Posted by: Bob Fisher | May 20, 2009

Malaysia Road Notes: Dancing With Kuala Lumpur

Very sorry to be leaving this adrenaline-charged city …

Kuala Lumpur and its socio-cultural-historic-colour spectrum on steroids… So much here for the non-Western mind and the Darwinian senses … sounds stupidly banal and inadequate … but the sensorial hyper-mosaic … a mosaic constantly in motion … could (one would think) cause your brain to short circuit … but if you play your neural cards right, it has the opposite effect. For crying in the sink, who needs drugs in a city like this? Endless pics and videos … a hyperactive city … a constant high … if you think New York is the city that never sleeps … consider KL as the city that has never heard of REM … the city in which consciousness is all about wearing your nervous system on your epidermis… Sadly, strangely, curiously, mysteriously some travellers to cities like this (even travel journalists) just don’t get it … take no “risks” … complain about everything … like traumatized Jack Russells … fear biters … yelping … basically overwhelmed and scared by the “There ain’t no Western rules here” in this rather overwhelming physical, aesthetic, conceptual … ORGANIC environment. Speaking of that nicey nicey “Doncha just love the environment Mr. Suzuki?” word … KL is also a city IN a rain forest … like … um … a real rain forest…. not a theme park rain forest.

The city is a zoo in a completely different sense. Yesterday … we wafted through the orchid gardens … this is not a tropical hot house in lovely downtown Canada … every conceivable plant and orchid and hibiscus and colour of human-being-wearing-rainforest colours was there… this was not a Benjamin Moore Colour Your World chemically-induced coloured world we paint our walls and minds with.

It is as if Gaughin ate something here he shouldn’t have … ballooned into a mega mind and then just kind of exploded all over the place. The LARGEST covered aviary in the world … wanna feed an emu bok choy … ask Peter for tips and techniques. Aviary isn’t really the right word … more like an enormous transparent silk netting over this section of the city … lovely parkland and museums … every tropical bird you can imagine … they deign to amuse homo sapiens sapiens … keep us twittering.

So anyway … I do my Salaam … right hand over my heart number … and enter the space where two gentle Malay chaps are playing with their feathered friends. They allow me to get up close and personal with all the existentialist plumage I could want … Monkeys? You want monkeys? Look up into that … what the hell is that gigantic tree beside the sidewalk … monkey see, monkey do … and a touch of monkey doo doo.

Remember those old cartoons from the 50s when the goofus slipped on a banana peel? Ask me about it. Monkeys in trees eat bananas and drop them on the sidewalk. Monkey Canadian tourist looks up with camera, slips on banana peel… second fall of the day. Save the digital equipment first! Women and children second. First fall of the day … ever seen the hind end of a peacock in full strut? I should say full rut … except it ain’t gross or crude …

Here’s how it works. Peahen is doing her graceful come and get me big boy siren song. Canadian cock of the walk tries to film the mating ritual, especially the bum end of the peacock that they never show you on National Geographic. Canuck becomes the third dancer in the mating ritual … then … splat … video camera shows underside of peahen and an expression on her face that says to Canadian travel journalist, “Are you insured? Are you for real? Here let me help you up.” (Malaysians are like that … very helpful, open, and friendly.) Under her breath I think she makes a mild comment about lumbering primates.

So now I have a minor war wound on my elbow from my dance with the royal birds. For three nights Peter and I negotiate the streets of KL to eat in China-India-Malay-anything-but-Dairy Queen-town. Splurged last night to the tune of maybe $30 Cdn … for the two of us eh? Including two large beers and the free-for-the-asking streets of KL. This is definitely not the Teddy Bears Picnic.

We are well taken care of … Peter and I have our own guide and driver and more “free time” than on the average press trip … interviewed the Director General of Tourism last night … intelligent comments …. not just politician talk. Later I “interacted” with a group of Saudis (all men … of course … but womanless … although looking big time … like boys let loose in Never Never Land) … here be stories that I can dine out on for a couple of months … Really nice guys though … as insulated from potential mates as their women who of course had to stay home. They invited me to have my pic taken with them. I was the token foreigner. KL can be tough physically because of the monsoon humidity … nothing though to compare to Toronto on a smoggy global climate change day … the smells in KL are enticing … not pollutant. The Asian Tiger is still running flat out … only upward … KL has stunning but highly questionable soaring skyscrapers … swallowing up indigenous “structures” of any kind … Toronto’s disaster of a waterfront multiplied by 1000 … 2000 … And yet … on the grassroots level … every “real” Malaysian we interact with … Chinatown, India Town, Malay Town, the Islamic Art Museum … on foot … on our own … a real face … a real person … again (like India) definitely not a faceless nation.

I love this town. Totally understandable why Malaysia was/is the Asian crossroads … for centuries … The image of pluralism and multiculturalism (“living in total harmony”) is indeed a fact … however … if a non-Muslim marries a Muslim … he/she is required BY LAW to convert. There are semi-hidden layers …. The strata of iconic Asia … the twin towers of KL versus the beautifully restored headman’s bungalow Peter and I visited yesterday … not on the itinerary … we had to find it ourselves … separate icons … worlds apart …

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