Getting the bus from SG to Johor for picking up a bus to KL was easy. Crossed Singapore island and it’s striking how green and forested it is, just sliced apart by motorway and high rise. On driving out of SG city I realized why there was so much construction work going on: they’re digging a new underground line. The scale of it is immense and hence the thousands of sub-continental Asians here, hanging out on the streets in Little India at weekends and tired sitting on the streets after work around the construction sites after dark. What else? Far more churches than I would have expected: neo-gothic, like little French churches, but washed in white and paradoxically dwarfed by the new buildings of religion: the malls and finance offices. Money is the new God, and the churches look like toys amongst the new towers of worship.Some tedious customs clearance: on and off the bus twice either side of the causeway, and having to run to make sure the bus driver didn’t leave without me (which he nearly did). On getting to Johor, I switched to a “VIP” bus to KL. Air-con, so cold it made me shiver and upholstered in garish red carpet with flouro yellow flowers, and heavy gold curtains fringed with tassels, more suited to a Persian restaurant. I was promised 4 hours but precision is not a Malaysian characteristic. Neither was the destination accurate: for KL read city suburbs, which meant a train into the city.
But anyway the journey was a mere £7, and allowed me to compare SG with Malaysia: what immediately strikes you is the lack of refinement: Malaysia is battered grubby and the buildings and towns show no sense of planning or aesthetic. Cheap concrete houses, metres of advertising hoardings for haircuts, car electrics, phone packages, and Malaysian flags. In SG you don’t see this earnest outpouring of patriotism, and the advertising seems to focus on much higher value services and products. Brands, not deals. Lifestyle not products. Much of southern Malaysia seems to be taken up by mile upon mile of palm plantations, dense dark corridors disappearing in the distance between the surprisingly regular and neatly planted 10m tall trees. Muslims are more numerous here, with many women with covered heads getting on the bus.
When I finally make it to KL Sentral Stesen I have to get a new Sim card as my old Malaysian one stupidly was cut off after 3 months. Finally this enables me to make contact with Cyrus and meet him under the twin towers. When He arrives I’m engaged in a conversation with a Malay who now works in Vietnam who wants me to practice English with his cousin. The first thing Cyrus says is some comment about my legs (the red blotches that have now developed), which convinces me to get to a pharmacist and get a different cream.
By the time we get out of the mall we have a torrential downpour, which apparently happens like clockwork at 5 each afternoon. Cyrus lives in Ampang, so we need a bus which takes about 20 minutes to get there. He lives in a suburb, very Malaysian, on the 13th floor of a block with some great views and looking down onto the typical Malay kampong: wooden bungalows with corrugated metal roofs , and yards with dogs. I’m the only foreign face there. There is a number of security steps some of which seem cosmetic like walking past a gate keeper. The flat is secured by a metal gate prison style and 2 padlock, and that’s before opening the front door. If there was a fire you’d never get out. The flat is bare, simple and has the feel of a store room in the living room, and of a place which isn’t really a home. Dormitory town accommodation. Finally behind closed doors we are able to show our affection for each other. It’s so nice to be together again.
We try to get a bus back to town but after 30 minutes waiting give up and get a cab, which actually in KL isn’t very expensive. We get off at China town, which feels very familiar only a year down the line. We pass the bar where the Burmese boys were working last year, but they seem to have left or been deported… The market is a bit too full on with waiters offering us menus and hawkers pirate DVDS, and stall holders T-shirts and leather goods. Plus the veggie restaurants were closed. I lead Cyrus in the rough direction of Little India where we take on board a huge biryani then have to sit out another downpour. The return bus doesn’t come, as we sit beneath a wet Twin Towers. Taxi once more and back to sleepy Ampang.