Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Behold the Fish Spa!

You read that right. Fish spa. Now, I won’t exaggerate here and try to make you think that these spas are ubiquitous throughout KL; I certainly don’t find them on every street corner. But I have seen over a half dozen of them without even looking, so they’re not a complete rarity either. Some are along Jalan Bukit Bintang (Jalan is “street” or “road” in Malay), which is a very tourist-heavy area. I’ve seen a couple in malls, too. This particular fish spa is in the office park where my school is located. Do you like the name? “Fisho.” They didn’t work too hard on that one, did they? It’s right next to the bank (“Casho”) and a restaurant (“Eato”). Just kidding. The rest of the sign, pusat terapi ikan, is Malay for “fish therapy center.” Even that phrase makes me laugh a little because it makes me think of a psychiatrist’s office for crazy fish.

But yes, that’s a pair of legs surrounded by a swarm of fish, who may or may not be crazy. Apparently, the idea is to sit on a ledge and dangle your feet in this little pool and have hundreds of these fish (I don’t know what kind) nibble at your skin, which they are clearly quite inclined to do. I’m really not sure what the whole therapeutic value is supposed to be – perhaps they remove dead skin, but you know what? I have a 70-cent loofah in my shower that does that job just fine. I’m sure the water is filtered and somewhat cleaned, but the notion of letting fish nibble on my bare skin in a pool where other people’s possibly nasty feet have been nibbled…? I don’t know. I’m not squeamish at all, and part of me is a bit amused and fascinated by this whole “fish spa” thing. But for the most part, I just think it’s odd. Maybe one day, I’ll get liquored up and try it. (edited to add: I looked it up... here's all you ever wanted to know about fish spas.) Speaking of which… that sign behind the Fish Spa sign does indeed say “wine” – there’s a nice wine store there (“Wino”?) where I can spend huge amounts of money for wine, if I so choose.

A note on this: Imported alcohol is quite costly in Malaysia thanks to the “sin tax” and duties imposed on it. Only at the duty-free shops for international travelers and on the duty-free island of Langkawi is name-brand booze a truly affordable indulgence. For example, here in KL, a one-liter bottle of Absolut vodka goes for about RM135, which is about $37. That’s not really much more than one liter costs in the States, but costs are relative. For a Malaysian with a modest income, RM135 can easily be a day’s pay (oftentimes closer to two days’ pay). Most Americans make substantially more than $37 a day, however. So relative to income, liquor here is breathtakingly expensive. However, at the duty-free shop, that same bottle of Absolut will cost only RM63 ($17.50), less than half of what it costs outside, and cheap even by American standards, where liquor is similarly subjected to a sin tax. Needless to say, whenever I can buy liquor duty-free, I do. When my friends travel to Singapore or Thailand or anywhere internationally, I try to get them to pick me up a bottle at the duty-free shop when they return. Local vodka, which isn’t great, but is almost passable as a drinkable spirit, runs about RM23 for a 700-mL bottle (about $6), which is right about what a bottle of crappy vodka in the States costs. As for wine, a cheap bottle of Australian wine will typically run around RM40, and many bottles seem to live in the RM60-80 range. It’s not outrageously expensive by American standards, but tragically, I’m paid in Ringgits now, not dollars, so I have a grand total of three bottles of wine in my house.

Typically, I have the choice on whether to walk or drive to work… largely depending on whether it’s pouring down rain at the time, or if I have to drive somewhere immediately after work. Since my car is in the shop, that choice is gone. I took these pictures on a walk home from work yesterday. One of the best things about where I live, apart from Damansara Perdana just being a good place in general, is its proximity to my work. Even at a very casual pace, stopping to take pictures and observe things, it took me 13 minutes to get home. This first picture is of my office park, an open-air center of shops, offices, and restaurants. It's really quite nice, and the water features and all the greenery make a very enjoyable place to work, on the whole.

The next picture was taken as I walked out of the office park and looked across the street, and really needs to be clicked and enlarged to fully appreciate it. Like I’ve mentioned before, Damansara Perdana is a small town built in a jungle. Sometimes it’s easy to not see the trees (like, the actual trees) for the forest (the condos, shops, and streets), but if you lift your head from time to time, it’s startling how “right there” the jungle really is. I was walking to work last Saturday and saw this rather large, bright yellow bird with black markings fly by me, do a couple of passes over the roundabout near my condo, then head into the trees. Truly amazing. I would imagine the jungle contains all sorts of wild and wonderful creatures that just don’t venture down to town!

Dogs are regarded here much as they are in Bali… they barely register on the attention meter of any human passerby. In places where taking care of oneself, let alone an animal, has been something of a struggle in the not-too-distant past, the idea of having a pet is something quite new, so I don’t expect to see a giant Petco setting up shop in KL anytime soon. People here do have dogs, but it’s rather uncommon, particularly in contrast to the near-deified position we give pets in the U.S. (I think Denver was actually ranked as one of the best cities in the U.S. to live in if you’re a dog.) There aren’t a lot of stray dogs wandering the streets, but I do see them around at times… this one was sound asleep under a parked car. Street dogs here are neither friendly nor unfriendly… they don’t really approach people, but they don’t run in fear, either. They just trot around in this “doggie-on-a-mission” manner… seemingly very alert and proud and a little high-strung. They mind their own business, and the people mind theirs. I recall once, shortly after arriving in KL, I was waiting at a train station and sitting on the stairs, and a cat actually deigned to come up to me, uncommon behavior for a cat in any country! Of course I reached down to pet it and it just sat next to me, very happy to be stroked and scratched. I specifically remember the looks people gave me… doing almost comical double-takes. “What’s that white guy doing? He’s touching that cat? What would compel a person to do that?”

Here’s me! What a handsome devil! Except not really. This is really here for no other reason than to keep people from grousing that there are only pictures of food and landscapes in my blog. “Where are the pictures of you!??!” I hear that a lot when I show my vacation photos. So here you go. Enjoy. :)

Here’s one of the condos near mine… this one is called Perdana Condo, and if you can believe the name, this one was built here first (perdana is the Malay word for “first”). That doesn’t really mean much, though – first, because you know how real estate marketers are. And second, very little in this immediate area is more than five years old, anyway. It’s all quite new. In any case, this is how some of the condos are built… they have a bunch of space on their bottom floor, or bottom two floors, that’s leased out commercially. At Perdana Condos, it’s extensive enough to be called a shopping center (“Tropics”) in its own right. There are boutiques, spas, convenience stores, restaurants, dry cleaners, even a piano store.

And here’s another condo development, rising from the jungle. This is actually the second phase of Armanee Terrace, the colossal condo building directly across the street from me. Buildings here are almost exclusively constructed from reinforced concrete (as opposed to steel, like most American skyscrapers). There’s no shortage of construction in the KL area… in almost any clear direction you look, it seems there’s a crane somewhere.

This next shot was taken across the street from my condo, immediately east of the Armanee Terrace site. I half expected to see Mowgli come ambling out from the greenery. It really is lush, isn’t it? Definitely click on this one to see a larger version and you can make out more of the detail. Looking up at the hillside in the background of the photo is particularly impressive to me. KL is built around a series of hills in the Klang Valley, and the steep slopes of these hills have, to date, managed to bamboozle and stymie the land developers here just sufficiently enough to keep the city quite green.

Home at last… And that concludes my epic half-mile walk home from work… more pictures and stories soon!

P.S. As a somewhat happy epilogue to the dead car story, I got my poor little Proton car back today from the shop. As I've mentioned before, labor is quite cheap here, so even though I had the head gasket replaced, which would run at least $800 in labor alone in the U.S., here, it was RM250... about $69. The cost of the parts was more in line with what they'd cost stateside (perhaps a bit cheaper, but not a great deal). In any event, I was pleased and relieved at the total cost, and I'm glad to have my craptacular little car back.


Barb said...

Good photo of you! And another great entry...thanks for keeping us updated on your big adventure!

Rolan Cobb said...

HI Chad,

Sure enjoy reading your "Life in Kuala Lumpur" Blogs.

Wish we had a little bit of your warm weather back here right now.

Wind is blowing hard from the North and it's about freezing, (32 degrees Farenheit). Brrr.

At least it's not snowing and we don't have any ice all over everything, (YET).

Thanks for all your news and stories. Glad you got your car fixed. We were riding along with you as you were having all that trouble the other day on your attempted trip.

Rolan & Helen Cobb in Kansas

Chad M. said...

Thanks for the nice comments... always good to know this is all being read by someone. :)

I could say that it's only 3° here in KL, but that's the latitude, not the temperature. Ha ha.

No snow here, either. I'm not expecting a white Christmas. It does rain nearly every day, so perhaps a wet Christmas?

Pkr said...

I never tried the "fish spa" thingy. Honestly, I just don't buy the idea.

Oh, and about the marvellous views that DP used to have, it's such a pity that they have gone.