Kuala Lumpur, Properly

Tue, 13 May 2008 04:56:02 +0000

Back to KL Index Kuala Lumpur Day 3

This is my second proper day of touristing in KL, and this time I feel like I did a reasonable job of exploring the place. Make a note of that: if you come to KL, stay more than one day!

I got up about 7:00, even though I was still sleepy. I've picked up a sleep deficit somewhere that I can't get rid of. The hotel's breakfast really isn't much good: two slices of toast, a boiled egg, and one cup of coffee. I had been looking forward to putting away plenty of coffee. So I ended up going to Starbucks. One coffee costs the same as pretty much every meal I've eaten in Kuala Lumpur. I really should stop going there.

My plan was to head to the independence square and check out the interesting colonial buildings around it, then walk to the heroes monument, down through the lake park and visit the national museum. The first bit went OK. The buildings are moderately interesting, I guess, but I didn't feel any stirrings of historical gravity for the square's role in Malaysian history.

They seemed to be putting up some marquees, probably for the 50th anniversary of independence. The cathedral of st. Mary the virgin, which sounds grand, in fact looks about the same as any suburban church in Perth. Bit of a disappointment.

I walked in approximately the right direction towards the heroes monument, but turned into the lake park too early. Huge sections of the park seem to be fenced off, and I ended up getting diverted to nowhere in particular. Before I knew it, sweat was pouring off me: for some reason the park is twice as humid as everywhere else in KL, enough to swing the balance from net evaporation to net sogginess.

I did at least end up at the national museum as planned. It's not a particularly good museum, especially since half of it was closed for renovations. The colonial gallery was open, and that was interesting. Mostly just extremely verbose signs, with the occasional artefact and plenty of dioramas. Here are some of the oddest "coins" I've ever seen:

I knew the story of that Brooks guy, the Englishman who was adopted as a sultan in Borneo (mainly thanks to the Flashman novel). I didn't know that the kingdom he carved out for himself is still in evidence today, in the form of the border with Sarawak. Bizarre stuff.

The other gallery that was open was the "modern Malaysia" gallery, mainly about independence. A little nationalistic and rabidly anti-communist for my taste - in classic Orwellian style, communists are consistently "terrorists", while anti-imperialist warriors are "freedom-fighters". It's most notable for what it didn't say: not much about the ethnic tensions in Malaysia, not much about Singapore's secession, and nothing at all about Malaysia's gradual stumble towards proper multi-party democracy. Mahathir Mohammed turned up in just one photo, and wasn't mentioned in the captions. All of which is fair enough I guess, since otherwise they'd have to redo the captions every other week. But I hate to think of anyone coming away from that exhibit thinking it's a true reflection of Malaysian society.

Anyway, since I'd missed out seeing half my sights, I decided to go round and do another lap. First, though, I got lunch at a place that looked reasonably Malaysian. I tried to order something interesting, but ended up getting boring nasi gorent again, this time concealed under an omelette. But the sea-coconut slushy was interesting.

This time, with the aid of GPS, I found my way to where I was supposed to be going. I found the heroes monument. This was designed by the guy who did the Iwo Jima memorial, and he doesn't seem to be the kind of guy who just throws away a good idea:

I then found a better way into the lake park. I discovered the reason why so much of it has been blocked off: the lake is dry. It's still quite a nice place though.

I'm not even sure I was where I was supposed to be: the fence gate was open, and there was another party of tourists there. But as I followed the path, I eventually had nowhere to go but out a trademen's entrance. That put me on the wrong side of a busy freeway with no way to cross. After a while I came to a pedestrian overpass, but its entrance was on a terrace several metres above me. I had to scramble up a concrete embankment on all fours and then clamber over a fence to escape. Kuala Lumpur needs to take a long hard look at making the city more pedestrian friendly. You can't take taxis everywhere.

By this time, having gone on a much longer, more intense walk through the same windless park, I was utterly drenched in sweat. There was no option but to return to the hotel to dry off. I had a nap too. That's better.

Next job was to book my ticket to Hat Yai for tomorrow. This is significant: it means I'm giving up applying for an Iranian visa. And that's a damn shame. However, thinking about things further, I might still try to apply for a Syrian visa. I might even be able to pull that off entirely within the week I'm in Perth. Then I can fly from Dubai to Damascus, or to Amman and take a bus to Damascus. So it needn't be a total write-off.

With that done, I went to the KLCC area (the bit with the shopping centres and the Petronas towers) to get some dinner. Last time there seemed to be pitifully few Malaysian options, but I then read that there's a food court on the fourth floor. And I did rather better this time: I got a selection of things from the buffet-style stall, where the guy spoke enough English to make it feasible. I got some fried fish, some unusual-looking vegetables, some vegetable curry, and a slice of omelette. The fish were so crispy-fried I wasn't sure what I was supposed to eat: it didn't look possible to just flake off the flesh. So I ate the whole thing, including the head, as if it was really big whitebait. That strategy worked fine except for one section of the second fish, whose spine was hard and sharp enough to make me think I'd made a mistake. And in fact, on the way out I noticed a lady behind me who'd ordered the same thing, but left a neatly cleaned spine and head behind. Hmm. Well, pelicans don't even chew, so how unhealthy can it be?

I then decided on a post-dinner coffee and desert from a Starbucks-alike downstairs. I really have to stop doing that: I'd had plenty to eat. After my banana cake I felt really unpleasantly bloated, and it's not like I have the excuse that banana cake is a noted Malaysian delicacy. New resolution: no more deserts. It's a meaningless concept in south east asia anyway.

Back to KL Index Kuala Lumpur Day 3