workout gear? I felt sincerely under dressed.
But yes, this was her workout gear. She too knew about the damn button and hopped on the treadmill next to mine, setting the speed at a pace that made it nearly impossible for her to stay upright with her heavy skirt flapping against her legs. But stay upright she did, even if she did it in the fashion of a toddler hanging onto a fast-walking adult’s hand for dear life.
I also found it interesting that neither of these women acknowledged me or each other. There were no greetings, no glances and smiles at each other, no small talk. It’s not that they were being rude…I never got that feeling…but we were not going to be bonding. And DARN IT. When I’m curious about something I generally find a way to ask questions. I was obviously not going to get a little workout time multitask tutoring on the intricacies of the Muslim culture and their different views on proper apparel.
It was also obvious (you don’t have to hit me over the head with a dumbbell) that asking these ladies to pose with me for a selfie was also out of the question. I did sneak a photo of them…and felt immediately a bit guilty for it, though I can’t explain why.
Respective exercise sessions completed, I joined Jim and Jeremy for a trip downtown for a look around and a trip to an electronics store that had the part Jeremy needed to repair his son’s fried not-a-weapon-of-mass-destruction Xbox One. (Don’t get the joke? Back up and read here.)
Driving in KL. Wow. Not something I would ever want to attempt unless someone offers me a dare with a REALLY good pay-off. I previously compared the streets of KL to the streets of New York City if you took those streets and tied them up in a jumble of knots. I still stand by that description.
Now add in a few million drivers (maybe I exaggerate, maybe not) in cars and taxis (taxi is teksi in Malaysian), with speeding motorcycles mixed in cutting in and out of traffic. These daredevils drive as if it’s midnight on the lonely roads in Mounds, OK instead of midday in crowded KL. Add to that chaos the fact that with just about every turn, I knee-jerk believed we were on the wrong side of the road—and we were, it just happens to be right in KL. I finally just set my backseat driving nerves free and focused on the scenery instead of watching the road.
Scenery. Scenery is good.
Downtown KL is filled with some amazing architecture. Since that is Jim’s profession, we were both enthralled. We snapped photo after photo and determined that Monday would be our day to head down to tour some of these amazing structures.
We arrived, in one piece with no motorcycle hood ornaments, at a four-level shopping mall with a parking garage that seemed to spiral down to the earth’s core without a free space to be found. Was ALL of KL at this mall on this day?
When we finally found a slot for the car and made the epic journey up from the center of the earth and into the mall I was awestruck. First, this was a mall devoted to nothing but electronics. No GAP. No Victoria’s Secret. Phones, computers, televisions, game stations…yes. Jeans, shirts, shoes…nada. Orange Julius? Maybe.
These people LOVE their electronics.
And the mall was packed from top to bottom. OH the people watching. I can tell you that I think we were the only Americans in a sea of diversity. Chinese? Check. Indian? Check. Malaysian? Check. Middle Eastern? Check. Australian? Check. European? Check. (Insert a lot of other nationalities/checks here) Oklahoman? Teeny tiny check.
This was a great place to see every type of attire from what I consider normal street clothes to women in full black robes with the traditional niqab head covering (covers the head and face leaving a small slit across the eyes).
You know, in the United States, we have different religions and cultures, but few can be identified so profoundly by clothing. I was fascinated and hungry to learn more. I still am. It’s complex, it varies greatly by country, and I’m wearing my fingers out typing questions into Google. This will be the vacation that keeps on giving because I’m determined to learn more.
Just know that my fascination with Muslim culture and attire is going to pop up time and again as I share details on our experience abroad. But up next? Hornbills and monkeys and temples…oh my! See you tomorrow?