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July 6, 2008

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Around the World in Eight Days 

(Part 2:  Abu Dhabi to Portland)


The Journey Continues

After working for about a week in Abu Dhabi, it was time to head back to Portland -- except, of course, instead of going back via Europe, I was continuing on my eastward voyage.  I got a taxi Friday night to the airport, which is on the mainland and about 30 miles from Abu Dhabi.  My driver was a young Arab 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).  I had called the 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 but -- whew! -- I just made it.

I settled back in my seat for a 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't sleep on planes -- but it was a comfortable flight and at 2 p.m. the next day, the plane touched down at the Kuala Lumpur 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 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, which isn't too surprising considering that Malaysia used to be a British colony, including the little island at the end of peninsula nearby called Singapore.  KL is almost on the equator so it was pretty warm and humid, but nothing like the heat and humidity I'd endured in Abu Dhabi, and after eating a nice buffet dinner outside by the pool, I retired to my room and planned the next day's adventure.

Abu Dhabi airport    Flying to Kuala Lumpur    Flying over Malaysia

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

Above right:  Flying into Kuala Lumpur on Saturday afternoon. 

Kuala Lumpur airport    Hotel in Kuala Lumpur    Dinner in Kuala Lumpur

Above left:  The Kuala Lumpur airport is ultra-modern, once of the nicest I've ever seen.  And it has shiny floors!

Above center:  Here's my hotel in KL.  The open air lobby and large, hanging fans were a bonus.

Above right:  I had a great, cheap dinner that night.  The beer, though, cost me 9 bucks (yikes!)  It was definitely the most expensive beer I've ever had, but it was worth it.


Kuala Lumpur in 24 Hours

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 things: the Petronas Towers, which had been the world's tallest buildings up until a few years ago, and the Batu Caves, which I'd 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 -- kind of like what I was doing right now.


My driver's name was Nathan, though being from India, he pronounced it "Nodden," and he was about my age and seemed quite jovial.  Over the next five hours, Nathan and I talked a lot and became good acquaintances.  I simply asked him to show me around the city, or as much as he could in only five hours and he 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 Navy SEALs, had been in this area during World War II and was one of the first American soldiers to re-open the Burma Road, a critical supply line from India to America's ally, China.  And KL is only a few hundred miles up the road from Singapore, which fell early in WWII to the Japanese, another important conflict.  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 at the top providing visitors with an astounding view of Kuala Lumpur.  There were hundreds of tourists in the tower and lots of souvenir stores, where I got lots of souvenirs.  As I realized from the top of the tower, KL is a huge city with developments sprawling off into the jungles in all directions.

When I got back into the taxi, Nathan told me that the city's population of 1.5 million is about evenly divided between the Muslims and Hindus, with Muslims living on one side of the river that divides the city and Hindus living on the other.  I asked Nathan how often he drove a taxi and he said every single day, seven days a week, so 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 opulence in Abu Dhabi and it made me grateful for what I have, and more compassionate and understanding to those who don't.

Speaking of money, I needed to get some cash, which I'd tried doing at an ATM at 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'd 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.

My next stop in Kuala Lumpur was the Batu Caves.  Of course, 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.  After hiking up the 272 steps, I visited the caves for a bit, which is staffed full-time by an uninhibited group of monkeys, then headed back down to Nathan's taxi.  Then it was back to the hotel for a quick shower and change, then off to the airport. 


At the airport, I said goodbye to my new friend Nathan, 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 the China Airlines flight to Taiwan and spotted my favorite restaurant, Burger King (yes, I know that's a big disappointment to some of you), so I couldn't resist, especially since I hadn't had a whopper in months.  Besides, I was curious to know what Burger King tasted like in Malaysia.  If you're wondering, it tastes exactly like Burger King 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 and 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?  Definitely.  But now it was on to Taiwan.


Taxi driver in Kuala Lumpur    Gas station in Kuala Lumpur    Downtown Kuala Lumpur

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

Above center:  Nathan's taxi filling up with gas.  He said "gas" but actually meant "compressed gas" instead of petrol (or gasoline), which his taxi also runs on.  Natural gas is a lot cheaper than gasoline.

Above right:  Malaysia used to be a British colony and KL still has a colonial feel.  It's a fascinating city.


Petronas Towers    Kuala Lumpur from KL Tower    Batu Caves

Above left:  The Petronas Towers were the tallest buildings in the world until 2004.  I'm shooting this from the KL Tower, also one of the world's tallest buildings.

Above center:  Another view of Kuala Lumpur with endless developments sprawling off into the jungles.  About 1.5 million folks live in KL.

Above right:  I first saw the Batu Caves a few years ago on the CBS television show, "The Amazing Race" and I've wanted to visit them ever since.  The caves are at the top.

Batu Caves    Batu cave   Restroom in KL airport

Above left:  Climbing up 272 steps was a better workout than a stair-master.  The Batu Caves are sacred for Hindus and it was the only place in the past week where I didn't see any Muslims.

Above center:  The inside of the caves is interesting, but beware of the monkeys.

Above right:  Nathan dropped me off at the airport, where I took this self-portrait.  I have to stop taking pictures of myself in airport restrooms!


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, it was just a short hop, nothing to even consider.  I flew into the Taipei airport at about 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 and then coming back in through customs.


Nathan had asked me how long I was going to be in Taipei and I told him about four hours, but that I was planning to make the most of it, 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 had Chinese food at a little cafe, figuring I couldn't visit China without having Chinese food, but after four hours, 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 and an hour later, the airport was shut down for 24 hours.  Now that wouldn't have been fun, sitting in the Taipei airport for 24 hours, but my plane scooted out just in time. 


It was a 12-hour flight from Taiwan to Seattle, something that would've made me cringe a few months earlier, but I was eager to get home and by this point I'd gotten used to it, so it wasn't a big deal.  Then I took one more short flight, which brought me back to Portland, arriving there around 8 p.m.  I can't sleep on planes so after waking up that morning in Kuala Lumpur, I'd taken a tour of that city, eaten Chinese food in China, toured the Seattle airport, and was now in Portland.  And because I'd crossed the International Date Line on the flight across the Pacific, it was still the same day as when I'd left Malaysia, similar to the situation in the book "Around the World in 80 Days," the inspiration for this trip.

The past week had been an amazing and humbling experience.  I accomplished one of my life's goals, traveling completely around the world, and during the journey I realized how incredibly diverse this world is and yet how small it is and how similar people are everywhere.  Indeed, those things that separate us are much less significant than the bonds and similarities we all share.  Yes, I was exhausted but I was ready to do it all over again.  And I still am.


Burger King in Kuala Lumpur    Flying to Taiwan    Taipei airport

Above left:  Yep, the Burger Kings in Malaysia taste exactly like the Burger Kings in America.

Above center:  Flying to Taiwan on Sunday evening.  This flight was really short, only 4 hours, and at this point in my journey, a 4-hour flight was just a puddle jump.

Above right:  Spending a few hours in the Taipei airport.  Oooh, more shiny floors!



Typhoon in Taipei    Flying to Seattle    Portland airport

Above left:  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 a day.

Above center:  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'd left Taiwan.

Above right:  After a 41-hour round-the-world flight, I got back to the Portland airport and proved that, yes, the world really IS round!



Next News

January 5, 2009:  Belize Trip #2 (Two Schools and an Orphanage)


Previous News

July 6, 2008:  Around the World in Eight Days (Part 1: Portland to Abu Dhabi)

February 20, 2008:  The San Antonio School  (San Ignacio, Belize)

February 17, 2008:  The Succotz Library  (San Ignacio, Belize)

February 16, 2008:  Old Friends / Belize it or Not  (San Ignacio, Belize)

May 28, 2007:  Oregon Bound  (Portland, Oregon)

August 7, 2005: Back To Work  (Redmond, Washington)

June 25, 2004: Life in Bellingham  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 7, 2003: The Greatest Generation  (Bellingham, Washington)

March 28, 2003: My Father  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 30, 2002  (Bellingham, Washington)

July 24, 2002  (Princess Louisa Inlet, British Columbia)

July 12, 2002  (Lake City, Colorado)

July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 2  (Lake City, Colorado)

July 4, 2002: Life as a Ranger, Part 1  (Lake City, Colorado)

July 1, 2002  (Looking Glass Rock, Utah)

June 25, 2002  (Lassen Volcanic National Park, California)

June 18, 2002: Part 2  (Port Orford, Oregon)

June 18, 2002: Part 1  (Port Orford, Oregon)

May 22, 2002  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 7, 2002  (Sydney, Australia)

April 4, 2002  (Coffs Harbour, Australia)

April 1, 2002  (Hervey Bay, Australia)

March 28, 2002  (Airlie Beach, Australia)

March 25, 2002  (Port Douglas, Australia)

March 16, 2002  (Winton, Australia)

March 13, 2002  (Alice Springs, Australia)

March 11, 2002  (Ayers Rock, Australia)

March 8, 2002  (Coober Pedy, Australia)

March 5, 2002  (Port Augusta, Australia)

March 1, 2002: Part 2  (Robe, Australia)

March 1, 2002: Part 1  (Robe, Australia)

February 18, 2002  (Bega, Australia)

February 7, 2002  (Auckland, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002: Part 2  (Taupo, New Zealand)

February 2, 2002: Part 1  (Taupo, New Zealand)

January 25, 2002  (Hokitika, New Zealand)

January 20, 2002  (Geraldine, New Zealand)

January 16, 2002  (Te Anau, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002: Part 2  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 12, 2002: Part 1  (Dunedin, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002: Part 2  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

January 1, 2002: Part 1  (Christchurch, New Zealand)

December 24, 2001  (Wellington, New Zealand)

December 20, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 16, 2001  (Auckland, New Zealand)

December 14, 2001  (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)

December 10, 2001  (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)

December 3, 2001: Part 2  (Bellingham, Washington)

December 3, 2001: Part 1  (Bellingham, Washington)

October 18, 2001: Part 3  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001: Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 18, 2001: Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

October 6, 2001  (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001: Part 2  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 30, 2001: Part 1  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

September 15, 2001  (Bismarck, North Dakota)

August 30, 2001  (Webster, South Dakota)

August 18, 2001  (Watertown, South Dakota)

August 17, 2001  (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)

August 14, 2001  (Minneapolis, Minnesota)

August 10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)

August 8, 2001  (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)

August 6, 2001  (Manlius, New York)

July 23, 2001  (Middleton, Massachusetts)

July 22, 2001  (Boston, Massachusetts)

July 20, 2001  (Pomfret, Connecticut)

July 18, 2001  (Denton, Maryland)

July 16, 2001  (Cumberland, Virginia)

July 14, 2001  (Roanoke, Virginia)

July 9, 2001  (Sevierville, Tennessee)

July 8, 2001  (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)

July 5, 2001  (Manchester, Tennessee)

June 30, 2001  (Hohenwald, Tennessee)

June 29, 2001  (Corinth, Mississippi)

June 27, 2001  (Natchez, Mississippi)

June 24, 2001  (Austin, Texas)

June 20, 2001  (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)

June 18, 2001  (Clay Canyon, Utah)

June 15, 2001: Part 2  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 15, 2001: Part 1  (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)

June 14, 2001  (San Diego, California)

June 11, 2001  (San Jose, California)

June 2, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

May 19, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 30, 2001  (Hillsboro, Oregon)

April 19, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)

April 5, 2001  (Bellingham, Washington)