Monday, December 19, 2005

I'm only sleeping

Another test on cosmology and its relation to architecture, and an afternoon off. Julia had the Idea of going to the bantu caves just north of the city of Kuala Lumpur. As all outings in a new setting are, it was somewhat of an adventure. Firstly, cabs in KL are quite unlike all the cabs in other countries. Namely, open predation on tourist and foreigners is more accepted as fair amongst cabbies, perhaps a manifestation of big city mentality. If you try and negotiate a flat price for a journey with a cabbie, it seems to almost always be twice to three times the meter price of the trip. A couple groups went to a Selangor soccer game a couple nights ago, with the flat rates negotiated at around 30 Ringits one way. When one group got on a cab going on the meter, the trip was only 13 ringits. Going on the meter, however, always holds the danger that the cabbie will simply go out of the way to charge up the price, then you time is wasted as well. Then there are special request such as our case, where we had 5 people trying to fit into a 4 person cab. A couple cabbies refused outright to accomadate us or asked near double a fair rate. Finally we got one guy down to about 80 ringit round trip for what maybe should have been a 50-60 ringit trip. It's only 21.50 American, but still there's the principle of the matter.

Our driver, however, won us over.

He tried to joke around with us, which did not go over well considering we just got out of a significant university examination. He asked us where we were from, and when I said America, he didn't frown. That's always refreshing.

Then we get to Bantu Caves, which are rather amazing. The first cave, which you only get to after passing through the large and significant Hindu gates, choked with delerious technocolour ornamintation and statuary, is a massive cavarn in limestone, framed by enourmous rows of stalagtite teeth. It's impressive, and our cab driver was excited. Infact, he followed us to the stairs ledding to the cave, continuously telling us how much he liked the cave. He also offered to take our photograph as a group, and we accepted, four times before even getting to the stairs ledding to the cave in the hillside. He asked my name and, failing the ability to pronounce "Rob" stuck to calling me John or Bob. He warned me that the monkeys might attack the girls I was with. Monkeys? He then followed us to another cave, again taking our picture twice. He proceeded to follow us around the cave and explain the various Hindu myths and figures in each grotto. This is the cab ride that keeps on giving. In the end, when taking us back to our hotel, he was happy to explain his take on Hindu theology and state his sorrow that our student life was largely secular. I later asked him about his radio/cd players, which apparently cost 3000 ringits (800 American??) but he says he really enjoys his classical indian music, so i suppose it's worth it to him.

He also gave me a tip on a good Indian resteraunt that Mom will be going to. If he didn't overcharge us and stop at a gas station while we were cramped into the cab, I would say this guy was total aces.

But more importantly, let me breifly cover the caves we toured.


If anyone back in America is seriously questioning their faith, is tired of traditional conceptions of monotheism, let me suggest Hinduism. You will hardly find a religion that is a better time. It's one thing to gawk at pictures of multiheaded, thousand armed dieties in the pages of National Geographic or an encyclopedia. But experiencing the faith of the Indian subcontinent first hand, the whole sensory inundation and overwhealming force of thousands of deistic figures and millions of stories imbues in you something the simple devotion of the west lacks. You experience not spiritual transcendence of your true faith and devotion, you expereince the fantastic.

Now, if you cannot part with the protestant or puritan love of the plain, subtle, sober and subdued, Hindu caves might not appeal to you. If however, the prospect of being enveloped into a sacred space where the ceilings and walls are painted with a full pallate combineing rainbow sherbert and amusement park neon - where the fantastic figures and divinities, the heros and the saints, the allegories and myths all exhibit what the 1960's would call a psychodelic exurberence - if this prospect doesn;t tottally repulse you, than you might find these caves appealing.

You might find my abundant adjectives suplerfluous, but if you've seen a Hindu temple, a full scale hindu monument, you would know that nothing, absolutely not a thing that relates to that temple cares for the concept of suplurfluous. Suplurfluous isn't AN aspect of Hindu iconography, it's THE aspect of hindu iconography. THESE are buildings that, like Arethra Franklin's singing and Itallian family cooking, contain what we might consider a lively and abundant amount of SOUL.

Oh, and did I mention the Hindus shared the cave with about 200 Monkeys?