If you get confused about times in this post it is because I am going to compress 4 days into one and use the first person present for the whole thing. No, it doesn’t make sense to me either.
Kuala Lumpur…hmmm…it is…actually I am not sure the word to describe KL, maybe I will come up with it by the end of the post. The initial word that comes to mind is clean. This is definitely a soft landing for returning to Australia from India. Still in Asia but people mostly obey traffic laws, there are no cows, no rubbish, streets are well maintained, they use machines such as excavators instead of human labour and no visible poverty – at least in our part of town.
We have found a shoebox of a room in Chinatown at Suzie’s Guest House. Given that we are only sleeping in it, being small doesn’t matter too much, but there isn’t a lot of space for the bucket to catch the condensating water dripping from the AC. It also got a bit cramped when guy had to come and climb up to the switchboard and reset the electrical switch for the whole place after something I plugged in tripped it.
But it was in an interesting part of town and only a 2 minute walk from the railway station when you knew the way or 15 minutes the first time you walked there. A few doors down from the hotel was a wonderful Chinese temple, very different to all the Hindu temples in India.
It was right opposite a Hindu temple just like all the Hindu temples in India. But this being marriage season it was inevitable that one time we walked past we would see love, if not actually present, at least appear to be being consecrated.
One block over is Petaling Street which I think might be one of the main street markets in the city. This is the best place to come if you like shoes and watches and handbags and t-shirts multiplied by 50. By that I mean there were about 50 stalls selling fake designer bags. Another 50 selling fake brand watches. Another 50 selling t-shirts. All selling the same shit. It is crowded and all the stall holders hassle you to come into their stall which sells the same shit as 49 other stalls you have just passed. We couldn’t wait to get out of there.
Are you ready for a different currency? Three Malaysian Ringitt (RM) to the Australian dollar. I actually found myself converting to Rupees a couple of times since I was so used to them.
The better shopping was behind the market stalls in the shops at the base of the buildings. If you are willing to be a tough haggler and really stick to your guns and go to walk away you will generally get something for about half the original price. Sometimes the prices are stupid, one place a crappy little wooden Buddha carvings that were worth about RM10 and he was asking RM70, I involuntarily laughed out loud and he immediately said “OK, 50” which means I likely could have gotten it for about 25. Another place something mediocre was on sale for RM40 and I offered RM20 but wasn’t getting very far. We eventually got to him saying adamantly “best price is RM25” so I walked out of the shop, he came running “OK 20” but it was too late. My attitude hardened with this lot, if they are treating us like a soft touch and trying to take advantage I am not that interested in giving them my money.
Next day we decided to head on a big walking loop through the Central Market (more shops selling more of the same shit and some even worse shit) where Sheila finally found her dream sarongs. But of course by this time there was a hitch with finances. I hadn’t thought far enough ahead to transfer funds to the debit card I could use to pull cash from ATMs, you know how your money goes into that banking black hole for a couple of days? So for a day we were watching our Ringits, exchanging some $US and wondering if it was worth cashing in our Rupees. Fortunately the next day the funds arrived and we could eat, more importantly, Sheila could shop.
The walk took us to the KL Bird Park which is touted as the world’s largest free flight aviary on one sign and SE Asia’s largest on another. Either way, it was big and as much as I hate birds in cages, this was a mighty big cage to the point of not really being one. Except where the birds were in small cages for some reason.
KL also has a free bus that does a loop around the city so we jumped on and off that a few times, heading to the the famed Lo Yat Plaza, the huge technology building. It wasn’t long before I had a feeling of deja vu, as though I had been there before. This was because I realised I had actually been there before a few years ago and in fact nothing had changed apart from the iphone model number. Six floors of nothing but computers and phones and IT stuff. Unless you are after something specific and know the price this place is just too big and overwhelming and like the market, too many shops selling exactly the same shit at too high a price.
From there we wound our way to the famous Petronas Towers via a network of confusing underground tunnels that lead to the ground floor of the towers and, you guessed it, more shops. But these were not just ordinary shops, they were extra ordinary and I don’t mean extraordinary. Pick a brand name and the shop will be there, we could have been in any shopping mall in any city in the world. We couldn’t wait to get out…again.
At least on the outside you can get a sense of the scale of the buildings that were apparently built as a beacon to lead people to the shops and a celebration of fossil fuels (Petronas is an oil company). They are big and impressive for sure and the walkway that bridges them gives a sense of strength to the buildings.
Heading back to the hotel we walk through a park and there is a big marquee set up. I suggest we go in and check it out, Sheila is reluctant but in we go where it is a bit cooler and a bit confusing what it is all about. As we are leaving a guy comes up to me and asks if I speak English. He explains that the event is a regional promotional expo for Terengannu and their stand is promoting English languages courses, could they interview me. Yes! of course and I give what I hope is a good talk about English being useful but to be sure to hang on to their native language and culture, that making a connection with the person is more important than having perfect language and I am generally very profound and insightful. Most unlike me and I realise it.
He asks for a final general endorsement of the programme, about which I actually know absolutely nothing. This is my monologue as best I can remember and abbreviated a bit, you’ll get the idea.
“Thank you for the opportunity of addressing you and endorsing your wonderful programme. As the Prime Minister of Australia I want to tell you how excited I am to see such programmes blossoming in our region. I fully endorse the programme and promise to send billions of dollars in Australian aid to support it. We will also send food, clothes and beer. It is been my honour attending your expo today, as the Prime Minister I thank you for the invitation.”
They laughed a lot and loved it. Whether or not it will be useful is debatable. As usual, honoured guests had to appear in a photo.
Speaking of saying Yes!, it can be tricky getting The Sheila to do something she thinks is a bit silly, but witha bit of coaxing… This was also at the expo, such fun.
And then we were at the airport heading for home. A huge hat tip to Air Asia for what is the worst check-in experience I have had in my life. KL airport is huge and a bit confusing at the best of times. We find Air Asia and there are hundreds of people standing in lines at four areas, each area has maybe 5 check-in desks working. There is no indication of which area or which line you should be in, they all just say “Baggage Drop” so we get in one line that moves very slowly. It isn’t like we have chosen the wrong line, they are all moving very slowly.
Unfortunately the hands on the clock are moving quite quickly and about 20 minutes before the flight closes I estimate that we are still over 30 minutes from the front of the line. We lose our position to find a better line or somewhere to queue jump and completely fail. I ask an Air Asia guy what we should do, the flight closes in 10 minutes now. He says “get on the back of any line” and I again explain that the flight is closing and we will not make it. Again he says to just get on a line. I say “Mate, I don’t want to fight with you, but you are not helping me one bit, we will miss our flight”. Perhaps he thinks this is Australian for “I am going to biff you” because he then suggests just pushing to the front of one of the very long lines. Great!
But I see it as the solution, so I grab the one bag we are checking and brazenly walk past all the patient people in one of the lines, up to the desk and tell the bloke “if you don’t check this bag now we are going to miss the flight” and bugger me, he does. The people I push in front of are even helpful and pass the bag to the scales and we finally breathe a sigh of relief…well I do. I don’t freak out often but this had me worried, it is like Air Asia have never done this before…completely useless.
We are on the plane heading home. I offer some gastri-stop that we thankfully never had to use to the woman sitting in my row who needs it and then, just when you think nothing else serendipitous can happen, as I am filling out my immigration card,her husband sitting next to me points something out.
And now we are home, I have finished this post and I haven’t come up with the word to describe KL.
Tomorrow I will do one more post, it might be a best of, it could be a warning, it might be encouragement. I’ll sleep on it.