It’s early afternoon and the sun is high overhead, heating the humid air into a sauna that speckles our shirts with perspiration. Vines climb from the ground into the canopy of a tree, out across the limbs, and then dangle in the air above our heads. We sit on a bench and watch people go by. A Chinese couple passes, followed by several young Muslim women. Their silk head scarves shade their faces from the hot sun while their smooth gait is tapped out on the sidewalk by their petite sandals. They float smoothly along in their elegant silk gowns in such a way as to seem impervious to gravity.
The French say that by presenting ourselves artfully, our presence may add beauty to the world. I can only imagine that they came to this conclusion after watching Muslim women walk.
The loudspeakers atop the mosque’s minarets crackle to life, and then a voice like a singing cello begins its steady, melodic rendition of the call to prayer. The voice rings out over the city, a cappella, in an enchanting echo reminding Muslims that it’s time to find a peaceful place to face Mecca and pray. We sit back and let the sound saturate us. It reminds us that we’re far from home; that we’re in the Islamic world now. We’re in Kuala Lumpur.
We amble along the sidewalk, shriveling in the heat, gulping the saturated air as though it’s liquid water. Between two buildings a Hindu temple appears, adorned with hundreds of ornate statues of mystic blue gods. From within the temple the rapidly shifting notes of a shehnai fill the street and the ground reverberates with the thud of a hand drum. We kick off our sandals and walk inside to see where the music is coming from, and are met by a scene of pure jubilation. Under the central pavilion men and women are dressed to the nines. Musicians seated on the floor belt out wild instrumentals while flower petals are thrown and little girls in saris run through the canopy of cheerful adults. It feels like a Bollywood dance scene will break out at any moment.
We have walked into a traditional Indian wedding!
The bride and groom are dressed in elaborate getups with headdresses, necklaces, jewels, and vibrant makeup. In between trips around the shrine they are showered with flower petals and wafted with candle smoke, all the while surrounded by smiling family and friends. We strike up a conversation with an older woman named Raji, who gives us the inside scoop about the bride and groom. She seems to be the cheeriest person I’ve met in the last few weeks. Everyone is like this. The little girls run around in their saris handing out party favors to the guests. Outside of the pavilion more guests eat curry and rice with their fingers, smiling in the sun.
Aristotle said that happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence. I can only imagine that he came to this conclusion after attending an Indian wedding.
In the late afternoon, Sheena and I hop on the metro. As soon as Teng Tsen heard that we were in town, he called his Volkswagen club together for a proper welcome party.
“All right, we’ll see you at Sri Petaling station at 6:15. We’ll be the goofy looking Americans,” I’d written.
“I’m the good looking Malaysian…look out for the VW kombi!”
We emerge from the station to find Teng Tsen waiting for us in his sweet 1974 air-cooled VW kombi. We load up and roll out with the windows down, a cool breeze filling the van. We take a quick detour into a residential neighborhood where Seb and Soizic tag along in their 1966 split window VW bus. Somehow, through the miracle of Asian chaos and coincidence, we meet up with the other members of the club in traffic on a busy freeway, and then slither as one big VW snake to a roadside food stand.
Over bowls of Yong Tau Foo we swap stories tell lies about our VW-related challenges and triumphs. All the while, Sheena and I have to keep pinching ourselves. Are we really in Asia? Were we really just in South America? It already seems like a lifetime ago, and Nacho hasn’t even arrived on the ship from Buenos Aires yet.
We load up again, this time in Seb’s van, and head out for cold drinks. In a parking lot we crowd around tables in folding chairs where we’re joined by more VW clubbers, and throw back several glasses of ice cold tropical juice. The parking lot is packed with Beetles and kombis, and our table is equally packed with fun-loving Volkswagen people. Try as we might, nobody will let us pay for anything. “When you’re in our country, it’s our treat!” they say.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that happiness is not a goal; it is a by-product. I can only imagine that she came to this conclusion after driving in a Volkswagen.