*masa – moment, interlude.
I’ve never really worked out Malaysia, and don’t think I will in the short time we are here. Its elements, Malay, Chinese, Indian and an increasingly distant British colonial past seem to mix together pretty well and it takes all its religions pretty seriously, though in public at least, not in a fundamental way. Probably because of this mix it has a varied and energetic cultural life happy to celebrate its diversity, so there seems to be a lot going on. Yet when you venture out on to the streets of KL you are assaulted by endless shopping malls and skyscrapers that to my eyes at least have nothing to do with the rest of the country, yet clearly are central to its economy. I just don’t see why or how. Also on the streets of course are the foodstalls and markets and the people, the Malaysia that makes sense and is everywhere.
Lots of things work here that never quite do in India or Sri Lanka. Power cuts are rare, public transport is clean reliable and chillingly cold. The extremes of poverty are not so visible in comparison and public buildings are not crumbling. As our friend Anna put it, unlike many other Asian countries the level of chaos here is manageable.
Our late decision to come here before Thailand has worked out well as unseasonably heavy storms have hammered the South and South East bringing floods and transport disruption to many Thai islands. We head there at the end of the month.
Despite the promised chaos at Colombo airport, and a five hour check in, our overnight flight to Kuala Lumpur left and arrived on time. The experience wasn’t helped by every other backpacker in front of us believing that they and they alone had the right to ignore the Air Asia luggage policy. Angry westerners putting on three pairs of trousers, two dresses a jumper and two coats in thirty degrees of humid heat is a sight I think we will see more than once on this trip.
We shared a 65km taxi ride to Chinatown with a couple of French backpackers and arrived in the morning rush hour, dazed and confused by the lack of sleep and the time zone difference.
Getting back into the city vibe after the beaches, diving and countryside that we’ve experienced for the most part was eased by our stay in a good central hostel. From there we could walk, and get lost, get on buses and get lost, use the subway … and still find a way there and a way back, which is part of the fun of traveling. We sorted some essentials (scuba kit repairs, a camera part, some medicines) and explored the highs and lows (skyscrapers and foodmarkets) of the city, as well as catching up with a good friend from London. Fun times.
One evening we toured the streets of downtown KL with a local guide from the hostel. We tried all sorts of freshly cooked food, spicy soup containing quail, goat tongue and vegetables; we ate beef and chicken rendang, a local burger (halal) wrapped in an omelette, salads, noodles, rice, roti and satay. We also toured the markets to see where the ingredients came from – the vegetables, spices and lots of unknown fruits as well as the meat market (definitely NSFV, not suitable for vegetarians). In the end we left not just with full stomachs but with a strong sense of the vibrancy of KL, not evident in the skyscrapers and shopping malls.
The life, colours, smells and vibrancy of the markets were fascinating.
The other sets of shots I took are of and from the Petronas and KL towers. Must go up the Shard sometime!
I also took a series of shots in downtown KL at night, using a dramatic tone filter on the camera. These are areas of local housing, stalls and markets that the big developers are trying to grab. Everywhere in KL, the towers dominate the sky line, but in these areas they look like a threat to a way of life, a threat that is being resisted (‘this land is not for sale’signs), but for how long?
The Dark Side – local communities, not for sale!
On Sunday we left KL and took the (ice cold) train, ferry and bus to Batu Ferringhi in Penang and we’re now staying in the Lone Pine hotel. This accommodation is a fabulous gift from comrades in the NUT in Haringey. Last night we soaked in the tub on the balcony (yes really) and slept in a huge bed as waves crashed on to the shore below. The bathroom is bigger than most of the rooms we have stayed in. There is hot water, a plug in the sink, real bread for breakfast, clean bedding and towels, a pool and no mossies. Thanks guys for a brilliant present.
Once the batteries are recharged we’ll spend a few days in Georgetown before heading to Thailand. We’re planning to dive in the South West and then off on a liveaboard in the Similan Islands early February.
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