We have to get back to KL for Cyrus’ job interview. After breakfast we trudge up the hill to wait for the local bus, though the location of the bus stop is guesswork. We stand by the clinic for no more than a couple of minutes when the driver of an NKS minibus waves to us, then comes over and offers us a ride to Jerantut (same price as the bus would have been, so a bargain).
The journey through the beautiful forest, passing cows in the shade and bright blue birds flitting across the road, is uneventful apart from a sudden sickening loud thud which jolts everyone out of their reverie. Apparently a bird struck the windscreen or the windscreen struck it and the impact has smashed the glass directly in front of the driver. I would be so shaken I wouldn’t be able to drive on, but he pulls over just for a minute to brush the splinters from his lap then drive on. Thank god for shatter-proof glass. I don’t think he could see too much through the windscreen for the bulk of the journey….
We don’t have to wait too long at Jerantut and by mid-afternoon we are once more in the heat, humidity and jungle of the big city of KL. Once more we try Le Hotel, but it doesn’t have any affordable rooms free. Cyrus is getting irritable and impatient, so it’s lucky that the next place we try (Etica guesthouse) has a room, and it’s peaceful and cool (it looks on to the back street market which starts up in the morning. No mosque!). After a shower Cyrus and I clear the air, and I tell him he needs to be more appreciative and patient, and less demanding. Everything is fine.
We go different ways: he back to Ampang to do my laundry (which turns out to be a big mistake as it doesn’t leave enough time to dry, and so I end up carrying around musty stinky damp smelling t-shirts for the remainder of my trip), and then to an education fair. I arrange to meet Eyrique, who I havent seen since he was in the UK in February.
He turns up in a car at Pasar Seni (a new experience for me in Malaysia) and takes me to the Institute of Performing Arts, where there is a buffet posh restaurant, but we are too early, it isn’t open, and anyway dressed in shorts, singlets and flip flops we wouldn’t be granted admission. We walk the main street in Brickfields, the road lined with bright green, red, orange painted Hindu-styled arches, and find an Indian Restaurant that does a great buffet and mango lassi. We talk about his life and relationships. He is in a similar position as Cyrus: back in Malaysia, not sure about staying. With an English boyfriend. Having to make decisions.
Eyrique wants to talk somewhere quieter and we end up at the temple on the hill that Cyrus and I walked to a few weeks earlier. The scaffolding is down and there are lanterns hanging in readiness for the Chinese New Year. A big gaggle of photographers is photographing some model. We talk at length about religious customs, re-incarnation, concepts of time and experience, spirits, aspirations of perfection and my dream about killing. It’s a sprawling conversation that covers a lot of ground. Temples do that to me.
Cyrus calls. He has gone back to the hotel to rest, as he feels a bit unwell. So, I stay out longer. We take a walk along Petaling Street and see a lion dancing troop doing some shop promotion. I get a mango dessert and then a kumquat and lime juice. Eyrique gives me a bag of fruits from his grandmother’s garden: rambutan and another fruit whose name I forget (like a less hairy rambutan, more like a conker or testicle..lol). i ask him about Chinese character (it’s helping me understand Cyrus some more). Eyrique walks me back to the guesthouse where we say goodbye. It was good to meet again.
Cyrus is sleeping, and I begin to edit my photos.
Arrive in BKK at 7.45. Underground and Silom at rush hour is not too relaxing or personable, and a million miles from LP. Internet cafe to catch up on this blog. Flying to KL at lunchtime. I hope Cyrus has sorted out somewhere for us to stay!
The station for the express link to the airport looks spanking new and clinically clean. A contrast with the busy dirty road with no pavement I have to cross from the subway at Phetchaburi to get there.
I have just the right amount of time at the airport to post some cards, at a fraction of the Laos postal rate (35 baht for 5 cards). I spend my remaining baht on a Thai vege cookbook which looks awesome, and a small bottle of Thai whisky for Cyrus which is probably awful….
I have 3 seats to myself on the plane but my ordered vege meal doesnt materialize as the booking system seems to think I ordered chicken. After much insistence a substitute meat free meal is found. It isn’t great…..
KL airport is quite far from the city and the transit bus takes around 1 hour to get to KLCC. In the meantime I find out that Cyrus hasn’t sorted any hotel out for us and that he won’t have all the days free that we had planned to spend together. I’m tired, hungry and a bit annoyed. Especially as I will be traipsing the streets of Kl in the early evening looking for a room.
It all works out OK. I go to Petaling Street and find the hotel (I think, that a couple mentioned to me in Laos). It’s a much better standard than the horrible backpacker places I have seen before and quite a good price (77 ringett). Le Hotel. Cyrus walks from Bukit Bintang (I’m not sure why) and we meet in the street market. It’s good to be together again. We have an average noodle meal and a cold soya drink, the share a beer at the cafe where the Burmese boys were working last year. They are there no longer. I wonder what has happened to them…..
So this blog has fallen by the wayside due to lack of internet, tiredness and distractions, but I’ve been keeping notes in my little book which looks like a Thai passport.
I woke up on day 5 with a headache and the fan in Cyrus’s room makes me feel like I’m inside a washing machine. And it’s hot. I have to sit in the living room and close my eyes. It begins to rain and I can hear it drumming on the tin roofs below.
Cyrus and I deliberate on where to go and settle on the Batu caves, which he has never visited. We don’t get out until 4pm and it’s wet still. The bus we have to get leaves from the centre and immediately it gets stuck in immovable traffic. Later we find out that there is a direct train link there, but it isn’t in the Lonely Planet and it wasn’t there a year a go when I last went there.
This time the enormous 50m statue is cloaked in scaffolding.
Our banana leaf curry at the Indian Veggie restaurant at the foot of the steps going up into the cave temple is cold. Climbing the steps in the rain we are observed by monkeys. Suddenly a scream and I turn round to see a terrified girl retreating from a snarling monkey who has snatched her carrier bag of jasmine flowers intended for a Vishnu statue. He shoots up onto a pillar to eat the flowers.
Inside the cave at the 2 temples it is the time of day for blessings. At the top temple I light a ghee candle and am blessed by a sadu who asks my name then daubs my forehead with a red dot. His friend photographs us. Cyrus is reluctant to enter the temple. At the foot of the hill there are 3 more temples. At one there is a lavish wedding. At the next, which is a new one there stands a towering green statue of the god of health, who is ripping open his hear to show Vishnu and Shiva. In the temple is some kind of informal gathering and eating. A holy man notices me and invites me in to share some food: idli, chick peas, sweet potato, rice. After a bit of persuasion Cyrus joins me to eat. But, we are already full.
Back in KL at the twin towers it is strangely hot at 9pm. We join the throngs of tourists to take some nocturnal illuminated shots of the towers. My camera mists up in the rain and gives some interesting ghostly haloes to the pictures. We have no idea what to do next and walk in circles. Cyrus doesn’t know the city and can’t suggest what we can do. So, we head back to Ampang and spend half an hour at the food court. I’m the only white person there and still have my red dot on my forehead. I have a beer and a lime juice, which turns out to be slices of lemon in iced hot water.
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.