Saturday, December 28, 2013

Malaysia - Kuala Lumpur

Friday, October 25

After disembarking from the train, we found a small, dim and depressing food court inside the station, where we had a very good roti telor (egg pancake) and coffee before looking for a taxi to take us to our destination, getting a cab to our destination, a studio apartment we had rented over the internet. Thanks to our host's detailed information we were able to avoid the luxury cab stand and find the budget one.

When we arrived, we were met by our host, Paf, who showed us our suite, and gave us a cell phone to contact him if we had any questions during our stay.  From our windows we looked down over old houses,

and out towards the shiny modern Petronas Towers, KL's most famous buildings.

After a brief rest and an exploration of our surroundings, we took the nearby monorail into the city centre, getting off at the station beside the vast Jamek mosque, all white marble, Moorish arches and onion domes.

From there, it was a short walk to  Merdeka Square, site of the Malaysian proclamation of independence, with its huge flagpole and, more interesting to me, its green walls.

From the top of those steps, we had a good view of the Royal Selangor Club, where the British colonials used to play cricket and drink their gin and tonics.

Facing it across the road is the magnificent Sultan Abdul Samad building, formerly the High Court and now the Ministry of Information.

Our lack of sleep the night before was catching up with us, so we headed back through busy streets towards the monorail. Our route took us along a section of river enclosed by ugly concrete walls that local artists had made a good job of improving, well as across an overpass that offered an interesting view of the old KL railway station, another fine building bedecked with minarets and domes.

  KL is difficult to get around in as a pedestrian. The roads are plugged with cars, buses and motorbikes, and there are very few pedestrian crossings. Occasionally there are walkways above the roads and railway lines, that involve much climbing up and down steps to find that they lead off any every direction except the one you want. Sometimes the sidewalk is occupied by parked motorbikes or stalls or simply barriers, so that it's necessary to take your life in your hands and charge into the traffic, hoping one of the other pedestrians doing the same thing will buffer you from oncoming vehicles. It was a relief to find a pedestrian mall for part of our route.

A couple of interesting vehicles drew our attention as we walked the last couple of blocks: a taxi cab with improvised sunshade,

 ... and a colourful bus .

We were hot, tired and footsore by the time we got back to our temporary home. A dip in the rooftop pool refreshed us somewhat, but we weren't up for more exploring. We got some fish curry from a nearby take-out cafe, ate it and went to bed early.

Saturday, October 26

After a leisurely start, we set off to visit the large KL Bird Park, a huge area of paths, streams and lakes filled with plants as well as birds. Many of the birds roamed at will through the landscape, including peacocks,

ibis, both white...

... and red,

crested pigeons,

and assorted other colourful species.

Sometimes the other visitors were more colourful than the birds.

The flowering trees and shrubs were spectacular too.

Being a weekend, it was quite crowded with people and the overhead netting contributed to the humidity. After an hour or more we were feeling the heat and escaped to an orchid garden across the road. This was a little disappointing as it seemed to be the wrong time of year for many of the species featured to be in flower. There were beautiful leaves to admire,

but the best examples of orchids that we saw were in pots in a little shop on the site. They were incredibly cheap, about $12 a plant. How I wish we could have brought some home!

The garden was on a slight rise, giving us a good view back over the smoggy city.

Walking down the leafy roads from the hill, we stopped at a butterfly garden, which was rather disappointing, and then came upon the Museum of Islamic Art. We were hungry by this time and hoped to find some lunch in their cafe, but all they were serving was an expensive full buffet lunch, far too elaborate for our simple needs. Fortunately just across the road was the national mosque and a few food stalls had set up beside the entrance. We sat on a sidewalk bench, eating delicious chappatis stuffed with chicken and mayo, dripping with a spicy curry sauce. From where we sat we had a good view of both the national mosque with its clean modern lines and the old railway station with its pinnacles and onion domes. Both seemed in need of a good scrub and some fresh paint. By contrast the Islamic Museum, a very new glass and white concrete structure, was still spotless.

It turned out to be the highlight of the day. A beautiful piece of architecture itself, it had one room given over to finely-detailed scale models of famous mosques around the world: everything from the great mosque at Mecca to the Taj Mahal to a small mud-walled building in Uzbekistan.

This is the mosque at Mecca, with the Ka'aba in the central courtyard.

And this is the mosque at Medina.

Another room held glass cases of ancient and beautifully illuminated copies of the Koran.

The building itself was capped by a dome with an intricate, elegant, subtly-lit interior.

Beneath it were displays of robes, jewellery, pottery, woodcarvings, calligraphy and art, all very well interpreted. Even the gift shop contained only items of a high standard: beautiful art books and jewellery, notecards and fridge magnets.

That evening we set off on the monorail in search of the Pasar Minggu, the weekend night market in Kampong Bahru, a small warren of undeveloped shacks cut off from the modern heart of the city by a tangle of freeways. Looming over the corrugated tin roofs we could see the highrises of the modern city.

As night came on, we wandered among the street stalls and ate plates of nasi ayam (chicken rice) cooked in a vast metal wok by a little Malay lady.. The chicken was rather tough, but the spicy rice was delicious and filling.

The ride back to our stop was crowded as usual. Because of our grey heads we had become used to younger people offering us their seats, which we were glad to accept. This particular time, however, I was amused to see a row of young women all strenuously concentrating on their cell phones under an ironic sign.

The next morning we left Kuala Lumpur en route for the Cameron Highlands, where we hoped to get a break from the suffocating heat and humidity of the coast.

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