When the EMBA trip was announced earlier in the year, it seemed so far away. I was thrilled that our class was going to Malaysia. I enjoy being out of my comfort zone and Malaysia seemed like just the ticket for this. Malaysia fit into my philosophy of “If you only do what you know, you will never be more than you are.” I quickly scrolled through pictures of Malaysia and spotted pictures of the Batu Caves, palm trees, monkeys and exotic foods. October 14th couldn’t come soon enough!
Day 1 - Sunday
Breakfast in Malaysia: “Don’t bother looking for the bacon.” Because Islam is the state religion, most restaurants don’t serve pork products which meant that most of us were eating beef “bacon” (aka hot beef jerky) for the first time with breakfast along with some other items such as chicken sausage. Breakfast at the hotel was complimentary and was designed to feed a variety of people from different cultures. Vegetarian foods, fried rice, curries, fresh fruit, pastries, waffles and baked beans were daily fare. Our group quickly learned the fried rice was amazing.The Scavenger Hunt - One of the nicest things about this trip was getting to meet the people from the online class. We were paired with a team of online students, one from California and another from Florida. Each group was given money and a list of tasks to do in the order listed. Our group quickly hopped into a cab after haggling w
ith the driver. Our tasks included going to China town, eating Dim Sum, purchasing something in Central Market after haggling down the merchant, eating roti canai in Little India, etc. We also added drinking beer from a giant fountain with four spigots shaped like the Eiffel Tower, of all things. It seemed like a good idea at the time. What struck me the most going about the city, was the amount of ongoing development. Kuala Lumpur is an extremely cosmopolitan city with beautiful and unique high rises. There are building cranes everywhere you look with more high rises being constructed in all sections of town. The architecture is amazing.
Welcome Dinner – That evening our welcome dinner was scheduled at a restaurant that had two different locations in Kuala Lumpur. Our driver took us to the wrong location! But it was a happy accident in that we saw wild monkeys along the way. We also met the bride and groom who had reserved the restaurant for their reception. The bride was wearing a gorgeous bright blue sequined dress with a diaphanous hajib and silver crown. The groom was wearing a Nehru styled jacket to match her gown, with a turban. We were not in Kansas anymore. A quick bus ride back to town took us to the correct restaurant and an amazing meal. What I remember most about the meal was this completely amazing soup. It was hot and sour and sweet all at once. I’ve never tasted anything like that soup in my life and I wish they could bottle it for sale. The entire meal was wonderful and the surroundings were elegant. There was a little Buddhist Temple on the grounds over a small pond, accessible by a footbridge. Several people visited and took pictures of the Buddha in the temple.
That evening our class started a new tradition – hookah with our classmate Nawar! The first day after breakfast, Nawar had noticed a hookah lounge on the mezzanine floor of the hotel. He expressed how in his native country of Iraq, the smoking tobacco through the hookah pipe was a great way for relaxation and socialization. After dinner, Nawar invited everyone to join him in the lounge and get to know each other around the Hookah. This tradition took off very well and was a great way for everyone to sit around, talk, listen to music and relax after each day.
Day 2 - Monday
We had a presentation from Edgard Kagan and Nathaniel Turner from the U.S. Embassy in Malaysia. Both of these men were amazingly knowledgeable about everything Malaysian. We had in-depth discussions about the economy, race relations, housing, banking, downtown development (which is extensive) and housing. The presentation was a great way to set the stage for our view of Malaysia throughout the week.
Mr. Azman of the law office, Azman, Davidson and Company also made a presentation on how foreign companies do business in Malaysia. He ended his presentation by inviting us up to dinner at his private club on the 48th floor of Petronas Towers the following evening. He asked how many people wanted to go. Everyone’s hand shot up immediately (of course).
That afternoon we met with a representative of Leo Burnett advertising agency who presented us with an overview of the Asian (Malaysian and Korean) consumer market and what kind of marketing campaigns work best in Malaysia. Leo Burnett had done a lot of work for the Malaysian government to spread messages of positivity, racial harmony and acceptance. It was interesting to note how many of the ads revolved around social media, interactivity with ads and smart phones and the use of technology.
The representative from Leo Burnett had recommended we try street food which was conveniently located down the road from our hotel. A large group of us headed out that night and were positively fearless. We tried chicken feet, manta ray, cuttlefish and wines of questionable vintage. The evening was balmy and wonderful. A Malaysian band set up near us and the male singer began to croon an Adele song. It couldn’t have been any more perfect!
Day 3 - Tuesday
The Royal Selangor Pewter factory was a great way to learn about Kuala Lumpur’s early roots as a tin mining town. The Pewter factory was founded in the late 1880’s and has grown in Malaysia throughout the century. The craftsmanship displayed was incredible, plus they are home to the world’s largest pewter beer stein! I purchased a tea caddy for some leaf tea that I own and a coin necklace for my son.
After we left the pewter factory, we headed to the Batu Caves! This was the trip I was most looking forward to. On the way there, our guide warned us that the Batu Caves were home to some very aggressive monkeys. He requested that we not carry any food or soda up into the caves, as the monkeys will snatch the soda can from you, pop it open and drink it on their own. This description alone made me want to do just what he warned us not to, but I’m glad I heeded his warning. He should have added: Do not make eye contact; Do not close your fist (the monkeys suspect you are hiding food); Do not wear flowers; Never, ever, turn your back on the monkeys.
There are 276 steps into the Batu Caves, and buckets of rocks and sand that tourists can opt to carry up the steps to help with a building project at the top. I opted not to carry a bucket of rocks – but a number of people on our trip did help out. I instead had to rent a sarong for two ringgits (about fifty cents), as my knee length skirt was deemed too short and my legs might offend the gods. In spite of doing the Stairmaster at the gym for the past six weeks – I still huffed and puffed my way to the top. I was not alone in this. Much like Disney World – there are gift shops at the top of the stairs in the caves. It is difficult for the shops to compete with the soaring ceilings of the caves. The loftiness of the caves is reminiscent of a cathedral – until you hear the monkeys. The monkeys are waiting for the tourists along the final set of stairs which lead to the Hindu temple in the innermost cave. Much like the crows in the movie “The Birds,” they wait for any poor tourist who dares to carry food into the area. At first I was thrilled to see them. There were family groups of Macaque monkeys all along the stairs, and seeing the young monkeys was so sweet, until you realized how close you had to get to them and that they were not afraid of you, and that they had teeth. Really, really big teeth. Some members of our group of classmates were not intimidated by them. One of them even petted the monkeys and got monkeys to approach him and open his closed hand to see if he was hiding food. Abby managed to get live video of a monkey biting an unsuspecting woman on her buttocks as the woman’s husband laughed uncharitably. I do believe this video is going viral, if only by me repeatedly watching it and laughing to myself. Schadenfreude at it’s best.
Blessings were offered by the priest in the Hindu temple within the Batu Caves. Two students from our group were wise and purchased flower leis from a vendor at the bottom of the steps to present to the gods. I donated a five ringettes and received a blessing and white paint mark on my forehead. Armed against monkey attack, I proceeded back down the steps. A classmate tried to do this as well, but a monkey grabbed her by her ankles – perhaps attracted by her pink leggings – we never knew what really provoked him. She managed to escape with just a tiny, menacing handprint.
After the Batu Caves, a classmate and I decided we wanted to get “Dr. Fish” pedicures. Getting a Dr. Fish pedicure has been on my bucket list since I first read about them in “In Style” magazine. During the evening’s excursion along the street food area, we had spotted a pedicure spot which had Dr. Fish. We quickly handed over our $50 ringette ($12 USD) each and plopped our feet into a pool of fish about two inches in length each. Within minutes my emotions went from thrillingly happy to dawning horror. Each time a fish bit off the dead skin from my immersed feet, I felt a teeny, tiny little bite. It was simply horrifying. I tried to take my mind off the fact that diminutive little fish were tearing off tiny bits of me to consume – but somehow I couldn’t. After three minutes I freaked out and pulled my feet from the pool. I let my classmates take my place to have the fish eat their feet and settled for a foot massage. Ahhhhhhh – much better!
After what has been come to be called “The Dr. Fish Pedicure Incident,” it was time for us to cash in on our dinner invitation to the Petronas Towers from Mr. Azman. Security was tight and we all needed to present our passports and be verified. Then we were whisked up to the 48th floor via incredibly silent elevators. Mr. Azman provided a tour of the club’s rooms. I now know what true opulence is. We took a class picture upon leaving the tower and as we left, noticed a woman in the lobby creating a sand mandala in honor of the Indian festival Diwali. This was the first of many mandalas we would see throughout the week.
Day 4 - Wednesday
Our day started very early with a trip to Sime Darby, Malaysia’s largest palm oil manufacturer. Palm oil is Malaysia’s number one export and is used not only to make cooking products but many other products too – including soap, cleaners, shampoos, make up and more. We learned about the harvesting of the palm oil pods and how Sime Darby had introduced the Tyto Alba owl to keep the rat population down. They brought out one of the owls and we were allowed to pet it! It was so incredibly soft. We were able to watch a demonstration of how the palm oil pods were harvested using scythes on really long poles. We also saw a presentation on how the pods are processed into oil for export.
After Sime Darby, we enjoyed an Indian food buffet and proceeded to meet with Sapura Kencana Energy. By this time, I had zero energy – and although the representatives put on an amazing presentation, my stomach was beginning to protest from the time change and strange foods. I suspect the main culprit was the chicken feet with chili sauce I purchased from a street food vendor. Unfortunately, I was unable to go on the foodie tour. I ordered ox tail soup from room service with crackers, watched Kung Fu Panda 2 and went to bed early.
Day 5 - Thursday
I awoke refreshed and ready to take on the day – or at least another long bus ride. This time it was to the Westports Malaysia – which was a large import export shipping center. Upon viewing the magnitude of the amount of business occurring at this center, I quickly realized how very little I know about so many aspects of our world. The port was a minute city unto itself. We witnessed hundreds of cars from the U.S. offloading from a freighter at least four football fields long and several stories high. Huge cranes were swinging containers the size of railroad cars off and onto ships. It was incredibly organized and electrifying.
After meeting with Westport, we then met with Malaysiakini, a social media independent newspaper who doesn’t always follow the government agenda in reporting. We were informed that they received intimidating police visits to their offices almost every day. Their staff was incredibly young and hip. Unfortunately, Malaysiakini was having difficulty generating revenue through advertising and subscriptions and was looking for a way to generate funds. Our group brainstormed on some ideas for them. The “Malaysian Dream” promotion idea was a big one.
As dinner was on our own, my teammate and I went out to eat, find some decent wifi and strategize for our business meeting with DHL the next morning. We located a nice place with outdoor seating, an available electrical plug, wifi and Tiger beer. We had everything we needed to survive. After completely splattering myself with cuttlefish and prawns in a super-spicy pepper sauce, we had investigated as much about DHL Malaysia as we could online and were prepared for our meeting. I had to send my spattered duds to the hotel laundry. My clothing came back pristine and was hung in my closet pressed– I want to bring the laundress home with me.
That evening, a group of us went clubbing – I’m not mentioning names to protect those who truly cannot dance, but did anyway. As it was Thursday night – the bars were pleasantly full without large crowds. As the DJ was an ardent admirer of Pitbull, I was able to incorporate several Zumba exercises into my dance moves.
Day 6 – Friday
My teammate and I met with DHL Malaysia to discuss their project for our mini Capstone. After our meeting, we grabbed a cab back to Kuala Lumpur and had lunch at the Hard Rock Café Malaysia – we both needed American food! I had a big, fat, juicy burger with onion rings. We walked back to the hotel to meet with the panel of experts on Malaysian business development. After the panel discussion, all student groups were asked to put together a summary of our week together. After our summaries, one classmate dropped the mic when she stated how important it is for people to travel and visit other cultures so that we can understand that all people and all cultures are important. Wise words.
Day 7 – Saturday
Our day was spent at the seaside town of Melaka which was extremely quaint. Perhaps the coolest thing about Melaka was the thing we didn’t get to do – which was to ride in one of the bicycle rickshaws that were all decorated in crazy stuffed animals like Hello Kitty, Pokemon and Frozen. Each rickshaw had a radio that played music as it rode down the street and was super cute. I wanted to ride on the rickshaw but we only had a half an hour to meet back at the fountain and I saw a Chinese antique store on the way in to town. I began jogging toward the store – and if I’m jogging, you’d better run too – because the only way I’m running if is there is something after me. This was an emergency – there were Chinese antiques at stake! I was able to purchase an antique Chinese chess set in a silken box for $200 ringette – approximately $50. My husband and I love to play chess and have several different chess sets from various countries. I was able to make it back to the town in time. We went to an old church site and got to experience food from the combined cultures of the Chinese merchants who married the Melakan women, which is called Nyonya food. The food was delicious, but the dessert left something to be desired. I would recommend watching Amber’s video of the coconut ice and I dare you not to laugh watching it.
After dinner, we were able to shop. Some classmates and I decided to shop for native clothing to wear to the final dinner that evening. Kathleen, Stephanie and Amber found beautiful dresses and Jason found an amazing reversible, silk shirt. Apparently I am too big for Chinese dress styles – but I did buy some gorgeous hand beaded shoes. No matter how big your bootie is – your feet can remain a size 6 ½. We barely made it on time for the bus back to the hotel and had only 45 minutes to shower, primp and change for our farewell dinner at Cedar on 15 which was a rooftop restaurant at a high-end hotel. I decided to go classy and wear leather pants. J Everyone looked amazing. People really pulled out the stops – my classmates were resplendent in their Chinese silks. From the first sip of champagne to the last bite of coffee cheesecake, the dinner was a wonderful event and a terrific way to say goodbye as a group to Malaysia.
That night we tried to go clubbing but we forgot it was Saturday night. The streets were wall-to- wall people. It was reminiscent of Spring Break 1983. You could barely move in the streets. There were lines outside the clubs and the dance floor was a sweaty fire hazard of millennials. I couldn’t take it and decided to head back to the hotel with a group of other people who couldn’t take the crowds.
Day 8 – Sunday
As I start off every Sunday, I went to church! A classmate and I hit St. John’s Cathedral Bukit nanas for 10:30 a.m. Mass. We were really impressed with the diversity of the people at Mass. The nice thing with Catholic Mass is that the basic structure is the same worldwide – so you never feel left out or confused. It was uplifting singing, praying and receiving communion with hundreds of other people around me all in the same mindset of positivity.
After church, a large group of us went to Central Market to purchase gifts for friends and family back home. Jade bracelets, silk robes, dresses, jewelry boxes, etc. – the market is the place to purchase wonderful things. One classmate bought her daughter the most amazing silk, Chinese dress. I was so happy to see how beautiful her little girl looked in it later on Facebook.
That evening, after a wonderful dinner and relaxing hookah, my teammate and I decided to give our remaining $50 ringette (about $12 USD) to the various people begging we had gotten to know around the corner of our hotel. This was something my husband always did every time he visited San Francisco, and he always found it brought him closer to his fellow man. Mike and I had the $50 ringette changed into ten $5 ringette bills. We began to walk to the area near the club where the people who beg for a living hang out. A number of people who we’d gotten used to seeing were there and some were not. Perhaps the most gratifying of the people who we gave money to was the man who had a swelled leg with an open wound. He smiled so wide at Mike and I, and said “You made my day.” I leaned over and touched his face and said, “No. You made ours.” It was a great way to spend our last night in Malaysia.
Want to hear more from another student? Read another student blog: Aaron's Trip to Malaysia