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Around the World in Eight(y) Days 

(Part 2:  Abu Dhabi to Portland)

 

My Journey Continues

After working for about a week in Abu Dhabi, it was time to head back to Portland.  But instead of going back via Europe, of course, I was continuing on my eastward voyage.  I got a taxi on Friday night to the Abu Dhabi International airport, which is located on the mainland and about 30 miles from Abu Dhabi.  My driver was a young Arab guy who was in a hurry to pick up someone, so it was a white-knuckle ride at 100 miles an hour on the desert freeway, and I arrived at the airport a bit shaken (but not stirred, as James Bond would say). 

 

 

This is Lenny Kravitz singing Fly Away

   

I had called my airline a few days earlier to reschedule my flight, pushing it back a day, but due to a mix-up at the airport I almost didn't make my flight.  The helpful fellow at the ticket counter was sweating as he intently stared at his computer screen, trying to find my reservation while nervously glancing at the clock.  But he finally found my reservation and printed my ticket, which I grabbed and then ran to the gate.  Yes, I literally ran and -- whew! -- I just made it.

 

I settled back into my seat for the five-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.  Malaysia has a large Muslim population, so most of the folks on the plane were Muslims, with men dressed in their white robes and women wearing black.  Of course, I didn't sleep during the flight -- I can never sleep on planes no matter how tired I am -- but it was a comfortable flight and at 2 p.m. the next day, the plane touched down at the Kuala Lumpur International airport, one of the most beautiful and modern airports I've ever seen.

 

I got a taxi and headed into Kuala Lumpur, or just "KL" as it's known, stopping at a Holiday Inn hotel on the outskirts of town that I'd found on the Internet a few nights before.  It was a pretty nice place, only $60 a night, and with its open-air lobby and large rotating fans hanging from the ceilings, it had a distinctly British colonial feel.  That isn't too surprising, I suppose, considering that Malaysia used to be a British colony, including the little island at the end of peninsula nearby called Singapore.  KL is very close to the equator, so it was quite warm and humid -- but nothing like the heat and humidity that I had endured in Abu Dhabi.  After eating a nice buffet dinner outside by the pool that evening, I retired to my room and planned the next day's adventure.

 

   

Above left:  The Abu Dhabi airport during a relaxed moment between the white-knuckle ride to the airport and the drama of my lost reservation. 

Above right:  But after I got on the plane, I settled down and enjoyed the five-hour flight to Kuala Lumpur.

 

       

Above left:  Flying into Kuala Lumpur on Saturday afternoon. 

Above center:  The Kuala Lumpur airport is ultra-modern, one of the nicest I've ever seen.  And best of all, it has really shiny floors!

Above right:  Winding my way through the KL airport.  How do I get out of here?

 

       

Above left:  Unpacking in my hotel room in Kuala Lumpur.

Above center:  And these are the hotel grounds.  The open air lobby and large, hanging fans were a bonus.  And all for only $60 a night.

Above right:  I had a great, cheap dinner that night.  Well, mostly cheap because the beer cost me nine bucks (yikes!)  It was the most expensive beer I've ever had.  By far. 

An "Amazing Race" around Kuala Lumpur

I had only one day to spend in KL, so the next morning, Sunday, I got up early and hired a taxi for several hours to take me around the city.  I didn't know much about Kuala Lumpur except for two sites:  the Petronas Towers, which had been the world's tallest buildings up until a few years ago, and the Batu Caves, which I had seen a few years earlier on the CBS television series, "The Amazing Race."  By the way, that's one of my favorite shows, which shouldn't come as a surprise, considering that it's about traveling and an around-the-world race -- very much like what I was doing right now.

 

Above:  Here's Nathan (or "Nodden" as he pronounced it), my taxi driver and tour guide.  He drove me around KL for five hours and I had a great time with him seeing the city.

My driver's name was Nathan, though being from India, he pronounced it "Nodden," and he was about my age and quite jovial.  Over the next five hours, my pleasant driver Nathan and I talked a lot and became good acquaintances.  After we met I asked him simply to show me around the city, or as much as he could in five hours. 

 

Nathan first took me to a park and war memorial called Tugu Peringatan Negara, where I hopped out and shot some pictures.  My father, who was one of the first SEALs in the U.S. Navy, had fought in northern Malaysia during World War II and in 1945 he was one of the first American soldiers to re-open the Burma Road, a critical supply line leading from India to America's ally, China.  Kuala Lumpur is only a few hundred miles up the road from Singapore, which fell to the Japanese early in WWII, another important conflict.  Several memorials to fallen soldiers fighting in Malaysia, especially during World War II and in the years afterwards, dotted the park.

 

Continuing on my tour, Nathan drove me into downtown Kuala Lumpur to the KL Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world, which has an observation floor on the top that provides an astounding view of Kuala Lumpur from the lofty elevation of 905 feet above street level.  There were hundreds of tourists in the tower and lots of souvenir stores, where I got lots of souvenirs.  I realized at the top of the tower that KL is a huge and sprawling city, with developments spreading out into the jungles in all directions.

 

Back in the taxi, we headed into the core of downtown Kuala Lumpur.  The downtown area has a fascinating assortment of ornate Victoria buildings -- a holdover from the British colonial days -- mixed incongruously with gleaming, modern skyscrapers.  Nathan told me that the city's population of 1.5 million is about evenly divided between Muslims and Hindus, with Muslims living on one side of the river that divides the city and Hindus living on the other. 

 

 

Above:  We spent the day driving around Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia and a city of 1.5 million with endless developments sprawling off into the jungles. 

I asked Nathan how often he drove a taxi and he said every single day, seven days a week, so that he can provide for his wife and several children.  That was a sobering thought, that this fellow worked every day of the year without a break, without vacation or health insurance, doing all of this to make a living and support his family.  It was especially striking to me after seeing the gaudy and sometimes nauseating opulence in Abu Dhabi.  His comment made me even more grateful for what I have, and more compassionate and understanding towards those who don't.

 

Speaking of money, I needed to get some cash so I could pay my friendly tour guide.  I had tried making a withdrawal at an ATM in the KL Tower but the machine wouldn't take my card, so I asked Nathan to stop at a bank.  I tried the ATM there but it also rejected my card.  Yikes!  Fortunately I had about a hundred dollars in American currency in my wallet so it wasn't a big problem, but as I later found out, my bank had put a hold on my transactions, since I had been making withdrawals during the past week in several foreign countries.  So here's a tip:  If you're going overseas, even just for a week, contact your bank beforehand to let them know you'll be traveling so they don't freeze your ATM card, like they did to me.

 

Above:  Nathan said he had to fill his taxi with "gas," so I thought he meant gasoline.  But he actually meant natural gas.  His taxi runs on both, but natural gas is a lot cheaper than gasoline here (and in many parts of the world).

Our next stop in Kuala Lumpur was the Batu Caves.  Nathan had never seen "The Amazing Race" on CBS but he knew where the caves were, because it's one of the most popular destinations in KL.  The caves are on the side of a cliff, so instead of walking down into the caves, you walk up an outdoor flight of 272 numbered steps to reach them.  The Batu Caves are a sacred place for Hindus and there was a large mixture of Hindus and tourists there, but not a single Muslim, the only place during the past week where I didn't see any Muslims. 

 

I hiked up the 272 steps with the throngs of visitors and visited the caves for a bit, which is staffed full-time by an uninhibited group of monkeys that perpetually look for handouts, then I headed back down to Nathan's taxi.  From there it was back to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes and then off to the airport early in the afternoon.

 

I said goodbye to my new friend Nathan at the airport, paid him the fare and gave him a large tip, then walked into the terminal and got my ticket.  I had a few hours to kill before my China Airlines flight to Taiwan and spotted my favorite restaurant, Burger King.  I just couldn't resist the temptation, especially since I hadn't had a Whopper in months.  Besides, I was curious to know what Burger King tastes like in Malaysia.  If you're wondering, a Burger King Whopper in Kuala Lumpur tastes exactly like a Burger King Whopper anywhere in America, so now you know. 

 

My plane left Kuala Lumpur at 2 p.m., so I had been in KL for exactly 24 hours.  I packed in a lot during that time, during which I learned that KL is a fascinating city with an interesting colonial history and a multi-cultural population that seems to blend together well.  Will I ever come back to Malaysia?  I hope so.  But now it was on to Taiwan.

 

       

Above left:  A war memorial at Tugu Peringatan Negara.  My father fought in Malaysia during World War II so I wanted to see this site.

Above center:  From there it was on to the KL Tower.  Opened in 1996 and with a height of 1,381 feet, it's the seventh highest tower in the world. 

Above right:  The Petronas Towers, at 1,242 feet high, were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004.  I'm shooting this from the KL Tower.

 

   

Above left:  Malaysia used to be a British colony and with all of the Victoria-era buildings, KL still has a colonial feel.  The architecture is fascinating.

Above right:  Downtown Kuala Lumpur with its aerial light-rail system.

 

       

Above left:  Heading out to the Batu Caves.  The freeways in Kuala Lumpur are very modern -- as nice as in the U.S. but with blue signs.

Above center:  I first saw the Batu Caves a few years ago on the CBS television show, "The Amazing Race" and have wanted to visit them ever since.  The caves, sacred to Hindus, are at the top of these 272 steps.

Above right:  Talk about your Stairway to Heaven.

 

       

Above left:  Catching their breath at the bottom. 

Above center:  Climbing up 272 steps was a better workout than using a stairmaster.  The Batu Caves, sacred for Hindus, was the only place in the past week where I didn't see any Muslims.

Above right:  At the top of the stairs -- pant, pant, pant!

 

       

Above left:  Wait, there are more stairs?

Above center:  Cute but clever monkeys await you at the top.  Beware because they'll take anything they see, including your keys and passport.

Above right:  With my keys and passport safely intact, I headed back down the stairs.  I discovered that going down these stairs is easier than coming up.  I'm pretty perceptive, huh?

 

   

Above left:  The poverty in certain parts of KL is staggering.

Above right:  Nathan's dashboard.  The figurine on the left brings him good luck and keeps him safe, he told me, and the one on the right brings him money.

 

       

Above left:  After our five-hour tour of Kuala Lumpur, Nathan dropped me off at the International Airport.

Above center:  Another airport restroom selfie.  Why do I take so many pictures of myself in airport restrooms, I often  wonder?

Above right:  While waiting for my flight to Taiwan, I discovered that Whoppers in Malaysia taste just like Whoppers in the U.S.  And that's no whopper.

Completing the Circle

The flight to Taiwan lasted only four hours.  Normally a four hour flight is something I mentally prepare for, or at least think about beforehand.  But at this point in my around-the-world journey and its countless mega-flights, it was just a short hop, nothing to even consider.  My plane touched down at Taipei International Airport around 8 p.m. and it was dark and stormy outside, so I decided to spend my four-hour layover in the airport instead of venturing out in the darkness -- and then having to come back in through customs.

 

Above:  Ready for yet another flight -- this one to Taiwan.  This was flight #4 of 6 during my eight day around-the-world journey.

Earlier that day in KL, Nathan had asked me how long I was going to be in Taipei and I told him about four hours.  I also told him that I was planning to make the most of it and see everything that I could, and he replied, "I bet you will."  And I did, by walking the entire length of the very large and multi-storied airport and taking lots of pictures.  I even ate some Chinese food at a little cafe, figuring I couldn't visit China (well, sort of) without eating Chinese food. 

 

Around midnight, I boarded my China Airlines flight to Seattle, and it's a good thing we left when we did because a typhoon (or hurricane as they say in America) was rolling in.  In fact, the airport was shut down for 24 hours just an hour later.  Now that wouldn't have been too fun, sitting in the Taipei airport for 24 hours while a hurricane was raging outside, but fortunately my plane scooted out of Taiwan just in time, bound for America.

 

My flight from Taiwan to Seattle lasted 12 hours, something that would've made me cringe a few months earlier, but I was eager to get home and by this point I had gotten so used to long flights that it wasn't a big deal.  We landed in Seattle on a sunny afternoon and from there I took one more short flight, which brought me back home to Portland, arriving there around 8 p.m. 

 

Above:  Sunset over China.  The flight to Taipei was short, only four hours -- just a puddle jump at this point.

Like I say, I can't sleep on planes so after waking up that morning in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, I had taken a harried tour of that city, eaten Chinese food in China (well, sort of), dodged a typhoon, toured the Seattle airport, and was now back home in Portland -- all without a wink of sleep.  And because I had crossed the International Date Line on my flight across the Pacific, it was still the same day as when I had left Malaysia. 

 

It was similar, as you may recall, to the situation at the end of "Around the World in 80 Days" -- the book that had inspired me to take this trip -- when Phileas Fogg and his sidekick Passepartout suddenly realized they had won the wager because they had crossed over the date line during the course of their trip (oops -- Spoiler Alert!)

 

I had had an amazing and humbling experience these past eight days and accomplished one of my life's goals, traveling completely around the world.  During my journey I realized how incredibly diverse, and yet small, this world is.  Along with proving that the world is round, I learned how similar people are everywhere and realized that the things which separate us are much less significant than the bonds and similarities that we all share. 

 

Yes, I was as exhausted as Phileas and Passepartout at the end of Jules Verne's novel.  But I was ready to do it all over again (and I still am).  Anyone want to wager?

 

   

Above left:  I spent a few hours in the Taipei airport in Taiwan, checking the whole place out.  Oooh, more shiny floors!  As you can probably tell, I like shiny floors.

Above right:  I couldn't visit China (well, sort of) without eating some Chinese food (well, sort of).  It came complete with chopsticks and a beverage in a can that was totally undecipherable.

 

       

Above left:  Going through immigration in Taipei -- not me, them.

Above center:  I made it out of Taipei just in time.  A typhoon was rolling in and in a few hours, it would close the airport for an entire day.

Above right:  After a 12-hour flight over the Pacific, I saw clear skies over Seattle and there was only one more plane to catch.  Due to the International Date Line, I landed in Seattle on Sunday afternoon four hours before I had left Taiwan.

 

   

Above left:  In Seattle waiting for my flight to Portland.  Or did I just miss it?

Above right:  After flying for 41 hours around the world during the previous eight days, I returned to Portland, thus proving that the world really IS round!

 


 

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