Saturday, November 27, 2010

malaysia and switzerland

Okay, I'm back from my tour of Switzerland and Malaysia. Switzerland was for work and had its ups and downs (as it is I got there I cracked a tooth so I had to find emergency dental treatment) but after the seminar I went down to Geneva for the weekend. I've never been to Geneva and I found it to be, I don't know, not as nice as I expected. I think when you spend time in Switzerland most of the cities look so good that cities like Geneva just seems so-so by comparison. I got to see the CERN particle accelerator facility though which was really cool, and they do have free boats that go across the lake near the Jet d’lau and the Lakeside of Geneva is scenic. Just that if you have been to some other places like Interlaken or Z├╝rich then it doesn't hit you with as much "wow" factor as it normally might. Two days was about enough to see everything that I wanted to.

Switzerland is also really expensive so if you're planning to go you better be prepared shell out a lot of money for meals. Expect to pay at least $60 plus for even a straightforward meal at a restaurant. Fast food meal will be $12 plus per person.

I did enjoy taking the train from Basel to Geneva though, it was nice to see the countryside and there was a fantastic view from the train once it got to the mountains near the lake.

So I was back in Doha for about 24 hours before flying off to Malaysia to visit a Qatari friend of mine for the Eid holidays. I was pleasantly surprised by Kuala Lumpur, it was clean, safe, very modern, had a pretty good metro system. I could wander around the various neighborhoods and no one would bother me. The city had a few interesting sites such as the KL Tower, Petronas Tower and nearby park, and the Batu Caves (Hindu shrines and temples set in a cave in a mountainside, definitely worth seeing, but you're climbing at least 200 steps). My friend had one day off so we spent that going up to the Cameron Highlands to see the jungle and tour a tea plantation. I also spent time in Kuala Lumpur seeing a bird park, the national Mosque, a butterfly park, doing a bit of shopping, and going to a fish spa, where you put your feet in the tank and fish start eating all the dead skin on your feet. Tickles like all get out and I spent the first five minutes laughing my head off.

I also got to try durian, the infamously smelly fruit. At first I had a dessert with a durian sauce on it and it was pretty tasty, though it did smell a bit, but then my friend remembered that there was a durian stand somewhere near the fish spa so we went to seek it out. I knew we were getting close due to the smell -- either that or someone threw up in an alleyway -- and sure enough about 50m later there was a big stand of durians. The owner was willing to open the fruit right there and you could sit on some plastic chairs and eat it. The fruit is so smelly that many hotels, and the Metro, will not allow you to take the fruit in. The fruit actually tastes nothing like it smells, more like a sweet banana. Another group of four tourists also bought a durian and were sitting at a table near us trying it, at least one of them gagged and had to spit it out, they couldn't get past the smell.

It was also quite muggy and hot in Kuala Lumpur, typically sunny and hitting the mid-30s with high humidity. Going outside and walking around became a bit tiring and you were quickly just soaked with sweat. But every day around 2:30 to 3:30 there would be a massive downpour that would last about a half hour to 45 minutes, and then everything would be cooler and fresher. I only got caught in the downpour once but I had a very large umbrella with me so only my feet got wet (I was also using the umbrella as a sun umbrella for walking around, great investment and I recommend anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur to keep a big umbrella with them at all times).

Eating in Kuala Lumpur was great. There were tons of street stalls and restaurants selling Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Chinese, and related cuisines. You could typically get decent meals for five bucks provided you didn't want to go to fancy restaurants in malls and stuff. As I was with my Qatari friend we had to make sure we were eating in a halal restaurant, which were plentiful but not every restaurant was halal. Malaysia has strict laws about labeling so almost anything that is halal has to be labeled as such. I even bought some tea when we were at the Boh tea plantation and the boxes of tea had the symbol that it was halal (how in the world tea couldn't be halal is beyond me but there you go).

Back in Doha now, where I continue my Arabic classes and get out and about more because the weather has cooled, but more on that later.


Anonymous said...

i love durian!! tastes yummy! :D

house said...

just stumbled on to your blog while researching qatar & work. i'm from malaysia. glad you enjoyed KL.
Is qatar alot more liberal than abu dhabi & dubai?

Glen McKay said...

I guess it all depends on what you mean by "liberal". Access to alcohol? Treatment of women? Ease of travel? Pork?

That said, generally, is Qatar more liberal than Dubai? Definitely not.

Is Qatar more liberal than Abu Dhabi? Probably not. Abu Dhabi is less liberal than Dubai but I don't think it's quite as conservative as Qatar.

Is Qatar more liberal than Saudi Arabia? You betcha!

I've lived here almost 5 years and you can get alcohol if you want it, go to nightclubs if you want to, wear a bathing suit at the beach if you want to, and ladies can go without a headscarf if they want to. But it still is not as liberal as some other parts of the Gulf. No "adult materials", no belly dancers, greater restrictions on alcohol than other places, no pork.