Tue, 13 May 2008 04:56:03 +0000
Kuala Lumpur, Properly Index Hat Yai
The major thing I had planned for today was going up the Petronas towers to photograph the view from the skybridge. Wikitravel had warned me that this involves quite a lot of queueing, and the view isn't especially remarkable. But it is Kuala Lumpur's symbol, and I have time. People will ask me about it later, so what the hell.
According to Wikitravel, there's a limited number of tickets that are handed out each day, and it's best to get there early, around 7:45, to be sure of getting one. I was there that early, but everything seemed to be closed, and there was a sign saying they don't start issuing tickets until 8:30. So I went to get some breakfast from a coffee shop. When I got back, I discovered that I had been at the wrong entrance, and there was already a massive queue. Oops. Oh well.
It took about half an hour to get through the queue (lots of people had gameboys to keep themselves entertained; I, of course, had my nokia). So if I had stood there since 7:45, I would have spent three quarters of an hour at the head of a queue going nowhere, instead of half an hour in a queue that was moving. There's an interesting optimisation question in that, for someone whose statistical modelling skills are less rusty than mine.
I thought I was queueing to go up, but in fact I was queueing for a ticket for a fixed time. Makes sense. Mine was for 1:45 in the afternoon, so I had the morning to kill. This was lucky, since I needed to do my laundry, pack, and check out of the hotel. This involved collecting my 50 ringgit key deposit, which I had forgotten about. That screwed up my carefully laid plans for disposing of my remaining Malaysian currency. It's terrible, suddenly having too mujch money. I had to buy something.
I decided to go to the market and get some sunglasses. Any sunglasses would do, just as long as I didn't get ripped off too much. I budgeted 30 ringgit for this, about EUR6. A lot for a crappy pair of sunglasses, but I'm not that good at haggling. I found the first likely-looking vendor, chose some sunglasses at random, pointedly refused to try them on, and asked how much. The guy said 145 ringgit, which still makes me giggle. I just walked away, but the guy physically grabbed me and said 45. OK, I said 20, and of course he said no. So I asked if he had anything cheaper, and he found an ugly but serviceable pair. Done. As I handed over my 20 ringgit, I could see in his face that he now realised I would have gone up to 30, but too late. 20 ringgit is still far too much for a ludicrously fake pair of allegedly "made in Italy" plastic sunglasses. I think both of us can be happy with that result.
I also got some street food. I got a coconut and pineapple tart, which was pretty dull. But I got some pieces of tropical fruit: guava, dragonfruit and ciku. All were great, but ciku is delicious. I'll have to watch out for that in future.
So I went back to the Petronas towers. First, my group were gradually herded together in a silly little museum they have down there. Once we were assembled we were taken to a 3D cinema to watch some corporate propaganda. To hear Petronas tell it, it's hard to see where the corporation ends and the Malaysian state begins. I was more interested in the 3D itself. It's actually not much good, looking like ranks of paper cutouts rather than a realistic landscape. Not sure why that is, but if 3D TV is the revolution just around the corner that some people say it is, I hope it's better than this.
And eventually, up we went. The bridge is less than halfway up, so you don't benefit much from being in such a tall building. Still, Kuala Lumpur looked pretty in the sunshine. I took my allowance of photos.
Afterwards I decided to have a wander around the park they have at the back of the towers. It's pretty sterile, as if the architects had heard of "recreation", and seen it mentioned in their architecture textbooks, but never actually experienced it themselves. I was accosted three separate times by excessively friendly and cheerful people wanting to make conversation despite me clearly being on my way somewhere. I couldn't decide if these were preludes to scams or were possibly even genuine. They certainly weren't English students like in Medan. In the end I had to brush them all off, and in fact just left the park completely. Not a particularly fun place.
For the afternoon I hadn't really had anything planned, so I randomly decided to visit the Islamic art museum. Which turned out to be really good. Extremely well funded, by the looks, far more so than the national museum. Not huge, but a very nice selection of artefacts for an afternoon's exploring. And a beautiful building for a museum, very spacious and bright. It encompasses the whole Islamic world, so there's perhaps a little less specifically Malay stuff than I would like. I guess Malay artefacts tend to be made of wood and textiles and other perishables. But I did like their collection of kris knives, especially the little ones designed to be concealed in a woman's hair bun. And I thought Malay women looked so sweet, too.
A lot of the Chinese Islamic artefacts were pretty interesting too. I love how they seamlessly integrate stylised Chinese and Arabic writing.
The special exhibit was "Women of Islam", clearly aimed at countering the stereotype that Islam is all about oppressing women. It had lots of stories of female leaders and warriors from Islamic history, right through to Megawati Sukarnoputri. Benazir Bhutto and Khaled Zhia (Do I have that name right? Bangladeshi president, kicked out by the coup. I don't have Wikipedia access right now.) were conspicuous by their absence. Perhaps due to the corruption allegations against each.
There were some good examples of muslim women kicking some righteous historical ass, such as queen Amina, warlord of Zazzau. But they ended up scraping the bottom of the barrel for female Islamic heroes after a while, like Tun Fatimah, forced into an unhappy marriage to a sultan, who got revenge by aborting all her babies before they could be born. Not sure if that's really a role model for young Malaysian girls there. It's a bit of a lost cause, putting on an exhibition like that: an exhibition of female leaders from European history wouldn't be any different, but by highlighting how little impact women had on Islamic history it kinda makes Islam look worse than it really is.
Then time for dinner. I was trying to carefully arrange to use up all my ringgit, but didn't quite have enough for a nice dinner, so I was looking for somewhere I could pay by credit card. Couldn't find anywhere, so I was forced to get some cash out. I ended up eating at a place in the central market, which is really the former central market, now replaced with a slightly twee market-themed shopping centre. I ordered something that I forget the name of, rangan chicken or something, with coconut rice. It was delicious, very rich gravy. For some reason they had elected to dye the rice blue. Hey, why not?
And then back to the hotel to collect my bag, and off to the station to wait for my train. I did manage to use up all my ringgit quite neatly, which makes me happy. It helps that you can buy bags of fresh fruit for a ringgit each. The train ended up being delayed by about half an hour, leaving at quarter past nine. I'm in a second-class sleeper again, and there's a very noisy family with four children just along from me. But since the train doesn't get into Hat Yai until midday tomorrow, I should have plenty of time to sleep.
Kuala Lumpur, Properly Index Hat Yai