A few months ago, I had a small medical scare. I thought my armpits were melting.
Yes, you read that right. We were trekking along in the half-tamed jungle– aka a Malaysian city park– and I told Tyler, with some alarm, that my arms felt as if they were gliding past each other, as if the joints were somehow especially lubricated with a slick, slick sweat. I know this may be veering severely into TMI territory for some of you, but once you live somewhere where the average daily temperature is well above 100F, you kind of accept sweaty topics as par for the course.
So back to the medical scare. It took me quite a bit of time to really figure out what was happening, as I had never before experienced an armpit-melting-sensation. But after a few particularly “slidy” jaunts out to the park, it suddenly hit me, in my very own lightbulb moment. I was wearing a new deodorant! And it was “all natural”! Which meant it had lots of baking soda! And when you add water– or in this case buckets of sweat– to baking soda… it gets slick!
Chinese New Year in Kuala Lumpur was magical. We made it up to Thean Hou Temple after our quick stop into a random temple a few days earlier, and this time we were truly transported into another world. We had received recommendations to go see a few Chinese temples during the holiday, because they would be extra festively decorated. I suppose I can’t compare it to a Chinese New Year actually in China, but I thought it was pretty fantastic as is.
We arrived late in the evening, getting out of our Uber just as the heavens let loose with a massive downpour. #justourluck But it ended up clearing rather quickly, and although we didn’t quite get a sunset on that cloudy evening, we did enjoy the lanterns twinkling at dusk. We stayed until darkness fell completely, before heading home again.
But back to the arrival: it was wet and involved a little shrieking and scurrying, but we got a good look at the front as we scaled the three flights to the top deck. We caught a glimpse of the garden, pictured below, where all the Chinese Zodiac animals were displayed as giant statues. And then we got to the top, where we were shocked to see the KL skyline all around us. The temple had seemed so hidden, on a hill and inside it’s jungled barrier, but once we climbed above the trees we had a far-reaching view. Naturally, the cameras then came out.
Thean Hou Temple was built with structural influences from Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism. Fun fact: it was completed during my birth year, 1989! It is dedicated to Goddess Tian Hou, but other goddesses are also represented.
Another fun fact: we didn’t actually know any of that when we went. I just googled it all (;
We went partly for the intricate architecture and definitely for all the lanterns.
Most of the time we lived in Kuala Lumpur, we were just normal people. We went to the grocery store, to the park, to all the malls. We threw conformity to the wind and walked almost everywhere, but besides getting some strange stares from Malaysians in their cars, we all ended up at the same places. The local coffeeshops, the Chinese place, the Indian place.
A few times though, we tried really hard to be tourists and check off the must-see attractions in KL. We arrived at the perfect time for lots of festive fun, because mid-January was the kick off of many Chinese New Year celebrations. We enjoyed a full month of brilliant reds and dancing dragons. During this time, we decided to make our way downtown to check out Petaling Street, a famous street in Chinatown.
It is your standard shopping district, with plenty of knock-offs and cheap finds. But it is fun to wander and explore. There are several interesting buildings in the area as well, including a beautiful Chinese temple. When we arrived downtown that morning, we were surprised to see that Petaling Street was rather empty. We quickly realized that, just as the market doesn’t keep standard business practices (hello fake bags/shoes/watches), it also scorns regular business hours.
Not put off, we went exploring around the area first, content to wait and circle back in once it was bustling and humming with full activity. After getting a little lost looking for an ATM that would accept our card, we turned around and saw a bright red temple right across the street! We decided to duck in for a look around.
One of our first real “tourist excursions” in Kuala Lumpur was to Batu Caves. Like I mentioned in my post a few weeks ago, we had been urged to go visit in our first couple of weeks in country because an internationally known Hindu festival was taking place. We ended up deciding not to go during Thaipusam, and personal beliefs aside, we were glad we skipped the crowded festival because we couldn’t imagine visiting this place when there are a million (!) other visitors there with you. With a little extra space to breathe and explore though, it was a really fascinating introduction to Malaysian landscape and culture.
We arrived mid-morning and the sun was already blazing. We meandered in slowly, taking in the bright colors and clusters of people. Tourists and devotees alike were wandering around snapping selfies and checking out the stalls along the open square. Since we weren’t really interested in doing either, we headed straight for the stairs leading up to the caves.
We arrived mid-January and immediately felt at home in the city. I couldn’t get enough of the heat; Tyler surprisingly acclimated. Tyler couldn’t get enough of the food; I found some favorites myself. And both of us were immediately smitten with our two new animal charges. These pups were adorable and just as snuggly as I was anticipating. Our homeowner graciously took us around town in the week before she departed, showing us all her favorite malls, restaurants, and cafés. She also introduced us to an ecological nonprofit where we ended up volunteering weekly, getting our hands dirty in soil and community.
We stayed for a total of three months, a shocking quarter of our year abroad. We felt both at rest and in constant motion. I soaked up the heat radiating off the streets, driveway, houses, like a chameleon sunning myself on a giant rock. But I also took in a lot of the city from behind tinted windows, in a blessed cloud of air conditioning, as we were chaffered in the back of countless Ubers. And as we rode along, I studied the streets we zipped through.
I liked the stained cement walls, the dilapidated fences, the crumbling sidewalks. And I especially liked how the jungle seemed to be fighting back against the encroaching civilization of its land. Green fingers stretching and creeping over any corner of construction they could claim. Kuala Lumpur was a place in which I felt deeply at home, despite the many daily occurrences that reminded me there was so much foreign here.