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Date:  15 November 2003
Subject:  Rebooting the car

Dear family and friends,

On Sunday 9 November we flew from Bali to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and were met at the airport by our friend, Sonny Lim. His company provides him with a car, but since we had warned him ahead of time that we had our two large bike suitcases as well as our two backpacks, he brought a different (larger) car from the company pool. It was a Mercedes, and had a very large trunk, so it was no problem to fit in the luggage. However, when we got in the car and started away from the parking spot, the engine died; it was very difficult to restart, and difficult to keep running. After a considerable amount of trial, error, puzzlement, and disbelief, we figured out that the engine would start and run only if the front door on either the driver or passenger side was open. With both doors closed the car wouldn't start, and if you started the car with a door open and then closed the door, the engine immediately died. The rainy season has begun in Kuala Lumpur, and Sonny had driven through some heavy rain on the way to the airport, so our assumption was that moisture had gotten into the electronics somewhere. Sonny called the appropriate hotline number and described the peculiar problem. He and Ron then followed the suggested corrective procedure: disconnect the battery to shut down all electronics, wait 5 minutes, and then reconnect the battery. In other words, a complete shutdown and reboot! Much to our amazement, it worked, and the car started and ran just fine after it was rebooted. As we drove along after the reboot, we wondered about Bill Gates and his software and his relationship to Mercedes....

Sonny, his wife Florence, and their two young daughters, were wonderful and welcoming hosts. Staying with them in their home made our visit very special, and we are most grateful for their kindness and hospitality.

On Monday morning Sonny dropped us at the Myanmar [Burma] embassy on his way to work, and Ron applied for his visa. Although there was no problem getting the 28-day visa, he was not allowed to enter by the southern land route he had hoped to use, and instead was required to fly. In his pre-trip research he had read on the Internet that it was possible to enter by land from Thailand at the far southern tip of Myanmar, and had also read that it was possible to get two 14-day extensions to the 28-day visa when you were in Myanmar. The embassy said no extensions were possible -- but one is never sure what may be possible when actually in Rangoon. So getting into Myanmar was not a problem, but there are still a lot of uncertainties: will he be able to stay longer than 28 days, will he want to stay even if he can, will he want to leave by land or by air, which of several other places will he visit if he can only stay 28 days. As a result of the uncertainties, Ron decided not to take his bicycle to Myanmar, since he has a lot more flexibility without it.

After doing the visa application, we took a bus to the center of Kuala Lumpur and visited the sky-scraping Petronas Towers, where the view from the sky bridge between the towers, 42 stories above the ground, is spectacular. There are parks and fountains around the towers, and a huge and beautiful shopping center at the base. We waited out a heavy monsoon shower in the Malaysia Tourist Office, where we had gone for a map of the city. After it stopped raining, we did some more exploring on foot, then rode the monorail (good overview of everything along the route) to the central train station. From there we took the underground, exiting at another shopping center, smaller and quite different from the Petronas Towers one, with more of a market stall set-up. Then a bus to get back to the embassy to pick up Ron's passport and visa between 4 and 5 pm, then a taxi back to Sonny's condo. We had a fine sample of various transportation modes in Kuala Lumpur!

After dinner, Sonny and Florence took us to the bustling and busy night market in the Chinese area of town. As we walked along, Sonny stopped to talk briefly to a vendor, then told Ron the man was Burmese and told the man Ron was going to Burma in a few days. The man was very excited, and immediately pulled out and opened his wallet. In the place where most people would have a family photo, he had a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has been held under house arrest by the Burmese military government since 1989. Her party won a landslide victory in parlimentary elections in 1990, but the military junta refused to recognize the results and the country still remains under martial law. We all recognized Aung San Suu Kyi's photo, and there was a chorus of approval for her and a lot of "thumbs up" signs from the vendor and from us. As we walked away, Sonny commented, "That would never happen in Burma!" (where it is illegal to display or even own a photo of her).

Our sightseeing on Tuesday included both older and newer parts of Kuala Lumpur, as well as a number of hours in the Bird Park, which has an enormous walk-in aviary that actually covers the entire park, and the Butterfly Park (nice butterflies and beautiful gardens) and adjacent insect museum.

Kuala Lumpur is a large and interesting city, with a real mix of cultures, religions, ethnic groups, and old and new buildings. There was far more to explore than we had time for!

On Wednesday Ellen left for home, about 30 hours from take-off in Kuala Lumpur to landing in Richmond VA, plus a few more hours on each end for getting to and from the airports. It was quite a change from tropical Malaysia and Bali to Virginia, where it was cold and windy and the temperatures were not very far above freezing. There was also a radical difference in prices: in Bali, even if we ate nice meals at nice restaurants, we only got the bill up to US$10 per person once or twice, but in the Detroit airport $10 bought a cup of tea, a small fruit cup, and a bagel. Sticker shock!

On Friday Ron flew to Rangoon, and will be there for at least 28 days. There is no Web or email access in Myanmar, so he will be making a brief call home once a week, just to stay in touch. Detailed travel bulletins from him will have to wait either until he leaves the country and has Internet access again, or until anything he sends via paper mail arrives in Virginia.

Love to all,

Ellen (who wrote this) and Ron (in Burma)

PS I'm working on photos, and will send out a message when I've posted them to the Web page.


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