Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Travelogue 2015, week 1-2: to KL by KL (Malaysia)

I have rarely had a night flight out of Amsterdam before.
Every time Amsterdam Airport was de-humanized more. I already knew how to label my own luggage. Now I had to do passport control myself !?  At least I was still patted down by hand, and very thoroughly. After the see-through-machine advised to, that is.
When we walked to the gate it was as if we already entered a third world country (although we weren't even travelling to one). The toilet block was in not heated and not cleaned and the doors were not lock by the men occupying the bathroom. Then there was no seating area before security check. Huge buckets in the middle of the hall were catching leaking rain water. At the entrance of the security check a hand written note was attached with a luggage sticker, that there would be no toilet blocks beyond that point. A long cable was hanging from the ceiling with a label attached to it, saying "danger". The gangway had handwritten notes at the two exits saying "row 1-5"  and "row 10-42". Fortunately we didn't have row 6, 7, 8 or 9. And yes, those rows were on the plane.
Aboard the KLM Boeing 777 all was much better. Service was very friendly. Seats were of course too small for me and pretty uncomfortable. So within three hours I had a back pain and sore legs. At least it didn't get worse after that. A direct flight meant a very long stretch at once, 12 hours without being able to stretch my legs half way. But on the upside: after touch down we really had arrived.

KLIA's arrival terminal was much better than Amsterdam's departure gate. A satellite of steel and glass surrounding a patch of tropical jungle. A train took us to the main building.
At first, all seemed to go well, going through immigration and collecting our luggage. Then things went downhill.
For starters we couldn't find an ATM. When we found a group of three machines, there were several tourists in trouble. One's bank card was swallowed. The other couldn't get any money out. The third machine was domestic only. We couldn't get money either. I realised I had forgotten to tell the bank we were going overseas. How stupid of me to forget such a crucial thing, that had been introduced already a couple of years ago. Luckily we carried 50 Euro's cash for emergencies. This was one.
Meanwhile I lost the keys of our luggage, but a stander-by found them for me. When on top of that we realised we hadn't brought adapters for the plugs / sockets, it was clear things would not turn out right anymore, for the remainder of this year.
Meanwhile we had taken the airport train into the city, and the LRT, some sort of sky train, to our neighbourhood. In the station it was hard to find the right exit. And everything was so much closer than I had expected, that I became disoriented. A soft rain was falling, but it was gentle and warm.
At 6.30 PM New year's Eve we checked into our hotel. The room was basic and bare, but very clean and everything seemed to work. We live very central, in between Chinatown and Little India A lively neighbourhood with the characteristic mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures.
After the night flight we didn't stay up for the count down at midnight.

Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is a big and busy city. But most of all a vibrant city where the three main ethnic groups of Malaysia live next to and mixed with each other, which makes it all extremely colourful. The Malay and Indian women contributed to that more than the Chinese did. The Malay women wore very bright head scarves that always match the rest of their dress.
I have never seen so many vegetarian restaurants outside India - and the choice here was much wider. Usually I make one restaurant or another mine, very soon after arriving in a new city. Here we kept on finding new great places, and we never returned to the same place.

Of course it is a city of contrasts too: old and new; rich and poor; clean and filthy; traditional open air markets and a/c shopping malls; traditional houses and ugly high rising concrete buildings; freeways and metro lines snaking around one another - often unpassable for pedestrians.

We enjoyed sight-seeing but even more so to wander around the various neighbourhoods, each having its own charm. Chinatown and Little India speak for themselves. Bukit Bintang was the new happening place with malls, night life and an Arab Strip. Independence square was surrounded by colonial buildings in a style the British considered "oriental". On the other side of the tracks were some quieter streets that still had some Chinese shops with wooden storage cabinets. lake Gardens housed some institutions in modern architecture. In front of our hotel was a square with the old clock tower and there were always people walking and sitting around.

Very special was a patch of rain forest on the hill with the telecom tower. It was the only patch in the area that was not cut down and however small, it instantly took you into a different world. The loud buzz of insects; old trees towering above; tiny heat seeking spiders and mosquitoes that immediately got hold of you.


This season's northeastern monsoon is the heaviest in 40 years. Together with erosion caused by deforestation this had led to severe flooding in the east and central of the Malaysian peninsular. Two hundred thousand people were evacuated, thirty were killed, some villages were washed away. After we arrived, the worst seemed over, and we had several days that were half clouded, half sunny. with clouds getting threateningly dark in the afternoon. When the sun was out, it was  instantly very hot. The last couple of days it has been raining a lot again, sometimes a true tropical downpour, sometimes for hours on end.


No, this trip isn't to India. But India hasn't left me.
In Kuala Lumpur the Indian community is very visible. Part is families that have lived here for generations after being brought here by the British. Part are migrant workers like you see here from all poorer Asian nations (Malaysia is the richest country in South and South-East Asia, apart from maybe mini-states like Brunei and Singapore). You can see South Indian restaurants that are 100% authentic; typical groceries with all the Indian brand articles; migrant workers  outside the boarding room amidst lungis and shirts, combing their hair, or on their day off standing in groups smoking, talking; the families go to the park and to the restaurants - also to the non-Indian ones. Fashion here is probably more varied than in the average Indian city, being influenced by North India and the west: sleeve-less churida's, high heels and short skirts mix with traditional sari's.

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