13 Hours in Kuala Lumpur [Hipstamatic]

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” Fuck those fuckers making so much noise last night. People have to go to fucking work. I’m gonna tell them.”

Agreed. Except I’d say people have to go to Vietnam instead of work. I’m surprised anyone lives in the Ribbon Stayyz Bed & Breakfast hostel but it is really cheap. It’s ideally located above a KK Mini Mart Training Center in Chinatown, so maybe she decided to take the opportunity to broaden her skills while she’s here. Who knows?

Basically, I did little to no planning for my one night layover in Kuala Lumpur to Denang, Vietnam. I had 13 hours and since this is my second time in KL I thought I’d stay in Chinatown and have the evening and the morning to wander around before I go back to the airport…ahh…yeah…nooo.

First, I forgot that it takes an hour to get into the city from the airport. Second, I trusted a Trip Advisor review by someone I know (don’t know them well) who said,

“To look at it from outside you wonder what is inside but when you are inside you know you are in the right place. It is quiet at night, warm welcome from Joy, great connection with fellow travelers, helpful advice, clean rooms – yes, small but if you are just sleeping then that is fine. Comfortable, tea and coffee available… breakfast is very basic but if you’re on a budget ok. Bathrooms are great. All in all I recommend it for you to stay if you’re doing a city break or stopover. “

It’s a $20 (for a private room) a night backpacker hostel in Chinatown. To get to reception I walked inside the KK Mini Mart, past the isle with Massimo white bread on one side and toothpaste, cosmetics and lotions on the other. The front door was next to the photocopier. I walked up a flight of stairs to the common room / reception area that was straight out of Animal House.

That’s when I remembered, I’m not a backpacker. I’m not a flashpaker (a backpacker who travels with their apple gear). I’m not a tourist…I’m the Wandering Jen on the road, and I need a comfortable hotel, with a good bed and a nice, clean bathroom. I want Wi-Fi that works and a decent tea /hot water set up. I don’t need breakfast but it needs to be quiet and centrally located.

Information absorbed, I get it. For $20 a night in a major city there is no “real deal”. I had a moment in Bali where I thought I was getting a deal…now I’m here and laughing because last night was a scene from college dorm life.

Picture this…A young Indian guy checked me in and never told me his name. (I assumed he was “Joy” personified) He walked me up to the 3rd floor, carrying a blanket, a towel and my bag. Quickly punching in a key code for the glass door to the hallway, he showed me to ribbon #2. Inside is a mattress on the floor, with old yellow sheets that have red flowers and there’s no blanket on the bed because he’s holding it in his hand. I prayed there were no bed bugs. It had no windows, the walls were painted sky blue with holes, marks and peeling paint. We won’t talk about the carpet, I’ll leave it to your imagination. The towel, blanket and sheets on the bed all smelled clean, if somewhat stained. I could smell mold and the air con didn’t work. There was no stepping into the room because it’s a mattress on the floor with just enough room for your bag. You just jump on to the bed from the doorway.

The two communal bathrooms were conveniently located at the end of the hall right next to ribbon #2. In one the faucet didn’t work and in the other the toilet didn’t flush. (no toilet paper at 6am this morning!) That was the only toilet on the floor so it was a bummer. The walls were painted black, with no windows and it smelled of mold. I went downstairs to tell the nameless Indian guy about the toilet but I never saw him again until this morning.

This morning I realized my stay comes with breakfast. There’s a toaster in the common room with a bag of white bread, a jar of jam, a tub of something that is the same color as butter and two knives. There’s a dispenser for hot and cold water for coffee and tea in the “breakfast corner”. I laughed out loud while I took the picture.

Luckily last night I found a 24 hour curry place a few doors down that serves chai and roti. I had garlic roti that was tasty once I scrapped off the 3 gloves of garlic packed inside it. My 13 hours in KL was a scene from backpacker dorm life, complete with a 24 curry joint and Starbucks across the road to sit in while I write this over a morning cup of tea.

Now on to Vietnam for our regularly scheduled adventure. Do you think I need to do a Trip Advisor review? I’m not a backpacker who stays in hostels so it could be just fine for some. What do you think?

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Chi Nei Tsang – Feelings of Fear and Envy


“That’s your womb, does it hurt?” she asked. I told her,” no” the pressure felt warm and soothing, it was causing a flood of emotion through me. Old, buried feelings of fear about terminating a pregnancy in college surfaced. Feelings that were different from the surges of energy that came when we were making the sounds, this felt like a warm blanket of raw emotion. I began to think about how scared I was then and the raw emotions of being pregnant so young and how to handle it and hide it.

I could feel fear about even telling her all that in the moment. So instead I just said “I had an operation there, I can feel it. I can feel the hardness around it.”
What I meant was not only did I feel the physical hardness there, but I also felt the emotional hardness when I thought about it. I could tell those long buried feelings were starting to unhinge and as she continued to massage my abdomen, I simply allowed myself to feel the sadness and grief that was there.

As the masseuse applied pressure at different points in my abdomen I felt more tenderness and again I asked what area that was. She told me it was a meridian point where all the digestive organs meet, an important part of the digestive system.

I started thinking about my friend Anders. I had this powerful recognition that the capacity we have to love & connect as human beings is so great, it felt beyond me to understand. As if she had pressed a certain key on my keyboard and I was recognizing the fear I had in high school of him knowing how much I liked him. That my own embarrassment about my feelings was directly linked to the love I’m feeling for him right now. Being a teenager I was completely afraid of being embarrassed or betrayed by my feelings. I was scared of being made fun of or feeling humiliated if he didn’t like me. Back then, out of ignorance, I went out with someone I didn’t really care about as much. It was safer, he liked me and I knew it. I thought I cared about him, I wanted to, but I was coming from a place of fear. I was terrified of feeling rejected and immature because Anders was always getting back together with his girlfriend at the time. It was so long ago I didn’t even remember those feelings, but they felt like me and somewhere I was holding on to them, carrying them around. Not about him, but about the fear. Facing and admitting those fears connects me to how much I love our friendship now. I’ve learned the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s fear.

So as the masseuse was rubbing my abdomen, I was breathing in and out. Just letting feelings flood through me and trusting that it was all surfacing for good reason. I was kind of amazed at what my body was telling me. I was feeling hopeful that I’ve outgrown this and I won’t keep repeating the same patterns over and over.

I decided to get the massage for the next two days. I read it’s good to do the Chi Nei Tsang treatment at least three times. That it helps both physical and emotional digestion. Undigested emotions create just as many toxins & blockages in our body as undigested food. Clearly, I’m willing to let go of some undigested emotions. Why not have the full experience?

The second day the pressure was harder and different points were feeling tender and sore. We made sounds for each organ, just like the day before and I felt surges of energy through my body as we made each of the sounds. I belted out a Hawwwww as strong as I could to release tension and get blood circulating from my heart and small intestines. A ssshhhhhh to detoxify my liver. Wwwhhooo to help digestion in my stomach and spleen. Hissed out a ssssssss to release toxins from my lungs and large intestine. Gave a loud wwwoooooo to give energy to my kidney and bladder.

The masseuse got to work and I felt less tenderness and pain in my womb and more in the area where all my digestive organs meet. That place felt so sensitive and tender. I started thinking about how envious I was feeling watching other people’s families around the resort. I was around big extended families vacationing together and through my lens they looked like they were all getting along and enjoying each other. I felt envy when I watched young mothers with their kids surrounded by what looked like a supportive, loving partner and family. Even envy when saw girlfriends traveling together, laughing and having fun. None of this had even registered consciously with me until I was on the massage table. There were so many other beautiful things to focus on, so much around me that appealed to my senses. I had even met a new friend and spent time with her family. I started to really appreciate that I had this hour to recognize what lens I was seeing this experience through. I felt so much stronger about how I choose to go to school in England so far away from my family and friends as direct reaction to an envy that’s deep inside me. At that time I didn’t feel like I had the support I needed. I just didn’t feel connected to people in my life and that caused a split in me even further. My family always treated me like I was so different from them, so I pretended I was being unique and tried to get as far away as possible.

I looked up envy online when I got back to the room. “Something someone else has that makes us feel insecure or jealous because we don’t have it. “ In Hinduism envy is a disastrous emotion. It causes continued suffering because we live in this state of illusion. It’s the mind out of balance with itself. “The conditioned soul gives up envy by regulated activities under the direction of the Guru or Spiritual Master.”

In the middle of an amazing experience at a 5 star resort, in an exotic location, I’m ashamed to admit my feelings of envy.

I’m even shy to admit that I’ve met a Guru who has been kind enough to lovingly and harshly call me on my shit. She’s been willing to hang out with me for as much as I’m willing to wake up. So because of this I’m very aware that an opportunity to be free of envy was presented to me. It’s time to admit, I’m just not willing to do the work right now.

I want to enjoy life, I want to travel, I want to experience 5 star hotels, I want a loving and committed relationship with a man. I want to taste everything right now. I don’t have the willingness to do that spiritual work yet, so I choose to live with my envy. I have to see that it’s my own choice.

I’ll be as aware of it as I can and ask for another way to let go of it. Maybe there’s another way. For now I’ll allow it in. Understand that I may be tasting life instead of enjoying a satisfying meal and be ok with that in the moment. I can just peek over my own lenses enough to catch myself sometimes when envy rears its ugly head, mid 5 star massage.

I decided to use my camera and take pictures using the theme of envy. Not for a day, or an hour, but ongoing, to check in and show myself what ignites my envy. Using it as a signal to change the lens.

By the last day my abdomen was tender. The same places I’ve talked about were tender when she touched them gently, and I could feel myself soften around the feelings that came up after we made the sounds for each organ and I simply continued to breathe in and out. I just relaxed while I was on the table and it wasn’t until the next morning lying in bed that the emotions from this massage surfaced.
Waking up rested and tender I felt like, “Wow, this is my life. This is amazing that I’m here in Malaysia and this is actually my life.” Within the same moment I could feel the tenderness in my abdomen and also felt the deep sadness of feeling 43 years old and never having felt like I was in a loving, intimate, adult relationship. The sadness and pain of feeling like I had not yet experienced that was as exhilarating as waking up feeling the joy that I was in Malaysia at this beautiful resort. All of it was my life. The joy, the exhilaration, the sadness, the envy. I have just been experiencing them more fully in my body and recognizing which lens I’m using. I’ve slowed down enough to recognize different feelings and that I need to digest them.

For the rest of the day I felt so grateful to the Yogi who has taught me that the places in our body where we hold the shame, the guilt, the embarrassment, the arrogance are exactly the places we need to go. Not to avoid them and put them in a box to deal with later. Those places hold the most powerful, potential energy we have in our bodies. To be in the gratitude for the feelings and use them as a radar to zoom in on those areas and release them. Make a sound, whatever it feels like, release it with sound vibration and the rest will follow.

Waking up each morning at a beautiful resort in Malaysia, I realized, it’s all my life. The undigested blocks, the pain, the embarrassment, the shame, the joy, the love, the adventure… and the wonder of it all. I don’t need any answers, I just need to ask the questions. What am I feeling right now? Am I shoving this feeling down?

Life at The Andaman, Langkawi

When I arrived in Langkawi, Malaysia that little voice inside told me to go online and book myself into a 5 star resort… so I did. . .I went from a comfortable backpacker B&B for $45 a night to a 5 star resort in the middle of a rainforest for $220 a night. The experience at The Andaman, Langkawi was one of the most luxurious and restful experiences I’ve ever had. They had an online deal for 50% off and the location looked gorgeous. It was tucked away between a 10 million year old rainforest and the breathtaking beach of Datai Bay.

National Geographic rated Datai Bay #9 of their top 10 beaches the world. It’s clean, white sand and quietly tucked away between The Datai and The Andaman resorts so it’s never crowded. Langkawi is filled with beautiful 5 star resorts and a place people dock their yachts. 

Before I clicked the button online to confirm the reservation, the voices inside my head were screaming…”you are CRAZY to be spending this money…it’ll be all couples and families, you’ll be alone, it’s too expensive…” and I had a slight headache. I ignored all of it and just listened to that little voice.

What did I experience? Probably the best 3 nights and 4 days I’ve had on this trip. I have experienced some amazing scuba diving. I’ve stayed at sweet B&B’s and then some for $20 a night just for flavor.  This time, I made a new friend, Jamie. We met at the Spa (of course). She was there with her boyfriend because she found the same 50% online deal while they were on holiday in KL. Jamie’s Mom lives in Kuala Lumpur and when she told her about the deal, her Mom decided to come from KL with her partner. They were all lovely.  They gave me a list of places to stay, restaurants and a little map of where to shop in KL.

The hotel was fairly empty, which was lovely. It’s the slow season and the beginning of the rainy season, so it rained for an hour or two most evenings. I had a drink in the bar with the Executive Assistant Manager, James Lim, he even met me the next day to talk with me more because I was so fascinated with the resort. A couple of big groups were arriving that weekend so the week I was there was the calm before the crowd. Each day when I’d go to one of the restaurants, someone would always come over to my table and say, “Hello Miss Baxter, would you like to something to read?” I loved it. I know only 1% of the world that lives that way. I just wasn’t completely aware what that experience is like.

What makes this place such a special experience? The staff is always the key ingredient. They all felt genuinely happy working there and it’s a very unique and beautiful place. The environment is some of the most precious rainforest on the island and possibly the world. The hotel management works hard to stay in alignment with the environment and their  green practices are outlined on their website. What’s impressive environmentally is from the beginning both The Andaman and its sister resort, The Datai, were built using minimal machinery. For The Datai the materials were carried by elephants. Both resorts kept the rainforest as wild and undisturbed as they could.

Now I realize that statement is paradoxical. I was staying at a 5 star resort in the middle of a tropical rainforest. Maybe I’m romanticizing it all, but it felt a bit magical.  Just walking around the grounds was like being in an episode of Wild Kingdom. We didn’t even leave the resort to spot things I’ve never heard of, let alone seen.

The hotel offers guests nature hikes in the morning and the evening. They are home to species of rare gilding mammals called the Colugo. They also are home to flying foxes, flying squirrels & flying snakes. National Geographic has been there to video and take pictures of most of it. They have a family of wild boar that roam around the roads outside of the hotel. They also have dusky leaf monkeys living all over, which isn’t quite as romantic, because they are clever and if you leave your window open apparently they know how to get into your mini bar.  One staff member told me some monkeys will tap on the window so a guest will unknowingly open it because they look cute and it’s just enough room for the monkey to jump in and get into the mini bar before the person even realizes what’s happening.

Set in this exotic location, the hotel offers a variety of excursions like jungle trekking, kayaking, bird watching, wildlife photography tours and a mangrove cruise. I did the mangrove cruise on James’ recommendation. This was outside of the resort and it’s been named a UNESCO Geopark. We took a 4 hour boat ride around an insular mangrove forest. A mangrove forest is a variety of species of trees that grows in saline swamp. They give off more oxygen then most trees and take in more carbon dioxide. Around the area, our guide showed us limestone hills dating back over 400 million years. We stopped briefly at a fish farm where trevallies and snappers are caught to sell, (not my favorite thing to see) but this farm also housed juvenile sting rays and mantas to care for them until they are big enough to release back into the ocean. I got to feed a juvenile manta and pet it.

The resort runs a “Heal the Reef” Coral Conservation program. This is one of the few places in the world that can offer a tropical rainforest and a coral reef within 100 meters of each other. This coral reef is estimated between 6,000-8,000 years old. They have a coral farm where they take cuttings from unhealthy coral, encourage them to continue growing on a new substrate and then return them to the reef after about 4-12 months in the farm. They say if growth is rapid and the success rate is high, it will be possible to add about 5,000-10,000 small corals to the Andaman Reef every year. They have coral clearing activities where guests and staff can volunteer at low tide time to remove or clear the dead corals from the reef and the dead corals are “recycled” to the coral farm.

Last but not least…the Spa. The V Botanical Spa is an integrated wellness center. (would you expect anything less?) They provide juice cleanses, an integrated fitness consultation and program as well as spa treatments. It’s set with the breathtaking backdrop of the Datai Bay from each treatment room. I had to try a unique treatment called Chi Nei Tsang.

The contemporary form of Chi Nei Tsang, seems to combine three different traditions: Classical Taoist Chinese Medicine, Traditional Internal Medical Thai Massage , and Western holistic medicine It combines sound to work the energy for the internal organs with gentle touch massage on the abdomen to aid the organs in digestion. The aim is both physical and emotional digestion, meaning that not only do we have undigested food that creates toxins in the body, but we also have undigested emotions that create similar toxins and blocks. This therapy is recommended to do at least 3 times to allow both the physical detoxification and the emotional detox to take full effect.

Do I have to say more? If you’ve been reading this blog and you know me at all…of course I had to try it… three times. That experience is a completely different post.

I know all this sounds a bit “magical” and you’re probably wondering…. was it really that great?

Did she really find a deal online and end up in some tropical rainforest, spa, shangri la type place? Is she for real? What about the food and the rooms?

These are good questions and why I need to write about these things, they seem fantastical to me sometimes.

The food was excellent, the breakfast buffet was amazing. I am biased because the breakfast buffet had challah bread, smoked salmon and soft brie cheese. (sorry, no cream cheese) Just to give a different perspective from Jamie, who has made eating out her favorite past time. She even has a great blog about restaurants she’s been to and loved all over the place. It’s called 15,000kms of Food! She seemed to feel the food was very good, but because the Andaman is a bit remote, (remember we’re in a rainforest) after a few days it seemed to lack the variety she needed. They have a Japanese restaurant, a beach bar and a reciprocal arrangement with the Datai Resort so you can go to any of the 4 restaurants there. That was plenty for me, but Jamie wanted to head out and explore other cuisines. The quality of the food was great, perhaps you may need more variety and it gets expensive always eating at the resort.

I found the rooms cozy and the bed really comfortable. The room was a little dark but I didn’t mind.  There was so much natural beauty to see and experience all over the resort. The Wi-Fi was great and I could use it anywhere. (always important)

The bottom line is not only was this a 10 out of 10 experience for me, but it was also a 10 for my own “jumping into the unknown” and doing something I wouldn’t normally do. In the process I discovered a place in a part of the world that I would have never known about and had an experience that will stay with me for a lifetime.

Thank you to everyone at The Andaman, Langkawi who made my stay so special. 

A South East Asian Love Affair with the Mall

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As I visit more and more cities in South East Asia I’m continually amazed at the central role “The Mall” plays in life. Today, I’m in Kuala Lumpur and have spent the afternoon shooting photos at one of the most interesting flea markets I’ve been to since the Portobello Road in London. It’s the weekend flea market at the Amcorp Mall just outside of Kuala Lumpur (KL) in the burbs of Petaling Jaya (PL).

Arriving last night from Langkawi, which was one of the most peaceful and natural places I’ve visited on this trip, I decided to do an urban photo walk. I found a Time Out KL in my hotel room and as I was perusing through it a section on flea markets caught my eye. Sounded like an interesting opportunity to bring the camera. Packing my DSLR, my point & shoot and my iPhone, I caught a taxi to check out what a mall flea market in a Petaling Jaya is like.

Good Lord…my reactions skyrocketed from “let down” to “total amazement” as I headed up the escalators and walked around the upper floors. When I first got out of the taxi, smack in front are the average cheap clothes and kitsch jewelry. The mall itself is a bit rundown and in the burbs of KL so I experienced the, “Oh…I took a taxi all the way here for this…” moment, but my little voice inside said, “just change your lens and look at this differently from the way you usually think about malls”. So I did. That’s how the camera helps, it reminds me to play with how I’m viewing life.

I proceeded to get some ice cream at Famous Amos to kick start my mood (while doing nothing for my digestion) and off I went to see what taste of life I could find in a Malaysian Mall….

Want to know what I found?

I met a man who is an expert in chemical engineering and as he travels around the world on business he collects antiques. He has a collection of bells from all over the world and he comes on the weekends to sell his antiques. He told me every time he buys more bells he always sells them. He loves them, but he can only keep so many, so collecting and selling is his hobby and he’s quite passionate about his bells. He has Tibetan bowls, bells from England, China, Colombia, Bali, everywhere. He hangs out at his stall talking to people about where they are from, selling his antiques and ringing his bells. He’s hilarious.

There’s a man named Fhoo from Penag, who reminds me of Mr. Miyagi from the original 1984 Karate Kid movie. He collects precious stones and the most eclectic mish mash of everything from Jimmy Hendrix photos to mala beads from China and Tibet. It’s possible he lied to me, but I don’t see why he would bother…he has a collection of mala beads and apparently some of them were used by certain Rinpoche Monks in Tibet. According to him, friends have brought him mala beads for years. So I bought one for 50 ringgits. I couldn’t help myself. When does that happen? I believe it’s sign I’m on the path to connecting with my spiritual teacher. Who knows! It’s what I believe…I was raised in a mall in San Francisco, it’s called Stonestown…this fits perfectly…that was a dump for years too…clues in life are all around us. So what if I’m not a Tibetan Buddhist yet…one never knows what the future holds.

Some of the escalators are broken, some of the toliets are the squat style and there’s no toliet paper. People are selling homemade cakes, I just learned about sarawak cakes that have up to 30 layers in one cake and each layer takes 2 hours to bake and cool. Had to buy a small one.

It’s an assortment of eclectic clutter that boggles the mind. Second hand Louis Vuitton handbags, cheap clothing, kitsch jewelry, coin collections, stamp collections, money from around the world collections, antiques, my Kung Fu master doppelganger friend Fhoo selling his Tibetan and Chinese mala beads and random collection of precious stones, second hand books, Archie and Jughead comic books next to copies of the Koran and Star Wars action figures. This is the first time I’ve seen a Thor action figure, I wanted to buy it for Anders. It’s an assemblage of curios. All this Mixed with McDonalds, Starbucks, Subway and music stores. Like a mix between Portobello Road and Stonestown.

I consider this a boon of a photo walk and the iPhone paints the best picture. Exhausted, I’ve headed down to Starbucks to take a break, with my Tibetan mala beads around my neck. As I write this, I’m sitting in Starbucks, wearing my mala beads and people are standing in front of me sifting through kitsch jewelry… is there something wrong with this picture? What does this say about the state of Malaysian society or society in general? It reminds me of a quote I just saw by J. Krishnamurti, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted in a profoundly sick society.” The irony isn’t lost on me, but I’m keeping the mala beads. Perhaps Malaysia is just home away from home for an American in Asia.

I digress…this has become far too long and I’m sure you can use your imagination about how many photos I took…here’s a variety to keep you entertained…

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Wandering to Malaysia

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My 30 day tourist visa for Thailand expired… so now I’m sitting on the beach in Langkawi, Malaysia. I had no intention of visiting Malaysia originally, but at some point last week it felt like a different adventure. Spending a day on a boat on the Andaman Sea sounded infinitely more interesting than taking a boat to Krabi Town and paying immigration to extend my visa another 15 days. So I booked a ticket with Tigerline Ferries…and they brought me here in true Thai style with that classic Thai smile.

The ferry brought us close to Koh Lippe, but instead of docking at the pier and driving us to the immigration point, we were shuffled off the ferry and jumped into a peeling wooden longtail boat and driven to shore. Our luggage was left on the beach, our passports were stamped at the immigration point on the beach and we were told we could hang out at a closed and somewhat deserted bar on the beach called the Monkey Bar. (it made for interesting pictures) Our speedboat arrived in 30 minutes to take us to Langkawi, only an hour away. We collected our luggage on the beach and jumped into another longtail boat which drove us out to the speedboat taking us to Langkawi.

I made it to my hotel in Langkawi, Malaysia just in time to catch the end of the sunset with a glass of wine.

I think this one is more interesting in pictures…and I was inspired this week by someone called the Blissful Adventurer ~ Adventures in Eating, Living & Photography, as he has been taking photos with the Hipstamatic app on the iPhone for his blog lately. I decided to make that my media of choice for this journey…

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