Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ramadan in KL

Picture this. In Japan, everyone is waiting for the itadakimasu before eating. It's a rule: no eating or drinking before everyone has been served and everyone has been seated. This is particularly done at family dinners (parties are similar, except instead of saying itadakimasu, people cheers with kampai before drinking and then eating).

Now still within Asia, go to Kuala Lumpur. Although by population Indonesia has a larger Muslim population, Malaysia is much more strict in practice. Unlike a family dinner every night in Japan, this kind of waiting for food happens once a year for the month of Ramadan. And unlike Japan where one sits around the family table and partakes in an itadakimasu, it's the entire city--blocks and whole neighborhoods of people who have fasted all day and come together to eat a true "break fast." Rows of tables shared with your friends, family, or coworkers, everyone with their own food. It's like a festival. Down the block, there are stalls of various food vendors selling everything Malaysia has to offer, from curries to biryani to grilled meats to even fried chicken.

So it's actually against the law to break one's fast. I failed. Needless to say, it was a good thing I'm not Muslim

Keep imagining. People have been served already. Their drinks have been poured, already condensing in their glass. Food has been selected and divided onto individual plates. Sauces are already in strategic locations throughout the table. Some have already poured their seasoning of choice on their dinner. And people are still waiting.

Little by little, the tables fill. Vendors start running out of their most popular items. Sunlight slowly is being replaced by twilight. And yet, everyone is still waiting.

This has gone on for hours. Vendors have been set up since 3pm. It's still only 6:30. You can see the growing anxiety as the time approaches. Forks and spoons are being grabbed by some, others wield their chopsticks. Some children and elderly people have sneak a few bites. But as a city, they are waiting.

And then, what I would imagine to be the most amazing sound in the world, chanting arises from the nearby mosque. It's time. Laughter and chatter is soon replaced by dishes being moved, drinks being slurped, and utensils clashing plates.

Kuala Lumpur, August 6, 2012

7:30pm. Simply amazing.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

SCUBA in Okinawa

I'm not really a SCUBA diver. Or at least, I'm a recreational diver at best. I can even still tell you all the times I've dived. Discovery dive in Cairns, Australia (2005). Open water certification at Catalina Island, California (2007). The two fun dives in Nha Trang, Vietnam (2010). A dive in Boracay, Philippines (2011). And this past week, two more in Okinawa.

Okinawa: Japan's answer to Hawaii

That's it, so I don't have much to compare it to. Even so, I feel there's a huge difference. I'm not talking about visibility, weather, or fish. They were nice, but in a good location, that can be anywhere.

The biggest difference is the little things that our dive master did. It retained its Japanese-ness. Driving us to the dive spot, just the two of us. Providing a sports drink before, between, and after our dives. Then driving us to a separate place to shower and clean up before lunch--even providing a towel and 100 yen coins for the shower.

And at some point in our trip, a simple diving trip became a full on tour, with lunch at a famous Okinawan Soba house, pictures at Cape 万座毛, and a quick visit to another of the Ryukyu castle ruins, Zakimi.

To top it off--while everywhere else I've been to offers underwater pictures for a fee, sometimes an outrageous amount, our guide not only provide free pictures and plenty of photo ops underwater, but he even dropped off a CD of our photos with our filled out dive books for free the next morning in our hostel lobby.
This is called The Blue Lagoon... you can guess why

So although definitely the most expensive diving spot of my life, I was well worth my time and money. So if you have a license and happen to find yourself with a free day to spend in Okinawa, why not go for a dive?