Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Welcome to Paradise…….

I don’t remember a thing from the plane ride to Kuala Lumpur except waking up often shivering in my thin airline blanket. The stewardess had to wake me up to let me know we had landed. The plane was already emptying. Bleary eyed, aching, and weak from not having eaten in nearly 24 hrs, I stumbled from the plane and into the airport. Just stepping into the airport was like a breath of fresh air. The airport in Kuala Lumpur is fairly new, I believe it opened in the last 5 years or so, although I could be wrong. I had never paid attention to the airports I had been to in the past, but when you just spent your last week in third world hell, having utilized transportation infrastructure from several decades ago, and then suddenly step into the modern world, you sit up and notice. As tired and sick as I was, I walked around with wide eyes, just soaking in the delicious, cool, 72 degree air conditioned interior. No crowds here. No noise. It seemed absurdly quiet having just come from Delhi airport. Everyone walked around calmly and seemed to know where they were going. The airport was spotlessly clean and just gleamed from all corners. It seemed massive and enormous after India and I just sat down for a minute and closed my eyes, soaking it all in. I felt better just being there.

I went to the restroom and had to peel the contact lenses from my red eyes, as I had been too sick to bother to remove them. They had been in my eyes for more than 24 hrs, which is a really bad thing for daily contact lens users. I spent a long time in the bathroom, thanks again to my stomach, but I did not seem to have a fever and the shivering and chills were mostly gone, although my body ached everywhere. Even though I had not eaten in more than 24 hrs I was not hungry and did not feel like eating anything. I did get a Coke and some water to keep me from getting dehydrated.

I laid down on a bench and closed my eyes, but the pain would not go away. I had about 1 ½ hrs before my plane left. Finally I got up to walk around because lying or sitting down just hurt too much. As I was walking, I saw a small shop that gave reflexology massages for travelers. Having experienced them before, I knew that they did wonders for your legs and feet and thought anything was better than just sitting in agony. I paid for a 45 minute massage. Boy, was I glad I did. By the time they were done, all the pain in my body was gone. I still felt awful, still weak and dizzy, but the body aches and pain were gone. It was money well spent.

I went back out to wait for the flight and they were finally allowing us into the inside waiting area. Kuala Lumpur is a bit different, even though you are already in the airport, they have a secondary waiting area before you enter the plane. You must go through a security check before entering the secondary waiting area. So everyone sits on benches and chairs outside the actual “gate” waiting for security to let them in.

Malaysia is an interesting country. It is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, with many different religions. While ethnic Malays are the majority and control most of the government, the population has large ethnic Chinese and Indian populations. Hence, you have Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, and Christians living side by side in relative peace and prosperity. While there are rising Islamic tendencies being reported by the media, for the most part Malaysia, particularly the big cities, is a working secular, multicultural society. At the security check at my gate, the guy in charge was clearly Indian. The 4 women manning the x-ray machines were obviously Muslim, complete with Muslim head coverings. 1 Chinese guy and 1 Chinese woman manned the handheld metal detectors. 2 other armed security guards, who appeared to be Malay, guarded the gate entrance.

When it came time for boarding there was none of the chaos that I had experienced in India. Everyone waited their turn calmly and quietly. Again, thanks to my company, I was flying in Business Class and allowed to board first. I quickly sat down before my weak legs gave out and again wrapped myself up for the flight to Bali. I was feeling a bit better after the reflexology treatment and so I didn’t fall asleep right away.

An American and his wife, clearly Indian, sat down across from me and when they mentioned Bangalore, India, I perked up.

“Did you say you just came from Bangalore? I just came from Delhi!” I asked him.

“Yes, my company moved me to India about 6 months ago for a 3 year temporary assignment. We were so excited to go, as my wife immigrated to the U.S. when she was only 7 years old and had not been back since. Boy, what a mistake!” he replied.

Turns out his wife was an American citizen and didn’t really consider herself Indian, having been in America for so long and having grown up there. He worked for some hi-tech company and when the job opportunity came up to work in India he and his wife thought “wouldn’t it be great to go back to India and live for awhile, give the kids a chance to learn about their mother’s native culture and country” and also his wife felt that it would be a chance for her to reconnect with her roots.

“Boy were we wrong. We have been there for 6 months and we hate it. And we still have 2 ½ years to go!” So much for enjoying India.

“Everywhere is so dirty and crowded, nothing works right and nothing is on time. Trash is everywhere, everyone litters. And because my husband is “white” everyone rips us off. They see a white face and they mark up everything.” Complained his wife. So much for reconnecting with her roots. “I don’t remember much of India when I was a child, but had I known it would be this bad I would never have wanted to come back.”

We traded notes on India and while some of their observations matched those of my own, clearly the things I had seen were much worse than what they viewed through their ex-pat softened eyes. While I generally agreed with some of their assessments of Indian life – the crowds, the pollution, the trash, everything running late or not working right – I had a hard time believing their life was so difficult living in multinational corporate sponsored ex-pat housing with private international school and a live-in maid. Still, one comment stuck with me.

“When we stepped off the plane into the Kuala Lumpur airport, it was like a breath of fresh air. We just felt better. We had never really paid much attention to airports before.”

I could understand perfectly.

Conversation finally ended and I settled back to sleep. Soon I woke up as we began our descent into Bali. Beautiful blue ocean waves formed white caps as we came closer to ground. Forests and perfectly formed beaches could be seen everywhere. Perhaps I would enjoy my business trip to Bali………

To be continued.

No comments: