So my mother has flown over to visit from the United States and is staying for 17 days. So far, she’s really enjoyed it. Unfortunately, this is the time for haze in the Klang Valley, owing to hundreds of fires on the huge island of Sumatra, which is immediately to the west of the Malaysian Peninsula. Local farmers there set fire to the jungle to clear it for crops. This can’t be done during the rainy season, so as soon as the dry season is in full swing, which is typically early June, all the little Sumatran farmers rush out and ignite the jungle in a mass slash-and-burn exercise. The smoke from the hundreds (sometimes thousands) of fires burning simultaneously is carried by the prevailing winds over the Straits of Malacca and on over to the Peninsula, where it settles in the Klang Valley. The massive amounts of traffic and burning that occur in and around KL itself only exacerbate the problem. Because of this, KL is regularly shrouded in a haze that varies from minor to outrageous. In 1997, it was so bad, drivers couldn’t safely see the cars in front of them and the Malaysian government ordered all nonessential businesses closed for days. It was nearly as bad again in 2005, as shown in this photo from Wikipedia, but apparently 1997 was the granddaddy of all hazy seasons. There are days when a providential combination of wind and rain cleanse the air and allow for clear skies, but more often than not, the haze persists, and it will stay with us in varying degrees until the rainy season begins again, around September or October. So far this year, it hasn’t been too bad overall, but it definitely mars the views of what is actually a lovely city, built amongst the hills and valleys. I took a couple of pictures from my carpark, looking out over Damansara Perdana. The first one was on a clear day about three weeks ago and the second one, taken from the same location, was taken two days later. It looks like it’s overcast, misty, and rainy… but it’s not. That’s just haze.
Mom arrived at KLIA early in the morning after an epic flight. On all of my trips to Asia, I’ve flown west, heading out from San Francisco or Los Angeles across the Pacific, but for some reason, it was much cheaper this time to fly from New York, so I booked Mom’s flights from Colorado to New York (via Dallas), where she got on a Malaysia Airlines flight to KL with a fuel stopover in Stockholm. Regardless of which direction you travel, you can’t escape the fact that Malaysia is pretty much on the complete opposite side of the world from Colorado. The total travel time for her to get from Colorado to KL was about 33 hours, with about 25 hours of that being actual flying time. What can I say? Earth is a pretty big planet and 12,000 miles (19,000 km) is a lot of distance to cover. So after arriving at 8 a.m., I had to ensure she stayed awake all day and well into the evening to “reset” her body clock and help overcome any jet lag, although it’s not as severe when traveling from west to east, as she did. We visited KLCC Park and wandered around, managing somehow to keep her awake until about 9 p.m.
The day after she got to KL, Mom visited my dentist, Dr. Yong, here in Damansara Perdana. The major impetus for her visit to Malaysia was that her dentist back in Colorado had told her that she needed three crowns on her teeth, maybe four. With only minimal insurance (and even “good” dental insurance in the U.S. is woefully inadequate when it comes to anything beyond fillings), she was looking at close to $5,000 U.S. for the work. So I told her, “Come to KL, get the work done for one-tenth that amount and enjoy an actual vacation on top of it and it’ll still cost a fraction of what just the crowns would cost in the U.S.” So that was enough for her to justify taking the trip. So she and Dr. Yong hit it off exceptionally well (my mom thinks that women make better dentists) and after the exam and consultation, Dr. Yong told her that she didn’t need crowns at all, so she had all the work that she actually needed done, plus a bit of cosmetic work done that she’d been wanting to do for many years, for only RM710, which is about $200 U.S. It was a bitter slap in the face regarding the state of healthcare in the States. I’ve thought for awhile that there’s a bit of collusion in the dental profession, at least in Denver. Dentists are very quick to proclaim you need root canal therapy, a build-up, and a crown – that comes to about $2,000 per tooth, a much more profitable venture than a $100 filling. Dr. Yong is also a periodontist and dental surgeon, so she can handle the complex work as well, rather than sending her patients to a specialist. (In Colorado, a visit to the endodontist for a root canal job, for example, can cost about $900, a chunk of which goes back to your general dentist for the referral, I’m sure.)
So anyway, Mom had all her work done over the course of two visits and, since, not needing crowns, she spent even less than she had allocated to begin with, she mentioned going to Bali with some of the savings. I found reasonable airfare (about $115 each, round-trip) and booked the flight. It wasn’t as ridiculously cheap as the flight to Thailand (which was right at $50 round-trip), but Bali is about twice as far from KL as Krabi, so it all seems to make sense.
On Friday, we went to Kuala Gandah, the elephant conservation center in Pahang. It’s about an hour and a half’s drive from home, and a breathtaking RM13 or so in tolls (one way). Pretty much all highways in Malaysia are toll roads, but you do get your money’s worth. The interstate toll roads here are well-maintained and generally of top-notch quality. So this time around, we got there in time to get “full-access” passes (a limited number are distributed each day), so we not only got to feed and touch the elephants, we got to ride them and swim in the river with them as well. I rode the largest elephant into the river, where he was given a command, then fell over on his side in the shallow water. It was really fun. One of the added treats was a cadre of young boys from the local village coming down to the opposite bank of the river and climbing up in tall trees to get a closer look at all the people playing in the river with the elephants.
On our last evening in KL before leaving for Thailand, I took Mom to one of my favorite bars in the city, a restaurant and bar called “Shook!” which is on the lower level of the stunning Starhill Gallery mall. Even after not seeing me for over four months, the bartender (who is awesome) remembered me and totally took care of us. There was a live jazz combo and a lady also came out and sang a few numbers that were just terrific. If you ever have the chance and want a good drink in a nice environment, weekends at Shook are highly recommended… ask for Nazeem.