Sunday, October 26, 2008

Just a brief catch-up

It's not that nothing has happened for the last three or four weeks... quite the contrary, really. But I moved into my new condo on October 5th, and, three weeks on, STILL don't have Internet access there. However, I'm assured (ha!) that it will be up and running by Wednesday, which is, by some evil coincidence, the same day that the condo management company are doing rectification work on the main water tank in my building, so there will be no water supply for FOUR DAYS!! I have to clarify with management if there will be literally no water flowing whatsoever, or if we'll just have a limited amount for that time period. (Most buildings in KL have a huge water tank as a backup.)

I went to Jakarta last week for five days, too, and I'll write about that and post some pictures soon. It was a good little escape! Next on my list is a short jaunt up to the Malaysian island of Penang, about midway up the peninsula, just off the west coast.

I also got perilously misdirected last Friday night in what proved to be my worst navigational blunder ever. I emerged from the SMART tunnel (a two-level storm water/traffic tunnel that's an engineering marvel... read about it here), trying to make my way to Taman Bukit Desa to pick up some friends for a night out in the city, and at one of the 50,000 forks in the road, went straight when apparently I should have gone left. I wound up on a highway with no turns, no exits, no chance for U-turns, no services, nothing... for over ten miles. Meanwhile, of course, my gas tank was nearly empty, and about five miles along this epic voyage, the low fuel light came on and stayed on. Panic didn't really set in until I crested a big hill and saw the highway laid out before me, stretching on for miles and miles with nothing in sight. I was on the E20 highway to Putrajaya and it was over ten miles before I was able to make a U-turn. Naturally, the exit was about 100 yards past a toll booth, so I got to pay a double set of tolls (one in each direction) for the privilege of doing a U-turn on a road I didn't want to be on in the first place, and then I got to drive, sans A/C, all the way back to relative civilization, then drive around, lost as an Easter egg, desperately searching for a gas station.

Speaking of which, gas has dropped in price here, although not as precipitously as it has in the States (from what I've been reading). It's RM2.20 per liter here, which is the equivalent of about US$2.30 per gallon. So it's cheaper than gas in the States, but not fantastically cheaper.

The new condo is quite nice, and I'll post some photos once I get proper Internet access. The unit is rather small, but it's very nicely appointed, three bedrooms, two baths, nice kitchen (hooray!), and a nice Samsung flat-panel LCD TV in the living room. I also purchased an LG LCD panel for the master bedroom. It's only 32", but it's plenty big enough for that room, and it's dual voltage and only 26 lbs., so when I return to the States, I can presumably bring it with me.

Today is Monday, October 27, and it's Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights. It's celebrated by the Indian community in KL, but it's a public holiday for all, and everyone loves a day off, so it's appreciated by everybody here. The day celebrates the triumph of good over evil within the human spirit. Listening to one of the English FM stations here today, the DJs were exhorting their non-Hindu listeners to "get their enlightenment freak on." I nearly wrecked my car into a pole laughing so hard at that one. "Get your enlightenment freak on!" Yeah!

More later, with pictures!!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Wedding

Chinese weddings, I'm told, can be incredibly elaborate affairs, so I was very excited and honored to be invited to a blended Chinese/Irish wedding within just a few days of arriving in KL. The people who run the school where I teach, Ronan and Kiera, have legally been married for about four years now, and together for almost ten, but in the eyes of the bride's family, were not really married, because they hadn't yet held the traditional Chinese wedding. Over 300 guests were invited, and the groom's family flew in from Ireland and Scotland for the occasion. It was, quite literally, an all-day (and night) affair. (Click on the pictures to see a larger version.)

The bride and groom first have a ring ceremony in which they exchange rings in the presence of friends and family. This is followed by the traditional Chinese tea ceremony in which the Creator of the Universe is paid respect by serving tea. The elders of both the bride's and groom's families are served tea to gain their approval and acceptance. Then the "yum sing" ceremony takes place, a Cantonese phrase that means "bottoms up!" The event has to be as noisy and raucous as possible to ensure a long life of happiness. A lot of alcohol can be consumed here because every guest tries to have a drink with the new couple... after the first few toasts, the groom has to appoint a number of "brothers" to drink with the guests on his behalf. From my program: "This ceremony suits both the Westerners and the Chinese, as the Westerners can't live without the alcohol, and the Chinese will have an excuse to get drunk, too!"

Guests mingle for awhile, in anticipation of the traditional Chinese wedding dinner. As I was wandering around, completely overdressed, I might add (everyone else was in trousers and shirt sleeves; I had on long sleeves and a tie), I was spotted by some of the other (very few) Caucasians in the crowd and asked if I wanted to go up to the bar and have some drinks. It was the groom's Gaelic football team, a number of Irish guys who live here in KL now. Some wives and girlfriends joined in, too... some Dutch, some Malaysian, even a Canadian... and we had a few pitchers of beers before heading down to the dinner.

Nearly thirty tables were set out in the ballroom, plus the head table for the bride and groom and their immediate family. I was lucky enough to be at a table quite close to the head table, so I was able to better see all the goings-on, but by the third course of the eleven-course (!!) meal, no one cared! We were all laughing and drinking and eating and socializing... the dinner went on for hours. Toasts were made, the bride and groom paid a visit to each table, shared a dance, and cut the cake. It was a wonderful blend of Chinese and Western marriage traditions (complete with speeches in English and Cantonese) and it sure seemed that everyone had a great time. The free flow of beer, wine, and Irish whiskey may have contributed some, but I can't say for sure. :)

I've included some pictures from the evening, but not many. I hope Ronan and Wai Fun don't mind their likenesses appearing on my blog. Wai Fun is the bride's Chinese name; she has taken "Kiera" as her Western name, so that's what she goes by at school.

One menu item, the shark fin soup, caused a bit of a stir at my table, simply because I was with other Westerners. In Chinese culture, shark fin soup is a delicacy, a rare and expensive dish usually only served at important events. To Westerners, however, it represents a cruel practice: cutting the fins off live sharks, then throwing them back into the ocean, where, unable to swim, they die. So there was a bit of discussion about the ethical implications of tasting the soup, but as one woman from Scotland put it, not trying the soup wouldn't bring the shark back to life, nor would it make a statement or put a dent in the practice of shark finning. So I tried it. It had chunks of crab meat as well, so to be honest, it was like eating a thickened version of egg drop soup with crab meat. To avoid any possible religious complications, no beef or pork was on the menu... only chicken and seafood, which seems to largely be accepted by all religions. It was a wonderful, HUGE dinner and we ate and drank long into the night.

I'm told that after about the tenth or eleventh Chinese wedding you've been to, they start to get a bit mundane... so I've got a ways to go yet!