This Weblog comes from Mindy McAdams and resides at It's a personal blog and probably not of much interest to anyone but me. You are welcome to read and comment as you like.

December 27, 2004


On Sunday morning, as everyone in the world knows, a major earthquake erupted in the ocean west of Sumatra (that's part of Indonesia, for all you geographically challenged Americans). The BBC has excellent coverage of the disaster, which so far has claimed more than 20,000 human lives.

The death toll in all of Malaysia is fewer than 100 people at this point. Sumatra (a very big island) shielded the west coast of Malaysia almost completely from the tsunami that followed the quake. The affected areas in Malaysia are quite a bit north of where I'm living, and I'm about an hour's drive inland from the west coast at any rate.

The number of e-mails I've received asking whether I'm safe has been very touching. I'm safe! I didn't even get wet. Didn't feel even a rumble.

The areas affected in Malaysia are Penang (a small island at the northwest corner of peninsular Malaysia) and Kedah and Perak, two states on the mainland. The state where I live is Selangor, farther to the south.

I didn't find out about the tsunami until the English-language news came on TV at midnight Sunday. I had heard about the earthquake in the morning, but I guess the tsunami had not struck yet. (According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the local time of the 9.0-magnitude quake was 08:58:49 a.m.) I was not very concerned because that report said the epicenter was out in the ocean. Then I disconnected from all media to do some work on my book, which is in page proofs now. So I was out of the loop until I caught the late-night news.

I have one colleague who has family living in India, and fortunately everyone is okay. It has reminded me of September 11, with everyone checking up on everyone else, asking about their families, making sure no one they know was hurt or killed. This is an enormously larger disaster, with such a huge range, so it's also much different from September 11 in that many people were vacationing on the Christmas weekend, and so there's a lot more possibility that someone you know could have been up north at one of the resorts that were hit.

Posted by macloo at 10:13 PM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2004

Visiting Batu Caves

All the guidebooks mention Batu Caves, but on my previous two visits to Kuala Lumpur, I never made the trip to see them. If I had known how cheap a taxi fare would be, maybe I would have done it, but on those visits I found the tropical heat pretty hard to take, and the prospect of climbing 272 steps to the cave entrance really daunted me.

So my friend Kiran wanted to take me to see them. She has visited the caves at least twice a year her whole life, even though she is not a Hindu, and she likes the exercise. She insisted we go in the morning to avoid the worst heat of the day, and I'm sure that was a good idea. Being used to Florida's humidity now, I don't mind the heat too much, but it can be intense after 1 p.m. The steps turned out to be concrete and not very taxing.

Cliffs just outside Kuala Lumpur

The limestone cliffs containing the caves make an impressive sight as you drive toward or away from the site. Lush green trees and brush cover the top and creep down the sides. Monkeys scamper up and down the cliffs and harass the step climbers.

Monkeys seek the tourists' attention

I had seen several photos of the interior of the caves, but it's hard to do justice to a huge space in a single photo. The vast entrance area leads to another, shorter flight of steps. You follow those to a kind of open amphitheater, with a view of the sky and trees far above. All the walls have the typical look of limestone formations (very familiar to those of us who live in Florida). Not the most gorgeous caves I have ever seen, but beautiful nonetheless.

Batu Caves

The site is dedicated to Lord Mugura (Lord Subramaniam), whose significance in the Hindu pantheon of gods and deities is unknown to me. Various altars and small temples punctuate the central cave area. After we left there, Kiran took me to a separate pair of caves where the Hindus have made an elaborate museum-like (or cathedral-like) display of brightly colored statues of gods and deities in scenes, all described in detail in Tamil text (it looked similar to the Thai writing system to me), which neither Kiran nor I can read. The caves housing these displays are much smaller, with much lower ceilings.

An altar in Batu Caves

Kiran told me that the cliffs are filled with caves, many interconnecting, and they used to be open for exploring. People then said you could walk so far into the Batu Caves, if you kept walking, you would come out in the next world. The caves are sealed off now, because some number of people who went into them never found their way out again; like Tom Sawyer and Becky Thatcher, they got lost. With a laugh, Kiran said that gives another meaning to the idea that they would come out in the next world!

We ended our visit with a young coconut (one apiece), which a man hacks open for you with a big knife, providing access to the cool cococut water (sweet but not milky) and tender white flesh, which you scrape off the inner sides with a spoon. These cost 2 ringgits each, or about 50 cents.

Opening the young green coconut

After the caves, we stopped by Kiran's house. Kiran and her oldest sister, Raj (who is visiting from London for a few months), decided it would be a good experience for me to open up some durian fruit they had bought that morning at a local market. Two aspects give durian its fame: It is the most adored fruit among many Southeast Asian people, and hence the most expensive fruit you can buy here. It also stinks. The stink, while hard to describe, combines a kind of sweet rotting odor with a smell a little like a baby's dirty diaper. It's bad, in other words.

Because of the stink, I have never been able to bring myself to eat durian. Now I have. First, Kiran showed me how to open the spiny husk, which can painfully cut your hands. The fruit is usually about the size of an Amercan football; these were a bit smaller. There were five of them. The fruit vendor had split the husk with a short cut, which allowed me to stick my thumbs in and pull it open, using a dish towel to project my skin from the spines. I'm not saying it was easy, but it wasn't too difficult. Then you pluck out the meat itself, which is a dense slimy pod of a creamy pale yellow color. If you squeeze it even a little, you will have durian smeared all over your hand. Each fruit contained at least two of these pods, each about half the size of my fist. There's a hard seed in the middle of the pod.

To eat the durian meat, you suck the yellow part from the seed. It tastes pretty good, but I'm sure I don't like it as much as people here do. The flavor is nothing like the smell (and the pods themselves do not smell like that); it's intense, deep like banana, earthy like papaya, not overly sweet, thickly creamy like a milk pudding, but not gelatinous.

After my apprenticeship with the durian, Kiran and I went to the National Art Gallery, which is very new and not emphasized in guide books. That's unfortunate, because it's a very good gallery, and we saw some excellent work there. They had an exhibit of sculptures and 2D work by a Greek woman, and a retrospective of 50 years of Italian fashion design (many sequined dresses). What we liked most, though, were exhibits of work by two Malaysian artists. The work of Abdullah Ariff included a lot of political cartoons from the 1940s that appeared in a Penang newspaper. The other (work by Wong Hoy Cheong) had a lot of current political pieces challenging the Malaysian government, with a great deal of variety in the work itself. One impressive piece incorporates the thumbprints of thousands of people from several countries, in protest against Malaysia's Internal Security Act, which permits the holding of prisoners without charge and without trial. I left my thumbprint to be included, thinking that an American artist should undertake a similar projct in protest of the USA Patriot Act.

Posted by macloo at 09:05 PM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2004

First Week of Classes

The graduate classes started meeting last week. I have two, one on Monday and one on Wednesday. Each one meets once a week for three hours, 6:30-9:30 p.m. There is a 30-minute break at 7:30 for Maghrib prayers.

Faculty of Communication and Media Studies

So far, they are completely similar to master's classes at UF. One difference here is that they group the master's students according to their semester of study. So the Monday class is the fourth-semester students, who are close to finishing. The course is new communication technologies. The Wednesday class is first-semester students; they are just beginning. I have them for mass comm. theory.

The biggest problem is that the students have no textbooks. I did not realize that it would take several weeks to get them. I wish I had known to order them months ago. In the meantime, we are making due with photocopies in the theory course. In the technologies class, all I have is an e-book, and I can't print from it, so we don't even have photocopies.

The Faculty of Mass Comm building is quite new

Classrooms are very nice, modern and well-equipped. Unlike our classrooms at home, here it is not a problem to get an LCD projector in the classroom.

Other than teaching, last week I spent a lot of time exploring Shah Alam on my motorbike! There are a lot of roundabouts, but unlike the roundabouts in Britain, these don't always have clear signage. (Or at least, the signs are not always clear to me. Almost all of them point to Klang, which is outside Shah Alam, but if I go in that direction, the road does not take me out of town.) Luckily, I have a good map of the area, and anyway, everything connects to everything else. So if I ride around in circles long enough, I always seem to come back to the same place.

We drive on the left here, but that has not been much of an adjustment -- except when reading the map. At first I was always thinking I could go to the right in a roundabout. Then out on the road, that's not the case, and I wouldn't know which left to take to get where I wanted to go. I'm not kidding when I say I'm riding around in circles! But it's pretty easy to get around, and gradually I'm learning where things are. Now I count the lefts on the map and hold them in mind when I'm trying to get to a specific destination.

Posted by macloo at 10:22 PM | Comments (0)

December 06, 2004

Material Goods

What do you really need? I asked myself this question many times before I left the U.S. I shipped 53 pounds of books ahead and packed up my laptop computer, various cameras and microphones, and assorted cables into a carefully measured carry-on bag. The equipment is available here, but it's not especially cheap.

Intekma Resort entrance

UiTM is housing me at Intekma Resort, which the university owns. When you hear "resort," please do not think "Miami Beach." It's nothing like that. But it is a very comfortable place to live, less than two miles from the campus. The experience can't compare to living in a neighborhood with regular residents, but there is a local-style shopping center about four blocks away, complete with three restaurants (restoran), two mini-markets, a photocopy shop, a scooter sales and repair shop, and even an appliance store.

So for bread, ice cream, a newspaper, or a nice fresh roti canai, I can take a short walk and find everything I need. The shops look rather unappealing from the outside, because the humidity (and possibly acid rain) tends to leave a fungal dinginess on walls, but inside, things shine cleanly, including the ceramic tile floors.

So, back to what a person really needs to have. Well, food, of course, and a dry place to sleep. And then, a few decent eating utensils. For my first shopping trip in Shah Alam, Kiran took me to a store called Giant, which is a local version of a Super Wal-Mart -- and not very different at all. (The type of store is called a hypermart.) But if you want to see truly LOW prices, you should come here! I made off with a car-trunk-full of household necessities (many cleaning supplies, a stack of dish towels, a good bowl, a good mug, and a serviceable chef's knife) and an assortment of groceries for RM 210 (about $55).

Shopping at Malaysia's Giant

The apartment came supplied with some dishes (mostly plastic) and utensils, a half-size fridge, a decent microwave, and an electric kettle (British style), but no cookware. So on a later shopping excursion, I also acquired a saucepan and a saute pan.

An interesting feature of the kitchen: It has no hot tap water. After asking among my colleagues at the university, I discovered that hot tap water is not typical in Malaysian kitchens. (The bathroom has its own individual water heater, so the shower temperature is great.) Washing dishes with hot water from the electric kettle has been one of my learning experiences here. Since the tap water needs to be boiled before drinking, I want to make sure I don't leave tap water microbes on my food containers. I've figured out how to arrange things in the sink after scrubbing with soap and cold water so that I can pour boiling water all over everything.

There is no conventional oven, and the two propane burners are fueled by a canister in the cupboard beneath the burners.

Suburban street in Shah Alam

After about a week and a half with only the TV set, I wanted a radio and something to play CDs on. I still have not bought any clocks (using my cell phone, PDA, and laptop to tell time, and the PDA has a alarm). The TV is on a cable system provided by the resort and shows only the seven Malaysian channels, which are fascinating (lots of locally produced dramas and sitcoms), but there are rarely English subtitles. The news is broadcast in English at 6:30 p.m. on Channel 1, the primary state channel, and at midnight on Channel 3. The stations show American movies frequently, with the original sound and subtitles in Bahasa.

So, music on my mind, I walked down to the local shops to scope out the portable radio/CD players. I bought a Sony model that also plays MP3 CDs, which is convenient because I can always burn stuff from my laptop to a blank CD. The salesman offered me a discount without my even trying to bargain (about 10 percent off the marked price). But even more unusual, he proceeded to test the unit for me before I left the store. He cut all the packing tape, unloaded the player, plugged it in, inserted a CD and played it, put batteries into the remote and tried it out, and explained to me (in fluent English) the operation of the radio and the cassette player. All this surprised me, of course, but I wasn't about to interfere with his customer service practices.

When he had finished, and assured himself that I was satisfied, he packed everything up again just as it had been and even taped the box closed. Then he got a rubber stamp and inkpad and placed a lot of official stamps on the Sony warranty card, which was nothing like the flimsy little postcard we get in the U.S. -- more like a lease or a loan agreement! If anything goes wrong, he told me, I should bring it back to them at the shop.

So far I have found one English-language radio station (90.40 FM). I'm sure there are more, but I haven't bother yet to learn how to program presets.

My apartment at Intekma Resort

And what else? Obviously, the apartment has electrical outlets, but not enough for all my rechargeable devices. The plugs are British-style, which are huge, and each outlet has its own on/off switch. I brought adapters with me, but I needed some converters to allow me to plug more than one thing into a socket. That led me to a shopping excursion at Makro, which closely resembles a Sam's Club or Costco. Again I dropped between $50 and $60, but walked away with an amazing amount of stuff -- including four cute pillows for the living room, priced at RM 9.60 ($2.50) apiece. The socket converters were equally inexpensive.

That leaves transportation. Taxis (teksi) are quite cheap, but sometimes it's hard to find a local number to call to have one come and get me. That happened at Makro, but finally a newsstand operator was able to give me a phone number. After I called, the taxi came in about five minutes. Bus service is unreliable (at least that's what everyone tells me), and all the members of the faculty have cars, which they use even to get from one part of campus to another. I've been shopping for a motorbike and thought I had one ordered at the closest shop, but it turned out they couldn't get it for another week or more.

So Friday night, my colleague Rosni and her husband, Haznan (and their 6-year-old daughter, Nahna), took me around, and we went back to one of the shops where Daruss had taken me last week. I was looking at a Yamaha six-speed motorbike with a real clutch, but the new ones are more than RM 7,000. They had one used model, but it has an electrical problem that needs to be repaired, and that didn't sound good to me.

To make a long story short, I bought a used Yamaha Nouvo scooter. I took it for a test ride around the block of shops, and it's very easy to handle. The transmission is fully automatic, which I find completely weird, but it seems very responsive in every way (except acceleration, of course; it's only 115cc). Haznan negotiated for me, and while he didn't get them to lower the price, he got them to include a helmet, a new battery, a new rear tire, a fork lock, and a full tank of petrol. The final price, including taxes, registration, and insurance: RM 3,990 ($1,037). I left a deposit Friday night and returned (with Haznan and Nahna; Rosni was at UiTM, enrolling in a doctoral degree program) to pick it up Saturday morning.

Naturally, the bike wasn't ready. There was an additional snag in that on the first and third Saturday of the month, the post offices are closed, and we would need to go there to pay the road tax. But Monday, at last, I was able to ride my little bike home!

My Yamaha Nouvo AT 115

Posted by macloo at 09:41 PM | Comments (0)