Category Archives: Kuala Lumpur

Under a crescent moon

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.


Visitors to the MOMA exhibition at the NGV have added their names and birth dates at the level of their height around the complete circumference of this room. It now numbers over 300,000 names, and mine was added to the black slash round the centre.



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.


Final coffee and treat from Brunetti’s, in Flinders Lane, Melbourne

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.

Ilham gallery

Lattiff Mohidin exhibition at the Ilham Gallery in Kuala Lumpur

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.

Day and night in Kuala Lumpur

I flew overnight from Sydney into KL on Saturday/Sunday, arriving at a rather indecent 4.30am.  The MAS flight from Sydney was calm and bump-free, amazing considering that we flew over the Java Sea which is always bumpy!  But not that night.  On arrival at KLIA ours was the day’s first flight; I collected my bags and within 20 mins or so of arrival was in the bus area, bought a ticket for Puduraya, and was on a bus with 30 men from the Indian subcontinent, and Hindi music on the radio, most people sleeping and snoring as we sped into central KL.

The faintest stirrings of life in the central city – the bus deposited us just shy of Puduraya – I had slight concerns about the bus station as it can be a rather overwhelming roar of activity – but not this morning.  Wheeled my bags up Jalan Pudu, and into Jln Pudu Lama, a short, windy street taking me past a Hindu temple where early morning worshippers gathered to watch priests carry out their morning rituals, with much water and loud playing of instruments.  Smoke and incense swirling around, more and more people arriving, taking off shoes, watching intently as the priests carried out their rituals.

I carried on up and found the steps up to City Gardens Condo.  I was not sure Kee would be up and about, but fortunately he was – now only 7am on a Sunday – and let me in to my Airbnb accommodation for my stay in KL.  A gorgeous apartment that he and partner Ben share in the centre of KL.  It is open to the elements, which is fine, and must be nice when the afternoon downpour arrives. We chatted and he made me breakfast and showed me my room with its own bathroom – very nice.  He is Malay, from Kelantan, and works as a badge manufacturer.

The airbnb where I stayed in Kuala Lumpur

The airbnb where I stayed in Kuala Lumpur

kl 2

I showered and rested for a couple of hours before heading out to Bukit Bintang, where i wanted to do some shopping for clothes at Parkson.  Not easy to find just what i wanted despite the vast array of styles and sizes, although of course smaller sizes than are found in NZ.

I did eventually settle on some choices, and went from there to Pavilion to look for a fish spa, the one i have previously frequented in the Piccolo hotel in Bintang walk having closed down.  it may be the same one – Kenko – in Pavilion.  That was nice – lots of dead skin for them to eat – and my feet feel great now.  Down to the food court for some lunch: a really very excellent Sarawak laksa, served by Indonesian ladies.  It was the best Sarawak laksa I’ve tasted, even perhaps including those served in  Sarawak, though the curry was probably milder here than found in Kuching.  Hundreds of people in the food court eating, as is the favourite pasttime here in Malaysia of course.

Got a monorail from there to Kg Baru and walked through lovely, peaceful streets in this Malay kampung – just minutes from the gleaming malls and Petronas towers – to the national library.  it was I have to say an exhausting walk, in heat approaching 40C, along a busy road – quite mad.

But it did allow me to explore Kg Baru.  The library is a large edifice of concrete blocks, and not many books, though perhaps there were more not on display.  The collection is more like that of a general reference library for the public – i know there are collections of works about Malaya and the countries now making up Malaysia, and there will be a legal deposit policy, but i could not find that, and seemed to see mostly encyclopedias from the 1970s gathering dust and old collections of serials, bound in large volumes.  Perhaps there is no need to update now that the sum of human knowledge is going digital.

Padded on a few more steps to reach the National Gallery of Visual Arts, an excellent gallery/museum of Malaysian visual art, as the name might suggest.  Again an overly-large building, over many floors, and only a tiny number of visitors with sleepy attendants.  On the ground floor there was a display of recently acquired Malaysian works, which was quite interesting, with some critical political commentary going on.  Across the vast second floor was a retrospective display of the works of Mr Choong Kam Kow, a Malaysian artist now in his late 70s or early 80s who has painted the fast-disappearing scenes of urban and rural life in Malaysia over his lifetime, in watercolours.  They were very good, and very evocative of a way of life that can still be seen here and there, but is all too quickly disappearing.  He also painted in Taiwan, and had a period in New York where he explored abstractism.  Those works were also on display. In the last room was Mr Choong himself, to my surprise, sitting in isolation at his laptop.  So we had a pleasant chat about his life, work, art, life in Malaysia and so on.

Of even greater interest was the third floor which housed a display of the work and archive of the Malay activist Ismail Hashim, a documentator in photography of the details of everyday Malaysian life.  His entire archive after his death in 2013 has gone to the NGVA.  It is a fascinating exhibition. He was one of the founders of Aliran in 1977, and designed the covers, some of which were on display.  His photographs of the disintegrating bicycle seats of the Penang port workers are at once an amusing collection of frayed seats and a political statement about the poverty of those left behind in the rush to develop at all costs.  Many other photographs and letters, papers, boxes of archives, of this incredibly busy, intelligent, sensitive, insightful, aware man.  A tragedy that he was taken in a road accident relatively young.

In the exhibition, a quote from Tennyson’s Ulysses: “I cannot rest from travel…for always roaming with a hungry heart much have I seen and known: cities of men/And manners climates councils governments…i am a part of all that i have met/yet all experience is an arch where thro/Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades Forever and ever when I move”.

I spent much time in that exhibition and enjoyed it immensely.  His documenting of the destruction of the Malaysian environment is rare to see, and depressing.

By great fortune a bus appeared on the blistering expressway outside and deposited me at KLCC, where refreshment in the form of an excellent expresso coffee at 8oz Coffee on the 3rd floor, kickstarted me for managing the huge crowds at this giant monument to consumerism.  I battled my way through the food courts to Kinokuniya, whose range of books, the depth and breadth of their collections, is truly astounding.  All the books published by gorgeous and fascinating publishers such as Areca Books – it is truly another universe of books and publishing in English and local languages which we never see in the West.

I must get ready for my flight to Japan: just lastly to say that I ate out at Jalan Alor last night – grilled fish and stir fried local vegetables, ketai beans and the like – really delicious, washed down with very cold beer.  Later found Kee and his Italian friend Simone eating at a pizzeria where Simone said the pizza is as good as any in Italy.  We went back to the apartment where I ate divine Malaysian mangoes – i HAD to have one – and Simone told me all about his life in Venice.  Fascinating.  He speaks, besides Italian and English, French, Spanish, German, Russian and Persian. He is about to fly out to Hong Kong to live where his partner has a new job, so Kee is taking over the care of his large fluffy cat.  Simone is very knowledgeable about many things, including Italian archaeological and historical preservation, and spoke with passion and at length about the state of things there, which is not great.  Venice he says will soon disappear below the waves of both the water and tourist variety.  I am glad I have seen it before it goes.

I slept the second my head hit the pillow.

Last days in Kuching and a sad farewell to Malaysia

On Saturday in Kuching we thought about going back to the World Music Festival, but decided not to. It was one of the reasons for coming here, but not the only reason at all.  We’ve both been here before, and love the place.

Consequently we set out to explore a little more and to see some of the museums. We had a late start, eating at a small kopi tiam and I had my hair cut from Mr Lam, a barber working in a tiny hole in the wall a few doors down from our guest house in Upper China Street.

He took about 30 mins to cut my hair, and then gave me a neck massage and some vigorous back slaps – all part of the service in this old fashioned sort of barber shop, Hong Joo tells me.   We looked around the old colonial heart – The Old Courthouse, now a fan-cooled cafe, on the riverfront, is pictured below .

The Old Courthouse, Kuching

The Old Courthouse, Kuching

After lunch we made our way up to the various Museums, notably the Old Wing of the Sarawak Museum, which is full of stuffed birds, objects from the indigenous tribes, and samples of Sarawak geology, and so on.  It is rather an old-fashioned museum, but charming and interesting in its own way.  We entered the new wing, which was being set up for a new exhibition on dinosaurs, but we browsed the shop where it appeared to me that the amazing stock of old books about Sarawak had been moved from the old bookstore that used to be in Carpenter Street.  It was only the next day that I discovered the museum area upstairs which told the human history of Sarawak including fascinating objects from the Rajah Brooke era, and much Chinese ceramic ware which had been used by tribespeople in Borneo for centuries.

We just had time for a quick visit to the Chinese Museum back on the riverfront before it closed at 4pm, which happily coincided with the usual afternoon downpour.

Our plan had been to visit the Saturday afternoon/Sunday morning tamu (market) in Jalan Satok late in the day, and our guest house manager advised us that the market had moved further west along the street.  We set off on our walk, expecting a bit of a hike, but after several kilometres – or so it seemed – no tamu was in sight.  We spoke to a healthy -looking young woman walking at a pace I did not think possible for a human – one foot seemed to take hours to be placed in front of the other – who assured us that she, too, was off to market. In her own good time.

She showed us the way which involved dashing across a six- lane highway, crossing a huge bridge over the Sarawak river, picking our way through roadworks whilst watching out for roaring cars – until finally we found the busy market.  It had held out considerable promise but was a slight disappointment (market-jaded we perhaps are) – many hot food stalls, stalls selling local fruit and vegetables, interesting enough, but inside a few stalls selling cheap clothes and trinkets.  Not enough to satisfy these discerning market afficionadeos.  We negotiated fruitlessly with various taxi drivers, looked for and inquired about a bus, and finally, resignedly, decided to walk back into town (well, it was Hong Joo’s decision; I rationalised it as my need for more exercise after two weeks of fabulous food, and the promise of more Sarawak food at the food court that night).

After 45 minutes of plodding along a vast, noisy boulevard, we found a shorter route back into town and made our up there to Main Bazaar, the road along the Sarawak riverfront lined with colourful shops.  We walked along the river heading to the food court I had in mind, and somehow from my memory of Kuching from my visit in 2008 and a map read under streetlights, we found our way to Jln Padungan.  It was a different food court!  Both this one and the one I remembered are on top of car park buildings.  The one I recalled was in a different location and sells local Sarawak food very cheaply; this one – featured in our Rough Guide – is also atop a carpark but has seafood.  The whole place was absolutely packed at 8pm on this balmy Saturday evening.  Over a hundred tables are surrounded by various places selling seafood, all very clean and bright and hectic, and fun.  Our first mission was to find a table – not easy!  After some unsuccessful negotiations to share tables, I spied a European woman sitting on her own, and asked if she would mind, and she was only too happy.  Her husband was off trying to pay for the meal they had just enjoyed.  They were a middle-aged couple from Adelaide, nice and friendly, and it was a pleasant occasion for me to chat with fellow Antipodeans about travel experiences.  They had been to Vietnam and had just that evening flown in from Kota Kinabalu, which they loved.

Hong Joo set off to try to order some food.  I ordered a large bottle of Tiger beer, which just wet the sides after our marathon trek. I checked and it was 5km from the tamu to the food court!  Only mad dogs and Kiwis – oh and Hong Joo – walk that sort of distance, in cities anyway, and at our fast pace.  No wonder I was a sweat blob.  We had a fantastic meal of barbequed fish and squid and crab.   A fitting finale to our last full day in Borneo.

Legislative Assembly Building, Kuching

Legislative Assembly Building, Kuching

Next morning, we wanted to eat Sarawak laksa for breakfast.  We found a food court that sold laksa, in the forecourt of an old temple, with a few tables scattered about with families enjoying their Sunday morning, Mums and grandmothers chatting, Dad reading the newspapers.  At an adjacent table a Chinese family breakfasted with Malay friends – a man in his 40s with a teenaged son who looked exactly like his father.  It is not in any way remarkable to see Chinese and Malay socialise like this, and it is a very good thing.

After a very long wait our brightly-coloured laksa finally arrived, and was utterly delicious.  From there it was a short walk back to our room, to pick up Hong Joo’s bag, and see him off in a taxi to the airport!  Very sad! He flies to Penang to see his family and will be there for three weeks.

After he went, somewhat deflated as it felt like the fun was over, I walked around some of my favourite streets, had a long coffee that turned into ( a delicious) lunch, and went up to the New Wing of the museum again, where I found the exhibition mentioned previously. I bought two shirts at Parksons and went back to my guesthouse to pick up my bag, and catch a taxi out to the airport for my flight to Kuala Lumpur.  The flight was delayed, but finally we arrived at LCCT almost an hour late, and on the luggage carousel I was reminded of happy times in Kuching by seeing boxes and boxes of kek lapis going round and round.  I had a two hour wait, and time for some dinner, before catching my flight to Sydney at 11.40pm.  

Climbing out of KL, the plane circled around a colossal lightning storm.  I have never seen such a lot of lightning and at that height.  The entire sky was illuminated, and even the Malaysians on board were transfixed with a mixture of fascination and horror.  When one huge bolt crashed near the plane, there was a collective shout from everyone, but the pilot seemed unmoved, and must have planned to fly right around it as we made a huge curve out to the west before heading down the Malay peninsula, and out over the seas and islands of the Indonesian archipelago, before making our way down to Winterlands in the south.  Rarely have I felt so terribly sad to leave a place.  At the airport I walked outside just to breathe in and enjoy that sticky, fragrant warmth for one last time, the activity and bustle, to try to hold on to that for as long as I could.

I just can’t wait to get back again.

The jungle, leeches and all

Hong Joo and I climbed to the summit of Bukit Tereseik early yesterday morning, and were rewarded for our efforts by an amazing time with gibbons. There were dozens calling across the valleys, and we saw a troupe of them swooping from tree to tree. We saw and heard many birds as well. We walked down again hoping to do the canopy walk, but it was crowded with overweight Singaporean schoolboys, so we decided to go back again tomorrow. We walked on to the village for lunch, then did the walk up to another hide. That was long and laborious, and soon after we set off for our return, it began to pour. A vast wind stirred the trees, and it began to rain, harder and harder, until we were complelety soaked. My cellphone shortcircuited in a spectatular fashion, so that is ruined. The leeches ate through my socks and my feet are a bleeding mess. There is nothing one can do to stop them. Today I pulled a hugely engorged one from my heel, and even stomping on the buggers, hard, does not kill them. Last night I encountered the local bugs, lose up. It was like the Battle of Britain in the cafe where we dined as the enormous cicadas and other flying things as large as mice bombarded the lights. One struck me in the face. They make a terrific racket. Hong Joo says that he used to catch them as a boy and put them in a bird cage, to release them in the morning. He calls them “kampuchae” which is the Hokkien word for the flying bombers. He covered their bums with a finger to stop them making their sound, then released it, so they would make a loud explosion. Naughty.
Today we did do the canopy walkway, swaying 30m above the ground on aluminium ladders strung together, it was a little scary but also fun. After that we continued up towards Bukit Indah. The leeches were appalling, several got in through my boots and socks, and my feet are bloodied now and covered in bandages. My clothes are so wet with sweat they feel like they have been dumped in a pool. We had a mango lassi and noodles back at Kuala Tahan, and wanted to do a boat ride somewhere, but they are all too costly, and we notice not many other people taking them, either. Tomorrow we bus back to KL and then fly early Saturday morning to Laos.

The Rohingya People

I became aware of the plight of these Burmese Muslims when I read a Malaysian newspaper in Kuala Lumpur last month.  The Thai navy has been cruely complicit in their  latest misery.  I read another report recently which revealed that scores of Rohingya were found floating and near death by Sumatran fishermen; in fact many had already died of starvation and exposure on their raft.

This article, from the Straits Times, sets out the background

It’s possible that some of the Burmese workers I saw in KL would in fact be Rohingya refugees themselves.  Another sad story from the tragedy that is Burma.  Surely Burma’s neighbours can understand that these people flee Burma because of the oppression and persecution, so grave is it that they risk death to escape.  Unbelievable, that such a desperate situation should exist in this century.