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Greg & Karen's Life Adventure Karen and I, in love, in life ; following our bliss

Kuala Lumpur - Malaysia

MALAYSIA | Monday, 29 November 2010 | Views [681] | Comments [1]

Kuala Lumpur: Walking to the terminal at KLCC, ominous black clouds gathering overhead; two minutes inside and all hell broke loose – thunder and lightning and heavy rain. Welcome to Malaysia Karen and Greg. With all our luggage, we paid for a taxi voucher 105 RM ($40 NZ ) and settled back for the 80km trip to KL Sentral in the air-conditioned taxi – Did I mention the heat ? – Oh yes it was hottttt. We showed the driver where to drop us off as he did not know the area  ??? and we were welcomed into an oasis on the edge of Chinatown, called the Explorer’s Guesthouse, a relatively new place we had found online. The lobby/lounge became our second home, with free coffee/tea and toast/peanut butter/ jam , free TV and WiFi internet. The hosts were friendly and very helpful, even carrying one of our heavy bags up to the second floor; the room was small, clean, twin beds and a glorious new air-conditioner. I will never look at these appliances the same- Oh, to come in from the KL heat and sweat and switch on the A/C, lie down on the bed and luxuriate in the cool air flowing over one’s body. By now it was late afternoon, and not wishing to waste our time here, we headed bravely out the door into the sauna that is affectionately known as KL. 

What met us was not the expectation we both had; this was not the immaculate, glossy face of Malaysia portrayed in the media. We were in the older quarter of Chinatown and little India; not particularly overcrowded, but heavy with exhaust fumes from the many buses crowding down the narrow streets. Crossing the same, demanded our attention at all times as pedestrians are fair game for cars and racing `motasikels’. Feeling adventurous, we ordered a rice with chicken meal  at a corner `restorant’ and soaked up the atmosphere;  supping on a beer, making conversation with a local and entertained by a friendly rat browsing for crumbs under the table. Back to the haven of the Guesthouse,  to several cups of tea and a firm but comfortable night’s sleep.

From a suggested walk in the Lonely Planet Guide for Malaysia, we set out next morning to explore Chinatown and surrounds;  with video and camera, we were armed and touristy. Did I mention the heat? It was hotttt and this was with cloud cover ( actually smog cover ) and almost Winter. Well for Karen and I, this was great. We lapped up the architecture of modern high-rise buildings, alongside exquisite Mosques, ornate Hindu temples, grand colonial edifices and decaying, decrepit ruins. No OSH regulations here – sidewalks were often broken and uneven,  drains big enough to swallow you whole,  barely covered by wooden planks, electrical wiring open and hanging freely and everywhere the rampant  chaos of life in this charismatic town. Far from being overwhelmed, Karen and  I  revelled in it; idling through the covered Markets in Petalling Street, gently fending off the hawkers selling every conceivable copy and knock-off, sampling the exotic fruits and treating ourselves to magnum ice-creams, which tasted so good in this place. By afternoon I was feeling heat-oppressed and when faced with visiting the Central Market complex, I baulked. Karen prevailed and I was delighted to find myself in a modern, A/C building with food court and beguiling stores. Again we ordered Malaysian food; a spicy chicken satay and a cold beer for me and a rice dish with green tea for Karen.

 After a short sleep, we headed for the night markets and were amazed at the transformation; where there had been streets lined with booths, the street was solid with hawkers stalls, almost claustrophobic as we were swept along on a tide of local humanity; Hindu saris, Moslem women with heads always covered with jewelled scarves,  beautiful scantily dressed, Chinese girls, young men sporting the latest clothing and a melting pot of faces, cultures and religions. This is Malaysia; a harmonious blend of many cultures, ethnic backgrounds and religious practices. We loved it all.

Day 2 in KL saw us rise early and plan our next foray to `Mecca’- not a bad analogy really;  there is a huge Islamic influence here, particularly in the architecture (see photos in journal). Nearby was a huge complex - Government offices we think; with a truly magnificent tower block in classic Islamic style – all white, with the windows hidden completely by the overlaid geometric lace pattern. Crossing under one of the many motorways through this sprawling city, we entered the Forest Reserve – literally, an area of landscaped jungle,  surrounding the much touted  `KL Tower;  climbed the path to the top of the hill and emerged to a very impressive `Auckland Skytower’ look-a-like. Now as a rule, Greg doesn’t do `towers’ – I mean, from a builder’s perspective, it ain’t good building practice to balance a large concrete mass on top of a concrete post, is it?  But what the hell, our purpose on this journey is to widen our experience, so with some trepidation, we paid our `ringits’ and took the 58 second lift up 526m to the viewing deck. Well folks, I have to tell you, it was nothing short of spectacular – 360 degrees of KL  spread below in glorious, hazy sunshine;  reflecting a landscape of beautiful high-rise buildings, multiple, modern roadways, colossal residential apartments blocks and an infinite array of houses; artfully spread amid the greenery,  to the horizons  in all directions. On the wall behind us were depictions of the 12 tallest communication towers in the world; KL rated 4th highest after Canada, China and Russia. Auckland Skytower was shown 9th, with Sydney 8th as I recall.

The descent took just 52secs, and after another tasty `magnum ice-cream’; we ventured outside ( adjusting from A/C to KL sauna was always shocking ) to a Malaysia village, re-created for the tourists. There was a  4 piece band  playing traditional music with great enthusiasm, surrounded by the different styles of village buildings – we showed interest in their instruments;  drums and a setup of inverted brass bowls suspended on strings in a wooden frame;  an octave of piano notes  (black & white) with bell-like resonant sounds. They played several songs just for us, as there were only a few people there at the time  and I  later learned more about the history of these instruments - and that the leader’s name (a large Polynesian looking man) was Bob – I had to laugh, I wasn’t expecting  just, `Bob’.  As luck would have it, a spectacle of Malaysian dance was about to start inside the A/C stage; ( by now you probably get that in KL, one seeks the coolness of A/C at every opportunity) – Here, we were treated to a wonderful half hour of colourful, rhythmic  routines, displaying the dress and  movement of  many of the diverse peoples  that make up Malaysia culture. Loud but truly delightful.

Now the iconic Petronas Twin Towers are to KL what the Opera House is to Sydney; and with these to guide us across the city, we finally arrived at their feet.  Each curved balcony around the circular towers, has a wide stainless steel rail which gives this building it’s distinctive and visual appeal – somewhat reminiscent of a silvered banksia cone – ok, look at the photo – you’ll see what I mean. Looking straight up, it was indeed a dramatic sight. There’s a walkway  between the two towers called the `Skybridge’ which is recommended by the guidebooks but when you’ve just come down from the KL Tower, this seemed a little tame, so we contented ourselves with an amble around the glitzy, high class shopping mall and a lazy lunch in the best and most taste-extensive food plaza, experienced so far.

KL has an extensive LRT or light rail system which sends it’s steel tendrils out from KL Sentral to the outer suburbs – fortunately, there was a station right at the Petronas Towers. Greg was hesitant to tackle the automatic ticket machines but we wanted to travel out to the Batu Caves; one of those 'must see' attractions. It was surprisingly easy and after one small hiccup (panic, get off train too late we thought, return to last station and catch next train, pretending nothing had happened) arrived on the outskirts of KL at a mountainous outcrop of sheer-sided, jungle clad limestone/rock. Strangely, with little signage to guide us, we ventured around the corner to the entrance to a riot of Hindu coloured temples, figurines, hawker stalls, buses, monkeys and people, in no particular order. Directly ahead of us rose the steepest set of stairs possible; all 170 of them. Now apparently, every year at one of the Hindu festivals, devout priests hang heavy weights on their body piercings and yes, you guessed it, they drag themselves up those steps! At the top of course, is the famed Batu Caves. I should probably also mention the insignificant Golden Budda, sited to the left of the stairs, and nearly as tall( see photos).  So here one learns a great lesson in life: see the goal, set the intention and proceed step by step ever upward. The view was reward enough, but he cave itself was memorable by it's sheer enormity; cool, lit by shafts of light from high above, a constant flow of people along the floor, and here-and-there, carved, Hindu figures adorning the the rockface; even several temples with ritual and loud music eminating. Another set of steps at the rear led to an enormous shaft or open cave to the summit, the edge of  which was overflowing with vegetation, reaching down into this great pit on the top of this piece of rock on an otherwise relatively level area of KL.       

That night, we attended a `festival of Malaysian Marriage’- quite an extra-ordinary affair, so it turned out. We were invited to sit in the front rows with several other `not from around there’ couples. On stage, a back-lit shadow box and beautiful, expressive shadow puppets enacted a very funny, possibly satirical,  probably lewd play – how do I know that, as it was all in Malay? By the riotous laughter erupting around us and the tone of the puppets themselves – I’m guessing. The amazing end to this was the exit from this smallish shadow-box of just one small man, who had produced all the voices and movements alone. 

Next, the stage was taken by 5 couples in traditional marriage dress, representing the 5 main ethnic groups – everything from the ornate to the primitive, bearing ceremonial weapons. They then proceeded to cut a large two-tiered wedding cake and distribute this and fish paste sandwiches to the assembled crowd, especially to those  in the front rows. That was great as we hadn’t eaten yet. This was followed by several groups of performers from the local TV talent show. These guys were really entertaining and we were truly astounded by a 7 year old boy belting out a rock song in Malay, complete with the moves. The compare of the show then singled us out for some light relief and on the next song, we ended up line dancing with the marriage couples in front of the crowd. You just don’t get that watching TV, do you?

Day 3 in KL and we started out early, with so much to see and so little time left. You were right Karen; we should have stayed longer. With two bottles of bought water, and cameras at the ready, we powered through the streets to the east, heading for the Lake Park, the largest covered bird sanctuary in the world, the Main Mosque and many other attractions in this area. The sun was pouring down like honey this day (acknowledgement to Leonard Cohen) it was so hot, I would seek the shade  wherever I could  find it. We photographed the concertina’d, blue roofed octagon-round Mosque with it’s exquisite Islamic design but declined to don heavy robes and hoods to venture inside. You gotta be kidding me? Down the road we came across another incredible building; the old railway headquarters, now KTM communications – The plaque outside detailed how it  was designed by an Englishman and each storey was a different style of architecture; Gothic, Greek and Moorish – all in cut stone and immense in visceral impact – who were these guys ?

    Pushing on, looking for the `bird park’, we detoured to the Islamic Museum of the Arts. You’d expect a magnificent building, wouldn’t you? Well you’d be right – 3 storey, white plastered, 4 domed edifice – and yessss! air-conditioned of course – thank you!  Shielded from the relentless heat by those intricately, differently decorated, vaulted domes gilded with gold and blue and white; we wandered the many rooms displaying examples of Islamic architecture, jewellery, porcelain, weapons and religious works. One large room was given over to scale models of many of the famous and beautiful mosques to be found around the world. Another to images and descriptions of Islamic buildings throughout India. We were suitable impressed by the time we left the building.  Just up the road is the sprawling Lake Park with native orchid gardens, hibiscus gardens, the bird aviary, the new amphitheatre complex and the landscaped lake environs; all in the middle of KL city. We chose to forego the birds this time and explore the rest of this amazing place; on the premise that we would be back sometime in the future. There were large crowds at the aviary but strangely, not many in the Park on this sunny, Sunday afternoon – The picturesque Amphitheatre was all but deserted and only a few, wandered with us along the banks of the Lake itself.

 At the end of the Lake we visited the National Museum and whiled away the rest of the afternoon, perusing Malaysia’s history and relics. For a hundred years, Malacca was the trading centre of the known world, but such wealth attracted the bandits of the time; the Portuguese first and then the Dutch and lastly the British. Malacca was fought over for many years until gaining independence after the 2nd World War. as part of the Federated States of Malaysia, still ruled by the King but regulated by the Parliament. As was the policy of Malacca, to accept all peoples as one;  the King now dictates the same for Malaysia- large banners hang proudly in the streets, proclaiming  `Malaysia 1’. Perhaps New Zealand could take a lead from the Malaysians.

Packed and ready for the next leg to England, we said goodbye to our hosts, piled into the a/c Taxi and did the 80kms back to KLLCC  airport – LCC stands for low cost carrier, a point taken as we were handed umbrellas to walk the 100 m to the aircraft, waiting on the tarmac outside the terminal building; in pouring rain. Actually, both flights on AirAsia were very comfortable as we had a spare seat beside us; allowing one of us at a time to stretch out over the three seats with head on the other’s lap. This is just one of many events which have facilitated our journey, so far – that spare seat on the England leg, was the only one on the aircraft. ???? 







Di hasn't got any music from KL! Would have loved to have heard some of the music described. Any chance of a sound bite???? Love your journalistic style.
Happy travels!

  Collin & Diane Dec 27, 2010 5:43 PM

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