Day 1, May 9, 2008: Kuala Lumpur
It was an overnight flight on Malaysia Airlines and early morning on May 9th, we reached the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). The flight was pretty uneventful except that my hair was irritatingly FULL of static and standing at all ends. Also, while I have not flown other international airlines – but have seen and met enough hostesses – I found the hostesses on Malaysian airlines to be very rude and have a peculiar ‘we know better’ attitude. Initially I thought it was my “black armband” as Partner calls it, but over the trip it proved to be more a case with Malaysian Airlines. More on that later…
<--- Kuala Lumpur International Airport
Since we were flying into KL in the morning I could have a birds’ eye view (or plane’s window view) at Malaysia. My first impression was of the country being very, very green. Actually manicured green since all the trees seemed to have the same height. Before it could register, Partner helpfully pointed out that the trees were palm tree plantations for palm oil, one of the biggest sources of income for Malaysia with India being one of the major importer’s. As we got off at KLIA, I was a bit surprised to realize that there were no ‘buses’ waiting to herd-in the passengers, instead you walk out to the terminal, get into a swanky train that then takes you into the main terminal. That was just the beginning; Kuala Lumpur is ALL about efficiency.
The in-flight ad for KLIA says, “It’s impossible to lose your way at the airport,” and they were right. That’s something that super impressed me about both KL and Melbourne – the signage on the streets and the detailing in the road maps – as long as you can read English, even a first-timer to the cities will manage her way around. The same cannot be said about Delhi though: Imagine asking a new-in-town person to find Jhandu Singh Marg*, or locate the right house number in Greater Kailash 1. Once out of immigration, I was further pleasantly surprised that there was no rushing, stomping or fighting over taxis. It’s smooth and was smoother still for us since we had the hotel limousine service waiting for us.
<--- Renaissance Hotel that stands in the KL Golden Triangle
During the ride from the airport to the hotel, we got a complete lowdown about Malaysian economy, politics and a rush-through of places to visit from our cab driver, Malay with origins in Tamil Nadu. Both Partner and I were super impressed with his knowledge of the situation in Malaysia and his individual perspective. Also, unlike Delhi, cabbies in KL don’t keep looking into their rearview to see what’s happening in the back seat. Education, awareness and an opinion were something in common to all the south-Indian-Malay cabbies we rode with in KL. We stayed at Renaissance hotel that was neighbour to the Petronas Twin Towers and Partner took the piss out of me since for a first international holiday, I was having a shamelessly luxurious one. And he should know, his first visit to India was way back in 2000, as a backpacker and here I was staying at a posh five star and then moving to an exclusive, manicured resort for the next four. Funnier still is how fast a human being can adjust to luxury… like showers.
Pic courtesy: http://anneromano.com/images/india_bucket.gif
Some of you might laugh at this – and I do sound like a yokel, but not going to lie – but after having lived in rented accommodations for the last 10 years (17 house shifts) and before that in Army accommodations that aren’t really examples of architecture or amenities – what REALLY struck me were, er, the showers in the bathrooms. Haha, it’s so funny, our perception of how things should be and the kind of things we take for granted. Like in our first winter together, Partner was shocked to find me washing dishes in cold water. “Don’t you have hot water for the dishes?” he had asked incredulously. I had looked at him even more incredulously and pointed out that we didn’t even have a geyser in the bathroom and used an emersion rod for heating water and it was a bit too much to expect hot water for bloody dishes.
ALL my experiences with showers in India have included either houses not having showers at all, or the shower not working, or the shower head skewed at a weird angle where it spews water everywhere but on you, or the knobs rusted with disuse, or the water pressure being too low for the shower to work at all. Or if at all the shower works, most of the holes in the showerhead would be blocked and of course, the faucet head will ALWAYS leak, as a rule. I don’t think we realize, but the balti (bucket) has become SUCH an integral part of the Indian way of life ( also because we are not as toilet-paper friendly). If once I had laughed at Partner because he had been perplexed at the entire procedure of heating-water-bathing-from-bucket, he got his chance when he sweetly laughed at my excitement over “such nice showers”. Ha, ha, no amount of reading or watching movies can prepare you for some things, even if they are just showers. (It’s nice to have a comfort with another to not feel like an ignorant dunce all the time)
<--- KL monorail service makes travel far easier but there is debate on whether it conserves fuel or not
A little rest later we headed out for our first taste of Kuala Lumpur. My first impression of the traffic in Kuala Lumpur can be summarized in two sentences: “I want one of those bikes!” and “What are such young kids doing driving around in such posh cars?” Cabs, few buses for intercity travel, 135 cc bikes, cars, local trains and the ‘monorail’ constitute the transport in KL. Since Renaissance was located bang next to one of the monorail stations, moving around KL was a lark. As I wrote earlier, the maps make things pretty simple and the cab drivers are knowledgeable. From Renaissance we got off at Bukit Bintang, which would be the main shopping area in KL. From small stores with good bargains – we caught 50 per cent clearance sales in almost all stores – to showrooms for the biggest retail chains, KL is like any other major city the world. However, Partner said that the city lacked in “soul,” it was much later that I would be able to make my own judgment of that… For the first few shops, after a long while I was DELIGHTED to find clothes my size. We roamed around for an hour or two in the market and headed back to the hotel since we were to catch up with the family there. Post lunch it was pool time and the beginning of my love affair with the pina colada.
After lunch and burning that lunch in the pool -- constitutes me flapping around -- we all headed to the main market area for some dinner. That’s when I realized that KL comes to life at night. While in the morning people had been out on the streets, it seemed as if the entire city had descended on the roads at night. With lights all around, shops and young people dressed to their heels, it was with surprise that I realized it was 12 am. While the nighttime crowd was mainly young people or families out for a meal, it took only a glance to know that the girls dressed well. If the Chinese girls wore designer outfits, the girls in hijab did up their eyes in the most beautiful way. However, I hardly saw any Indians out…
We were a group of 12 and our dinner was an assortment of fish, bullfrog legs and Malaysian curries. Since I had been practicing using a chopstick in India – simply because Partner could use choppies and I of course was insulted that I didn’t know and therefore HAD to learn, heh – I insisted on having all my meals with chopsticks. For first time chopstick users I would suggest keeping a spoon (even if you have to hide one in your purse) as things slithering off your plate and landing on the floor is not very graceful. Oh yes, bullfrog legs are kinda crispy-chewy... and not something that I would be trying again, no matter what the French say. After dinner some of us headed towards China Town (open 6-11 pm and supposedly has awesome bargains but everything is fake) and four of us – Partner, me and his aunt P and uncle M – went out to check out some nightspots.
Our first stop was this restaurant/bar called ‘Lecka Lecka’, which thanks to my being blind – I am shortsighted and had sat on my specs the night before the trip – I read the sign as “Lecka Cocka” (the logo, look at the bloody logo!). Amused, I also pointed it out to Partner’s aunt, like five seconds before I bit my tongue and realized that that’s NOT something you point out to someone’s relative five hours into meeting them. (scowl) Next time I shall learn to keep my amusing observations to myself. After my initial reluctance at stepping into the place, which was alleviated once I read the sign properly, it turned out to be quite nice. In both Melbourne and KL, I realized that street side cafes are huge business and special care is taken to make the outdoor seating as attractive as the indoor. I couldn’t help but think how a little paint job, some lights and inviting outdoor seating could change the face of Connaught Place in Delhi. For instance, United Coffee House has such a forgotten British charm to it, clean out the exterior, put some umbrellas and chairs and we might just have a truly international shopping experience in CP.
As we smoked our hookah/sheesha at Lecka-Lecka, which was playing some Latino tracks, we all got into the mood to salsa. The fact that neither of us knew how to salsa was not considered and we thought it wasn’t important… We were to be proven wrong. The first salsa place was ‘Q Ba’ where there was a rocking live band belting out tunes with such gusto that we all were dancing even as we approached the bar… However, before we could order a drink we were asked to leave the place as M was in shorts and the place only allowed formal clothes. The seriousness of salsa! While I appreciate keeping the ‘integrity’ of a dance alive, snobbery because some others might know the moves and yet want to revel in it, is not so right… For me dance is about letting go and having fun. Anyway, disappointed we decided to find another joint and after some enquiries, headed off to the Federal Hotel and its bar called ‘Havana’. It was no match for ‘Q Ba’, which was quite obviously a happening place, but it had its share of salsa followers shaking it on the dance floor.
Again, I noticed the lack of Indians both at Q Ba and Havana. KL is supposed to be a multicultural city with many Indian immigrants and locals and yet all day, I had hardly seen any Indians. Senior people I could understand, but didn’t the young Indians go partying? I HAD to ask and cornered the salsa instructor at Havana; he turned out to be Punjabi! My suspicions were right, according to the dude (unfortunately have forgotten his name), most Indians in KL are VERY conservative and do not approve of their kids learning salsa or such. If at all the Indians there party, they apparently usually head for ‘Bollywood’ bars!
Indians abroad being more conservative than those back home is something many people who travel have told me. To me, it seems that it’s either a case of wanting to hold on tight to what you have left behind or a fear of learning new things. Like going to a new restaurant and ending up ordering Indian food all the time. Or it could also be a case of not valuing what we have till we step out of our comfort zones. Hmm… I think I need to travel more to figure that one out. Ha, ha.
After the sojourn on KL streets, it was back to the hotel and sinking into a very tired but happy sleep. My holiday had just started…
PS: Jhandu Singh Marg is the left turn (if you’re coming from South Extension side) before the Hyatt Regency left turn.
PS2: While there weren’t any salsa-ing Indians that I met, it made me very proud that our very own Kaytee Namgyal is VERY well known in the salsa circuits. And to think that I had written about him in the obscure Around Town (published by Ogaan that also publishes Elle, the magazine is now dead) makes me feel real nice. Shows how people with true talent will always prosper…as long as they pursue it with all their energy.
PS3: The other posts wont be this long!!!!