Lots of things are happening around here lately...
First, it's Ramadan again. What's kind of interesting to me is that pretty much no one here calls it that, though. It's always just referred to as the "fasting month." Ramadan follows a lunar calendar so it's at a different time each year. This year, the Malaysian Independence Day (August 31) falls during Ramadan. I don't think it makes either one any more special, but it's a somewhat unusual occurrence. (Click on this picture I took from my car at the intersection of Jalan Sultan Ismail and Jalan P. Ramlee near the center of KL. There are a few things that stand out to me: The Malaysian flag all over the place, the women wearing headscarves on the left, the almost surreal amount of trees and foliage at a fairly major intersection, and—of course—the ever-present traffic.) Ramadan itself throws the whole city into a very different rhythm because Muslims can't eat or drink during the day. So the food courts and stalls are not at all crowded during lunch, but after the evening call to prayer (usually around 7:30, but it varies a bit), there's a palpable buzz in the city as nearly half the population prepares to eat, then all at once, hundreds of thousands of Malays (mostly) descend ravenously on restaurants and food stalls throughout the city. Try getting a seat at virtually any place at 8 p.m. and you'll be out of luck. A lot of the hotels and nicer places have nightly "buka puasa" (breaking the fast) buffets. I've read studies that suggest that many followers actually gain weight during Ramadan since they fast all day then basically gorge themselves in that one evening meal. In any case, even though it's only the Malays (and a minority of Indians and other non-Malays) who observe it, Ramadan affects the entire rhythm of KL for a month. For me, only experiencing it for the second time, it's pretty interesting.
In my neighborhood, there's some construction going on (as always) -- Since my car was in the shop, I took my camera and walked down to the village. It's not at all uncommon to see cars like this with a sheaf of parking tickets stuck under the wiper. It always makes me kind of chuckle for some reason. So here in Damansara Perdana, the big PJ Trade Center is nearing completion and three new condo blocks are going up. Each of them is an offshoot of an existing development, but only one is being built on the same site as its predecessor (Metropolitan Square). One, which I've mentioned here before, is Armanee Terrace II, and its site is adjacent to the existing development, which is just mammoth. The other is something called Ritze Perdana II, which is on a different site completely from the original. I looked at an apartment at the Ritze. (Note the extra "e" on the end... that tells you it's really fancy) It was barely over 400 square feet and they wanted RM1800 a month, so it was a very short visit. My days of living in micro-studio apartments are solidly behind me. In any event, here are some shots from around the neighborhood. The sky was threatening that day, so I took my umbrella with me, and sure enough, as I was walking back home, it started pouring. It was a wind-driven rain, though, so the umbrella didn't do much good. By the time I got back home, my shirt was only somewhat damp, but my jeans (from about mid-thigh down), socks, and shoes were totally soaked. Rainstorms are becoming noticeably more frequent in the last couple of weeks, so it would seem we're making the transition back to the rainy season. The picture is from my condo, but it doesn't nearly do justice to how hard it had been raining five minutes earlier.
The project I'm most excited about, though, is one that's sorely overdue. A proper intersection is going in at the junction of two perpendicular streets. Damansara Perdana is quite small, as KL suburbs go, and there's only one main road into the village and it's not a through street. It dead-ends by my condo, actually. But as you go to leave the area, there's a road to the right that leads to Ikea, The Curve, Tesco, and all sorts of other eating and shopping places. But you can't turn! They've halfheartedly barricaded the junction with poles and such (see the photo), and so everyone has to drive clear down to the main interchange and do a U-turn, then drive up the hill and turn left. Again, words—and even photos—are really insufficient to truly convey the stupidity of this system. But now, with the construction of some new office blocks, it seems they finally saw the need for building an actual, proper intersection. They've cut in what will be some turn lanes, added new curbs as necessary, widened the roadway itself in a couple of places, and presumably will put in a traffic light or four. Better late than never, I guess, and as I think about it, this will be Damansara Perdana's first traffic light. (Others nearby are actually in Mutiara Damansara.)
In food news, because you know there has to be some of that, one of my friends introduced me to this great restaurant in Petaling Jaya, not too far from where I live. Everytime he talks to me, he carries on about some restaurant he has to take me to. I tease him and tell him his whole life revolves around food... but that's as close a thing to a national passion as Malaysia has, and I'm rather fond of good food, too, so everybody's happy. Anyway, we go to this place called Imperial Garden for dim sum... not only is the food great, but as it's on the 7th floor of a building, the views are pretty decent, too. I'm a big fan of dim sum, especially the shrimp dumplings. Even as we're eating, my friend is talking about other food and other restaurants I have to try. It's almost comical how much Malaysians love to not only eat, but talk about eating!
I'm going back to America in two weeks' time for a short visit. I'm really excited about going back, and September is my favorite time of year in Colorado... that wonderful period of transition between summer and winter. The aspen leaves in the Rockies usually hit their peak of color in the third week of September, so I should be there just at the right time. I have been compiling a veritable laundry list of things to bring back with me, too... after nearly a year here in KL (September 5th is my one-year anniversary), I'm starting to miss some of the things I never gave much thought at all when I lived in Denver. Isn't that always the way? It's usually the ill-noticed, mundane things we miss the most.
I'm doing something I thought I'd never do, though, and that's taking a U.S. airline on a trans-Pacific flight. On my numerous trips to Asia and back, I've always stuck with airlines known for quality and service, namely Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and Malaysia Airlines, all five-star airlines. America does a lot of things really well, but air travel is not one of them, so I was loathe to fly with an American carrier for that long a flight. However, I found a really good deal on Northwest (US$850 round-trip to Denver... usually it's at least $950-1,100 even to the West Coast), and the price difference between that flight and one on a good airline was large enough to make me bite the bullet. If it's nearly as abysmal an experience as I think it might be, I won't do it again... I'll pony up the money. I do get to fly Malaysia Airlines down to Singapore, at least, but that's only an hour's flight. From there, it's Northwest Sucky Airlines up to Tokyo (7.5 hours), then across the Arctic to Minneapolis (11 hours), then a short two-hour hop from there to Denver. This picture pretty much sums up my opinion of Northwest.
Anyway, my mechanic (whose name is Sim) has informed me that, after about three weeks, my car is finally ready. It has a replacement engine and everything works again. I also had him do some other routine maintenance and also replace the clutch since everything was already disassembled. The total cost for the engine, its transport from another state, and all the labor was a measly RM1200 (less than US$340), which is positively amazing to me. I'll be happy to have my car back! I'm so grateful to Sim for letting me use his car in the meantime, but it's a 27-year-old Nissan Sunny, so it's over twice as old as my Proton and as much as I like to demean my little car, it's actually pretty decent, and it's in good condition overall.
I picked up my car a few hours ago and so far, so good... the new engine actually runs better than the old one did. I tried to give the mechanic some extra money for letting me use his car, but he wouldn't take it... he kept saying, "No no, too much! It's too much!" I did finally convince him to take the change from paying the bill, which was only RM35 ($10). What a nice guy. Here's a picture of all three of the guys who worked on my car. Sim's the one on the right.
So a couple of nights ago, around midnight, I smelled smoke so I went out on my balcony. There, literally in the middle of the road at the dead end was a massive, smoldering bonfire. (Well, really not much fire, just a lot of smoke, so I guess more of a "bonsmoke.") I didn't know what was going on, but there were a few Chinese people milling around. A couple of ladies were sitting on the curb, somberly burning things. I didn't know what they were burning, and I couldn't really see much at all properly because of the trees, but if it was a party, it was a pretty dull one... they weren't making much noise at all. They were wrapping up, but as they left, I saw all the litter, and the fire was left to burn itself out. I was not amused so I got my camera and went downstairs with the idea of photographing this mess and showing the pictures to the property management company later, asking them why they were paying our security company RM30,000 a month if they're just going to let people do these things right in front of the condo! When I got down to the street, I just got more confused... there were full containers of food left here and there, fruit, beers, sodas, and lots of candles, incense sticks, and little Chinese flags stuck in the ground. I saw that the fire had mostly died out by then, snapped my pictures, and headed back upstairs, quite baffled and still a little annoyed. (It was a huge mess... and what a waste of perfectly good beer!)
Well, the next day, I found out that it was all part of the Hungry Ghost Festival. In Chinese tradition, the living pay respects to (and feed) their deceased ancestors during this time. The seventh lunar month is regarded as "Ghost Month," and the fifteenth day of that month is Ghost Day. So the full containers of food and beer and such were left to feed the ghosts of dead ancestors. Well, I'm just so glad I didn't go down there with a garbage bag in hand! The fire and a lot of the litter was owing to joss paper, a sort of "spirit money" that is burned to give the dead ancestors some money to spend in the afterlife. A good article on this fascinating tradition can be found here. For some reason, after learning about all this, that photo of the three cartons of food, all neatly lined up, spoons arranged in formation... opened and ready for the ghosts to enjoy... I don't know, it's all just a bit creepy, isn't it?
Okay, let me get some photos thrown into this mess of an entry and get it posted! More about the upcoming mooncake festival and my one-year anniversary in Malaysia to come soon!