Archive for March 20th, 2009

Freighter frustration again!

Friday, March 20th, 2009

It seems that just after we finish jumping through one hoop with the freighter, they put another one in place. We have “booked” a freighter from Shanghai to Seattle, through NSB Reiseburo, on or about June 1st.

First booking, we were told that even though we are Canadians, we require a Visa for the USA. Both us and our travel agent Fred had received letters from Homeland Security and the USA Embassy saying that Canadians do not require Visas; however, the freighter company insisted. They had an issue a few years back where a Canadian was denied entry, so they do not wish to get burned again.

So, we jumped through that hoop, forked over about $400 and received 10-year tourist visas for the USA. We only hope that having the visa doesn’t cause us more trouble than it save, since we don’t require it.

We thought everything was OK, but when we sent copies of our Visa’s, we hit another hurdle. Now we are told that our type L Chinese visa (tourist) does not permit us to embark in Shanghai. That type of visa is OK for any other port in China, but for some reason, Shanghai doesn’t accept it. So, we now need to acquire a type F visa (business), which requires an invitation letter from a company. We are hoping the freighter agent can provide us with the necessary invitations. It certainly would have been nice if they informed us of this odd restriction prior to us applying for and paying for our visa.

A world religions tour of Kuala Lumpur

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Once we finished with our Visa acquisitions, we decided to check out some of the various churches and temples. With three major ethnic groups, there are many different places of worship in KL. The most prevalent are mosques, but there are a number of Hindu Temples, Buddhist and Taoist Chinese temples and even the occasional church. We tried to visit a mosque, but arrived just as they closed to visitors for afternoon prayers – oops.

Our first successful stop was at Saint Mary’s Anglican Cathedral. Our initial reaction upon entering the church was that it felt very colonial. The plain design reminded Scott of some of the less elaborate Anglican churches in Canada. It was certainly nothing like the elaborate Roman Catholic churches we visited in Italy! The colonial theme continued for us – going out to High Tea at the former home of the British High Commissioner was the high point.

On our trip out to pick up our passports from the USA consulate, we stopped in at a Buddhist temple near the Petronas towers. It looked all shiny and new with a large gold seated Buddha at the entrance. We learned later that it had recently been renovated. There were many books on Buddhism available, published by the Dharma Realm Buddhist Association, and according to those books, this was the Dharma Realm Guanyin Sagely Monastery (formerly the Deng Bi An Temple). We picked up several books in English and Chinese on Buddhism, only to later realize that DRBA is based out of the U.S. with a few monasteries in Canada – no need to have travelled so far!

Among our many other trips, Nancy drove us out to the famous Batu Caves. Scott had been there once before about 10 years ago, and noticed that it is much more built up now. There are several different Hindu shrines in and around the caves, but Becky did not feel it to be very spiritual, instead she found it rather Disneified (like it belonged in Disney World). There were a few Hindu worshippers receiving blessings from the priests at the various shrines, but most of the visitors were tourists. Had we arrived during the Thaipusam festival, with more than 500 000 pilgrims, her reaction would likely have been different though.

Batu Caves entrance

Batu Caves entrance

At the top of the interior cave stairwell, there were many monkeys, which turned out to be rather aggressive if you had any plastic bags or food. At one point, Becky was taking a picture of some of the monkeys, and another one snuck up behind her and started to tug at her pant leg. She screamed and the monkey hissed at her, baring its teeth. When she tried to walk away, it followed. She was shrieking and the many people around her were staring and laughing at her. Scott was nowhere in sight – he was taking photos of one of the shrines – so he missed all the action.

We made a brief visit to the Hindu temple in downtown KL, and did not find it to be particularly interesting. Becky really likes the ornate roof statues on the temples, but the downtown KL temple was being renovated, so much of the outside was covered with scaffolding.

We also visited two Chinese Taoist temples in downtown KL, one dedicated to the God of Success (and a favourite of businessmen) and the other to the Goddess of Mercy. Before the temple visit, Becky had not made a connection between Taoism and Chinese mysticism. At the Taoist temples there were many calendars indicating the various Chinese years (e.g. Year of the Bull), and you could have your fortune read. The temple was preparing for the upcoming “All Souls Day”, on April 6, where people visit and clean the graves of their ancestors. They also burn paper money and other items made of paper (TVs, cars, etc) which are then thought to be sent to the ancestors in the place they go to after death.

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