I Was A Mom For One Hour, 45 Minutes

Vegas flight

Early morning flight heading into Las Vegas

Last Wednesday I headed out at dark:30 for a quick business trip to Las Vegas. Yes it was business. Really.

The flight was scheduled to depart at 6:15. That’s am. In the morning. Ugh.

What a 6:15 am flight means to me: 1. Need to be at the airport at least an hour in advance of the flight to allow time to clear security, and get to the gate. 2. Need to allow a minimum of 45 minutes to drive from our farm to the airport and find parking. 3. Need to allow 15 minutes to feed dogs and refresh their water. 4. Need to allow 10 minutes to give hugs and kisses to Jim and each and every dog.

Oh yeah. And I need to allow time to shower, dress, and attempt to look human.

My late night math on Tuesday evening before the flight determined that I had to set my alarm for 3:30 a.m.

A 3:30 a.m. wake-up? Inhumane to woman and beast.

I did pull it all off by promising myself that I would get on the plane and immediately fall back into slumber, well aware that my drifting-off head bobs and “sleeping face” (all slack and yes, I’m a mouth breather. Nose doesn’t work well), would provide good fodder for a few strangers’ Facebook feeds. Fine. The promise of extra sleep trumps all vanity.

I was on Southwest airlines, so no assigned seat, and I was in boarding group “C” on a full flight. The dream of prime snooze-worthy seating (toward the front, by the window) was unrealistic, so the next task was to choose seatmates who would be as equally committed to ignoring me as I would be to shutting them out.

About three-fourths of the way back in the plane, I spotted an aisle seat open, with what I thought was a young couple sitting in the middle and window seats. Score.

If I had been a tad more awake, this configuration would have been a red flag. On Southwest, savvy travelers, whether traveling together or solo, fill the window and the aisle seats first, hoping to dissuade people from filling in the dreaded middle seat. But hey, this was, by all appearances, a young couple and the flight was full. They wanted to sit together, right? And they probably wanted to sleep too, right?

Oh, so wrong. So very, very wrong. They were anything but sleepy.

Now don’t get me wrong, I generally enjoy meeting and engaging with people on flights. It’s a fun, speed relationship and I find that people often reveal amazing things about themselves during this brief and temporary bonding time. I swear I’m the bartender of the skies. But at dark:30, no one really wants to forge a temporary relationship. No one, but my row-mates, that is.

Judging by my quick sideways assessments, I guessed the young man next to me to be about 21 and the young lady by the window to be about 18 or so. He was lanky and clean-cut, she was a bit goth in appearance with dyed hair, dark clothing, black nail polish, and heavy black eyeliner – not over the top, but definitely on the moody side.

I initially thought they were boyfriend/girlfriend. And then I stopped thinking about them, closing my eyes in the universal flight language for “I’m not interested in interacting.”

Oh but wait. There was an announcement about a sweatshirt found at the gate. The young couple next to me stirred in excitement. It belonged to her and she was about to vault over me to get to the flight attendant holding it aloft in the aisle.

“They said to just push the call button,” I explained, “They’ll bring it to you.”

After showing them the location of said call button, my first “uh-oh” moment, the sweatshirt was delivered and we settled back in.

Ahhhh. Sleep.

Not.

“This is only our second time to fly.”

Huh? Oh…he was talking to me.

“Really? Well, enjoy the flight.”

My eyes remained squeezed shut.

My determined row-mates apparently did not speak airplane-ese.

He: “Have you flown more than twice?”

Me: “I have. Lots more.”

He: “How many times?”

Me: “I really don’t know.”

He: “Where have you flown?”

Me: “Oh, lots of places.”

He: “Like where?”

So I rattled off a few of the more interesting places on my travel list, and settled back in to obvious nap mode once again.

He: “What was it like in Africa?”

Shoot. In hindsight, I should not have shared the more interesting places on my travel list. I should have said Detroit and Burbank. I politely gave some details so we could return to sweet, sweet silence.

He: “Are you getting off the plane in Denver?”

No, I explained. I was traveling to Las Vegas. I learned that he and his girlfriend(?) would be getting off in Denver. I clung to that promise.

The question and answer session continued…where do you live…I learned where they lived. Why are you going to Vegas…I learned why they were going to Denver. I learned again that it was only their second flight.

My brain was fighting consciousness; fighting to not become engaged.

Then it happened. He asked THE question. He found my kryptonite.

He: Do you have any animals?

So yeah, I have animals and I can’t NOT talk about them. It’s physically impossible. Let the airplane relationship begin and get ready to see photos of my very cute animals.

My new, temporary, too-early-in-the-morning best friends were Zach and Heather (I might have made these names up. It’s not to protect the innocent, it’s that I don’t remember names easily with a wide-awake, first-dose-of-caffeine-on-board brain, so a dark:30 brain doesn’t have a prayer).

I was asked to guess their ages. I said I had no idea but tossed out my 21/18 estimate. I learned that he was 16 and she was 12. So much for any subconscious dreams of joining a carnival as the “guess your weight/age” person.

Wait, thought sleepy brain. TWELVE? Who lets their 12-year-old wear make-up like that? Did you put that on in the airport bathroom after your mom left you at the terminal? And please tell me you are brother and sister, not underage boyfriend running off with way underage girlfriend.

Whew. Brother and sister.

Let’s see…it was their second flight, but their first flight without an adult along for the trip. They were going to see their uncle who lived in Colorado Springs. They were going to climb a mountain, but they weren’t sure which one.

Zach was in ROTC in high school. Heather liked music and staring at her tablet and/or phone. Zach was excited about climbing a mountain. Heather did not like to be outside. They lived with their mom and stepdad and two step-siblings.

The family had two chihuahuas, a dachshund, and a Rottweiler, but Zach really wanted a dog that was his own dog.

Zach worked at the Taco Bell. His father and grandmother had worked there once as well. Heather liked to make (and wear!) lots of bracelets. She did not yet have a job because 18-year-old-in-appearance Heather was really only 12.

And somehow, through all of this back and forth, I became their surrogate mom.

They: “Do the drinks cost anything? What do they have? Can you ask for us? Can I have two drinks? Will they charge for the extra drink? What should I do with my gum? How much longer do we have before we get there? Can you hold my sweatshirt? How high do you think we’re flying right now? Can I have your peanuts? Can we get more peanuts? Can I get another drink? Will you ask for me?”

kid on planeI took care of my adopted kids and exchanged weary, knowing glances with the frazzled dad across the isle who was trying to wrangle two wide-awake young boys. This was a first for me. Having never had kids of my own, until Zach and Heather, I was never inducted into the Paternal Order of Bone-Tired Moms and Dads.

But now I had a little taste. A tiny little 105 minute taste.

We landed in Denver and I helped my kids gather their belongings, I told them to check the seat-back pockets, I asked if they knew where to meet their uncle.

While I stayed put for the next leg to Las Vegas, I sent “my” kids on their way with well wishes, while playfully admonishing Heather to turn off her phone and enjoy her hike up the mountain. Oh yeah, I was in mom mode, though I did stop short of telling Heather to immediately wash that crap off her pretty face.

As it turns out, when I set my dreams of a nap-time flight free, I actually enjoyed my gregarious temporary kids. They don’t live too far away from me, and sometime in the near future I may wander into the Taco Bell where Zack works to see if I can say hello.

Or maybe not. That might be a tad stalkerish. In the real world, he is not really my kid at all.

Not having kids was not so much a conscious choice on my part as much as it was a never-got-around-to-it thing. During my married years, well, it just wasn’t something that interested us. Had I met Jim during my childbearing years, I suspect we might have decided to have a kid or two, but who knows. When I had anything that resembled a nesting instinct, I got a puppy.

I have honestly rarely, if ever, regretted my decision to remain childless.

I am an aunt and a GRRRRREAT aunt (I do require you say that in Tony the Tiger style) now that my nieces and nephews are starting families. I have wonderful, beautiful kids in my world. I do not have to pay for their college education, I do get to enjoy them and spoil them. Eventually, I think they’ll be willing to look in on me now and then when I grow old.

Have I missed out on a huge life experience? Obviously, yes, but I have had other experiences that mommies and daddies don’t get to have. We all walk our own path.

One thing I do know, if I did have kids of my own – the permanent kind, not the flight-to-Denver-kind – my son would absolutely have a puppy, or three, of his very own and my 12-year-old daughter would not be allowed to wear heavy black eyeliner, but I would cave to allow a bit of light lip gloss and maybe a touch of mascara from time to time.

Hope you had a great trip, Zach and Heather. I hope you climbed the heck out of that mountain. I hope your temporary mom or dad on the return flight learn a lot from you too. You probably won’t remember our 105 minute relationship, but I sure will.

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Unsuspecting Tourist. Finding Batu

BatuIt was just a chance encounter that lasted no more than a few moments. We were watching people feed hundreds of pigeons near the entrance to the Batu Caves Temple in Malaysia when a small puppy trotted into the scene.

Just as Moses parted the Red Sea, this puppy had the same effect…not on the pigeons, on the people. You’d think she was a 100 pound rabid Rottweiler instead of a 10 pound pup the way people jumped out of her way and kids ran screaming. Yes, literally screaming.

Jim and I must have looked like a happy port in a storm of very jumpy humans. Little Batu, as I immediately named her, came right over to us. She had a sweet expression on her face, her tail was wagging gently, and she was giving all of the soft body language that I love to see in a young puppy. Jim and I were, of course, immediately smitten.

She couldn’t have been more than 10 or 12 weeks old. Her coat was a bit rough and dirty, her toenails long. She was not thin. My guess is that she hasn’t been away from her mother’s nourishing care for very long.

I kept looking around thinking that someone would quickly come after the puppy. “Sorry! She got away from me.” “Oh goodness…there she is! I was so worried.” “Oh thank you for catching her! Come here silly girl, how did you get so dirty?”

But that didn’t happen.

Batu was the first and only dog, beyond working dogs searching luggage at the airports, that we saw on our vacation to Kuala Lumpur (KL) and Langkawi, Malaysia, and Dubai and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This really should not be a surprise as Islam is the dominant religion in both areas, but my stubborn, dog-infused brain still had a hard time embracing the idea of a non-dog-loving culture.

In my world, I am surrounded by people who love animals, and dogs in particular. Jim and I have lots of dogs. Our personal dogs, our foster dogs, they all combine to make our lives richer, hairier, and a bit crowded in the feeling-smaller-by-the-day king size bed we share with too many of them.

It was a culture shock to step into a world where no one was walking their dog; where no children were running and playing with a family pet. Jim’s brother, Jeremy, told us that many expatriate families brought dogs with them to KL, and some residents of KL had dogs, but I sure didn’t see any. Only Batu.

It’s a confusing topic because even information searched on the Internet relating to dogs and Islam is a bit contradictory.  Traditionally speaking, the Islamic religion states that dogs are impure and several injunctions have been created to warn Muslims against most contact with dogs.

So on one hand, while it is not haram (an Arabic word meaning sinful, an act forbidden by Allah) to own a dog, it is not permissible to keep a dog in the house because dogs are not considered hygienic.

And while it is not haram to touch a dog (though apparently many Muslims won’t), if the saliva, snout, or mouth of the dog touches any part of your body or clothing, then you are required to wash yourself and your clothes in a specific, ritualistic manner.

At the same time, Islam very clearly states, and I’m paraphrasing here, that all animals have been created by Allah and that it is the duty of Muslims to protect and provide for the well-being of animals as an expression of thanks to Allah. From everything I read, this injunction requiring compassion and care for animals has a loose and disparate interpretation.

I’m just barely scuffing the surface of the topic here. I have to admit it’s all a real head-scratcher for me, and I’m apparently not alone in that feeling. From articles I’ve read on the Muslim view of dogs, interpretation varies greatly from region to region, and country to country. Some Muslims feel they can’t even touch a dog, some Muslims own dogs as pets.

KL dogI think the dispute over dogs in Malaysia, where the majority of the population is Muslim despite a growing multicultural influence, was really brought home for me by an article written for the New York Times by Thomas Fuller last fall. It detailed an event organized by Syed Azmi Alhabshi, a pharmacist in Kuala Lumpur.

The event was called “I Want to Touch a Dog” and was created as a get-together for dog lovers and traditional “canine-averse” Muslims.

Prior to the event, Syed Azmi advised state religious authorities of his plans and made sure an Islamic scholar was on hand to show Muslims how to conduct the ritualistic washing following contact with the friendly pooches in attendance.

According to the article (read it here) Syed Azmi, who is Muslim himself, thought he had his bases covered. He thought he was hosting a simple, positive event to promote a better understanding of dogs in his community.

The event went well. Photos of Muslim women in head scarves hugging dogs appeared on the event’s Facebook page. And then all of the good intentions backfired. Syed Azmi started receiving messages…thousands of messages, many rather unpleasant. In fact, some of the messages were apparently quite threatening. It would appear that despite all of the planning and precautions, Malaysia’s Muslim leadership denounced the event.

What a confusing world little Batu lives in. And yet she is still nothing more than a sweet, innocent little stray puppy happily approaching people, then confused and frightened when they recoil from her. But she seemed ever hopeful. I will always remember the sight of her trotting away from us to follow a man walking down the street, her little tail wagging away as if to say, “Maybe this will be my human.” That’s the last time I saw sweet baby Batu.

When I have the opportunity to travel to foreign countries, in addition to sightseeing, a huge part of the adventure for me is learning about other lifestyles.  It’s not about agreeing with everything I see and learn, it’s about developing a level of understanding. It’s about knowledge and respect.

And this trip was a doozy on that front. There are so many things I don’t understand about Islam and the Muslim culture. I got to observe a lot firsthand. I saw the variety of traditional clothing worn. I visited shrines, temples, and mosques. I learned about traditions and 1400-year-old beliefs. I observed Muslim families together. I saw Muslim teenagers enjoying a day on the beach. And I saw Muslim people reacting to a tiny, harmless puppy.

I came home with more questions about Islam and Muslim culture than answers, but I’m slowly filling in some of the blanks. I also now know there are dog rescue groups in KL and throughout Malaysia. Not to the extent that you find them in the United States, but they exist and they do good work. I did send them each a message about Batu with a photo attached with the hope that somehow, that cute little tan and white needle might be found in the vast haystack north of KL.

I know it’s not likely.

20150113_110821 (2)Had she still been there when Jim and I emerged from our tour of the Batu Caves, I can’t really tell you what I would have done, but I have a feeling I would have done something. Or maybe there was nothing to be done.  We were guests in an apartment complex that did not allow pets. Seeing her again and not being able to whisk her away to a safe and better life would have gone against everything that I believe and practice in my life in good old Mounds, Oklahoma.

According to the Nancy and Jim philosophy, it is a sin to NOT take care of a little stray puppy. Now I know what you may be thinking…there are plenty of stray dogs right here at home that need our help. I guess the difference is that at least here, a stray dog has a fairly good chance of running across someone that will offer assistance. For Batu in KL, well, her chances for finding a good life seem almost nonexistent. I sure hope I’m wrong about that.

I wish I could have given Batu a happily ever after. I wish her story ended with a long flight back to the United States where she would be free to plant a kiss on my nose and curl up on my pillow.  All I can do now is try to believe that the puppy who doesn’t know her name is Batu has charmed her way into the heart of someone in KL. Someone who will look into those bright eyes and fall in love just as we did. Someone who will take responsibility for her welfare.

Stay hopeful, Batu. I’m pulling for you from half a world away.

Unsuspecting Tourist. Go! Go! Go!

20150112_145404You know that feeling when you’re on vacation—you know, a once-in-a-lifetime vacation, say to Malaysia or something? You feel like you need to try to see as much as you possibly can. This is not a “let’s relax” kind of vacation. This is a GET OUT THERE AND SOAK IT UP kind of vacation.

And this was the message that was bouncing around in my head on Monday morning in Kuala Lumpur. Jim’s brother was heading off to work, Jean-Yves was heading to school, and we had the whole day to do nothing but explore.

Prior to the take-off that almost didn’t happen (if you don’t know that part of the story, go back to this post), Jim had done a little research and identified some must-see sites. We decided to head to the city center because there were several things we could check off that list within easy distance of each other.

Now, in my last post I told you that next we would be exploring hornbills, monkeys, and temples. I actually misspoke…or mistyped. The next step in our journey really involved hornbills, a lack of monkeys and skyscrapers. Forgive me. I still blame jet lag.

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Yes, our cab driver did have a bobble Spiderman clock on his dashboard. Yes he did.

To get to the city center, Jim launched a new-to-us app called My Teksi (aka: Taxi). It’s a nifty little app that allows you to type in your location and your destination. Immediately after you hit enter it shows cabs in your area, and then cabs interested in picking up the fare are highlighted until one, somehow, is determined the “winner.” Then the app tells you how far away the “teksi” is and an ETA. Pretty nifty.

So we successfully got a cab and asked to be taken to our first stop, the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. A quick and nifty point here…just about everyone in Kuala Lumpur speaks English. Not all are fluent, but we did not run into anyone that we couldn’t at least communicate with on some level. We had drivers who were Malaysian, Chinese, and Indian and all were able to speak English fairly well.

I will admit that when Jim asked some touristy questions…and subsequently prompted answers to aid the conversation…we got a lot of smiles, nods, and “Yes, yes” replies that I’m fairly sure were just default no-clue-what-you-just-asked answers. But for the most part, there were no major language barriers on any part of our trip.

Impressive, really. I don’t believe foreign visitors to America have the same experience. Have you heard the joke? What do you call someone who speaks two languages? Bilingual. What do you call someone who speaks only one language? American. (Oh hey…I can already hear replies being typed by my bilingual friends and family members. You are the glorious exceptions!)

20150112_111453We arrived at the Bird Park in good form (very helpful that I stopped paying attention to traffic, because teksi drivers…eeeek!). I requested this attraction as our first stop because: A. World’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary! B. We were told a lot of monkeys hang out in the park around the aviary. Birds AND monkeys? I’m in!

The bird park was impressive. Here’s the prerequisite responsible tourist information I feel I should supply:

Located in the serene and scenic Lake Gardens, the KL Bird park offers 20.9 acres of verdant valley terrain to be explored. It is home to more than 3,000 birds of approximately 200 species of both local and foreign origin. One of KL Bird Park’s most extraordinary features is that a majority of the birds are free in the aviary, designed to closely resemble their natural habitats.

Legitimate tourism duties aside, here’s my personal observation:

No poop!

Seriously, with ALL of those birds cruising ALL over the park, you’d think you’d see and/or get hit by some waste. But I seriously don’t recall seeing any droppings. And some of the birds were pretty darn big. Now that is impressive. I did see uniformed employees throughout the park, and kudos to those fine folks.

20150112_114021Second observation: That is a HUGE freaking net overhead. Free to fly around, yes. Free to leave the aviary, oh no. I bet there have been some jail breaks, though.

This park is gorgeous. The birds were varied and exotic, reasonably photo op friendly, and truly looked happy. We went into one smaller section of the park (and shame on me for not knowing what kind of birds were on display…) where the birds immediately eyeballed us rather expectantly.

What? Could they tell we were “not from these parts?” Did they think we came bearing gifts?

20150112_121038A park attendant stepped in and handed Jim a cup of magic elixir. I have to believe it was magic because the moment these bright, colorful birds saw that cup, Jim became something akin to a statue in a park filled with pigeons. Immediate popularity. Where was this stuff when I was starting high school?

We were also handed some birdseed and the question was not, “Will the birds come to us?” The question was, “How do we get the birds to leave us so we can see the rest of the park?” I was truly in no hurry, though. I hadn’t encountered an animal of any species for four days and I was in official withdrawal. I probably could have stayed there all day.

giant pigeon

Just sunbathing. I promise.

We did manage to finally bid our new feathered friends goodbye and toured the remaining parts of the park. It did not disappoint. I will be busy trying to look up some of the species we saw, but they included hornbills, all kinds of parrots, macaws, peacocks, flamingos, a freakishly large species of pigeon that liked to sunbathe on the sidewalks (I initially thought one of the birds was injured until three more walked out and plopped down in the sun in the same leisurely manner), and numerous birds I can’t identify.

20150112_115146 (2)We closed out the excursion by stopping in the Hornbill Restaurant for refreshments. I am often a bit skeptical of food served at any sort of zoo…because…you know…fine dining is not their focus. But Jim and I were pleasantly surprised by the menu and the ensuing meal. He tried something with spicy local flare that had him initially guzzling water in surprise (but proclaimed it delicious), and I found a salad on the menu that was tasty and not a teeny bit scary. Adventurous palate and conservative palate—both happy.

Exiting the bird park, I was on the lookout for monkeys. We were told that you often see the little guys just hanging out there. Monkeys hanging out in a park just like squirrels rule the parks at home? Sign me up!

But alas, not a monkey in site. One of the ladies at the gate said that since it was a warm, humid afternoon, they were likely off napping in the trees. Fine. Elusive darn monkeys.

From there we wandered the orchid gardens for a bit. Yes, in Malaysia they can grow acres of the very plant that I manage to send to an early grave within a month or two. My father had the green thumb in our family. He would have loved these gardens. I found them beautifully insulting. Growing them like weeds. In my face.

Moving on, we grabbed a cab and headed to the Menara Kuala Lumpur Tower, also known simply as the KL Tower.

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View from the tower observation deck…the cool outside one.

Prerequisite responsible tourist information:

The KL Tower is a 421 meter high telecommunications and broadcasting tower centrally located in KL. This tower has an observation deck, where you can enjoy a bird’s eye panoramic view of the city. Menara Kuala Lumpur ranks fourth amongst the tallest telecommunications towers in the world and houses the highest McDonald’s in the world. It was constructed over a period of four years and was completed in May 1996.

My personal observation:

Does anyone else see a trend emerging here? Largest bird park in the world. Highest McDonald’s in the world? (And yes, McDonald’s IS everywhere. And no, I did not stop for McNuggets. Though the first food I did eat in Malaysia was Burger King fries. In the airport. I’m not proud.)

DCIM100GOPROOk, once you take the seemingly endless elevator ride to the outdoor observation deck, OH MY GOODNESS. What an amazing view.

You can walk around the full circumference of the building and, on a clear day, you can see forever and back (there is also an indoor observation deck, but it’s on a lower floor, indoors, and has lots of cheesy souvenir stands). If you, like me, love heights and a great breeze ruffling your hair ever-so-perfectly for photos, you will be in HEAVEN. If you do not like heights and wind, did I mention there is an indoor observation area with souvenir stands?

DCIM100GOPROI will also tell you that if you visit during a certain time in September, they allow base jumping off the tower. Good lord I would not be able to get a parachute strapped on Jim’s back fast enough before he yelled Geronimo and threw himself over the railing. There are videos looping on monitors throughout the indoor observation level that show daredevils doing swan dives and flips off of the railing. Jim was transfixed.

During that same time period in September, they will also let you sit on the ledge of the observation deck with your feet dangling precariously over the edge. You wear a safety harness so you won’t actually be able to take the plunge, but you still get the thrill of leaning out and seeing straight down. I would be 100% on board with this. LOVE heights. Love them. We were a little disappointed not to have that opportunity this visit. Reason. To. Go. Back!

Next on the Monday sightseeing agenda—the famous Petronas Twin Towers.

DCIM100GOPROPrerequisite responsible tourist information:

Soaring to a height of 451.9 meters, the 88-story twin structure is an architectural masterpiece and the crown jewel of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. Majestic by day and dazzling at night, the steel and glass structure is the world’s tallest twin towers. A trip to levels 41 and 42 will take you to the Skybridge, a link between the two towers and the world’s highest double-decked bridge. The Skybridge provides a great view of the city. 

My personal observation:

DCIM100GOPROA lot of people crowd around this structure to have their photo taken. It felt like a bit of a party vibe on the plaza outside the towers. We joined right in.

This building is truly amazing. If you enjoy architecture, this is a place you might want to spend some time. It’s also a bit of a photographer’s dream…night or day. We took photo after photo…and yeah, selfie after selfie. We had to prove we were there, right?

DCIM100GOPROOH and the people watching! I will once again say that I think we were the only Americans there. I really ran across no other people from “the homeland”—though the couple from Ireland almost counted. After all, I do have fair skin, freckles, and reddish brown hair (I do feel obligated to state that the people who actually were from Ireland did not have red hair. Or visible freckles. I was the stereotype. Huh.)

20150112_150157And let us not miss a HUGE, exciting point here—tallest twin towers in the world! Tallest two story bridge in the world! (How many two-story bridges are there in the world?)

What a day! Largest free-flight bird park in the world. Highest McDonald’s in the world. Tallest twin towers in the world. Highest two-story bridge in the world.

Malaysia! You over-achiever, you.

20150109_233230This day of sightseeing was brought to a successful close when we finally collapsed into the back of a cab that we were pretty sure was heading in the right direction to get us back to the apartment and that gorgeous, cool swimming pool. Let me add that I had no problem showing my Fitbit step goal who was boss on our first solo foray into the heart of Malaysia. Ten thousand steps? I laugh at you.

The day was nearly perfect. So very nearly perfect. The only thing missing?

Monkeys. Where were the dang monkeys?

photobombed by a bird

Photo bombed by a bird. Awesome!

(Spoiler alert…they were at the temple!)

Unsuspecting Tourist. Wakey! Wakey!

trafficAfter more sleepless hours on an airplane than I care to count (though everyone else sure managed to sleep!) we were finally settled in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and ready to be tourists.

Sort of.

Yawn.

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.

treadmillAs 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.

20150112_150157Downtown 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?

electronics mallWhen 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.

20150113_134154Just 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?

Unsuspecting Tourist. Howdy Malaysia!

KL Day 2So let’s see. On day one (snuck in a link to it there) of my chronical of the Unsuspecting Tourist, aka me, we got right up to the point where we were about three hours from take-off. My bags were packed. All of the animals were settled and we had a solid plan in place for their care for the next 12 days. I was FINALLY starting to relax and just look forward to participating with Jim in our own episode of the Amazing Race. (Yeah, we pretended. Wouldn’t you?)

It was at this very point that I heard the little chime that tells me I have a text message. How nice! Someone sending a note wishing me a happy, safe vacation. I have the best friends and family!

Huh? Oh no. This was no wish-you-well text. This was a your-whole-trip-is-blowing-up text.

“Sally has the flu.”

This is the part where I had an out of body experience in which I saw our epic vacation waving goodbye to us as it faded away into a fine mist. Sally is our dog sitter. You know…for that collective 800 pounds of dog I mentioned in my previous post? Jim and I just stared at each other in disbelief.

Ok. Breathe. Breathe. (Yes, I did chant this to myself)

Just when it seemed all hope might be lost, I remembered that, hey, I am really good in an emergency. You have a crisis? I’m your gal. I have odd moments of clarity in the most unlikely situations.

My panic addled brain suddenly remembered my trusted veterinarian/dear friend telling me that one of their vet techs was a great pet sitter. OF COURSE! Just call in a pinch hitter. In rapid fire fashion, texts were sent, calls were made, plane tickets from Tulsa to Houston were bumped, and BAM, we found ourselves introducing a new pet sitter to our herd of dogs.

She only needed to survive a night or two until Sally felt well enough to take over. Despite looking a bit startled by the herd of canines greeting her, and despite the mind-boggling instructions being rattled off by two slightly crazed tourist wannabes, Sky, our shiny new pet sitter, assured us that she was up to the challenge.

We left her with something like eight pages of instructions and phone numbers for Sally and any and every one we felt could help her out.

Ok. Not-so-small bump in the road handled. To the airport! GO! GO! GO!

Slightly delayed, but still in good form to catch our international flight, Jim and I made the first leg of our journey from Tulsa to Houston. One small step on a trip to Malaysia, one giant leap for the trip that very nearly didn’t happen.

We collected Jim’s 12 year old nephew, Jean-Yves, from his grandparents and headed through security…where Jim was immediately frisked and scrutinized because the bag that Jean-Yves was carrying tested positive for some sort of explosive or something. Yeah, they don’t pat down the adorable minor child…they go straight for the guardian who likely forced said minor to carry that bag. My theory is that Jim’s father rubbed a little gun powder on the bag and stood just outside security barely suppressing tears born of laughter.

Once they determined that the Xbox One Jean-Yves received for Christmas was indeed an Xbox One and not a weapon of mass destruction, we lined up to board the flight that would take us to Dubai for a brief layover before a connecting flight to Kuala Lumpur.

Sounds simple until you realize that the first leg of that journey takes more than 16 hours and the “shorter” flight to Malaysia takes about six hours. I would like to tell you that we traveled in the first class lap of luxury…or even the relative comfort of business class…but no. It was economy all the way, baby. Have you priced those first class tickets? Yikes!

It was a humongous plane. You know, the double-decker kind that makes you wonder how this hulking thing can possibly get off the ground, let alone carry you safely over an entire ocean? Yeah, I don’t focus on that stuff too much, but don’t you know that Orville and Wilbur would be high fiving each other for hours if they could see this feat?

We settled into our seats and, with a little time on my hands, I decided to give the Sky Mall catalog a gander. You know the magazine. It’s filled with stuff you can purchase…clever, fancy stuff that you can ONLY find in Sky Mall.

For example, there is Fit Desk. This is basically a laptop desk attached to a stationary bicycle. Yes, you too can sweat and prepare for that huge presentation in one calorie burning session.

john lemonOr how about the glow in the dark toilet seat? No more excuses for poor aim! And there’s the Micro Kickboard Luggage that combines carry on convenience with play yard fun. Just flip down the handy scooter on the back of the suitcase and hop on! Look out granny, I’ve got a plane to catch!

By the time I got to the “John Lemon Scented T-shirt” I decided it might be time to find a new diversion. Ahhh…inflight entertainment. Movies, television shows, music! Perfect.

While most people on the flight found some way to sleep a number of the hours away, I managed to watch three movies and 19 episodes of Two Broke Girls. You know…rich girl loses everything, meets spunky streetwise girl, moves in, gets waitressing job, AND they start a gourmet cupcake business while exchanging nonstop witty repartee? Got it? Any questions about season three?

Dubai pepsiSo finally, after hurtling through space and time, beaming up with Scotty, and, I’m fairly certain, at least one alien abduction, we landed in Dubai with about three hours to kill. Our to-do list included, in order of priority, bathroom, snacks, finding our gate, and people watching. That last one might have actually been tops on my list…well…after bathroom. But OH the people watching! We were certainly not in Oklahoma any longer.

Our stop in Dubai was the start of my curiosity about Muslim culture and confusion over the different clothing involved. I quickly realized how very naive I am about different cultures and customs. Such a deal…a vacation, an education, and a soft drink that looked and tasted like Pepsi…but I’m still not entirely sure that it was.

Ok, one more six- hour hop, skip, and a jump and we landed in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Time to check in with our friends at customs and head off on our who-cares-about-Waldo, where-the-heck-are-Jim-and-Nancy adventure.

Explain to me why I always feel guilty when facing authority? I really have led a fairly crime-free life, yet I get the jitters every time I have to pass through customs. Maybe that time when I was five and I accidentally took a balloon from the grocery store without paying for it will come back to haunt me? My mom made me take it back in the store to pay for it, but still…

Sweat beaded on my forehead as they scanned the fingerprints on my index fingers. The agent studied my passport…looked at his computer…read the report about the nearly stolen balloon…and let me enter Malaysia anyway. Whew. That. Was. Close.

Jim’s brother Jeremy was right there waiting and we safely delivered Jean-Yves into his waiting arms. Responsible escorts no more, let the vacation begin!

KL wrong sideFirst jet-lagged impressions of Kuala Lumpur:

  • Wrong side of the road! WRONG SIDE OF THE ROAD! Oh. Never mind.
  • Palm trees grow there like maple trees and oak trees grow here. Forests of palm trees.
  • You think America is a melting pot? Have you been to Malaysia?
  • Motorcycles and scooters swarm through heavy traffic like gnats. Traffic laws apparently do not apply to two-wheeled vehicles. Eeek.
  • Roads in Malaysia are as intense as the streets of New York only take those streets in New York and tie them into knots that make no sense whatsoever. There you go.
  • A lot of the architecture in Malaysia is amazing.
  • So many people.
  • Sidewalks in Malaysia = an extreme sport (or are non-existent).
  • The view from the 17th floor of the Embassy View Apartments on Jalan Ampang (that means Ampang Street…see how much I learned?) can only be described as a postcard. Couples on House Hunters International would take this apartment on the view alone before even noticing the open floor plan and the four beds/four baths.
  • A shower never felt so damn good (this after that 32 total hours of travel time…you can only re-apply deodorant so many times before you just turn into the creepy smelly woman).

The rest of day one/two (they melded together at some point) is a bit of a blur. I know we settled into a nice room in the apartment. I know I got to put on clean underwear (TMI?). I know a nap was involved somewhere. I know the Xbox One we risked life and limb and body cavity search to bring home was immediately fried by plugging it into the wrong converter. Twelve year old boys LOVE it when their dads accidentally do that (Don’t worry…Jer later fixed it. Happy 12 year old). I believe we took a trip downtown to see some sights and have some dinner. I think. I’m pretty sure. I do have photo proof, if not conscious memory.

And the news from the home front? In the time it took us to get from Tulsa to Kuala Lumpur, Sally the dog sitter’s Tamiflu kicked in and she felt good enough to head out to Tails You Win Farm to keep the dogs company. All was well in KL…all was well in Mounds. Now we just needed to figure out how to exchange our nights for days so we could actually stay awake long enough to experience Malaysia.

(Hint…we succeeded! There will be more…)

KL night  KL towers

The Unsuspecting Tourist

plane to KL 2So…what would you do if you found out that you had two weeks to prepare for a 12 day international vacation? What would you do if you were ME and you found out you had two weeks to prepare for a 12 day international vacation? ME! The one who lives on an E-I-E-I-O farm with a herd of animals that like to eat once or twice a day…every day.

Well, Jim’s prediction for my reaction to his wildly generous Christmas gift was that I would say, “Wow. Oh f*ck. Wow.”

So yes, I opened a gift on Christmas day and inside I found a travel itinerary for a 12 day tour of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with side trips to Langkawi, Malaysia, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, both in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

WOW!

And then I saw the departure date: January 7. The upcoming one.

Oh f*ck!

My brain immediately came up with 43,107 reasons why I could not possibly leave the country in two weeks.

And then I looked at the travel guides detailing our destinations. Back to WOW.

Yep…you nailed it, Jim.

So let me admit right here and now that I am not necessarily the most spontaneous person in the world when it comes to travel. We have dogs. Lots of dogs. We have a borderline cameo on Animal Planet Hoarders number of dogs (disclaimer: lots of foster dogs…that do find great homes…this keeps us out of the headlines and still in the “good guys” column).

We also have horses, pigs, donkeys, a mule, and one very unintelligent ram.  It takes a village for us to just leave town for a long weekend. Twelve days? Out of the country? Um…yes, I may have been screaming on the inside, and a little on the outside, just thinking of the logistics.

Oh, and I co-own a business with a friend that I would like to keep as a friend. There’s that.

But Jim had been planning, apparently for months. And this was not a randomly selected destination. Jim’s brother lives/works in KL (that’s what all of us savvy travelers call Kuala Lumpur) and we were going to serve as escorts for his 12 year old son who was returning home after spending the holidays in Houston with his grandparents and mom.

Let me just say here that we also got to take a great trip to Thailand a few years ago while serving as escorts for Jim’s nephew. Of course this kid has made these trips enough that he could likely navigate just about any airport in his sleep, but yes, we played the part of the responsible adults. As a side note, I will volunteer to escort this kid well into his adulthood as long as Jim’s brother keeps landing in exotic destinations. To the point that he has to spoon feed me oatmeal on the plane. Yes I will.

In reality, Jim really had things well planned. He had cleared our travel dates with my dear, wonderful business partner. He had booked our pet sitter. He had looked into getting a different pet sitter to care for the barn animals so that our doggy pet sitter would not be overwhelmed.

Our passports were current thanks to Jim’s five day birthday celebration in Los Cabos, Mexico, this past July. (We planned that one for six months. We planned that one to death.)

Ok. So a trip to the other side of the world in two weeks. Go with it Nancy. Relax. Just be excited. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime. Who wouldn’t jump at this chance?

Oh how I wish I could have followed all of that grand advice. But in reality, I might have been a wee bit panicky about the whole thing. Just a wee bit.

The date approached and I prepared. Thanks to that five-day Mexico trip I actually had the clothes I needed for our warm weather destinations. No stress on the packing front.

The house sitters were ready to roll. No stress there.

The travel plans were in place. I didn’t have to contribute a single thing. Just show up and get on the plane, Nervous Nancy.

As our departure date approached, I started to embrace the adventure. How many people from Mounds, Oklahoma get to hang out in a high rise apartment in KL? How many get to go to a lovely beach resort on the island of Langkawi? And then how many get to top it off with a whirlwind 24-hour tour of Dubai?

Not many, bordering on none. Most likely none.

In hindsight I think it was wise of Jim to only allow me two weeks to get my head around this trip. Who knows what dark places my brain might have traveled with too much time to overanalyze every last detail. Obviously, since it is now January 20, 2015, we all realize the trip happened and I survived. In fact, I not only survived, Jim and I had a great time…that I have yet to write about.

windowYou see, we responsibly decided that I should not write about the trip while we were actually ON said trip because of the line of burglars that would surely form at our front gate if the world realized we were away. You know, those burglars who are willing to break into a house with about 800 collective pounds of dog waiting inside the doors and windows.

I honestly didn’t believe that home invasion was a likely threat. Plus, I have to imagine that burglars would be pretty discouraged, after braving all of those dogs, to find that the thing of greatest value inside this house was my collection of had-to-have-it gorgeous skeins of yarn that I bought with no clue what I would make out of them. They were just too pretty to pass up. Is there much call for baby alpaca wool yarn on the black market?

Anyhow, for the security and sanity of our house sitters, we wisely opted to not advertise the fact that we were far, far away. Very grown up of us, right? I know.  Now I just have to decipher all of my scrawled notes that I faithfully wrote in my journal each day of the trip so I can share the journey here.

It is possible that I need to check in with my grade school teachers to see where we went so very, very wrong with my handwriting lessons. I can’t decide if it says we flew on a plane or chewed on a cane. Bear with me. I swear I will decode it and get to the good part…that would be the actual trip.

KL balcony 2And in parting, you know that quote “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry?” Yeah, well, on departure day…mere hours before we were going to leave on our well planned vacation…we got word that our dog sitter had just been diagnosed with the flu.

Now THAT proved to be a great way to get the old blood pressure pumping. Ahhh…but I’ll save the rest for future tales. Stick with me…it gets really good. Bon voyage!