Places to worship...

Trip Start Oct 04, 2005
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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Friday, February 3, 2006

The past couple of days have gone by in a whirl of food, conversation, city sights, jungle sights, and a couple hours of sleep snatched here and there. I have met so many people, tried so many different things, and been a part of lives so completely different from my own. My senses are in overload from all of the new sights, smells, and sounds. It has truly been a trip. But let me start back in KL where I left off last time. After we spent that incredible, if surreal, day with Ragavan and Devi, we made plans to see the city the next day with Prakash and Ragavan as our guides. First stop was the Batu Caves, a major Hindu religious sight where once a year during Thaipusam thousands of people gather to pray and show devotion. They walk up the 200+ stairs carrying heavy loads hooked into their backs with fish hooks and pierced through their cheeks with wooden sticks. I did not witness this for myself, the celebration is in a couple of weeks, but just walking up all those stairs and entering the vast cavern holding the colorful Hindu temples was awe-inspiring. Our man-made cathedrals are nothing compared to the natural one that were the Batu Caves. After making our cautious way down the steep stairs - I was doing my own praying that I wouldn't be adding them to the list of stairs I've fallen down - we headed over to the bird and butterfly sanctuaries. The bird park is the largest in the world, and though thoughts of the birdflu virus did enter my mind, they were instantly put aside at the sight of all the colorful and exotic birds. In the butterfly park there were so many fluttering around that it was almost hard to walk. One kept landing on me and I got a real butterfly kiss. I think this is the only bug that I would ever willingly allow to crawl on me, and though it was beautiful, I still got a little anxious when it was in my hair. That night we ate a kedai with John Stipka, Dad's Peace Corp trainer, his partner Kasim, and an art teacher at the international school, Jenny. Chowing down on satay and masala chicken, and of course eating with our hand, we had a great time talking politics, education, and art. Jenny has even gotten me thinking that teaching at international schools might be something that I want to do after I'm done with my trip. I mean, I won't get an orchid named after me doing that, but you do have to give some things up sometimes. And I know I have said a million times that I don't want to be a teacher, I really do love working with kids and if I could do that and travel, well, doing that sort of thing seems to run in my famil as well. But first thing's first, enjoy my time exploring. And of course, the next day Dad and I decided that we can't visit KL without going up the Petronas Towers. Though we only got to the 41st floor, I can now say that I've gone up the tallest towers in the world, the symbol of progress in Malaysia, which you can also see in the Catherin Zeta-Jones movie, Entrapment. Once we had done the tourist thing, we met up with one of Dad's Peace Corp friends, Yam, and her nephew Adam. Yam had just completed her Haj to Mecca, and she took us to the National Mosque to look around while she prayed. Wearing my headscarf and the long coat-like garment the women at the entrance had given me, Dad and I found ourselves in a beautiful, airy, white building. The entire place, lit with the multi-colored light of the stained glass and the soft white light of the afternoon sun, filled with whispers of prayer, the giggles of children, and the soft splashing of the fountain in the main corridor, had this feeling of deep peacefulness. Though so different from the Batu Caves and the Chinese temple I had stumbled across in Singapore, all three of the places of worship were beautiful in their own way. And even though I consider myself more of a spiritual person than a religious one, I felt that I could find a way to worship and reflect in each of the places. It was a very special afternoon. And that night we visited another highly spiritual place, though maybe just for me. At the insistance of Prakash, we all piled into the car to go see the fireflies. But these are not the ones we know at home. These are about 1/3 the size of the ones I used to chase on my lawn growing up, and they blink faster and often in unison. With the sliver of the moon shining bright, Prakash, Ragavan, Devi, me, Dad, and Prakash's daughter, Bria climbed into a boat with a silent motor and made our way down a little river lined with trees full of thousands of fireflies. The effect, reflected in the water as well, was of tiny twinkling Christmas lights, except more magical in a way impossible to describe or catch with a camera. It was unlike anything I have ever seen before, and once again I was humbled...
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