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
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 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.