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Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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Trip in March 1997. All "facts" are how things seemed to me at the time.

The flight to Kuala Lumpur (KL) was about 3 hours, on a Malaysia Airlines A330 Airbus, a plane like the one that crashed at the Paris air show a few years earlier.So a good start then! The plane itself was very new, and the flight was uneventful. The hostesses are quite cute, but still not as much as those on Singapore airlines. I arrived at night, and was picked up by a rep that spoke hardly any English to take me to the hotel (I speak *no* Malaysian whatsoever). Luckily he had my name on a piece of paper, and his English streched as far as "Holiday Inn City Centre", so I could confirm to him where I was going. My first impressions from the car were, "looks quite nice, a lot like Singapore", and this was the impression I went away with too. Much of KL is new, and clean and tidy. though there are far more cars on the road than Singapore. The traffic was, I suppose, pretty bad, but after Bangkok... However, despite being not as bad, the motorcyclists are, if anything, worse. Because there are six lanes of traffic on many roads this creates five "aisles" (as the traffic is often not moving). The motor-cyclists will happily charge up these aisles in a traffic jam, and if you`re not carefull when crossing the road, you`ll get hit. I was not carefull only once, due to a lapse in concentration,. and for this I was rewarded with a glancing blow on the arm by the handlebar of a passing nutter, who didn`t stop.

The religious aspect of the country (Muslim) is much more obvious than the religion of other places I've been. One thing I found of particular interest,in Bangkok (99% Buddist), they have, in the hotel room drawer, a copy of the Gideon Bible, and a book on the teachings of Budda. In KL (99% Muslim), there is no Bible, and noticeably (to me anyway, only because it's a Muslim country), no copy of the Koran either. All you get is a small arrow screwed to the ceiling, labeled in Arabic or something, pointing towards Mecca.

The Holiday Inn hotel was OK, slightly better than the one in Bangkok, and having a large 21 inch Toshiba TV, as opposed to the portable Goldstar in Bangkok. On Tv, on some channels, when it is prayer time, the programme is interupted, and a pleasant scene of a beach or something is shown with the text of the prayer over it in English and Malay, while the prayer is read out, in English. Another aspect where religion is more obvious is in the food, where, for Muslims, the meat has to be "Halal", which is something to do with the slaughtering of the animal and/or the preparation of the meat.

McDonalds was Halal, but I can't say as it tasted any different to any others I`ve had, though at about 93p, the Big Macs were the cheapest I`ve ever had. The food was some of the cheapest I`ve come across, though some of it was not the most desirable, including such delicacies?? as curried fish heads, chicken's feet and pig's intestines. Even in the spirit of trying something new, I couldn`t do this, as far as I'm concerned, they are the bits of the animal that you throw away. There were more normal things on offer, such as beef curry and chicken and prawns with noodles though, both of which were OK. You can get some interesting snacks over there too, including Durian flavoured crisps. The Durian is a fruit which is reputed to smell awful to westerners, and nice to those in Asia, (must be a culture thing). Since it was not Durian season (Luckily as it turned out), the crisps were the only way to find out. The sign in the hotel "Strictly no Durians allowed on the premises" started the alarm bells ringing, and the smell of the crisps was truly one of the worst things I`ve ever smelled. The taste was not so bad, but by no means good. (Back in the UK though, some of the people I work with who tried them, pronounced them OK, so perhaps it was me).

They do have nice fruit over there, and its very cheap too. I got a large piece of Papaya, which is a carrot coloured melon type thing for about 6p, and it was very good, especially in the heat and humidity. Other exotic fruits are just as cheap too. The range of canned fruit juice is not as extensive as Thailand, but they do have more sugar cane juice. This is green if you get it from a can , or if you get it from a shop vendor, river water colour. To me, it tastes nice while being drunk, then afterwards it`s a case of " I think I'll have another drink", to take the taste away. On the subject of drinks, they have a canned drink, sold as part of the same range that has orange, strawberry and grape, called "Sarsi". It decided it was another fruit, not an unreasonable assumption, but I think, an incorrect one. I still don`t know what it is, only that it tastes and smells like disinfectant. I recognised the smell as soon as I opened the can, but I thought when I smelled it before it was what they used to clean the floor and counter of the 7-11 where I got it.

There are quite a few sights to see in KL, most of them are architecture based. For me the most inpressive was the Petronas Twin Towers, now the tallest office buildings in the world, and very large they are too. The best way to view them was either from the botton looking right up, or from the top of the Menara tower (The fourth tallest tower in the world). The tower only costs 2 pounds to go up, and for this you get a 360 view of all of KL and the surrounding area. Walking round, you look down on all the other Sky-scrapers, until you see the Petronas towers, which are about the same height that you are at. There are enough intersting buildings dotted around the city, including some mosques, temples and the railway station, to stop it becoming a bland city of boxes. Within 1/2 an hours walk of the hotel was the city park, which is a huge thing populated with many palm trees and the like. Also very empty. The day I went to the park was the best day, as the sun was out all day (I also managed to get some quality sunbathing time by the pool), and it didn`t rain.

On the first two days, it rained for about 3 hours each day, and it was tropical. Major thunderstorms with torrential downpour, or nothing, it would seem in this city. It`s still warm though, so you can walk (if you can), in the rain, in shorts and shirt, and not be cold , until you return to the air-conditioned hotel, completley soaking wet.

This is the first place in Asia where I`ve been and not been hassled by people trying to sell me things. No taxi touts, no tailors, nothing. It madea nice change.There is inevitably a Chinatown in KL and like most Chinatowns it is untidy. Also, its the best place to go for counterfeit goods like watches, jeans, the usual stuff. Also, I noticed, videos of films that are not even on general release in the cinemas in the UK yet. The flight back from KL to Heathrow was the longest I`ve ever been on, at 14 and three quarter hours, because of a headwind. Next to be was some guy whose mission when he got on the plane, was to consume as much free alcohol as he could find. Luckily for me though, he buggered off for a good part of the flight in search of drinks. I had window seats for all three flights (again), and I got to see Tower bridge from the plane on the approach into London.

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Copyright © M.F.Hughes 1997

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