I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur many times now due to the fact that Anna was still a Malaysian citizen from when we first met up until we got married there eight years later. A lot of her family still reside in KL so we spend a lot of time there for family functions, catching up with relatives, sometimes at Chinese New Year, that type of thing and Anna’s father, despite living in Singapore, is a Malaysian boy at heart. He’ll travel to Malaysia for whatever reason at all and goes to all of his favourite haunts. Hell, he drives across the causeway from Singapore to Johor just to get his hair cut!
When Anna and myself spend time in Kuala Lumpur we don’t really venture into the city itself that often simply because we don’t really like it all that much. Maybe we’re just spoilt from living in Singapore, but we just don’t particularly enjoy going out in KL, which is strange because Singapore only separated from Malaysia in 1965. Kuala Lumpur and Singapore are essentially the same place, except that KL is corrupt, a lot dirtier, far less safe, and with a terrible infrastructure where nothing is reliable or works all the time. To put it bluntly, Kuala Lumpur is a bit of a shithole.
My best mate, Owen Howard, has some ties to Malaysia. His mother was born there because her father helped design and rebuild the bridges that were destroyed as a result of Japan’s occupation of Penang during World War II. Owen was also at our wedding and present on my buck’s night along with two other good friends of mine, Shane Worthington and Pat Corrigan, when the four of us had a night out in Bukit Bintang that we’d probably never forget if we could actually remember it properly.
Anna and myself went back to Australia over the Christmas and New Year period last year and although I caught up with Owen a couple of times while we were there, we didn’t get to hang out as much as I would’ve liked to for one reason or another, mainly due to Anna catching a pretty nasty cold a week before she was due to have surgery. Never fear, he comes to Singapore to visit almost yearly, however, the last time he was here was with his girlfriend, Rochelle, last May when they were en route to a wedding in Thailand and Anna and myself were still living in New York.
This time he had planned a trip commencing in mid-January that would start with him staying with us in Singapore for five nights before moving on to Kuala Lumpur, then up through Thailand, a short stay in Penang and then stopping over at our place again for a night on his way back to Melbourne.
We had a blast while he was in town, a trip that involved a lot of eating, drinking and shopping, resulting in the purchase of a pack of Osama Bin Laden playing cards (left) among other things. While Owen was here though, I couldn’t help but think he felt a little stifled, because Anna was still at home recovering from her surgery and I work from home but had little work coming in at the time and was still waiting to hear back from another job. Anna suggested that I meet up with him on his trip, but we’re going to Sweden on the 27th of this month so the only option was to meet up with him in Kuala Lumpur. I booked some flights and a room so we would be kicking around KL from the 19th-22nd of January.
It went a little something like this…
Thursday, January 19
My flight was scheduled for about 2pm from Changi Airport and as soon as I checked in I was met at the boarding gate with the last sight that I wanted to encounter — A tour group of young children from China. Anyone who knows me would be aware that I don’t like children. I understand that it’s not a particularly nice thing to say, however, the correct nomenclature is probably ‘paedophobe‘ which stems from the Greek words paidí, meaning “child,” and -phóbos for “fear.” The only problem is that when you make a statement that begins with “I’m a pedo-” you’d most likely tend to get punched in the face before the listener had even had a chance to hear the word’s suffix. Non-violent people would probably let you complete the sentence but just assume you said something else, cringe, then walk away to alert the police so it’s easier just to say that you don’t like children, just like what Mark should have done in this scene from an episode of Peep Show:
To make matters worse, they weren’t the only kids on the flight, no, not by a long shot. Probably about 50% of the flight was children and the boarding gate sounded like a Wiggles concert! For some strange reason after we boarded though, they were all completely silent. The whole situation made me wonder if any of the pharmacies at Changi Airport still had anything at all available with codeine in it. So the children weren’t a problem, but there was the fact that I had received a window seat, not a situation conducive to comfort when you factor in my squid-like legs . Lucky it’s only about a 45-minute flight.
The plan upon arriving was that I was going to catch the KLIA Ekspres, a non-stop train from the airport to KL Sentral, and from there I would take the monorail to my hotel in Bukit Bintang.
It took me no time at all to get through immigration, I got my KLIA Ekspres ticket and the train was already waiting for me when I got to the platform. That’s when the real panic set in. This is Kuala Lumpur, things aren’t supposed to run this smoothly, it’s all supposed to be just disorder and chaos here. Maybe things had changed for the better, but only time would tell if I’d encounter the obligatory peanut in the turd and it would have to be something worse than the phlegmy old man I got stuck sitting across from on the train. Far worse.
I arrived at KL Sentral quite quickly and also managed to avoid a rather bad storm that Owen got trapped in while he was out shopping. I also had no trouble buying my monorail token for RM3.00 (US$0.68), but that’s where things began to unravel. One of the main faults with Kuala Lumpur is the signage, or lack thereof. It is extremely strongly implied that the monorail departs from KL Sentral, in fact that is the name of the first station, but simply finding it is another matter. The signs direct you away from all other transport at KL Sentral and then just stop, leaving you outside wondering what to do. I wandered back in to speak to the Klang Valley Integrated Transit System customer service woman, but that required me going through the turnstile for the KL Light Rail, a completely different train system, but I had no choice. I scanned my chip, went through the turnstyle and asked her where to board the monorail, only to be met with a response of, “Out there!” as she waved her arm in the direction I had just come from, all the while never breaking eye contact with her computer monitor. I then asked her if she could top up my monorail token, seeing as though I was about 10 metres from where I had initially purchased it and had only scanned it to get through the turnstile to ask her where the vehicle to which it gains me entrance was actually located. She replied in no uncertain terms that there was nothing she could do and that I just have to buy another one before proceeding to ignore me the rest of the time I tried to speak to her. I relented, walked back over to the machine, attempted to purchase another token, but the smallest note I had was RM10.00 (US$2.25). The problem was that the machine won’t take anything larger than RM5.00 (US$1.13) unless you are buying multiple tokens and there is nowhere to get change. I’d just have to suck it up and buy another two tokens in order to use a RM10.00 note, resulting in me purchasing a grand total of three tokens to ride a monorail I still couldn’t find and only intended to take once. I guess that was the peanut.
I didn’t have wifi, preventing me from resorting to Google Maps so I had a second stab at following the signs, eventually ending up in a bus depot. I asked a few people where the monorail was, a question generally met with a response of, “Not here,” however, I eventually located it in the next mall, NU Sentral. Seriously:
Initially, different competing companies had operated the various systems and had developed these commuter rail lines separately and at different times. As a result, many of these lines do not integrate well with the others or with the overall system itself, making transferring from system to system inconvenient for the passengers. Moving from one system to another often require a lot of walking, stair-climbing, escalator-use and even crossing busy roads. For example, the KL Monorail’s “KL Sentral” station is a 140-metre walk away through a newly built shopping complex named “NU Sentral”.
I got off at my station, walked the wrong direction for about 10 minutes, backtracked, and arrived at my hotel, the Wolo. I chose the Wolo instead of where Owen was staying, Simms Boutique Hotel for several reasons:
- Anna and myself have have stayed there before and we know it’s nice.
- I saw photos of rooms at Simms Boutique and it didn’t really look like I’d be able to fit in the beds.
- There were several reviews that said there were ants in the beds at Simms and the people who stayed there itched for days after.
There were a few delays checking into the Wolo, but once I got into my room I instantly remembered how weird this place was. Imagine if Mariah Carey became a goth and tried to design an insane asylum; some of the walls are black with flecks of glitter, while others are tan and padded. Furthermore, there are absolutely no windows in the entire room, thus you never have any idea what time it is, day or night. But don’t take my word for, see for yourself:
Coinciding with typical Mariah lunacy, the layout is a little odd too, such as having the wash basin in the wardrobe, but this would be home for the next few nights. I had just settled into the deep, dark loo when there was a knock at the door followed by the doorbell ringing. It was Owen and he said the receptionists just let him up to my room when he described me. Top notch security.
Bukit Bintang is a touristy, backpacker area, but one thing I really love there is going to Jalan Alor and that would be our first stop. “What is Jalan Alor?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s this:
Alor Road is an entire street dedicated to cheap hawker food of mainly local Chinese cuisines. Located within walking proximity of Bintang Walk, it is popular among the locals for offering food served in a traditional open-air atmosphere, with chairs and tables dotting the curbs and road-sides. This is a place burgeoning with activity both during night and day. While some hawkers erect stalls along curbs, others operate food stalls from utilitarian restaurants. The food served in local hawker stalls is generally cleaner than their counterparts in Malaysia’s less-developed neighbouring countries.
We sat down for plates of ginger and onion frog, bamboo clams, sambal stingray and a few beers. I decided to go to the bathroom before we headed off to the pub and was amused to see that the lock on the toilet door had broken and been replaced with a pencil:
After dinner we went to the Green Man for a few beers, a great bar that claims to have happy hour all day everyday, but in reality just have cheap drinks in general, before heading off for a shisha and watching WWE NXT at another bar. If you are unaware of what NXT is, it’s similar to the NBA’s D-League, but for wrestling.
When we were out, I made a point of using the bar’s wifi to map out the route on my phone and took a screenshot (right) so I could find my way back to the hotel without wifi. Kuala Lumpur is notorious for its traffic jams, but nothing screams “Malaysia” louder than looking at a map of KL that tells you it will take twice as long to get home in a taxi than it would if you walked the exact same route. I walk everywhere anyway and a lot taxi drivers in KL refuse to use the metre, so obviously I walked this time, too.
Friday, January 20
I woke up at around 11am on Friday morning and it was pitch black in my room, I only knew what time it was by looking at my phone. It was at that moment I realised that my phone only had 3% battery left. There were two USB chargers next to my bed, but only one was powered when I plugged in my phone the night before. Guess which one I used? I needed my phone in order to be able to meet up with Owen, so I plugged it into the powered one and turned on the Australian Open for a while.
I was sitting there watching TV in my underwear for about half an hour when suddenly the power went out. This is a common occurrence in some countries in South-East Asia, like the time it happened while I was in Myanmar. This occasion was a little different, however, as I was sans pants and, thanks to being in a windowless room with black walls and ceiling, had absolutely no way of locating them in order to leave the hotel. I would just have to wait this one out.
The power came back on after about 20 minutes and Owen messaged me to say that he would meet me at “the money changer near Jalan Alor.” I walked down to Jalan Alor, found the only money changer and waited… and waited. I was standing there for about half an hour and people started looking at me, the agitated guy hanging around a money changer, a little suspiciously. I read the message again and noticed that it said “near Jalan Alor.” Owen had shown me a money changer the previous night that he goes to, but I couldn’t remember which one it was and deciding to meet at a money changer near Jalan Alor is like arranging to meet “somewhere under the sun.” I decided to cut a few laps of the surrounding streets to see if I could find him, here are some of the sights I saw along the way:
Let’s get sidetracked for a little bit and let the “You dirty! You do cleaning” poster sink in. Sure, you might be tired of cleaning up your customers’ shit in your business’s bathroom, but do you really think it’s a good business practice to show photos of four separate occasions where diners at your restaurant have got explosive diarrhoea? I don’t think I’d choose to eat at that place.
Anyway, after walking around the surrounding streets and checking their countless money changers for over an hour my search was fruitless and I had sweated through my clothes. I was also reaching a tipping point where the next person who hassled me about if I wanted a massage, be they male, female or miscellaneous, was going to get KO’d. Those people are everywhere and all they do is piss me off so I just went home and had a shower. I had wifi again back at my room and there was a message from Owen that said he was at the Green Man. When I met up with him he told me a story of trying to find me almost identical to my own, then we both decided that using money changers as a landmark wasn’t the best approach to meeting up. From now on it would be the Green Man.
I grabbed a bite to eat and then we went down to have a walk around Berjaya Times Square, a huge shopping mall where you can buy almost anything, including swastika dog-tags (left).
By the time we got mutually bored of Times Square we were both exhausted from walking around all day so we went back to our hotel rooms to relax for an hour or so before heading out again to repeat the previous night’s activities.
Saturday, January 21
Since Anna’s surgery I have been having trouble sleeping in, whereas Owen sleeps quite late meaning that I had a bit of time to kill after I got up so I went to Tous les Jours, a cafe downstairs in my building. It looks really nice, but looks can be deceiving and this place is the perfect example of that metaphor. I had no cash so I asked if they took credit card, which the server said they did. I ordered a full English breakfast and when I went to pay I was told by the exact same person that they couldn’t take credit cards at the moment because the machine wasn’t working. Fortunately the manager was next to him, she tried and got it going. When my food came it was like it had been served to someone else earlier by mistake and had been waiting in the kitchen for when another person ordered it, as everything was cold and it came with lettuce for some unknown reason. One of the unspoken rules of Malaysia is that you don’t eat salad in case it has been washed in tap-water, as the water is undrinkable and can make you extremely sick. This is a guideline that I happen to adhere to and may have been good for my health once again because when I moved the lettuce I found a dead snail on my plate. Now, I love escargot, but not of the raw garden variety. These, however, are the types of things you simply have to deal with in KL.
Eventually I heard from Owen so we met up again at the Green Man. We were both flying out the next day with Owen’s flight being quite early so we decided not to have a big night. We sat in the pub for most of the afternoon, just having a few quiet ones when we discovered this among the pile of menus and specials on our table:
Owen has worked in kitchens for years, as did I for an extended period of time, but neither of us had ever heard of these before until Owen’s mum replied to his Facebook book post about the promotion with this link:
Faggots are a traditional dish in the UK, especially South and Mid Wales and the Midlands of England. It is made from meat off-cuts and offal, especially pork. A faggot is traditionally made from pig’s heart, liver and fatty belly meat or bacon minced together, with herbs added for flavouring and sometimes bread crumbs.
Faggots originated as a traditional cheap food of ordinary country people in Western England, particularly west Wiltshire and the West Midlands. Their popularity spread from there, especially to South Wales in the mid-nineteenth century, when many agricultural workers left the land to work in the rapidly expanding industry and mines of that area. Faggots are also known as “ducks” in the Yorkshire, Lincolnshire and Lancashire, often as “Savoury Ducks”. The first use of the term in print was in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of Saturday 3 June 1843, a news report of a gluttonous man who ate twenty of them.
It turns out that it wasn’t something lost in translation, just the use of an obsolete vernacular. In fact, upon reading the ingredients, that sounds like a dish I would probably actually enjoy!
After a few drinks we went back to Jalan Alor for dinner and then the plan was to have a couple more quiet ones and catch a reasonably early night. Before we went out, however, Owen wanted to go back to his room to grab some cash, meaning I would get to see the place I was originally going to stay. Admittedly it wasn’t too bad, although a little cramped, but that was the second room. A few points of interest:
- Owen changed rooms after he wiped a thick layer of dust in his original room and showed it to the receptionist.
- He also posted this picture (left) on Facebook with the caption, “This dead cockroach had been on the stairs for 2 days..told the guy at reception.. Went out for a smoke expected it to be gone… But it’s still there…”
- As we were leaving a giant rat ran through the lobby.
We went out to the shisha bar we had been to previously and then went to another bar down the road that he likes and watched the Chicago Bulls lose to the Atlanta Hawks in a terrible game before calling it a night.
Sunday, January 22
My check out time was 1pm, but I was awake and packed before then so I just turned on the TV. The sports channel wasn’t working, leaving me nothing worth watching besides Al Jazeera. It seems that quite often there are references to plane crashes in the news or a marathon of Air Crash Investigation on TV the day I have to catch a flight and Sunday was no different, but it was a pretty amazing story.
If you remember back to late November you may recall hearing about almost the entire Chapecoense soccer team being killed in a plane crash. For those who don’t recall, here is the background:
On the evening of 28 November 2016, LaMia Flight 2933, carrying 77 people, including the staff and players from the club, crashed as it approached Medellín, Colombia; 71 people died (including 21 journalists and almost the entire first team and managerial staff) and six survived, according to BBC. The surviving players were left-back Alan Ruschel, backup goalkeeper Jakson Follmann (who had one of his legs amputated due to his injuries), and center-back Neto. Goalkeeper Danilo initially survived the crash, but later died before arriving to the hospital. Chapecoense goalkeeper Nivaldo soon after announced his immediate retirement from football. There was a lot of anger among the fans of Chapecoense after it was confirmed that LaMia Airlines Flight 2933 ran out of fuel after leaked footage confirmed that the pilot requested to land due to fuel problems but was instructed to wait 7 minutes as another aircraft was having mechanical problems. The government of Bolivia has suspended LaMia Airlines’s flying license after it surfaced that the pilot skipped a crucial refuelling stop.
But, despite having three survivors, only two of whom were able to play, the team was back on the field for their first game since the crash on Saturday, less than two months after the tragedy in this truly incredible story. Even if you aren’t a soccer fan, this clip that was showing on Al Jazeera is definitely worth a look:
Absolutely unbelievable, but a little unnerving on a day I needed to jump on a plane.
Anyway, soon it was time to be on my way. I had some lunch then got my hotel to order me a taxi to KL Sentral to catch the train to the airport. Surprisingly, the taxi ride didn’t take all that long, but the driver had to help me out of the cab as the interior door handle had previously snapped off.
I caught my train to the station and checked in quickly so things had gone a little too smoothly once again, leaving me more than two-and-a-half hours to kill in the airport. The guy sitting behind me at the boarding gate stunk, another one kept farting, and once aboard the plane I was seated next to a woman whose thighs were so fat that my armrest couldn’t go all the way down, but it was pretty smooth sailing.
I always have a ball hanging out with Owen and this was no exception, despite the fact that about 30% of our time was spent trying to avoid the throngs of extremely irritating masseuses. We had some great times just hanging out, talking about fun times from the past, and him acting as a kind of narrator for my memory as I tried to piece together the stories of the stupid shit he told me we used to do together years ago. One thing we both agree on; we are so lucky there were no camera phones back then.
Enjoy the rest of your trip, man, I’ll see you again on February 8th and remember that you and Rochelle are always welcome at our place.
But in the meantime, before we meet up again and probably the next time readers of this blog will hear from me, Anna, myself and a few friends are off to Sweden among other places for…