Kuala Lumpur: Mixed Feelings

Greetings from Tanah Rata, in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia!=) Since we are more than 1000m above sea level, the temperatures here are wonderful. No sultry heat, barely any humidity at all, and cool nights to boot! A guy could really get used to this weather!

I spent four nights in Kuala Lumpur prior to my coming to the Cameron Highlands, and I have mixed feelings about the city. Too bad, as I was expecting this to be one of the highlights of the trip. But all in all, I did enjoy my stay in KL.

Got into Malaysia without a glitch, thanks to another very nice Air Asia flight. This could well be the very best budget airline in the entire world. Couldn't quite believe that they offered Krispy Kreme doughnuts during the flight, but that's globalization for you!;-) If you are heading anywhere in and around Asia, check out www.airasia.com.

Getting into town was a bit of a mindfuck, especially since I elected to do business with Star Shuttle. A shuttle service is supposed to be more convenient than a cab or the bus, but it took me more than 2 hours to get to my B&B. My digs were in the Golden Triangle area, the ultra modern and chic quarters of Kuala Lumpur.

I don't normally eat much at McD's, other than to do the McD's hamburger test in every single country I visit, but the McValue lunch meals in Malaysia are the cheapest I've ever seen anywhere. I mean, a double cheeseburger, medium fries, and medium sofdrink for less than 3$! Christ, you can't beat that!

In case you didn't know, Malaysia is a Muslim country. Which means that drug trafficking carries the death penalty. Which means no hippies! Have I ever told you how much I hate hippies? They are everywhere in Thailand, and about as annoying as tuk-tuk drivers and prostitutes. Poor Thai people. . . That's the image they have of the West: Dirty old men there for the sex tourism and fucking hippies. . . The funny thing about Malaysia, is that to a certain extent it's still a relatively small blip on the Southeast Asia map. Most people stick to Thailand and Singapore, but few Westerners take the time to visit Malaysia. Which means that Westerners are still perceived as a sort of novelty. Even in KL! And that can be nice. . . The bulk of their tourists seem to come from other Asian countries and the Middle East. We always seem to think that Asian people are very nice, polite, and reserved, so it's nice to see them bitch about one another. Haven't seen this in Thailand, but Malays have no qualms about it. We always see it in the West, with people bitching about Americans, Brits, French, etc. So I couldn't help laughing when the staff at the hostel would shake their heads and mutter things like "Damned Chinese" or something like that.

Although a Muslim regime, Malaysia has always had a "live and let live" attitude. With a multi-ethnic population that gets along well, there is basically no clash of cultures here. No one quite knows how the Malay people make it work, but in KL it's something to see. Kind of gives you hope in mankind. . . Almost. . . Sadly, it's not the same everywhere.:-(

Visited the Colonial District on my first day, starting with Merdeka Square. Then made my way to the two most important mosques of the area; Masjid Jamek, and Masjid Negara, where, of course, I was forced to wear a long-sleeved robe. Don't know enough about Islam to know if color is symbolic, but at the National Mosque they give infidels the most ridiculous purple robe. If they do this to make us look stupid, at least it shows that they have a sense of humor!:P

Getting around is easy with the cheap and efficient monorail and the LRT trains. I also visited the Lake Gardens, where I walked though the Orchid and Hibiscus gardens. Went to the Chinatown (don't know why I bother, as Chinatowns are the same everywhere in the world) and Little India.

Like in Bangkok, there is an enormous gap between Malays who have made it and the rest of the population. Though they seem better off as a whole than most people in Southeast Asia, there is a definite chasm in social class here as well. Parts of Kuala Lumpur are ultra-modern and would give any Western city a run for its money. Other portions of KL, however, don't shine as much.

For some reason, the people of Kuala Lumpur are obsessed with shopping malls. They're everywhere! And we're not talking about cheap-ass stripmalls like in North America. I'm talking about big-ass shopping malls that will knock your socks off! Times Square and Pavilion KL are the biggest bad boys in town, and you have to wonder how so many malls can stay in business in a city of only 1.5 million inhabitants. And the food court at Pavilion KL is out of this world. I've never seen so much variety at such an affordable price. You haven't seen a "real" food court until you've set foot in the one found on the first floor at the Pavilion KL.

Went to the Batu Caves, though trying to find the bus stop to get there was a complete mindfuck. Like everywhere in Asia, one is supposed to just know these things. There are no signs or anything that tells you which bus stops where. So figuring it all out takes a little time and is very frustrating. It's one of Malaysia's most important places regarding Indian culture, and you must climb 272 steps to reach the Hindu shrine. Not that much to see up there, but the Temple Cave is pretty nice. Went there when I was told that there were no more tickets available to go up to the Petronas Towers' Skybridge for that day. Shook my head and promised myself to get up early the next day to score a ticket.

Let's get one thing clear: The only attraction that everyone who comes to Kuala Lumpur wants to see is the Petronas Towers. Tickets are issued on a first come/first served basis, and you must wait in line quite early in the morning, as they start to hand out tickets at 8:30am. It's supposed to be one ticket per person, no more. But I found out the hard way that Malays can get as many tickets as they want. . . So anyway, I got up at 6:30am, ate a quick breakfast, and was on my way. I arrived around 7:30am, and a quick survey of the crowd told me that there should be no problem. There were not enough people waiting in line (about 200) to sell out all the tickets for that day. So I stood there, reading Richard Morgan's Altered Carbon, waiting to get my ticket up to the Skybridge. You can imagine my dismay when at 8:40am I was told that there was no reason to queue, now that all the tickets for the day had been issued. I only found out about the Malay scam when I got back to the B&B, and I was livid. Considering that this is the only attraction that people really want to see in KL, this has to be the worst fucking ticket set-up in the history of tourism.:-( I can understand that there is only a limited number of tickets available per day. After all, this is the Petronas head office and thousands of people work there. But do like they do at the Washington monument in D. C. Only 250 tickets available per day, and you need to stand in line and wait for your turn. Fair and square. I went up the KL Tower instead (the fourth highest telecommunication tower in the world), but it's not the same.

Was really pissed off to have missed my opportunity to go up the Petronas Towers, and that sort of left a very bad taste in my mouth regarding Kuala Lumpur. Went to the National Museum to cool down, but I was still angry. Christ, two days in a row and still not Skybridge!

Getting out of KL was a total nightmare. Everyone working at the Puduraya bus station should be sacked! For fuck's sake, our bus was more than an hour late, and we had to sweat like pigs while inhaling diesel fumes on the platform. And no one knew what the hell was going on. It seems that to work there, all you need to do is smoke cigarettes and talk into a walkie-talkie from time to time.

But we made it to Tanah Rata, and the Cameron Highlands are like a soothing balm to all my traveling woes.=)

By the way, how came there isn't a fucking computer in Malaysia that will recharge an iPod??? What the fuck is up with that??? And no computer recognized my camera, so I needed to find a card reader to upload the pics for the Southern Thailand album!

And anime fans, you won't believe this. I stopped at no less than four anime stores, and NO ONE had ever heard of Makoto Shinkai (still looking for 5 cm per Second and The Place Promised in Our Early Days)!!! Are you kidding me??? I'm in Asia and no one knows shit??? Even worst, only one person knew Hayao Miyazaki!!! Who's hiring these guys???

Gotta do the zen thing, I guess. . .;-) Went hiking through a jungle trail yesterday up Gunung Jasar (1670m) for nice views of the countryside. Got lost on the way back, because local guides remove the trail signposts so that people will hire them. This is not cool and extremely dangerous, for jungle hikes are not the same thing as mountain hikes. There are more hazards to consider, and I wasn't pleased to wander around for 5 or 6 km before making my way back down to Tanah Rata. Got sunburned again because of that, which sucks. Walked down the hill alongside the highway for another 5 km (give or take) and made my way to the Bharat Tea Plantation. You ccan walk around the tea gardens, which is kind of neat. Then I sat down for a fresh-made cup of tea and a piece of marble cake for less than 2$! Southeast Asia can be very easy on the wallet, let me tell you!;-)

Will probably go hiking today down to Robinson waterfall. . . More people should visit Malaysia, you know. KL is a convenient hub to basically everywhere in Asia with Air Asia flights, and the city is very easy to get around. Everyone speaks English. Everything is pretty cheap by Western standards. Too bad everyone stops in Thailand but don't make their way down to Malaysia. . .

It's their loss, I guess. . . And my gain!:P

6 commentaires:

Ted Mahsun said...

Hi Pat! Sorry to hear about your KL woes. I would have loved to have met up with you but am currently busy at the moment.

Can't help you with your anime problem (not into it) but it's no surprise people don't know Miyazaki. They know his movies, but not his name. Also, Malaysia may be in Asia, but it's not Japan ;)

Scho said...

Malaysia at the moment has come to a crossroad. That is why you get to see two worlds. A technology inclined world. A traditional world. Same for the airlines. One a five star airline; MAS. One a budget airline; AirAsia. As for Thailand, there are many, many poor people who would do anything and everything for the bucks. Just very recently I saw a charger in KLIA or Kuala Lumpur International airport. You have to pay a certain sum of money, put your gadget inside and this thing will charge your small portable equipment.

Davester said...

Hmm I think 5cm/sec and Place Promised was released by a company in Singapore called Blue Max. They have a shop in Plaza Singapura in Singapore. You might try looking there.

Encorefilms in Singapore recently released a whole series of Ghibli DVDs in metal cans.

By the way, if you arrive after the 25th you might be able to catch Summer Wars by the director of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. It's very good (though the middle portion is a bit laggy).


Davester said...

(Forgot to add that the subtitling in the Encore films Ghibli stuff is a bit iffy...)

Anonymous said...

crybaby. :) back in 2002 it was hard to find internet cafe's outside of Bangkok, and when you managed to locate one (like I did in Sihanoukville), the connection made 56k fast.

I went back in 2006 and high speed was everywhere. Perhaps not as common in KL but the difference was astounding, nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Malaysia rocks! I went to Penang and Langkawi last year and loved it.