So Long, Kuala Lumpur

So long, Kuala Lumpur.
So long, Kuala Lumpur.

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Getting out of town was trickier than expected due to some confusion over what airport I needed.

Flying AirAsia once again, I was ready for almost anything from a foreign budget airline. Even if everything — including ticketing myself with an Indonesian name by accident — had thus far gone as smoothly as possible.

When the taxi arrived at City Hotel to whisk me away, the driver tried to use his powers of deduction to figure out where to go. Apparently, “airport” isn’t specific enough.

Another seemingly interminable ride on Malaysia’s equivalent of the autobahn brought us to a fork in the road that presented us with the option of turning toward Kuala Lumpur International Airport or the Low-Cost Carrier Terminal.

Easy enough.

Once inside the spacious, modern space, I grabbed a version of a chicken crepe with this creamy white sauce that tasted somewhere between mayonnaise and tartar sauce. Not exactly a gourmet meal, but passable and convenient.

From there, I double-checked my flight information and looked around for a way to kill some time. Preferably through the use of some good old free wi-fi.

Of the meager collection of things I packed, the one item I couldn’t imagine not having was the small yet unbelievably convenient iPod Touch. Not much bigger than a half-pack of cards, it had allowed me to check e-mail and connect with friends in Jakarta and Bali thus far; at my fingertips were weather forecasts, blog drafts (such as this one), local maps and airline tickets.

In the Kuala Lumpur airport, LCCT Terminal, I also found my lifeline: A Starbucks that offered free wi-fi. I could hardly believe my luck at being able to achieve such a clear Skype connection, better than at most hotels.

Why exactly I chose to first set foot on the Indian subcontinent at Kolkata, I can’t really say. Maybe it had to do with never having heard any Westerner talk about it, thus making it truly new to me. Previously known as Calcutta, the city was familiar to me in a vague lore of Mother Teresa and the lepers to which she devoted her life.

The idea alone scared and thrilled me.

Setting foot on the jet that would carry me into the unknown would feel like those few moments near the crest of a rollercoaster’s first massive drop where fear and physics intermingled for a singular sensation of ecstasy.

The actual waiting was, of course, far less dramatic.

Passengers, many of them dressed in tunics, saris and turbans, looked nonplussed. As far as I could tell, no one else sported the telltale tourist badge: the knapsack.

Aboard the Airbus A300, the cabin was the rowdiest I’ve ever encountered. Voices chattering, hands hustling for overhead-bin space, jackets coming on or off, all with regard for personal space. Not to say anyone was rude; on the contrary. Although there was a feel of a New York City subway car at rush hour, fellow travelers jostled and were jostled with no discernible animosity.

It was amazing.

Soon, we took off, India a few short hours away.

Thanks to Kathryn for a wonderful guest-editing job.

Looking at Jalan Petaling in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown.
Looking at Jalan Petaling in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown.

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