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Deep thoughts and tall towers in KL

MALAYSIA | Wednesday, 15 July 2009 | Views [5848]

We turned up back at the Mayview Glory in KL well before 6am. They were full so we couldn't check in till someone else checked out. Too tired to be imaginative and overwhelmed by the menu in the expansive cafe next door we guiltily settled for a dirty McBreakfast around the corner to keep us awake after the night journey. It wasn't too long a wait before we got a room and some decent sleep. Somewhat like groundhog day, the return to KL once again revolved around my passport, an Indian Visa and technology problems.

As soon as we had a rest we were up and at em, down in the Indian Visa office, handing over the passport, now that I had received clearance from who or where ever these things come from. We'd skipped lunch due to our nap. By now hungry we stumbled across a decent Indian restaurant in the Arab quarter which served dishes on a big banana leaf instead of a plate. Not sure if that's what happens in India but it was very tasty nonetheless.

The next mission was to get my camera seen to. What a pain that it had actively disliked snorkelling despite supposedly being waterproof to 10m. Grrrr. The Olympus repair centre was in a place off the little Rough Guide city map and people we asked said we needed to get a taxi. So we did. A guy near the Indian restaurant said he would go there for 30RM. The metered ride from the bus station to the hotel had cost 10RM. I was skeptical but he said he would pay the tolls. I thought “Well if there are tolls it must be a fair trek” and we jumped in. He was very jolly on the way pointing out this and that, including the Indian Consulate, where you get your visa, he said. I corrected him and we arrived after a 15 minute journey.

It was only after explaining the problems with my camera to the smiley receptionist that I realised I had forgotten the bloody thing. What an idiot! They were closing in an hour so we had to make a return journey in the start of rush hour to make it. The return (metered) ride in much heavier traffic only cost 20RM. The other fella had literally and figuratively taken us for a ride. Note of caution to anyone taking a cab in KL – insist on the meter running!

The Olympus receptionist had a massive grin on her face as we walked back into the office. I'm sure I was a source of much amusement for her and her colleagues. They were very good though and said they would get to fixing the disobedient camera as soon as they could, but they needed at least until after the weekend. We both liked what we had seen (very little) of KL thus far so were happy to spend a day or two extra.

There was a bazaar/market downstairs which we had a wander around but it wasn't great. This was the posh end of town and the prices and range of wares said as much. We hailed another cab back to town. This one said he didn't have enough gas to get us there but we jumped in anyway, agreeing that he could put on the meter once he refuelled. A full tank of LPG cost 7.60RM, just over a pound. These taxi drivers were making a fortune!

It was too early to call it a day so we got dropped off at our favourite mall, Berjaya Times Square and paid Kenny Rogers another visit. Not as good this time but still tasty, healthy and cheap. Although we were tired by then, it was still too early to hit the hay so, seeing as the cinema was right beside us we caught Ice Age 3. Funny but I preferred the previous incarnations.

It was finally time for some proper touristy sightseeing and buying of random stuff. We were on our way down to Chinatown when we passed by a place which provoked curiosity. It was called Mydin Wholesale Emporium and appeared to be a big solid windowless block of  concrete.

Entering, we had to put our bags in a locker and there was pretty tight security. It was an emporium of cheap tat. This was where people selling stuff on market stalls must come to get it. Brilliant! It's not just tat though - you can buy anything in this shop at ridiculously cheap prices. Claire's watch had been about to fall apart since Thailand. We got her a new Casio (which is a very fetching pink and has 2 alarms, a stopwatch and a world time function!). I got a watch for India, needing something more discrete than my oversized altimer/compass/barometer action man watch which had attracted strangers' attentions more than a few times. In fact we saw the aforementioned action man watch for half the price I had paid for it on ebay a few years back. We later saw a plastic strap version of Claire's watch for twice the price hers was.

There are floors and floors of stuff – appliances, IT gear, clothes, shoes, toilietries, food. Thanks to the lizards Claire's flip flops were about to bite the dust. Tick.

I needed another memory card and a rain poncho. Check. Conditioner, Yes! Moisturiser (non-whitening – very hard to come across in SE Asia) of course. Sun tan lotion. Why not. It's a great shop. As my mom would say we saved a lot of money there. Although as my father would say in response, we spent a fair bit too!

A few hours later, when we finally made it down to the myriad of stalls and pushy touts of Chinatown we discovered that it was all the same stuff, way more expensive than we had just seen it. Plus you had to haggle them right down by about 50% to get the same price! We tired of the pushiness and general touting quite quickly and had lunch.

Afterwards we made for the old KL train station which, according to the Rough Guide, was supposed to be a striking example of colonial architecture and one of the most memorable buildings in SE Asia. After many wrong turns and incorrect assumptions we got there eventually. It was now the HQ of Malaysian rail and although a very nice building, not quite as fab as we had been lead to believe.

Decadent pizza and beers in the hotel room for the evening.

One of the best discoveries of KL for us was Aji Cafe, the place right beside the Cafe. Its open 24 hours and has free wifi, but that wasn't the draw for us. In fact KL has a great free wireless system (KLwireless) which has near cityside coverage and that anyone can sign up for. Aji's attraction was breakfast. Malaysia has fabulous rotis, or pancake like warm flatbread, served with curry dips. They eat them a lot. Roti Telur, we discovered was roti with egg. Claire hates egg and she loved them. Plus they did the best fruit salad we had had in months, perhaps ever. Once we had had one breakfast there we never went anywhere else. Go.

Saturday was a bit of a rest day but we did venture out in the evening to Menara KL, or the KL tower which KL proudly states is the fourth tallest telecommunications tower in the world. (For curious nerds like me, that's after the ones in Toronto, Moscow, Beijing and, according to Wikipedia, Tehran, making KL fifth but hey!)

It's a very impressive building which, along with the Petronas Towers, dominate the KL skyline. Needing to stretch our legs, we walked up from the hotel but were halted at the bottom for the free minibus – they don't seem to like people walking up through the park. Slightly bizarrely they give you KL  tower shaped water before you go up in the high speed lift.

The view from the top really is breathtaking. KL is a very modern city with lots of skyscrapers so it's great to see them all lit up. Across the city, Petronas Towers, the worlds tallest building for a while, is the big photo opp.

And Of course there are lots of chances to buy tat. But we declined, knowing full well where to get it cheaper! Its a great place for the comedy building photos though.

Along with the entry fee you get into what they dubbed a wildlife park. We soon discovered it was a pathetic and horribly cruel collection of caged animals. A zoo of sorts. It was so sad to see some quite beautiful creatures clearly going stir crazy (or getting fat) in tiny cages.

We left very soon after entering. Along with your ticket you also get into some sort of Formula 1 experience, presumably promoting the Malaysian Grand Prix. We missed the final entry but it looked for all the world like a PC driving game on a flatscreen monitor all inside a cardboard cut out of an F1 car. I won't even bother talking about the free pony ride. The tower is great. Skip the free stuff.

Continuing with the theme of tall buildings we made for the Petronas Towers early the next morning. The only way up, other than submitting your CV to Petronas (Malaysia's state oil company), is to bag one of 1600 daily tickets to walk across the Skybridge.

They open the basement ticket office at 9am and we got there soon after 8. It was mayhem. There was a large orderly queue in a cordoned off section. Outside this there was a load of people milling around, everyone asking the poor security lady manning the cordon the same questions. “Will we get a ticket??”

A secondary, queue-to-get-into-the-queue formed, which we were near the front of.  It snaked around the area until it started to block the down escalator. Someone sensible made the call to ask all the people in the second queue to come back later. We complied and went to get some brekkie. Most didn't. When we came back an hour later there were still a big second queue but the first was almost finished. There was a bit of argy bargy about queue jumping but we eventually got a ticket to go up in the late afternoon. Great!

We had been wanting to visit the National Mosque and Islamic Museum anyway so this afforded us the time to do so. It's a large imposing structure near the old train station.

I wore shorts and a t-shirt but Claire, who wasn't wearing anything racier, had to put on a crazy purple wizard's robe. I was sooo jealous.

We had a look around, peeking into the mosque proper (non muslims are not allowed actually inside.

A lady was explaining the features and practices to a bored looking Indian couple. She invited us to join them. The Indian bloke's phone rang seconds after we joined. He said it was his mother and left, looking relieved. We now had the lady's full attention and she ours. Her name was Fatima and she spends every Sunday at the mosque, part of an organisation called Muslim Outreach, explaining aspects of Islam to the tourists who chance by. What a great idea.

We were both very curious about the Islamic faith and Fatima was an enthusiastic teacher. She took us through the basics and was happy to answer my questions and challenges along the way. We found out, amongst lots of other good stuff, why women have to pray upstairs (so there are no distractions to or by either sex from communing with Allah), who Mohammed was (long story), the relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam (even longer) and what all those people do in Mecca (complicated). It was a fascinating, illuminating conversation, shedding light on the deficiencies I have in understanding the Islamic belief system. It sparked a desire to learn more but not in order to convert, just to further my understanding.

While Fatima dealt very well with my science based questions about Darwinian evolution, quantum mechanics, big bang theory etc., she had a dogmatic approach, not allowing room for alternative theories. She firmly believes the holy Qu'aran has all the answers anyone had ever or will ever need. It was just that we hadn't read it. She also made a few statements, such as “everyone is born muslim” which I felt she could have phrased better.

I am positive she meant well in her own way but I was left with a familiar feeling :ultimately Islam is a faith based religion. At the end of the day you have to believe. It's not a matter of deciding to believe - you just have to have this thing called faith. It took me a lot longer than an afternoon to decide the same about Catholicism. It looked like Islam would not be tipping my agnostic see-saw in either direction. Claire wasn't convinced either. There seems to be a lot of gender based inequality built in.

We thanked Fatima sincerely for her time and patience – she had spent well over an hour with us and presented us with a lot of pamphlets and a copy of the Qu'aran which I will try to read. But she refused to shake our hands, leaving them dangling there like ... unshaken hands. That, I found somewhat rude but presumably it was for religious reasons. Or maybe the swine flu epidemic. Apologies to anyone who I may have offended in the last few paragraphs with my observations. I would actually love to continue the debate and the chat with someone else another some time.

In the time remaining we wouldn't have been able to do the Islamic museum justice (and had enough Islam for one day) but still had more time to kill. Back to KLCC to delve into one of the other great religions in Malaysia: retail. While they were building the Petronas towers they decided that a very glitzy shopping centre in between the two would be a good idea.

Times Square has a rollercoaster, a bowling alley and a lot of shops, some tatty, others aimed at teeneagers. The KLCC mall has Rolex, Hermes, Gucci and even an M&S. It was somehow comforting looking at the price of Percy Pigs and Breakfast Tea. We ate at Nando's. We could have been in Bluewater or Liffey valley. In one shop I got a head massage from a really weird machine and we both got mechanised calf rubs. We would have taken photos only cameras aren't allowed – it was fun.

Suddenly the time for our skybridge trip was upon us. Claire didn't get a chance to pee before we were ushered into a small auditorium for a 3D Petronas production on themselves and the construction of the tower. It was good but a little staid and the 3D slightly pointless.

After a security check we were put in the high speed lift to floor 40. Claire was about to pee her pants when we arrived but the neaest public toilets was back beside the Bally Shoes shop on basement 1. She was literally about to have an accident when she asked a security guard and was accompanied (almost) every step of the way to a non-public toilet. I admit I found the whole thing quite humorous. The view, needless to say, was amazing and it really is a fabulous feat of architecture and engineering.

You only get 15 minutes to have a look around before the next group arrive and take their snaps. At the bottom there is an interesting interactive exhibition with puzzles and displays about tall buildings.

Seeing as it was kind of on the way back to the hotel we stopped by Times Square to get Claire some pink shades to match her watch and pick up some more Doxicycline, our antimalarial of choice (thanks Emma!). We'd eaten out so much all we wanted was pot noodles for dinner so we grabbed a few of them too.

When I called Olympus to see how the camera patient was doing they said it was fixed so that became the primary objective for our last full day in KL. After we picked it up and were trying it out in the taxi it felt a bit strange, like a new camera. The colours were washed out and the images lacked clarity. But we had run out of time so we had to deal with it. The taxi dropped us off at KL's main local market, a vast array of stalls selling spices, fruit, veg, meat and fish of questionable origin, all enveloped in a potent stinky odour. It wasn't so much fun – we left quickly and had a quiet evening, eating at Aji's.

Finally the time had come for us to check out. We were off to Singapore on the 11pm Royal Class express Bus. We had a final wander around the city during the day, visiting the Masjid mosque, much older and picturesque than the National mosque.

Then off to the Malaysian National Planetarium. Unfortunately a lot of the sections were closed as they were updating their exhibitions but the area about space flight was really interesting. I never knew that Malaysia had put a man in space. There were lots of interesting things to do including sit on a space toilet which was amusing.

After a late lunch back at the Indian restaurant we hung about in the hotel and then in Starbucks before the super nice bus pulled up. It literally said the words “super nice bus” along the side of it and it was by far the most luxurious bus either of us had ever even heard of. Every passenger gets their own TV with choice of on demand movies plus (this was the most fun) a hydraulically operated seat!

Malaysia had treated us well and although it lacked the vibrancy and distinctiveness of other SE Asian countries we would certainly go back and I would have no qualms recommending KL and the Perentians as places to spend some time.

Tags: camera, religion, shopping, sightseeing, taxi, tower


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