musings on music, travel, books, and life from Southeast Asia

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Earlier this year, in late January, I went to Kuala Lumpur for a few days, making my usual rounds of CD stores, bookshops, and local restaurants. While I was in town I met up with my friend Yan Naing Soe a couple of times. He’s from Myanmar (I first met him many years ago in Mandalay), but has been living in the KL area for the past two years, working for a landscaping company.

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On a Sunday when he didn’t have to work he invited me to go with him and one of his Burmese friends to the famous Batu Caves, located on the outskirts of KL. In all the times I’ve been to KL I’d never visited these caves, so I was more than happy to accept the offer. To get to the cave, we decided to take the train, both for the convenience and the price. There is a station right next to the caves, plus the ticket price per person is ridiculously cheap: only 2 ringgit, which is about 20 Thai baht, or less than 1 US dollar (around 70 US cents).

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On the way to the train station, however, a couple of Malaysian police officers were stopping pedestrians at random, asking to see their ID cards. It became quickly obvious to me that they were stopping anyone who looked like a “foreigner”, or more specifically migrant workers, as Yan Naing Soe and his friend were. As my friends obligingly took out their ID cards, one of the cops looked over and motioned to me that I didn’t need to stop. But I told him that I was with these two guys from Myanmar. As soon as I said that, the police officers abruptly curtailed their ID check and apologized to me for detaining my friends. A nice gesture, but I wonder how much hassle Yan Naing Soe and his friend would have had to put up with if I hadn’t been with them. Just goes to remind you of the shabby treatment and shakedowns that migrant workers must put up with in other countries. My Cambodian friend Chiet reports similar “detentions” when he is working in Thailand.

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Anyway, we finally made it to the caves and I was pleasantly surprised that there was no admission charge at all. What a concept! In Thailand, just by being a foreigner, you’d be hit up for some sort of fee. Free of not, I wasn’t overly impressed with the Batu Caves. From what I saw of the area, they are more craggy rock formations than actual caves. Worthy of a few photos, but not exactly an awesome natural attraction.

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In any case, this site is considered to be of great religious importance to Hindus. In fact, while we were there, several groups of Hindu devotees were making their pilgrimage to the caves. Seeing these people walking around all powdered, shaved, and dressed in colorful costumes was far more entertaining than seeing the actual caves. Of course the hordes of monkeys that prowl the stairways also had some entertainment value, but it’s not a destination that I’d be rushing back to see again real soon. If nothing else, though, the trip to Batu Caves is an inexpensive train ride and makes for a pleasant way to kill an afternoon.

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