Mad Dogs and Englishmen

Tue, 06 May 2008 11:00:49 +0000

Singapore to KL Index Georgetown, Penang

So here's my first day in Kuala Lumpur. Unfortunately, I again didn't really do much. I looked over the sights to see in KL, and felt that it was a "walking the streets randomly" kind of place. So I deliberately didn't push myself too hard today. Except that, as it happens, I did.

The first thing I did was go back to the central train station to do a couple of things. In particular, I needed to find some internet access so I could phone a couple of embassies. But of course it's Sunday, and everything's shut anyway. So it wasn't as important as all that. And interestingly, I couldn't find an internet cafe in the neighbourhood. A couple of call shops, but not internet cafes. That's a new one on me. Not everyone can be using wifi, surely? On that subject, there are a couple of wifi service providers around, and just this once I was prepared to pay up. But one was only selling a minimum of 30 day passes, and both required a local mobile number. So instead I found one of the dozen or so networks local to the station that didn't seem to require a password. It only worked for about ten minutes at a time, but that got me my phone numbers and addresses. For all the good that does me.

On a more positive note, I booked a train ticket for tonight. I had planned to stay an extra night in KL, but the only train to Penang is a night train. So tonight it is. Only second class available, but its an air-conditioned sleeper. This should be an interesting experience. It gets in at 5:30 in the morning to Butterworth, then I have to catch a ferry to Georgetown on Penang. And then I have to find a place to stay, because again I have no reservation. But since I arrive so early in the morning, and I have a couple of addresses and a map already, this shouldn't be a problem.

I'd already wandered around the Chinatown area last night, so today I thought I'd go up to the convention centre area, where the Petronas towers are, and waste time in the air-conditioned shopping malls. Also, as it turns out the Iranian embassy is nearby, so I can check that out (even though it's not open, and I don't have the paperwork anyway).

By the time I got there it was lunchtime. And I immediately found myself in western junk food hell. Dunkin Donuts, KFC, McDonalds, and quite a few I've never encountered before, but not a Malaysian, or even Asian, noodle to be seen. I eventually found somewhere that did me a mee goreng, along with an oddly crunchy rice-based desert and a frothed coffee. It's not street food, but it'll do. And the mall is a reasonably inoffensive place to chill and read for a few minutes.

I poked my head up blinking into the sunlight long enough to glimpse the Petronas towers above. Man, those things are a bugger to photograph. You have to back away for a kilometre before they'll fit into frame, by which time they're obscured by other buildings. And if you're at the wrong angle, you have to circle round for another kilometre. Here's a photo showing them at not particularly their most impressive.

And then I had my wander down to the Iranian embassy. It's really not all that far. But it was a mercilessly sunny day, 35 degrees according to the thermometre/time signs. It's been a long time since I've had to deal with that kind of thing, worse than Santa Cruz in South America, and I misjudged how sweaty I'd be at the end of it. I also was terrified that I was getting sunburnt: I had sunscreen on, but the sweat was pouring off me and presumably taking the sunscreen with it. It only occurred to me as I was nearing the train station, and I saw a woman using an umbrella as a parasol, that I had an umbrella too. In the end, I think I might have been slightly sunburnt on my nose, but otherwise I seem to be OK. But given that I'm catching a night train, and therefore won't have a shower tonight, it was pretty silly to get all sweaty like that.

So I retreated back underground to dry off. I indulged in some cheesecake and a gigantic coffee, for which I now feel intense remorse. I got some a vitamin-rich fresh-fruit smoothie, for which I don't. And I read a lot. There are worse ways to spend a couple of hours.

I then decided that I really should have another go at finding an Internet cafe. At least, that's a good enough excuse to finish exploring Chinatown. I am in the market for a new pair of sunglasses, if they can be had cheaply enough. But the vendors in Chinatown are so aggressive, I just didn't feel in the mood to start shopping around and haggling. I just enjoyed wandering around looking at stuff. And I confirmed that there are no internet cafes available. I did find one, but it was closed.

I then went back to the train station to get some dinner and to hang out waiting for my train. More reading. In the process of getting my fried rice and fish with sour sauce (not bad, although the sauce was a bit thin), I discovered that they have free wifi in the food court. That's well worth knowing - I'll be back in Kuala Lumpur before long.

So here I am on my train, where I've just had my worst scare of the trip so far: I went to get my nokia, and it wasn't there. I frantically emptied my bag, but no. Ten minutes before the train leaves, and I faced dashing back up to the Starbucks where I had been waiting, where I must have left it. I was just shoving everything back in my handbag, since I didn't want to lose anything else, when I decided to have one last look around, and miraculously spotted it wedged behind the mattress. I have no idea how I managed to get it there. I'm absolutely astonished I spotted it before tearing off and probably missing my train in my panic. A good reminder that I won't always be so lucky. Of course, I'm right now refreshing my backup. And maybe it is kinda silly to have such expensive electronics with me. But hey, that's how you're reading this blog entry.

And how's the train? My ticket only cost 38 ringgit, about EUR7, and I would have gladly paid the 75 they were asking for a first class birth if they'd had one spare. But in fact second class is fine. There are no rooms, just bunks lining the cabin. But I have a curtain, a pillow, a sheet, and plenty of room. With my earplugs and blindfold I can retreat into silence easily enough. I should be able to get six or seven hours sleep on this thing. So things are looking good.

Singapore to KL Index Georgetown, Penang