A NEW POST!!
First, a note: WordPress doesn’t allow you to post new stuff at the bottom of the page. It posts things in reverse chronological order — which means that if you want to add more than one post, people have to read from the bottom post upwards, which is confusing. So I’m writing a single GIANT post. That way, everything will be in chronological order. This is what you get when you choose a free blog without checking the features first.
Second, I must begin with a little RANT.
I ran into someone a few weeks ago that was complaining about how bad her hair was when she was growing up. This middle-aged ***** had that shiny, poker straight luxurious hair that women flaunt at you in Pantene commercials.
So if you are a former New Order-listening, hair-crimping, giant belt wearing 40-year-old, I donwanna hear about how bad you had it in 1986 because you couldn’t get your BANGS right.
I stood for 90 minutes every week while my hair was blown straight and then straight-ironed until there was a strange burning smell. I endured a helmet of frizz after a P.E. class of swimming. I suffered “Are you a boy or a girl?” queries when Mom had had it, and my hair was cut down to two inches. I waited patiently for three years while my hair grew out. The SunIn bleaching debacle was my fault, but I suffered through that too.
So suck it up, ladies. Just like I have no right to whine about my trials in front of someone who had cancer when they were 13 and had to go through high school in a headscarf – which, when you are 15, is probably even worse than chemo. When it comes to teenage girl hair, there is something known as the Chain of Suffering. And if you are whining in the vicinity of someone higher up the chain, a FLYING B*TCH SLAP is in order.
So back to my trip…
Yes, I promised I’d finish this thing, but then I took the summer off. I got home June 2nd, which I suppose means I took the last three weeks of spring off as well. But my blood is 100% Italian and we do that sh*t. Give your country no guaranteed vacation (yo) and they run the world. Give it seven weeks (Ciao!!) and they run the mafia. You may have noticed I bleeped a word. This is because apparently some of my parents’ friends are reading this, and in deference to my elders (I think half of them are no longer reading as of now), I am bleeping things like sh*t. It may be slightly annoying, like those neon signs atop cheap grocery stores that can’t bother to change their bulbs (you know who you are, W*lm*rt). But I turned 40 in August and am trying to be more grown up. I decided to split the difference. I’ll still tell you that you need a FLY*NG B*TCH SLAP, but I’ll say it with asterisks. Then I’ll make some 12-year-old joke about the first syllable of the word asterisk.
ARRIVAL IN KOTA KINABALU (May 23)
It seems that my first hour in any new country is a bit humiliating. Not entirely a bad thing, as things can only improve from there. My first of three stops was the toilet, which in this case consisted of a hole in the ground with a hose attached about 4 feet away. Not unexpected and not a problem, per se, but I would’ve been happier if I hadn’t foregone working out the previous 3 weeks and had wobbly balance from an entire day of travel. The main challenge with this system is that if you don’t position yourself properly, you have to adjust mid-flight. I still can’t fathom how pregnant, aged, injured, or obese women use these things. You’d at least think they’d have handle bars or something. In my defense, there was no place to put my bags down, so I was balancing with a backpack on my back and a purse in my arms. This could be an Olympic sport or some sort of humiliating frat hazing ritual.
Stop #2 was the first—the only, actually—shop I saw on the way out: Dunkin Donuts. There was even a police man buying a jelly-filled, so of course I had to get a photo after I stopped laughing. Donut-scarfing cops are like tourist-gauging taxi drivers—a universal phenomenon. Their glazed looked a bit slimy, so I opted for a sugar. How can you mess that up? Apparently you can—though I suppose a flavorless stale donut is what you deserve for ordering an Asian airport donut at 6:30 pm.
Stop #3 was the taxi line, which took me a few minutes to find, as it was about 100 feet from the exit, which also took me a few minutes to find. With every few steps I passed by another cab front seat window, bobbing my head down to peek in upon an empty seat, then bobbing up again, like a demented pigeon. Finally I found someone who explained that I had to go back inside and purchase a taxi voucher. This was a relief, as it meant I’d get a flat rate. I wasn’t in the mood for my first conversation in Malaysia to be with a shifty taxi driver intent on conning me out of my newly purchased and delightfully colorful Malaysian Ringgits.
Back inside I went, bouncing from counter to counter like a pin ball in search of the taxi service. I returned to the taxi line, ticket in hand, threw my stuff in the trunk of the first taxi in line, and slid into what I thought was the front passenger seat, as the back was littered with stuff. No one told me these people drive on the left like Brits, so my elbow banged against the steering wheel horn, alerting Kota Kinabalu to the fact that Kristin Fiore had indeed arrived. I slithered out and went around to the left side of the car. At least the horn blast told the driver that I needed a lift. He was about 20 feet away chewing on a cigarette. The ride was about 30 minutes—made even more awkward by the fact that I was next to him in the front seat. It felt like a teenager’s first date. It’s awfully quiet. Should I say something? Maybe he doesn’t even speak English. He probably thinks I’m an idiot. Does he think I banged the horn on purpose?
The hotel room was nicer and bigger than I expected (in Hanoi, I could sit on the bed and put my feet on the wall), though I didn’t stay more than 3 minutes. I packed my bag and scooted out into the night in search of food, following the smell of fish that’s overstayed its welcome. I found a large, familiar set of Vietnam-style food stalls along the water, though these were fancy—the plastic chairs were grown-up sized and they had proper plastic tables. Classy. People were washing dishes on the floor, but no one was cooking there.
I decided that fried rice with seafood was the least risky thing on the menu and scarfed it down in about 5 minutes before moving on to see if I could find the family. I didn’t see them until I returned to the hotel and meandered into the restaurant area. I had a great surprise – The Godfathers had joined us. Chuck (Uncle Cocktail) and Tim (Uncle Cookie) flew in from San Francisco to join in the festivities and help my mother navigate the perilously potholed and uneven sidewalks of KK. I stepped in a three-inch deep, water-filled pothole within an hour of my arrival. I call them “urban ponds.” Fortunately, my Keen shoes are waterproof. If you are not from Seattle, let me now introduce you to the ugliest shoes ever to crawl from the imagination of a product developer:
I’m not ordinarily a pool person, but I must explain my present change of heart:
- Pools here don’t stink of chlorine
- Pools here are 85 degrees, which is about 15 degrees cooler than outside, and they are only slightly wetter than the air
- Mosquitos can’t swim
- Pools rival Angry Birds as Fiore girl babysitters, diffusing nieces Ari and Lexi’s energy and inevitable sugar binges
Ari and Lexi spent a few hours each day in the pool, dutifully toted around on the shoulders Chuck and Tim, while John and I “rode the couch” in the shade, as he put it. As I dug into the 8th chapter of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, I began to understand the ulterior motives for inviting the Godfathers, whose usual nicknames had been put on hold in favor of “Pigtail Panda” and “Pancake Panda.” I can’t figure how Chuck got pinned with “pigtail,” though I suppose “Shaved Head Panda” doesn’t have the same ring.
The group also hit the shopping mall only a few steps from our hotel, though within 10 minutes the men had fled and we ladies found ourselves alone among tables cluttered with Hello Kitty, glittering headbands, and all things girly. Most shops were surprisingly Western, with tee shirts, flip flops, electronics, and trendy get-ups, peppered with noodle stands and the odd Reflexologist. Within a few days, mom, Michelle, Jazz and I would hit the upstairs massage place for the indulgence of our choice. Mine was a no-frills back and neck thrashing that would make 50 Shades of Grey sound tame—courtesy of Paul and Jazz.
According to the 1987 Global Multi-level Mall Ordinance (GMMO-87) enforced by Interpol, there must be a food court on the top level of any large shopping establishment, and this mall complied. We had quite a gang up there one afternoon, as we always did on this trip, but I had hit my limit of oily noodles with stuff, fried stuff, stuff with meat in it, oily fried meat stuff on noodles, and stuff I can’t identify. If there is anything green on your plate at all, it’s likely a garnish. I ducked out with Michelle and had a much-needed Waldorf salad at Chili Vanilla, the restaurant we’d loved the previous evening. We managed to find several good places to eat over the week—including a fabulous sushi place and the restaurant at the resort where Paul and Jasmah had their civil wedding. Something amazing they have here are super-fresh-squeezed juices, including pineapple, apple, and watermelon. The apple is so fresh that it oxidizes before you can get to the bottom. To avoid this, you have to guzzle it like an Alpha Delta Pi girl on a Saturday night.
The main drag of Kota Kinabalu is only one long street, plus another that runs along the water, so we didn’t have the issue of getting lost or of spending six hours per day scouring the town. My feet loved this. We spent a lot of time by the pool, or eating. In typical Fiore fashion, we spent half of one meal discussing where we were going to eat the next one.
THE VILLAGE RESORT
Any time we went somewhere, the 11 of us (Mom, Dad, me, John, Michelle, Ari and Lexi, Paul, Jasmah, Chuck and Tim) piled into a giant white van, Scooby-Doo style, with Elmer at the helm. Elmer (as in Gantry or Fudd, depending on your maturity level) was a friend of Jasmah’s, our chauffeur, and a most exquisite guide, not least because he tolerated toting around a throng of sweaty, silly Fiores for more than a week.
Jasmah’s village, Tuaran, is a 45-minute ride into the hills of Sabah, Malaysia, through fields and clusters of rustic houses. There are a ton of dogs, several tiny, mangy, short-tailed cats, and the occasional water buffalo. As we passed a few, I wondered if we were to eat one of his cousins some upcoming evening. As you will hear later, everyone in Tuaran is a cousin. I had trouble keeping my mitts off the kitties, but between my promise to my travel doctor, my desire to avoid rabies, and the obvious eye infection that the first two cats I encountered were sporting, I managed to resist. This is not to say I didn’t contort to jut my head under the table and squeal every time I heard a meow. I meowed in return. This is the second time I meowed in public on this trip.
Our first dinner was a bit of an adventure. By the time we got there, the buffet was nearly gone (I think Paul was the only one who ventured that for his meal), so most of us got roti, which is like Indian naan, but filled with whatever you like. I got vegetable and egg. I asked for cheese, but they didn’t have any. Another reason Asians aren’t fat. I also tried coconut milk for the first time. And last time. I love coconut milk—the stuff that adds 1,000 calories to any Thai meal, but the water tasted a bit, well, wrong.
The resort where the civil wedding took place could rival any in a posh city, with multiple pools and a water slide that everyone under 50 in our group repeatedly enjoyed (the civil wedding was Saturday, but we all returned Monday to enjoy the resort for the day). Those of us over 90 pounds had to shoot out stiff, like the nut jobs that fire themselves from cannons. Otherwise you got a tailbone full of pool cement, as the pool was only about 4 feet deep there. They also had golfball-sized scoops of ice cream for $3. Another reason Asians aren’t fat. The ice cream by my apartment has a sign that reads, “SINGLE SCOOP (two scoops); DOUBLE SCOOP (three scoops).” The Asian scoop is the size of the taster spoon you get in America. This is why their “large” tee shirts cut off my circulation (I’m an American size 2 petite) and their “smalls” are the size of mittens.
My next post will be about the village and resort weddings. I’d post about it now, but my journal is in my new apartment, which I have yet to move into. I’m currently enjoying free dinners by Mom and dish-washing by Dad, who often insists on pulling my sofa bed out because of me achin’ back. I make toast, and by the time I turn around to put the jelly back in the fridge, Mom has already washed my knife, put it in the dishwasher, and cleaned the counter. Actually, I could get used to this.