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Alice Yang
Yang is a contributing columnist for the Fort Bend Star.
She is a student at Stephen F. Austin High School-FBISD.

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.

Malaysia: ambling, gambling, and a disgusting, delicious fruit


15th century Chinese explorer Zheng He was treated to the king’s feast when he arrived in Malaysia. However, though the spicy palate of southeast cuisine proved diplomatically delicious, it did not fit well with Zheng He’s stomach.

That night, when all fell asleep to the night’s warm embrace, Zheng He went out in search of a restroom. Alas, nature couldn’t wait, thus he emptied his tender bowels onto the soiled land.

Afterwards, a little embarrassed, he covered everything up with the rich soil around him and finally went to bed. The next morning, the king was taking a stroll in his kingdom when suddenly he spotted a new tree; hanging from its branches were big spiked fruits that emitted a certain unpleasant odor.

And that, is the legend of how the durian came to the world. Even today, when you crack open a durian fruit, the smell, the color, the shape of its fleshy parts, and some say, even the taste, resemble a lot like...well, Zheng He’s famous golden spills.

The durian is considered the king of fruits in Malaysia. All the locals love it, and foreigners go there just to taste it. If you can get over the initial stench (okay, of course I’m being bias here; true, some people consider the smell heaven, but I’d have to argue otherwise) the fruit will taste as rich as cream, smooth as butter, and sweet as pie.

In fact, people love it so much that they now have durian flavored wafers, durian-filled chocolates, and durian candy chews.

The first thing the guide told us when we got on the Malaysia tour bus was the legend of Zheng He and the durian. The second thing? Please do not eat durians on the tour bus. The third thing? If you ate a durian before getting on the tour bus, fart facing an open window.

Welcome to Malaysia, land of diversity, exotic fruits, and rubber trees. Its official religion is Islam, and the country is made up of a Malay majority, Chinese and Indian minorities.

In the fifteenth century, Malacca, the city where Zheng He spilled his durian ‘seeds,’ was the most well-known trading post in all of Southeast Asia. The Portuguese, then the Dutch colonized Malacca, and much later, the British.

Walking through old town Malacca was like reliving history. A Dutch church and houses sitting next to a graying Portuguese fort with cannons next to a marble statue dedicated to a British queen.

All around, you have the Malays welcoming you to ride in their bicycle carriages decorated and covered completely with yellow flowers, their festive version of the rickshaw.

On the streets, you can see colorfully veiled Malay women with their many children and beautiful Sari-wrapped Indian girls. There are vendors selling finger bananas, chilled durians, and sliced mangos; next to the fruits are carts spilling with Buddha beads, necklaces and trinkets of the kind. There’s even a girl holding a huge pet iguana and a thick snake curled lazily around her neck beckoning you to take pictures.

The historic, almost quaint streets of Malacca proved to be a huge contrast to the bustle of downtown Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital. There, immediately, the commercialized, urbanized, neon-streamed center draws parallels to all the big cities in the world.

And standing under the Petronas Twin Towers looking up up up? You get this dizzying sensation of revolving in circles. Staggering, flying, backwards vertigo, seeing the sky push down on you only to be pierced by the conical tips of the towers splaying away the clouds.

There you have the world’s tallest building from 1998-2004. But apart from that, we also visited the world’s biggest hotel.

Well, not the biggest hotel, but the hotel with the most number of rooms. Genting Highland Resorts is five hotels connected into one. It has an outdoor theme park and indoor casinos. Oh, and it’s built 6000 feet above sea level.

We had to take a cable car lift to reach the hotel, which was situated at the top of a mountain. The 20 minute ride, looking down, you can see the lush tropical flora of Malaysia. As the car climbed upwards, the Genting Hotel loomed in and out of the clouds, sitting right on the cliff of the mountain.

What I remember most clearly was the small hotel room. Two twin-sized beds crammed at each corner, a bathroom small enough just to stand, and a window that could only be open three inches, the room itself sucked.

But the five-star rating comes not from its rooms, but from its entertainment. Casinos, theme parks, restaurants, shows, Genting could easily fit into the Las Vegas strip. There was a miniature Statue of Liberty, Venice, Big Ben, and even an indoor gondola ride. As you look up, the rails of an indoor rollercoaster would loop dangerously close to the doors of a restaurant next to a boutique and spa center.

And the casinos, they were bustling with the happy colorful chimes of slot machines. As you enter the game room, a straight column of gilded chandeliers dangled pendulously from the ceiling. At each table, workers were dressed in satin tuxedo shirts gold and black patterned with sleek ties. Players were hunched, intently hovering over their cards silent and smoking, waiting for their fate.

That night, after returning to the hotel room quite late, head filled with smoke and ears still ringing from the machines, I opened the mere three inches of a window.

What a shock! I was living in the clouds!

The view was breathtaking, just clouds and mist and the tips of other mountaintops. No cars, no city lights, no people, it was like looking out from an airplane; the mist was even coming through the window...

Dawn came, and seeing the sunrise from heaven was indescribable. Rays of warmth softened by the clouds colored the mountains, the sun playing peek-a-boo below us, the cool mountain air smelling of a new day.

Alas, what a regret to pack our bags and return back to earth!

Alice Yang is a student at Columbia University.
She can be reached at gy2151@ Columbia.edu.

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   Last Update:  August 02, 2007