“Tribe of Mentors” Review

First time trying this book review business out.

I have become a rather big fan of Tim Ferriss, his books and podcast. Naturally, his new book “Tribe of Mentors” was right at the top of my holiday list and is my first book 2018.

In the intro, Tim writes about finding himself in a bit of a life crisis turning 40. The questions he was asking himself certainly hit home for me as I have been experiencing a quarter-life crisis of my own this past year. He talks about questioning his goals and motivations, how he can be kinder to himself, and what he may have missed out on due to underplanning or overplanning. Thinking about his goals and desires, he decides to email out a list of 11 questions to his “tribe of mentors.” When I first read that the whole book was a variety of people answering the same questions, I was a little turned off. I am glad I got over that brief hesitation, because the rest of the pages were filled with so many ideas, tactics, books, quotes, and mental exercises that I made a note or highlight on most of them.

Ferriss describes the book as a “create your own adventure” book. Many of the profiles and answers were impressive, some did not resonate, but at least 20% really hit home for me. At the onset, I thought I would skip some of the profiles if the person did not pique my interest. After reading the first 10 or so profiles, I realized I was definitely going to be reading every page. I thought I wouldn’t be interested in some of them, but a couple mentors really surprised me and I was hooked.

While there are so many highlights, I want to sum up my main takeaways.

1) “Life is 25% finding yourself and 75% creating yourself” – Time and time again, the reader is reminded that you have the power to control the story of your life. So many of the limits put on us by others and by ourselves are made up. So many of the mentors in this book made drastic changes in their lives, professionally and personally. It is a nice reminder that we are the authors of our lives. At the same time, we can’t sit idly by and wait for life to happen to us, we have to make life happen. This can be a tad intimidating, but leads right into the next lesson…

2) “Focus on the next 5 minutes.” –  Over the last year, I have made a lot of changes in my life and I have put a lot of pressure on myself to “figure everything out.” The idea of “figuring everything out” is wildly overwhelming and often leads to frustration and inertia. Tim encourages all of us to plan, but focus on what is right in front of us. We can’t think our way out of a situation. The only way out is to take one step at a time. We can’t change the past, however, we can control how we approach any situation in the next 5 minutes, we can choose to be happy in the next 5 minutes. When we have this perspective, it is comforting that we can recover from any misstep. I am already reflecting on times that I didn’t “get what I want” that led to a far better opportunity down the road. Comedian Patton Oswalt wrote, “my favorite failure is every time I ever ate it onstage as a comedian. Because I woke up the next day and the world hadn’t ended.” Amen.

3) “Life punishes the vague wish and rewards the specific ask.” – Oh man, this one punched me in the face. Tim writes this in the introduction, but I am reminded of it constantly throughout the book. Often, “What should I do with my life?” is an awful question (and one I have said to myself, and others, many times… admit it, we all have). It is way too broad and gets you out of that “focus on the next 5 minutes” mindset. It is massively overwhelming to consider how you are going to lay the building blocks that make up your lifetime. In addition, we all know those blocks are going to move, disappear, slide, and more blocks will show up when you least need more blocks. This may appear at odds with creating the life you want to lead and not letting life happen to you. However, if you do you best to focus on making the next 5 minutes the best you can, and you are actively taking steps to create the life you want to live right now, then you will be better prepared to go with the flow when the building blocks of life don’t line up exactly according to plan (which they certainly will).

I am confident someone else will have a different take than me, and I think that is the beauty of a book like this (and any book in general for that matter). After reading 140 different takes on the same high level questions, I am reminded that there is no “right way” to go through life. Success means different things to different folks. While this is a liberating notion, I feel like it lights a little fire under my butt to do the things I want to accomplish, be the person I want to be, and live the life I want to live. We all have the power to write the next chapter of our lives even if it seems out of context with the rest of the story so far.

Dream big and start small.

Final Take: 4/5 Stars. If you have not dabbled in the Tim Ferriss collection, I would recommend starting with last years book, “Tools of Titans.”

Learning to Learn and Confronting the Uncomfortable

When I graduated college, I got promoted from my job waiting tables to being a manager for a new restaurant the company was opening.

At 22, I was beyond excited to get an opportunity to be in a leadership position. Like most young folks getting promoted, I had a lot of confidence in myself.

At 22, I knew I had a lot to learn, but I assumed I would be great right off the bat.

“It doesn’t look so hard,” I thought.

As many of us are at 22, I was very wrong.

I remember my first dinner shift like it was yesterday. I was wearing a brand new suit and was projecting a lot of confidence. In reality, I had a solid stream of sweat dripping down my back. Brand new restaurant, brand new employees, brand new everything, and the staff was looking to me for help and guidance. If a customer asked to speak to a manager, they were getting a baby face 22-year-old trying to get his sea legs in a new position.

As we picked up steam in the middle of the shift, I remember the kitchen not getting orders out on time, I remember servers not being able to get drinks from the bar fast enough, I remember the brand new computer system not working smoothly. In the world of restaurants, it was a nightmare.

Every server needed help, every host needed help, everyone seemed to need help. So, I helped. I started helping servers take orders, bring drinks to tables, refill waters, run food from the kitchen. I was grooving, my confidence was on the rise. I thought I was really making a positive impact.

In the middle of this mayhem, I remember one of the members of the corporate team, Shane, asked me how many tables I had visited. I started listing all the things I was doing to support the staff. He was not impressed with my list of accomplishments. He told me I needed to go to every table in the dining room and make sure they were happy.

I went to a couple of tables as instructed. My goodness it was awkward. I had gotten used to chatting with guests as a server, but walking up to a table cold scared the ever-living shit out of me, even when things were running smoothly. Anyone who has opened a restaurant or started a  business knows that things do not run smoothly on opening night. After a few visits, and more sweat, I fell back into helping all the servers and busboys running around the dining room.

Shane came back a little later and asked how all the tables were that I went to. I told him I was so backed up helping everyone and that I had only gotten to a couple of tables. He reminded me – in no uncertain terms – that my job was not to be an extra set of hands, but to make sure the guests are happy and the only way to be sure is to talk to every table.

At 22, I took the critique and carried on. I went to more tables, but I was annoyed. I remember thinking that I had been working my ass off, but that clearly that was not enough. I was helping get all these guests fed, and if I weren’t there, it would have gone slower! How did he not realize how much I was doing?

I still remember this first shift vividly, not because it was a messy opening night. Not because I had my confidence knocked down a peg by a superior. Not even because I had a harsh realization that I knew far less than I thought. I remember that night because Shane was 100% correct. My job was to support the staff, but that was only one part. As a manager, I needed to see the big picture, not get bogged down in the weeds, and get comfortable dealing with customers who are having less than a stellar experience.

When I was overwhelmed, I fell back on what was comfortable for me. In an effort to look like I knew what I was doing, I focused on the easier tasks I knew I could handle. Shane helped push me out of my comfort zone and I have learned that what makes you the least comfortable is probably where you need to focus your energy the most.

“Fear cuts deeper than swords.” – George R.R. Martin

This lesson plays out in business and in life, far beyond the restaurant industry. It took a lot of awkward table visits before I felt any type of confidence in a crucial part of my new job.

We all fall victim to reverting back into comfortable habits when things get tough. We might even have the attitude I had to start. We think we know everything, we think it’s easy. The reality is, sticking to tasks that seem easy to us doesn’t promote learning and it doesn’t encourage growth. Often we don’t surround ourselves with people who will give us blunt feedback the way Shane gave it to me.

We also fall into the habit of feeling accomplished because we feel busy. I was pissed that Shane seemed to be busting my balls while I was busting my ass trying to please guests.

The reality was that I did not know how to best serve the guest and fell back on what I was comfortable with instead of developing new skills.

These are not easy lessons to learn, 22-year-old Jeff certainly did not internalize this lesson for some time.

Maybe you are very well tuned to your own strengths and weaknesses. Maybe you know which areas in your life need some attention and improvement. However, I personally, had no idea how much I didn’t know and was patting myself on the back for a job well done in my state of oblivion.

So, what can we do about this?

It is good to have confidence in our abilities, trust that we will do the right thing. But, it is just as important to recognize where we can make strides to become well-rounded in the work place and outside of it.

If I could go back in time, I wish I had sought out someone like Shane to ask for advice about the components of what makes a good manager. It’s not easy to ask for someone to critique you, but if we leave it up to ourselves, that lack of constructive criticism can lead to staying busy with menial tasks and patting ourselves on the back (like I did) for not pushing ourselves to be the best we can be.

In case it isn’t obvious by now, I learned a lot from that early professional experience. It was humbling.

I learned I needed to seek out feedback and mentors since they are fewer and further between when we leave the safe confines of college.

“True intuitive expertise is learned from prolonged experience with good feedback on mistakes” – Daniel Kahneman

And, just like how you have to lift weights that are a little heavier than you are used to to get stronger, I learned that I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone and tackle situations with challenging customers to get better at it.

These are lessons that can be applied right away and that I wanted to share with you.

When was the last time you asked a supervisor, friend or colleague to give you some honest feedback about your performance?

When was the last time you pushed yourself to do something that caused the sweat to run down your back the way it did for me during the restaurant’s opening night?

Drop a line in the comments. I’d love to hear about it.

Turning 28 and Looking Back

Yesterday, there was another candle added to the birthday cake and another year in the books. This past year has been a whirlwind for me. In the last 365 days, I quit my job where I had a successful career going, flew to the other side of the world 3 times, and visited 7 countries.

I am not much for New Year’s resolutions, but, as I turn 28, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on what I’ve done, what I have learned, and what I am still learning after a big year in my life.

Do what you want to do: When I quit my job to go traveling, I heard a lot of people say, “I wish I could do something like that.” You can. There are a lot of places in life where there are gatekeepers. Traveling proved not to be one of them. I was the biggest gatekeeper between me and my dreams. Quitting your job and traveling may not be what you want to do, but I encourage you to think about what you really want and do it.

Know your limits: If I had waited to have all the money I thought I would want to take my leave and travel, I wouldn’t have done it. Whether it is money, a promotion, or whatever other accomplishment you are waiting for, know what is important to you and don’t make compromises that put your well-being in jeopardy. If you don’t like the menu, leave the restaurant.

Spend time with family: My previous job kept me from a lot of family functions. Check out this article titled, “The Tail End.” Tim Urban explains how when we leave home after high school, we have spent 93% of the time we will ever spend with our parents. It is a sobering, yet helpful reminder to cherish the time we are able to spend with those closest to us, and I am grateful to have been able to spend a lot of time with family this past year.

I like bidets: The worst adjustment to life in the U.S. is the lack of bidets. They are on every toilet in Japan. A year ago, I wouldn’t have believed I liked having water shot where the sun don’t shine. But, now I want to buy a bidet attachment for my toilet. We are way behind the times in the States. The point of this one is, you never know what you might end up liking or what will have a positive impact on your life until you try.

Stop comparing yourself to others: This is increasingly hard while we are all drinking out of the fire hose of social media. Promotions, marriage, kids, vacations. Who cares? Everything happens in due time and everyone’s path is not the same.

Read: “Formal education will make you a living,” Jim Rohn writes, “self-education will make you a fortune.”

Be nice: I can’t underscore this one enough. Once you interact with people who can’t afford shoes, but make an effort to be kind and helpful to you as a stranger visiting their country, you realize that getting pissed off in traffic or because there is a long line at Starbucks is a waste of energy and mental sanity. Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be nice.

Do something that scares the shit out of you: To become more confident, you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations. For example, flying to Southeast Asia with a peanut allergy (Spoiler Alert: I survived, and it wasn’t that big a deal). “Do the thing you fear most,” wrote Mark Twain, “and the death of fear is certain.”

It’s not supposed to be easy: While a lot of this journey has been fun, there have definitely been struggles. Adjusting to life away from the routine of going to work everyday. Filling the void when the excitement of travel comes to an end. There has been a lot of inertia and mental hurdles to overcome in an effort to have a different life than I was living. The rest of the list are some things that I am continuing to learn and work on.

Set goals: If you asked me what my goals in life were a year ago, they were probably fairly short-term and generic. It was not until this year that I really spent time thinking about what I wanted my life to look like (and maybe more importantly, what I DIDN’T want my life to look like). To be honest, I struggled, and continue to struggle, with defining what I want to do. I have found some clarity by asking myself, “what would I do if I couldn’t fail?” Kind of reminds me of the scene in Office Space where they ask each other, “what would you do if you had a million dollars?” But, I felt like this went deeper. Not just having the financial security, but what would you do if you couldn’t fail. No disappointed family. No embarrassment. No feelings of wasted time.

Pursue those goals: Author Matthew Kelly writes, “People overestimate what they can accomplish in a day and underestimate what they can accomplish in a month.” Do something every day. This is something I struggled with when I found myself without the comfortable structure of the work day and going into the office every day. However, any goal worth spending time on requires hard work and the only way I have experienced success in any endeavor is through constant practice.

Write it down: One of the best things I did in my travels was keep notes and write on this blog about what I was doing and what was on my mind. It has been harder to continue upon returning stateside, but it is a joy to look back at my notes or the online journal I kept for myself while traveling.

It’s going to be okay: Over the past year, this lesson has proven itself out time and time again. A few times, I thought I was in an “end of the world,” catastrophe like situation. I never was. Keep your head on a swivel. I comforted myself by asking, “what is the worst thing that could happen?” Usually the answer is not that intimidating. Mark Twain wrote, “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.”

So that’s it for this year. It’s fun taking the trip down the memory lane of this past year, and thinking about the year to come. Maybe a little wiser? Maybe a little better? Maybe another country or two? We will see.

My Trip to Cambodia and a Lesson in Gratitude

While traveling through Malaysia, Singapore and Cambodia, I read The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. Holiday discusses principles of stoic philosophy through the writing and behavior of Marcus Aurelius, Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Phil Jackson, George Washington and Ulysses Grant, to name a few.

These iconic figures, and many others, turn seemingly impassable obstacles into opportunities for success and growth. Holiday reminds us to focus on the things we have control over in our lives rather than obsess over the inevitable setbacks and roadblocks life sends our way. We choose our attitude, not what gets thrown at us.

“The things that hurt,” Benjamin Franklin said, “instruct.

I’ll return to the book later.

I want to focus on Cambodia.

Cambodia has been my best travel experience yet. You could spend days exploring the Temples of Angkor alone. I was under the impression that there was just one big temple worth the visit: Angkor Wat. However, there are several temples, some just as impressive as Angkor Wat that I would encourage anyone traveling to Cambodia to check out.

Angkor Wat is massive upon approach and even more impressive up close. The detailed carvings on the walls and pillars are breathtaking. I was amazed that such feats were accomplished starting in the 12th Century.

Hanging out at Angkor Wat.
The entire outer wall was covered in these bas-reliefs (raised carvings that give that cool 3D look).

Apart from Angkor Wat, a few temples are worth mention. Ta Prohm had trees growing through and atop parts of the temple. There was also a scene from Tomb Raider filmed there.

Tree growing out of the temple at Ta Prohm.

Bayon is a three-tiered temple adorned with approximately 216 smiling faces that scholars believe to be the face of Jayavarman VII (I referred to him as J the Seventh for simplicity, judge if you like, but there are a lot of names!). Did I mention J the Seventh was the creator of Bayon? And they say Millennials are vain.

Bayon upon approach.
Full blown tourists with the faces of J the 7th.

Many of the temples were surrounded by amazing amounts of ruins, a result of the constant violence that has dominated Cambodia for decades. Japan, Germany, Italy, China and India have assisted in rebuilding and preserving these historic temples. Pictures really do not do these places justice, but it is mind-boggling to see how they have rebuilt parts of these temples from rubble.

Getting around the area was a breeze with our personal tuk tuk driver, Yin, who would wait for us outside each temple and take us to the next one. A tuk tuk, is a motorcycle with a little four seat trailer latched on. Yin’s services for the day, $15.

Money Side Bar: Everywhere in Cambodia takes US Dollars. Haven’t run into that on any other travels so far. Kind of strange, however, no need to exchange money at the airport, you just end up losing out on the exchange rate. On that note, the dollar goes a long way in Cambodia. Lunches ranged from $2-5, dinners from $4-10 and beer was never more than $2.50 if you wanted to spring for a Corona (gross), the local brew, “Angkor,” was $0.50-1. Cheers!

Besides temple hunting like Indiana Jones, the street markets of Siem Reap are a lot of fun. Prepare to haggle with the women who run the shops to get a good price on a t-shirt, knock off pair of Ray-Bans, or pants with elephants on them (yes, I bought the elephant pants). My Jewish Grandmother, who bargains at department stores, would have cleaned up at these markets.

The food was fantastic. For lunch, our driver Yin, took us to local spots around the temples where the fried rice and beef loc lac (beef cooked in red wine and oyster sauce) were substantial and delicious. The dinner highlight was a Cambodian BBQ joint that provided 7 types of meat, including crocodile, frog and shark, to grill at your table alongside a plethora of vegetables, noodles and rice.

Beef Loc Lac dinner.

The nightlife area, aptly named “Pub Street,” was quite a sight to behold. Each bar was crowded with backpackers and tourists. There were little bar carts on the street that sold Martini’s for $1. There was a cart that sold BBQ bugs, snakes and spiders; they charged $0.50 just to take a picture of the bugs if you did not have the chutzpa to give it a try (I did not have the chutzpa and out of principle did not pay to take a picture, sorry).

Pub Street!

We took a private Quad Tour through the back roads of Siem Reap, where little kids playing along the road waved at us, and by sprawling fields and rice paddies. The tour concluded watching the sunset over a beautiful lotus flower field, while we got to chat with our guide about life in Cambodia.

Sunset after the Quad tour.

The Cambodian people were some of the nicest and most accommodating I have encountered in my travels. Everyone seemed genuinely happy to help you out and did so with a smile.

At first, I thought Cambodia must be a great place to live in the world since everyone is so pleasant. Unfortunately, I was reminded that while Cambodia is a great place to travel to, it is a tough place to live.

According to our quad tour guide, corruption is pervasive at all levels of government, including the police force. For many, an annual salary is in the $100’s.

Cambodia has been strife with Civil War predating the Vietnam War, and continued until 1999. Sadly, I vaguely remember a very small part of my World History classes covering the Khmer Rouge and the constant tragedy that has plagued the people of this country. This is not a history lesson, but if you are interested in learning more about this not too distant history, there are worse places to start than a quick Google search.

This was the first time I have ever been in a country that had been so recently impacted by such atrocities. It is estimated that somewhere between 1 and 3 million people were executed or died of starvation or disease under the rule of the Khmer Rouge and resulting struggles.

Today, Cambodia is a country of 15 million people, 50% of which are under 22 years or age! Their economy is growing thanks to a boom in tourism, but their environmental, corruption and education rankings are some of the worst in the world.

I really had an exceptional time in Cambodia, everything from the temples to the food to the quad tour to the night life was a unique and memorable experience. Having said that, on our last night, we talked a lot about the people of Cambodia and I was overwhelmed with a sense of gratitude for my own life.

Gratitude.

Disadvantages and obstacles, that I have been lucky enough to avoid were all around me and, inadvertently, the topic of the book I brought with me on the trip.

Returning to The Obstacle is the Way, Ryan Holiday explains that the secret of “turning trials into triumphs” involves three parts:

Part one, “perspective.” Holiday writes:

“We choose how we’ll look at things. We retain the ability to inject perspective into a situation. We can’t change the obstacles themselves- that part of the equation is set- but the power of perspective can change how the obstacles appear. How we approach, view, and contextualize an obstacle, and what we tell ourselves it means, determines how daunting and trying it will be to overcome.”

Part two, “action.” “We all either wear out or rust out, every one of us,” said Theodore Roosevelt, “my choice is to wear out.”

The Stoic Philosopher Seneca wrote:

“In the meantime, cling tooth and nail to the following rule: not to give in to adversity, not to trust prosperity, and always take full note of fortune’s habit of behaving just as she pleases.”

Part three, “will.” Holiday writes:

“After you’ve distinguished between the things that are up to you and the things that aren’t, and the break comes down to something you don’t control… you’ve got only one option: acceptance.”

“Let’s be clear, this is not the same thing as giving up. This has nothing to do with action- this is for the things that are immune to action. It is far easier to talk of the way things should be. It takes toughness, humility, and will to accept them for what they actually are. It takes a real man or woman to face necessity.”

Think about it for a second, imagine you are one of those 50% of the Cambodian population under the age of 22. Imagine the unfair challenges and disadvantages you had to face growing up in the aftermath of civil war and genocide. Imagine living in a world dominated by corruption, where it is really a privilege to go to school and learn to read. I think it would be really easy to crumble in the face of such adversity.

The people of Cambodia, just like any of us, cannot control the circumstances to which they were born. However, as far as I could tell, they choose to make the best of it, take advantage of what they can, earn a living, and care for their families. To be honest, I wouldn’t blame anyone there for looking at tourists like myself with disgust. And yet, they were some of the happiest, nicest, and most hospitable people I have come across so far, and that is including countries in East and Southeast Asia which are far more prosperous and advantaged.

I know America has its own issues these days. I also realize that there are atrocities in the world being carried out right now. I am not trying to make a point about who suffered more. But, it takes some incredible strength to endure what the people of this country have endured, and continue to endure, and carry themselves in such a positive manner.

It is certainly a reminder for me to be grateful for the advantages I have had, grateful for the people in my life and those who paved the way for me. It is a reminder to put obstacles and unfortunate situations in their proper place. Things happen that we have no control over, what we can control is how we react to them and what we are going to do moving forward.

Alter your perspective; remain objective, tame your emotions and focus on what can be controlled. Action; will you wear out or rust out? Will you meet adversity with energy and an eye for opportunity? Will; manage expectations, accept what we cannot change and persevere in the face of inevitable adversity.

Thank you Cambodia for the unforgettable experience and the lesson in perspective and gratitude.

What are you grateful for?

Kuala Lumpur: Land of Zoolander Jokes, Political Uber Drivers, Monkeys and Amazing Views

The first leg of my recent trip was to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. To be honest, I didn’t know a whole lot about Malaysia. I may, or may not, have made a few jokes from Zoolander about the Prime Minister to highlight my lack of knowledge.

Thanks Ben Stiller.

Perhaps it was best to go in with limited preconceptions, because the city and surrounding areas really blew me away. The first day, I walked out of my hotel in Kuala Lumpur into a busy throng of corporate high rises, ritzy hotels, and shopping malls that dwarfed the one I was used to going to on Long Island.

View of the city from the Kuala Lumpur City Center Park.

I spent that first day wandering the streets and taking in my new surroundings. I was approached by school children to participate in the Mannequin Challenge with them, they said they needed to find an American tourist to join them (I guess I stood out more than I thought).

As I continued to walk, I found myself slightly outside the main hub of the city and there was a sudden change: chunks of pavement missing from the sidewalk, women trying to convince me to get a massage in shady looking spas, street vendors with food that ranged from Thai to Middle Eastern to Malay, and little shops that seemed to exclusively sell knock off sneakers and the widest array of selfie sticks on the planet.

It was quite a change from metropolitan Tokyo, which I have gotten used to, and even a shift from the city I started my day in the middle of.

God bless TripAdvisor, because after a nice long walk, I found the 3rd rated massage parlor in Kuala Lumpur: Chaang (not a spelling error). For a budget friendly US $25, I got an hour and a half Thai Massage. Now, I had never had a Thai Massage before, but it was the best experience you could ask for after a 7 hour flight and an afternoon walking around the hot and humid streets of Kuala Lumpur.

Thai Massage is a combination of deep tissue and intense stretching. There were a few instances when I almost told the therapist that I didn’t think my body was meant to go that way, and then she would push/twist my leg, arm or back in a manner that completely loosened muscles I didn’t know existed.

My only complaint was that the rooms were not totally private, there were curtains dividing each “room” and the guy next to me was snoring so loudly, I thought a wildebeest was being tranquilized. I don’t know how one even falls asleep during such an intense massage but, to each his own.

I emerged from the massage a new man, ready to see what else Malaysia had in store.

The next day, I took an Uber, yes an Uber in Malaysia, to the Batu Caves. While I had some desires to check out places and neighborhoods off the beaten path, the Batu Caves were one of the most popular tourist destinations in the Kuala Lumpur area. I soon learned that sometimes the road most traveled, is most traveled for a reason.

On the trip to the caves, my Uber driver says, “Oh you’re from the USA? You’re President isn’t doing too well, eh?” I guess I had a pretty well-informed Uber driver.

After getting the political small talk out-of-the-way, I got to see a different side of Malaysia. There were far fewer businessmen and women, virtually no hotels or nice looking restaurants. Instead, there was intense poverty. People working on construction sites in sandals. Kids running around yards of dirt and rocks in front of shacks with no shoes or shirt.

Sadly, this was more of what I expected out of Malaysia.

Upon arriving at the caves, I bought a Gatorade that looked like it was packaged in 1997 from a convenience store that was light on the convenience, and products for that matter.

Beyond that, my eyes were drawn towards a giant (Worlds Largest) Murugan Statue standing in front of a steep staircase that leads into the mountainside.

World’s Tallest Marugan Statue guarding the staircase to the Batu Caves.

At the base, each man was handed a bucket of dirt, seriously a bucket of dirt, to carry to the top of the stairs (I assume for construction purposes). The rest of the journey up saw more monkeys than people. These monkeys were savages, waiting for unsuspecting tourists to drop their guard or snacks, for them to scoop up and run off with.

The top of staircase opened up to this beautiful cave where I dropped off my bucket of dirt and went into full-tourist mode, taking pictures of all the beauty these limestone caves had to offer. There were many more monkeys, birds, and even a random rooster, roaming the cave. It was nothing short of breathtaking.

The pictures really don’t do this place justice.
“But why male models?” – Derek Zoolander

After wandering around the expansive cave area, I was about to make my way out when I noticed a sign for “The Dark Cave.” I went and checked it out, and it was a tour of this beautiful preserved (for the most part, it was briefly opened to the public in the 70’s and some of the walls had graffiti on them) limestone cave that went deep into the mountain.

The cost of the tour, 35 Ringits (~$8.50) which went entirely to the organization responsible for maintaining the cave and conducting research, was well worth it. Our tour guide, Zhu, was amazing, very considerate of the wildlife and preservation of the cave.

Zhu warned us that there were poisonous snakes and spiders, among a variety of bats and other insects inside the cave. However, she reminded us that the most dangerous species alive were us, Homo Sapiens, and should we run into any of those in the cave, we should run away (Zhu had a sense of humor).

End of the Dark Cave tour. Happy to have avoided snake and spider bites.

I have a confession to make; I am pretty afraid of snakes and spiders. So, it was slightly unsettling to see a poisonous snake a few feet away but, Zhu reminded us that we are not their prey and that unless bothered, they would not bother us.

At one point, deep into the cave, Zhu instructed us all to turn off our little flashlights and to be silent, taking in the silence and darkness of the cave. Once those lights went out, you realize why they call it the Dark Cave. It was pitch black, and besides the woman breathing heavily next to me, all I could hear was the dripping of water off the stalactites and bats fluttering above our heads.

In that moment of silence and darkness, I had a very cool realization that I am on the other side of the world, the only American on my tour, in a cave surrounded by creatures that usually scare the crap out of me, and I could not have been having a better time. Getting out of your comfort zone is quite a thrill.

That night, after dinner, we went to a bar called Sky Bar in the Traders Hotel. The view of the city skyline was spectacular, while sipping on a refreshing Selangor Sling (gin, 68% absinthe, hibiscus syrup, elderflower syrup and pineapple juice). The bar had a swimming pool that I desperately wanted to see a drunk person fall into (unfortunately didn’t happen).

The following day, we went to the KL Tower tower which gave a stunning view of the city on a clear and sunny day. Followed that up with a walk around the KL Eco Park which had these suspended walkways up around the tree tops.

View from 350 Meters up in the KL Tower! (Petronas Towers on the left)

The night wrapped up with dinner at this delicious ribs joint, a tour of the Petronas Twin Towers and drinks at a bar called “Heli Bar.”

Heli Bar was located in a very ordinary office building with no distinguishing signs. Beyond that, it is exactly what is sounds like: a bar that they set up every night atop a helicopter pad. A definite theme of these Southeastern Asian countries is certainly a lack of safety equipment, indicated by the lack of barriers between the people drinking booze and the end of the heli pad. Having said that, the minute risk was well worth the view.

View of Petronas Towers from the Heli Bar.
View of the KL Tower from Heli Bar.

The next morning was a flight to the next country, Singapore.

In a previous post, I talked about Japan being very different from what I expected it to be, and how those differences were not as intimidating or scary as you might expect. I left Malaysia thinking the same thing. Was there poverty, and some areas of sub par cleanliness and safety-precautions? Absolutely. But, like anywhere else I have been in the world and United States (so far), there were places that looked incredibly wealthy and devastatingly poor.

My expectation of Malaysia to be more of a third world country turned out not to be the case. I never felt unsafe or scared (except of the snakes at first). I am sure it’s different the further outside of Kuala Lumpur you go, but it turned out to be an international, diverse, mostly English-speaking, hospitable, and all around fascinating place to visit and a place I would love to see more of.