Junior, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering
Athens, OH 26 September 2019 –
The stars aligned beautifully to allow me to spend fall semester 2018 studying abroad in Thailand! Because I completed a 6-month chemical engineering co-op at DuPont from January to July and didn’t take the necessary spring semester prerequisites, I wasn’t able to jump back into the fall semester courses. Additionally, as a Cutler Scholar, I am required to participate in an abroad enrichment experience, so this was the perfect window of time to do that.
I am taking 4 courses at Chiang Mai University: reading & writing Thai, speaking Thai, gender & sexuality studies, and an ethnic studies course about the hill tribes of Northern Thailand. It’s extremely fun and challenging to switch up my usual routine of studying math and science with some humanities courses.
I enrolled through a nonprofit program, University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC), and I strongly encourage anyone reading this to check out their offerings: they’re extremely affordable, offer courses in fall, spring, and summer, and have locations on 6 continents! (Maybe one day, Antarctica…)
For my first trip out of the country of Thailand, I decided to visit Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for the weekend with my friend Rabia from Humboldt State University in California.
We left on Friday after our morning classes, and arrived in Kuala Lumpur around 8 pm. After exchanging some Thai baht currency into Malaysian ringgit, we headed for the train station inside the airport. Kuala Lumpur’s infrastructure is amazing: they have a nonstop train (allegedly, the fastest in Southeast Asia) that takes you from the airport to the city center in less than half an hour—way faster than a car ride! It’s a true feat of civil engineering.
After taking the train and a cab to our hostel, which was an apartment in a luxury complex converted to hold 10 bunk beds, we fell asleep quickly, as we had lots planned for Saturday.
On Saturday, we woke up early and headed for a morning market. We indulged in “nasi lemak,” a traditional Malaysian dish with rice, pork skins, peanuts, and a fried egg. We also had Hainan coffee, a bitter Chinese coffee drink.
After wandering through the market, seeing many Asian fruits such as rambutan and mangosteen, as well as seeing culture-shock inducing customs such as people smoking indoors, we headed for the KL Eco Park.
The KL Eco Park is a canopy walk, located right in the center of the city. It’s bizarre to walk on it and be completely enveloped by the jungle, just to look through the trees and see skyscrapers! Kuala Lumpur has so much lush, green space, forests, and plants – America, take note.
After the Eco Park, we travelled to the aquarium, which notably had a moving sidewalk through a tunnel surrounded by giant marine exhibit! There were sharks, stingrays, and a wide array of fish species swimming next to us and above us. Definitely a sight to behold, and there were plenty of my personal favorite aquarium creatures: jellyfish!
Remember when I said our hostel was an apartment in a luxury complex converted to hold 10 bunk beds? One of the benefits of this accommodation was the most amazing rooftop pool I have ever seen. The view completely took my breath away – all the most iconic Kuala Lumpur landmarks, like the Petronas Twin Towers and the Kuala Lumpur Tower, were unobstructed and panoramic in our field of vision. It was the perfect location to relax after a long day of walking and sightseeing.
After resting up at the pool, we hailed a cab to what we thought was the night food market. Our driver, however, had a better recommendation, and we trusted his local wisdom. It was the best decision! We headed instead to Jalan Alor Night Food Market, and joined throngs of people in the pursuit of tasty, authentic, Malaysian cuisine.
We settled on a vendor peddling black pepper crab, hokkien mee (a Malaysian dish of egg noodles and rice noodles stir-fried with egg, slices of pork, prawns and squid, and served and garnished with vegetables, small pieces of lard, sambal sauce and lime), and satay. While we were elbow deep into tearing apart juicy crab meat with our bare hands, a server offered us plastic gloves, but it was too late! We resigned ourselves to getting messy as part of the meal.
After all the excitement of trying delicious new foods, we headed back to our hostel, and fell asleep, anticipating another long day of exploring.
On Sunday morning, Rabia and I ate mango lassis, roti (a round, doughy flatbread native to India), and mutton at a local Indian-Malaysian restaurant.
There is a strong Indian influence on Malaysia, stemming from a history of Indian migration to Malaysia. Indian influence in Malaysia can be traced all the way back to AD 110, continuing through the colonial period, when Indians were brought to Malaysia as indentured servants under British rule. The migration continues today, in industries from tech to food. After our tasty breakfast, we then headed to one of Kuala Lumpur’s most famous landmarks, Batu Caves!
Batu Caves is one of the most popular Tamil shrines outside India, and is dedicated to Lord Murugan. It is the focal point of Hindu festival of Thaipusam in Malaysia. This festival draws over a million people during January & February. This temple has 272 stairs leading to the cave, and it is a colorful, joyous, remarkable place. Not to mention: monkeys roam freely all over the site.
We recovered at the rooftop pool again, then headed to our next hostel, which was right next to Chinatown! For dinner, I drank a coconut, and we shared dishes cooked in clay pots! We opted for stingray meat, which tasted very similarly to crab, and had a very tender flavor. However, I couldn’t quite shake the memory of looking at stingrays in the aquarium just the day before.
For dessert, we drank cane sugar juice, and watched the street vendor extract the juice from the plant right in front of us! The liquid tasted so naturally sweet in a way that the artificially sweetened foods do not. Lastly, we stopped at a Chinese bakery, where I munched on a lotus cake, filled with lotus seed paste. I’ve had so many interesting culinary experiences on this trip, biting into foods with no inkling or expectation as to what the taste will be! The lotus cake was dense, rich, and doughy.
Tired after a long day of exploring, we retired to our hostel, in order to catch the train back to the airport on Monday morning. All in all, Kuala Lumpur was a beautiful, diverse, modern city, and I’m very pleased that I chose to travel there for my first Asian trip out of Thailand!