I am in Abu Dhabi, one of the United Arab Emirates, after an evening flight from Kuala Lumpur.
The Etihad flight was excellent. We crossed India at night, an endless patchwork of lit villages, towns, cities, thousand upon thousand, but the roads between almost invisible and probably not lit. Finally we passed by Goa, and out to sea, with ships twinkling in the dark ocean on their way south to the Malabar coast and places beyond; and west to Arabia, where a bright yellow crescent moon hung low in the night sky.
I could see the Milky Way from my window seat; meteors cascaded off the earth’s atmosphere.
Arriving in the UAE mostly confirms preconceptions: clearly immense wealth, very long roads and many roads apparently going nowhere and all lit by street lamps, as if laid out for housing, which does not actually exist. It is now 12 midnight but hotter than I expected – and the heat is muggy and clingy, not the dry intensity I anticipated as we disembarked down steps outside onto waiting buses. By day it reaches the high 40s; now, it is 32C. The airport tarmac is vast – how much of the world we have paved over. And there is the sand – a great deal of sand!
Women are in full black chador with a slit for their eyes – but some not, also. Of course this is the airport, with people from all over the world, and not the UAE themselves. The airport is beautiful, in Islamic design, and here in the waiting lounge for my onward flight, large comfortable seats rest my rather travel-weary bones. Arabic music plays and the shops display gourmet delicacies based on dates and pistachios and nuts. Bags of dates of varieties with names like Lulu and Fard. There are workers here from Africa and places in the Indian subcontinent. I would not like to be one of those who has to work outside by day.
I have travelled to this point via Melbourne and Kuala Lumpur, with a day in each city. Melbourne was spring-like, bright, and relaxed. I quite enjoyed the Museum of Modern art exhibition at the NGV. It contains 300 items of modern art on loan from New York to the NGV.
I was surprised at the crowds of people in the exhibition. I also enjoyed the Japonisme exhibition at the NGV; drawing on the museum’s vast collections, it showcased items from various countries that had been inspired by Japanese design and art.
The usual Melbourne experiences that can be had in a day, and then on to Melbourne airport for an overnight Air Asia flight to Kuala Lumpur, which takes about 8 hours. It is rather gruelling and not that comfortable, but it was one of my better Air Asia flights, and quite fine. It was exciting to be back in Malaysia again, the first taste of really exotic parts on this trip, with its sights, sounds and smells that are both familiar and exhilirating. I checked into the hotel airport and had a sleep and shower for a few hours before heading in by bus to Sentral, where I visited the excellent Ilham Gallery, which currently shows an exhibition of works by Lattiff Mohidin, which I was keen to see.
There are archival items too displayed in vitrines, which I found fascinating. It is a beautiful gallery with exquisite attention to detail and scholarship. They hold talks, and workshops and public forums, most of them free to the public. It provides a very good service for KL.
I walked in comfortable heat to KLCC past a mosque where prayer was in full flight, and past vast acres of new building development. There seems to be a new tower being built that will soar above the KLCC twin towers. Lunch was fishball soup at Ipoh Noodles on the 3rd floor – I love what those Chinese ladies turn out. Then up a floor to Kinokuniya, but found the vast array of books on display just too overwhelming and mind and eyes were swimming with too much sensation. It really is an extraordinarily good bookshop, and one could go quite mad and fill one’s suitcase to bursting point with delicious tomes.
Time to head back to KLIA2, my hotel for a final shower, to collect my things, to take the express train across to KLIA, and pass, very quickly indeed, through various checkpoints to arrive at gate C12 for the flight to Abu Dhabi. Too easy – all of that took only about 30 minutes, and the immigration officials looked so bored they were clearly nearly insane, and the security persons looking at scanners equally so, in fact they did not appear to be looking at the screens at all. There are many small and monumentally boring jobs in Malaysia: guarding things, gallery attendants, security, informasi points – I feel sorry for those doing these jobs, which are not well paid. While waiting for the express train KLIA2-KLIA, the young porter on the platform starting chatting, and asked me about my trip, where I am from, etc – I felt guilty knowing that he will never be able to join me in such explorations.
One last non-fun fact: I read yesterday that my Air Asia Melbourne-KL flight burns through 55 tonnes of jet fuel – that’s just one flight, on one route, on one day. We simply cannot go on like this, but so much of the world is built around jet travel. Where would the UAE, bizarrely stranded in the desert like this, be without huge international connections, and the wealth to soar out of it and be elsewhere, at least for a while?
I do plant lots of trees, and will step it up when I return.
I learnt a new word tonight: chukrun: thank you, in Arabic.