Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Kuala Lumpur

I've lost track of how many days I've been in Kuala Lumpur now. It really can't be that many but I don't feel like counting. Maybe I can get the maid to do it.

The whole pace of my trip has changed since I got here, from flying around uber-hyper India, to a madcap weekend in Singapore, I've now s-l-ooo-w-e-d right down. So what's going on?!

KL marks the half way point in my trip, so it seemed right to take a breather and relax for a few days before diving into what will surely be an intense part 2. I didn't realize things would slow down quite this much though.

I'm staying with my friends Mike and Sandy, from Canada. They are in their last month living as ex-pats in KL, before returning back to Sydney. They are living in what I call a palace in the sky- it's a 2 storey penthouse apartment at the top of a skyscraper which itself is at the top of a hill. There are unobstructed views of what feels like half of Malaysia... I feel like I'm at the top of a mountain or in some hovering airship. Sometimes I look out from their patio and then just have to look away as it's "too much sights". The panorama is dizzying in its splendour.

The apartment is big enough to hold a Canadian hockey tournament; my bedroom is larger than most apartments in Hong Kong. Between the space, the style, the views and the facilities- a humongous swimming pool that wraps around the building complex in a semi-circle, tennis courts, gym and even cafe on site- I think I've just reached heaven and I don't feel like leaving.

So I'm using this opportunity to generally just chill out. I went into KL for a day of sightseeing and while it's really nice and well manicured, it lacks the soul of other cities I've seen which works out fine- I have plenty to not do at home.

I had a chauffered Mercedes ride to see the Petronis Towers, followed by sight seeing around town; clothes washed and pressed and generally been made to feel like royalty; I understand this is not how the locals live, but at this point I don't care. Life is good. Thanks to Mike Sandy and their team of helpers!

My friends Pete and Lisa also live here, so we caught up for dinner last night and discussed at length the dynamic in Malaysia. Topics like affirmative action, poor treatment of household staff and a general feeling that Malaysia still has some catching up to do, to be one cohesive and racially integrated country, were all discussed. While they are happy to have had the experience of living in luxury in Malaysia, they're also looking forward to returning to Sydney. If nothing else, for the chance of a cool breeze once in a while (it's constantly in the 30s and humid here).

So my glimpse into KL was brief and slightly biased; that's ok for now- I hope to return one day and explore the outlying and scenic areas like Langkawi and experience another side.

My time in Malaysia ends with a brief glimpse of Penang. I flew from KL to Penang and while I had wished to explore the island more, I chose to relish the company of my friends for that time instead, and I don't regret it- it was really great to spend some quality time with them- no sightseeing can replace that!

My next segment takes me into Thailand. My friend Gerd has organized this whole part- he's flying out from LA to join me for 2 weeks and show me around 'his Thailand'... he's been here 5 times and speaks and reads Thai. Could I ask for a better guide?!

Gerd has sent me a Thai Railways ticket for the 2:30 train from Butterworth (surely not it's Malaysian name?!) to Pattalung, Thailand. He's promised me he'll meet me at the station. As we have no other way to contact each other, I'm really hoping this works out!

My Air Asia flight brings me safely to Penang where I proceed to take a 2.70 Ringitt bus ride right to the ferry jetty. The ferry takes me across from the island to Butterworth and then just a short walk to the station. I arrive with a lot of time before the train leaves, but alas the midday heat and my cumbersome backpacks mean I dread exerting any extraneous energy. I give up the chance to walk around Georgetown, and instead flop on the first bench at the deserted station, waiting-waiting for the train to arrive. Time seemed to stop in Butterworth.

I did find a little hawker stand across from the station where I energized with a up of cold Koppee (that's super sweet cold coffee, sweetened with condensed milk to you) half way through my wait.

Train 36 arrived with just 2 carriages and we soon started moving at a pace slightly slower than that of a hunchback running along side would have been...carrying both my backpacks and with one wooden leg. This train is slow. My travel companion was a rather emaciated New Zealander who worked as an engineer for Motorola in Penang. He was very malnourished and nothing he could say to me would distract me from wondering why he was so damn thin and boney. Is male anorexia a problem with Kiwis?

With the skinny Kiwi my only source of company and a slow moving train to a mystery destination, I realized this was going to be a very long trip. Next stop Thailand!


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