Postcard from the Edge of Quirk

My first experience with Kuala Lumpur could be described as quirky. Disembarking from the 70 km ride with the sleek airport train I needed to change lines. Although my map showed a single hub, in reality there are 5 different lines, built and run independently, with separate ticketing systems and so awkwardly located so they do not “connect” at all. I ended up dragging my bag across a car park and a 4 lane highway to get to the inconveniently situated, but “connecting” mono-rail station.

After dumping my bags in the hotel, I hurried off to the Petronas towers, 88 stories in all and 3rd tallest building in the world. You are only allowed up to the famed double-decker Skybridge connecting the 41st and 42nd floors – but at 170 meters up it is still pretty lofty. The bridge is actually designed to be a safety value – if there is a disaster in one tower people can quickly evacuate to the other. 1,400 free tickets are issued daily on a first come, first serve basis, but before entering the surprisingly crappy lifts, you have to endure a 3-D corporate propaganda video, about the ethical and environmentally friendly way oil and gas is extracted and refined.

After a wonder around the city, the next attraction was the Batu Caves. The huge limestone caves, discovered about 120 years ago, have been converted to a Hindu Shrine, dedicated to Muruga. To get to the main temple it is a long climb up the practically numbered 272 stairs past his golden image and a troop of monkeys, ready to pounce if you indicate you have food. Once back on terra firma, you then have a chance to pray for thanks that you were not attacked at the shrine of the monkey god nearby.

From the caves, my driver and I visited the Forestry Research Institute and their jungle canopy walk. To reach the 200 meter long walkway you have to trek up a very steep path for about 45 minutes. Within about 10 minutes, the jungle heat and humidity meant I looked like I have lost a rather viscous water-balloon fight. My driver gave up half way, despite being younger and supposedly fitter than I. However, it was well worth the effort, but the 30 meters high construction, made of string, aluminum ladders and a prayer was far more frightening than the Skybridge.

Nearby was the next port of call, the 10 year old city of Putrajaya – the new Administrative Center of Malaysia, covering 20 sq miles of ex-rubber tree plantation and funded mostly by – you got it – Petronas. All government agencies and 320,000 people will eventually relocate here, up from the current 50,000. The place is astonishing; built around a huge man-made lagoon, with each government building erected in a different architectural style. The 9 bridges are spectacular duplicates of famous bridges around the world – and the whole area is capped off by the prime ministers official offices, quirky to say the least. In summary: architecturally interesting, but totally sterile – worth a (short) visit.

The weekend trip was rounded off nicely with copious amounts of shopping – the night markets and omnipresent malls proving a fertile source of anything fake (cufflinks, DVDs) and even some genuine items (computer hardware) if you looked hard enough.

From Kuala Lumpur the next stop was Singapore for some business meetings – only an hour away but far hotter and humid. We braved the frequent showers for a trip to the Raffles Hotel and a spot of diner. Food was supposed to be a highlight, but the one restaurant we tried was disappointing.

However, I had read a lot about durians, supposedly “the king of fruits” – and we spent a pleasant hour tracking some down. This was more a sensory experience rather than a pure eating one. A green, spiky lump about the size of melon, the smell was dire, the texture was like butter and it looked like puss. There is choice of quality and taste, I went for top quality, sweet option (as opposed to bitter) – it was like having a mouthful of slightly sweet, rancid lard. Quirky to say the least and you get to enjoy the experience repeatedly as your stomach churns away merrily all afternoon.

The meetings went well, but Singapore is far too organized. An example of the orderliness was the instructions for the office chairs; it gave me some good ideas for an idle afternoon. But sadly, my supposedly week long trip to Singapore was cut short by a call to return urgently to Germany in preparation of my next postcard.. that will be an interesting one.

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