Thursday, March 31, 2011
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Anyway, my Volvo bus would be 2218. And I would be one of the only two foreigners (the other one was an American guy being accompanied by his Indian wife).
We passed by Channapatna, home of a military training school, and a site filled with undulating hills and picturesque slopes. The tourist guide was annotating in Indian thus I could only get words like "shooting" - a film? I can only guess. Sixty kilometers from Bangalore, our first activity of the day would be a 20-minute stopover at a toy factory called Sri Lakshmi Venkateshwara (SLV) Toy Factory. Great! Did I really sign up for a "cultural tour"? There is nothing in the itinerary that included wooden toys and trinkets. Or is this going to be an orgasmic journey into silk shops and sandals and garments? I shuddered at the thought.
"I am in trouble," I told myself!
Much as I wanted to be hip, intercontinental and otherworldly, my tongue disagrees with Indian cuisine and spices. My Kashmiri friend is too aware of this, he used to force me to "Come on, eat some more!" But you see, it is my problem. Some people would gladly trade places with me for getting exposed to the exoticism of Indian cuisine. From the menu, I ordered vaguely familiar terms - few things I've encountered in Tamil Nadu. I had to tell myself - Whatever it is I'd order, I'd consume, regardless of them being spicy or not. I ordered onion rava dosa and ghee plain roast and found out later, both were a variety of roti. Like I originally planned, I consumed every bit and rushed back to my seat.
Brindavan Gardens illuminate festively at night. This photo only courtesy of Flickr's Velachery Balu.
Monday, March 28, 2011
After checking out of my hotel, complete with a smirking lady by the counter (she was oblivious to my obvious charm - haha), I hiked towards the nearest Metro, Pasar Seni. With just one stop to KL Sentral, it was an inexpensive way to get myself to the airport (LCCT). I 'd usually hail a 15 ringgit taxi to KL Sentral. This one cost me a measly 1 ringgit! With a prepaid Skybus e-ticket, I plopped down my bus seat to LCCT. A taxi usually costs 100 ringgit, It was 11:45AM and the flight was scheduled to depart at 3PM. Talk about "ample time", right?
RUDE SURPRISE AND SEMANTICS
But the rude surprise was when I checked the flight information counter that said Air Asia flight to Bangalore: "Canceled"! Again? Air Asia usually informs its passengers ahead of time via e-mail and text message. In fact, I got the cancellation 3x in the last 3 months or so. Air Asia is that efficient! The confusing thing here was purely semantics. Instead of saying AK211 flight was "moved to the next day", they would use "AK211 has been canceled, and rescheduled to this day". As mentioned earlier, this particular flight has already been canceled (giving me more time to check out Kinabalu). I rushed to the Air Asia counter and learned that my Bangalore flight was actually pushing through. The information board's "AK211 Canceled" was descriptive of this particular flight, i.e. "the previously canceled flight" - but they had to write down "Canceled" right where "status" is! Reading that as such was a tad deceptive, and a bit annoying.
The flight eventually left at 4PM (not the scheduled 3) - and this was attributed to the loading of "vegetarian dishes", according to the pilot. So the non-vegetarian meals were easier to load up the plane? LOL. Tell me if that made sense.
DOING BUSINESS IN INDIA
The flight took a little over 3 hours and 30 minutes, as we swathed through intermittently turbulent skies. The immigration officer, noticing the 3 Indian visas in my passport, was speculating, "You are doing business in India, not as tourist!" It was stated matter-of-factly that I protested and told him my profession. And it took me more than 15 years of specialty training to suddenly change careers by trade spices and silks. You gotta be kidding me. In the usual sideways Indian head wave, he gave my passport back and didn't say anything further. I never liked Indian immigration officers. They have always been inordinately suspicious of tourists. What? You aren't pleased of us spending our disposable income to bolster Indian tourism? It's a curious thought.
Bangalore International Airport (BIA) glistens with sparkly glass panes and shimmery silver panels; wide open spaces and the smell of I.T. money. It is after all the Silicon Valley of India. But wasn't the old airport that my Lonely Planet was describing. This was a new one, located 35 kilometers from the city center (the old one was just 7 kilometers away). I rushed to the Information Counter where I was refered to the KSTDC (Karnataka State Tourism Development Corporation) office, just beside the foreign exchange counter ($1 = 40.20 rupees, when it should be 43.20 or thereabouts). I had to make a fast decision as I didn't wanna go to their main office at Badami House near N.R. Square at this time. It was running late. Besides, I wasn't sure if they'd still be chirpy and accommodating after 7PM (they're supposed to close at 9:30PM). Besides, that was probably some 400 rupees more of unnecessary autorickshaw haggling. And I just hate rickshaw drivers with a passion.
TO MYSORE OR NOT
After changing $100 worth of Indian rupees (just enough to pay for my tours and a deposit for a hotel that KSTDC was recommending), I booked 3 successive days of tours. Instead of staying overnight in Mysore (supposedly the cultural capital of the Karnataka State), I decided to base myself from Bangalore. My seatmate, a Indian girl who married a Malaysian, told me that there's no direct connection from Mysore to Munnar, Thus if I were to leave Bangalore for Mysore, then head on to Munnar after that, I would have to backtrack go back to Bangalore again for my Munnar connection! Thus my decision to stay put in Bangalore and just take the full-day Mysore tour from Bengaluru (a hefty 750 rupee full-day, 16 1/2 hour journey to Mysore - on a Volvo bus - and back). Thanks to my seatmate, my itinerary was coming to proper form. Lonely Planet doesn't say much about Munnar (which is a tea plantation hill, much like Malaysia's Cameron Highlands). It's also one of the very few places in India without a train connection.
NO TO TOUTS
Having done all that, I was instructed to just get a cab at the taxi queue. "No need for a pre-paid taxi," said the emphatic information officer. (The old airport had a pre-paid booth.) Then he added, "Say no to touts." True enough, and in big bold letters, "Say No To Touts" was on display at the airport exit.
With 35 kilometers of journey to the big city, I was soon to be ushered into one of Asia's worst traffic hubs (to rival that of Bangkok, probably even worse). As we were nearing the metropolis, traffic was in gridlock, moving into sobering hum. I noticed the rise of scaffolds of what would be one of South India's first metro trains (I think Chennai has already beat them to it. I saw Chennai building one 2 years ago.) "It runs 28 kilometers into the city," offered the driver.
MY VIBRATING HOTEL
My hotel would be Hotel T.A.P. Silver Square right in the bustle of Bangalore's Brigade Road. I always thought it was the Mahatma Gandhi (or just M.G.) Road, but the epicenter of activity and chaos of manual traffic is really Brigade Road. KFC, a Standard Chartered ATM machine, a McDonalds, a Rex Cinema, and several shops and bars line Brigade Road. I was starting to get the feeling that the airport booking was a hoax because they requested me to stay in a rundown non-AC room. "Just wait for a few minutes, and we will switch you to an AC room!" said the man at the counter. I could wait but I wanted to check out Brigade Road and MG Road, not to mention the fact that it was late and I was hungry. More than two hours later, I marched into the counter and demanded - yes, demanded! - that I wanted my room - or I wanted my money back (2000 rupees for 2 nights) so I could go to my original plan - Hotel Ajantha or Brindavan Hotel along MG Road. Heck, I have no idea where they are but finding them couldn't be the hardest I have ever done from my travels, could it?
The original room (104) I was given vibrated from the loud dance music blaring just a floor below. I wasn't told that this relatively new hotel sits on top of a club, the "Fusion Lounge". Every part of this particular room, shuddered and boomed and vibrated; from the window panes, to the glass bathroom doors, to the bed sheets and the wooden floors! And I didn't wanna settle down or take my shoes off in a room I didn't sign up for. Would you?
SIGN UP FOR NOISE
Like a lit flash bulb, they ushered me into a room that's worth 1, 600 rupees. "No extra charge," the man said to appease me. "I don't want to take advantage of the situation, but I do need a single AC room as was booked by the tourism office," I said. This room, 106, would be "home" the next 3 days in Bangalore; an upgrade twice over the original booking of 1,000 rupees. One day, I will be able to post photos here. The music from down below kept blaring in full techno base, but I really didn't mind much. It was like being in my own solitary dance club, in the comforts of my solitary room. I signed up for loud and chaos when I decided to stay at the M.G. Road area.
By 11:40PM, the music ended abruptly. And there was peace on Earth.
Not to mention good will to man. I sort of felt sorry for being slightly offensive, but I didn't like to be taken for a ride. And for the most part, I knew their "mistake" wasn't intentional too, as I'd realize in the next few days. But I wasn't going to suffer for someone else's mistakes.
Saturday, March 26, 2011
I got off my Star Shuttle bus at the Puduraya stop. I was pretty excited about Puduraya. To my surprise, it wasn't finished yet, but from the looks of it, it was already well planned: gleaming silvery interiors, the entrance has two escalators, and its surrounding filled with window and glass panels. I wonder when it's supposed to start operation. It's been a year since my July visit and I am missing the easy access to busses out of KL.
Friday, March 25, 2011
The dilemma here was: do I "commute" and venture on a city-bus-and-minibus combination? It would be fun and educational if I had enough time. Or do I just take the taxi which is faster and dependable but more expensive. I wanted to experience the bus commute, so against the persuasive logic of a taxi ride, I headed to the nearby Bus Stop just across Milemewa Store where a bus was indeed waiting. I asked the "conductor", "Wawasan Bus Terminal?" He nodded, and I paid 50 cents. It wasn't quite 11 yet, but my departure was at 12:30PM. I am used to being at the airport early. I wasn't too comfortable playing with time because a lot of things could happen in between. Upon reaching the bus terminal right across Wawasan Center, I rushed to find the L.T.T. mini-bus. (It wasn't the Puputan that LP mentioned. The guy I asked instructed to look for "LTT" - so I did! The driver was also the one collecting fees - 1.50 ringgit. "Terminal 2?" I asked. He nodded. Then time started to agonizingly run ever so slow.
The ride to KL was a bit bumpy and took 2 hours and 15 minutes. Arriving into KL feels like arriving at a familiar room; no more butterflies; no surprises; no photos worth taking. It was somehow comforting. But am I not here for the adventure? That will have to wait.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Most of our ride, I slept as the afternoon rains poured its sombering wrath. It would take us 2 1/2 hours to get back to KK, which doesn't seem to expalin the 88 kilometers distance of Mount Kinabalu from KK (and I have to mention that our driver was speeding away like a demon in heat). There was also heavy traffic upon plying through 1Borneo, their latest and most luxurious entertainment and shopping complex.
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
This photo only courtesy of starlevel.blogspot.com. the top photo is courtesy of www.planetware.com.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Friday, March 18, 2011
The building is designed by local architect, Muhammad Kamar Ya'akub. The inspiration for the design is based on a traditional moon kite in flight. The turquoise folds on the roof and the intricate design of the foyer are just two of the interesting features of the building. Istana Budaya’s architecture has intrigued experts and academics.
The main building takes the shape of the 'sirih junjung', a traditional arrangement or a present made of betel leaves used during Malay weddings and welcoming ceremonies. As in a traditional Malay house, the building is divided into three areas:
§ The "serambi" (lobby and foyer)
§ The "rumah ibu" (main house) as the auditorium
§ The "rumah dapur" (kitchen) as the stage and rehearsal hall.
The interior was constructed using local resources such as Langkawi’s marble and high-quality tropical wood for the doors crafted by hand to shape flowers and leaf motifs. The verdant carpets in the entrance hall and lobby feature cempaka flower and the beringin tree, inspired by Malaysia’s traditional opera, Mak Yong.
In the auditorium, there are royal boxes on each side, patterned after the windows of a Malay house. The entrance to the theatre, too, replicates a palace’s main hall, or the Balairong Seri and is said to be modelled after one in Melaka.
The theatre lobby on the third floor extends the influence of Malay culture, taking the shape of the rebana ubi or traditional drum. Its 1,412 people capacity includes 797 in the stalls on the first floor, 312 in the grand circle on the second floor and 303 people in the upper circle. The orchestra pit, when it is not in use, can take in 98 people.
While there seems to be a large number of stairs, the disabled can take heart. Istana Budaya has wheelchair facilities, including a ramp into the foyer, a lift with easy-to-reach buttons and an area designated for the handicapped. Restrooms for the disabled are also found at both the stalls and grand circle areas. Additionally, there is also a costume gallery featuring clothes from Malay traditional theatre. The costumes are from Bangsawan, Mak Yong, Ajat Bebunuh, Layang Emas and Bambarayon performances, among others.