Dueling is legal in Paraguay as long as both parties are registered blood donors.
To raise global population awareness in honor of July 11th, World Population Day I present a map. More than half the world’s population lives in this circle which includes: China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Malaysia, Philippines and South Korea.
I have been out of the states for six months now. For some reason, this chapter in my story has been written mostly on journal pages rather than my blog. Perhaps I am becoming a more private person? I believe in story-telling and sharing experiences, so I would like to share backlogged journal notes…
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Age is a mental space. I pursue what my heart dictates, not my birth year. But, did I mention I feel a bit older in my Kuala Lumpur hostel? As I am dozing to sleep, the European and American young ladies in my room are getting dolled up to head out. To where….probably just the roof to find their dream backpacker boy of the night. 3am rolls around and I am awoken by the returning party-goers. No big deal. I remember 21 and, boy, was it fun. I easily fall back asleep as young men are snuck in and little girls tiptoe around giggling.
My alarm and jetlag wake me pretty early, so I am up and ready to explore! The girl on the bed under mine does not seem so thrilled by early morning sightseeing. As I am locking away my bags she whips open her curtain to give me a very mean face. That’s it, no words. No polite request for silence. Just an angry, I-stayed-up-too-late-and-am-hungover look. For some reason I apologize. I am not sorry and despise when I apologize for no reason. I am the farthest thing from sorry. They were rowdy and whispering into the morning with their newest make-out buddy. I am tiptoeing and exiting as fast possible. This, my friend, is the joy of cheap stays. You deal with other people’s shit and schedules and share a room with 10 other people so you can spend your money elsewhere. I mentally rescind my apology and saunter into the heavy, early morning air.
I have a long list of things to do, so I stop to chat with the staff and see if it can all be done. Even if I am told no, I will likely do it all anyhow. I am told no, that I should go outside the city to the caves because there would be a large, political rally in the city and it get dangerous for “someone like me”. All right. The caves are on my list so why not start there. I set out walking to the train station, but anyone who travels slowly and flexibly knows that the odds of me getting to my first destination first are low.
There are markets filled to the brim with people in different colored matching t-shirts. Hawkers galore. Groups chanting. I am armed and ready with my camera and notebook. The train station never stood a chance. A group of women cheer in the center of the market. They have a sign in English that demands: transparent and clean elections, eradication of corruptions, equality, among other important rights. My interest is piqued and the caves disappear from my mind. I wander trying to figure out what all the propaganda means.
I am stopped by an old man who is certain I am a journalist. I eventually stop trying to convince him otherwise. Today, I am Jessie, American photojournalist, roaming the globe to uncover and share the injustices of the world. The man tells me more about his cause in broken English. He is super excited and says he can’t believe there is a foreigner joining in the rally. It came to be know at the People’s Uprising Rally or KL 112 Rally.
I walk on, not knowing where I was or where I was going. Note: the best type of walking. The flow of the people is magnetic. I began in an area only dotted with fluorescent t-shirts and end up at the very heart of the event. People line the winding walkway up to stadium where the rally would soon begin. The clamor of protest fills the streets. There are vendors selling food and shirts and masks and scarves and all things one would need to join the party. While I want more than anything to adorn myself in fluorescents, I am still not completely sure what each color and party represent. I choose to remain the American photojournalist rather than become the white chick protesting Malaysian corruption and government.
While I understand things can very easily escalate in this setting, there was an air of excitement and solidarity. I was on guard, but not fearful or concerned. I arrive at the stadium where the entry roads converge and determine it is safe for here. I see a few infants, which always makes me feel better. Hey, if people are going to take their kids and women are roaming around and making a ruckus as well…then I’ll hang around too. (Yes, I understand women and children get hurt all the time, but it, trust me, it felt right.)
I continue past the main assembly waiting to get into the stadium. As I round a bend, Survivor by Destiny’s Child blares on the speakers. How perfect! Fighting for equality, calls to end corruption, Guy Fawkes masks and some Beyonce. I’m a survivor, I’m not gon’ give up. I’m gon’ work harder… Solid message girl. I imagine she would be honored to know her song is played and perfectly appropriate for settings of revolution. I wonder what that song was written over…
I sit on the side of the road to observe and steal photos of little kids (that always sounds way creepier when I type it then in my head). Oh well. Kids are wonderful. Especially kid protesters. I walk back up to the stadium where they just opened the gates and people are flooding in. Rather than get in too deep, I perch myself on a wall near the exit where I can overlook the whole event.
Time to talk to people! I meet some 20-something Malays who explain (in better English than the dear old man from earlier) the rally and their positions. It seems good-natured. There is really no opposition present, though I’m sure there always is somewhere. The guys come and go from our spot and people continue to file in with flags and babies and colors and loud horns. A Chinese man soon joins me. The diversity of KL was phenomenal! Chinese, Malays, Indians, Christians, Muslims. Oh the languages!
Back to my new Chinese friend. He was on fire with rally excitement, explaining how terrible the government and corruptions are and how magnificent it is that everyone was coming together today to oppose it. There would be over 100,000 people present to listen to speeches from leading advocates of clean democracy and equal representation. Simply glorious stuff. We discuss where we thought trouble would go down and our exit strategy just in case.
The Malay guys come back and are giggly. There is only one possible outcome…. Yes, of course I’ll take photos with everyone in a 40-foot radius. It gives me a chance to hold up banners and flags and put on my protester face. As my fame subsides and the speeches soon to begin (in Malay), I slip out the gate to see what else I might stumble upon. I am reluctant to leave, but will not understand the Malay anyway and was not up for someone translating to me for 2 hours. The streets are even more crowded now as I force my way against the flow of the crowd. A politician enters. Photographers go wild. I wish I spoke Malay.
Once through the crowd, I orient myself toward a nifty looking station building I had seen earlier. I suppose I can make my way to the caves now. Low and behold, I come across an ocean of purple shirts and signs marching towards me. YES! It the women’s group. I knew something was missing. There are a few men scattered throughout women and girls of all ages. I end up walking back toward the stadium with three schoolgirls, then branching off to try, yet again, to get myself to the train station. Just when I thought the whole of KL was at the rally, I round a corner to see hundreds of humans in colorful shirts pour out of every bus and train, rushing to the stadium. I board a nearly empty train out of the city. What a way to start a day.
The Batu Caves
Now, it’s off to the Batu Caves, a holy Hindu site. They are supposed to be stunning rock formations, so I am curious but cynical. Having been to the “most sacred space” in Hinduism—Varanasi on the Ganges River….I had no idea what to expect from another most holy Hindu space. Varanasi is incredible. I can’t help but think of it as the mini-Gotham City of India. It is a dark place. It is also one of the dirtiest, most intense cities I spent time in in India…or anywhere. I’ll leave it at that.
Back in Malaysia, it is a pleasant 28-minute train ride to the Batu Caves, which lie north of KL. The train exit is at the very gate to the caves where a huge colorful statue greets you, then an even larger gold one dares you to climb the 272 stairs into the caves. Monkeys ran amuck as I climb towards the heavens. The cave is indeed spectacular. In keeping with Indian motif, there were animals and mud and feces all over the place but I don’t think it distracted much from the grandeur of the cave itself. I’d like to be there for an actual ceremony. There is a set of darker caves you can pay to wander, but I do not believe they are part of the traditional ceremonies, rather a tourist trap. I allow myself to sit in a dimmer space, close my eyes and breathe in the history of the space I am in.
On my descent, the monkeys became a significant part of the spectacle. It must be mating season because…there was a lot happening. I found myself getting ticked off at this one chauvinistic, little male monkey. He was rolling around and showing off then would choose a female monkey approach her and have his way. (Warning: I am going into detail here….). The male monkey would turn the female around, stick it’s face and fingers in her then when it seemed he approved, he would bend her over. Then move on to the next. He was such a little ass, when he was having sex with one female monkey and another caught his eye he just pushed the one away and run on to show off. I ended up sitting and watching the monkey debauchery (in hindsight I probably looked a bit odd and overly interested) and thinking about male/female interactions in other species. I left routing for a female monkey movement to burn bras and sexually liberate themselves. So there’s that.
As I venture down the stairs a hand grabs my backpack and pulls me back pretty hard. There are a good number of people around so I could not believe someone would so blatantly grab me. After the monkey incident, I just know in my bones it is some terrible man out to bother me. I wheel around with a fist raised to combat my assailant or at least look more threatening (hah). You would not believe it, it is that fucking male monkey (please excuse my language). He dug deep into the side pocket of my backpack, tore open my bag of snap pea crisps then sat, pleased with himself, eating them one at a time. I laughed. Everyone around joined in.
Next, I hop on the train to the National Mosque. On the walk over I take a tunnel under a busy road. It was much longer than anticipated and pitch black in the middle. I am spooked and thankful when I see light. I am slightly on edge when I approach the mosque, not even sure if me and my vagina would be permitted to enter. I hear two Asian guys ask someone if they could go in the mosque. I saunter over to join the conversation and possibly walk in with them. We could indeed go in, so I join my new friends. I learn they just moved to KL from Korea for an internship.
We are given long robes, even though many people lounging inside are in exactly what we were wearing outside. As I go to walk in, a man that works there very abruptly stops me and hands me a piece of cloth saying, “I suggest you must wear this to go in”. Hmmmm, interesting word choice. Speaking of choice, it doesn’t seem to be available despite the “suggestion”. I cover my head to ensure I don’t distract any devout Muslim men from their mid-afternoon Mosque nap.
It is a beautiful space. People lay around in the shade by pools of water. A volunteer gives us a tour of the grounds. It is a modern, clean, open space. The main roof and a few smaller ones look like umbrellas and there is a 73 meter-high minaret. We get to go to the second floor where the women are permitted to pray. They are not required to go to the Mosque as stringently as the men and are given burqas that look like curtains if they do not bring their own or are not covered enough. Seriously, they are made out of the curtains in my 1980s/90s childhood home.
Some other points of interest before I get too far into gender…. political leaders are buried at the mausoleum at the Mosque. When Muslims are buried they are laid on their side facing Mecca. The prayer area holds up to 3,000 people and the mosque’s capacity is 15,000. I tell the group about the rally earlier in the day. Our guide wants nothing to do with it so we move on. He tells us that Muslims are asking for forgiveness when they pray five times per day. Based on my guide’s logic (this was after he confirmed the Koreans are Christian)…if Christians only ask for forgiveness on Sundays at church or if they pray on our own (which he doubts they do 5+ times per day)…then who has “more forgiveness” and is more likely to go to heaven/receive God’s salvation. Christians out there, this seems like your call to prayer. You do not want Muslims receiving more forgiveness then you, now do you? As if religions are competing for each other spots in heaven. My oh my. Our guide had indicated earlier that women do not have to pray as much as men, so does that mean they are less likely to receive forgiveness and go to heaven? I question him for clarity not to provoke. The guide attempts to clarify his religion and disprove stereotypes, but from my perspective he did not make much progress. I was routing for him.
Toward the end of the tour, after these fun talks with our, he keeps returning to female/male issues. A favorite of mine that I’ve heard far too often is how women should be covered lest we distract and tempt good Muslim men with our flesh. No matter how many times I hear or read that, when someone says it to my face it takes everything in my power to hold my tongue. Our guide then asks the Koreans what they think is the most attractive part of a women. They respond eyes. Good boys. The guide, however, corrects them: “No, men are attracted by the female figure and her hair, so because men cannot control themselves, women must cover these things.” Needless to say, it is an especially educational tour for me. The Koreans and I say our thank yous and leave. They comment on how ridiculous his comments were. I’m glad to hear that.
I planned to walk to the Islamic National Art Museum next and so my new friends decide to come with. Talking walking. The usual getting-to-know-other-humans dance. Leaving the area we encounter the post-rally ruffians. The streets were teeming! It seemed much of the crowd wanted to stay out after the speeches so they congregated around the mosque/museum. It was madness. Again, I found myself pushing through the masses to go the opposite direction.
We were starving after all of that Islam, so made our way to Chinatown to choose the most crowded restaurant we could find. It had that perfect Southeast Asian feel—tables all over the sidewalk, humid, steamy weather, huge woks. We had a small feast. I had planned on a siesta but the food revived me so we decided to stick together and forge on through the sprawl of KL. We visiting the space needle–like tower. Feeling slightly underwhelmed, we then stopped for a beers at an Iranian restaurant. We concluded the night under the magnificently lit Petronas Twin Towers. Sitting by the fountains under the tremendous, glowing, matching structures, we expressed our gratitude for each other’s presence and a lovely day of city exploration and breaking bread. Then, slipped off into the night.
Back at the hostel, I make no attempt to go to the bar. It was a cold shower and a cozy book for this little lady.
February 2012. Tahrir Square. Cairo, Eygpt.
Christians form a circle around Muslims to protect them during prayer.