Waking up and keen to go out, but blasting sun at the bus stop at Merdeka Villa and no shade. It takes 40 minutes to arrive. I go to Petaling Jalan and have the veggie buffet meal I’d been longing for since last year, then some soya cincao drink and a pineapple guava juice from the hawkers.
I sit on the steps of a now derelict hotel, which last year had given me a wi-fi signal. I watch the stall holders in action. The guy at the perfume stall trying all his charm in vain to get his products shifted. The teenage boy trying to sell his KL t-shirts to a German family with 4 awkward-looking, too tall teenage girls, who then come and sit on my steps as the rain comes. He bangs his stool with his fist in frustration as they walk away. Business is slow today.
The boy and his stall-holder mate (family? friend?) sense the rain even before it falls and he springs about the stall of t-shirts and minature twin towers to roll down some plastic sheeting. Back under cover he pulls up his t-shirt to pat his fat-less perfect slim stomach, flashes it to the girl who is working with him who pats his ass. She looks too old to be a girlfriend and I ponder their flirtatious relationship. About who they are, their education, their background, but there are no clues.
As the rain persists I seek refuge in the Guandi Temple with its burning incense coils and worshippers buying their offering package of incense sticks and coloured paper to throw in the brick oven in the courtyard. You would think the joss sticks and candles offered at the altars would be left to burn to the end, but there is a cleaner type person systematically stripping the altars and dipping these items in a plastic bucket of water before binning them.
Back at the market I buy reluctantly an umbrella, as there seems no likelihood of an easing up of the rain. later finding out when walking with Cyrus through the park behind the twin towers that it is barely water-tight let alone waterproof.
Cyrus finally meets me inside the mall at 4.30 and we go to the gallery but the exhibition doesn’t grab me: it’s about art and fashion. Cyrus asks me if I understand a painting there and I try to prompt him to ask questions: does it make him feel happy/sad/angry? does it remind him of anything he has seen before? do the colours make him react in any way? does he see shapes or randoms? what are the shapes? would he like it on his wall? does he like it?……
At the mall I think I have found the toilets, and nearly charge in desperate for a relief, ready to open my shorts…but warned at the decisive moment that those are the prayer rooms. The toilets are next door!
We head out to the Thean Hou Temple, which according to Lonely Planet is a monorail ride and brief walk away. The first part is right. The second part is at least 20 minutes along a busy dual carriageway and up a steep hill in extreme humidity. My head is boiling. Smog humidity headache. Getting across town at that time is hell. So many people everyone moving….
The temple is modern and has 5 floors. The ground floor is hosting some kind of contest with teams of young girls wandering around in brightly coloured silk uniforms. Up the steps to the first floor there is some kind of concert. We go up to the temple, which is being renovated and the inner hall is partially hidden by scaffolding. The temple area is empty and we go to the top level of the pagoda, eye-level with the dragons and peacocks on the corners of the roof. We sit shoulder to shoulder and I tell Cyrus about my dream and how scrambled my mind is, and how I don’t know what is out ther or what I may become…maybe a buddhist monk (half in jest). He sits in silence. I know I have affected him and I see a tear drip from his eye. He is scared of losing me, as I am of him. He had told me of his dream of going back to UK to do a masters, but it wouldn’t be in Brighton. This makes me feel lonely too. We walk back to the monorail as dusk settles in furtively hand in hand.
We change the mood and I take him to the Blue Boy Vegetarian Centre, which actually is hidden away under a block of flats, and you would never find unless in the know. We have some vege versions of some typical Malaysian dishes (laksa and fried noodles). Cyrus is impressed that they are so good without the meat. We pick up some fruit which has unnecessarily some spices strewn upon it. Mango, apple, guava. Down comes the rain as we walk through Bukit Bintang, where I’d earlier struggled to find anywhere prepared to sell me Thai Baht, through Pavilion Mall, the poshest one in KL, with an unbelievable display of Christmas decorations, matching the austentatiousness of the shops within. Designer and London prices.
Another long wait in the rain for a very packed bus, which gets stuck in a stream of traffic. When we get back for our last night together for a while I need to pack. Sleep comes quickly but is short……
Haven’t slept that deeply for a long time: was it the jet-lag or the equatorial fugue after I turned off the air-con? Can never sleep with it on, chilling me, sounding like a fridge too.
Those bites on my calves seem to be similar to what I got in the Cameron Highlands last year. I think it’s some kind of allergic reaction. The anti-histamine is turning them into bright red plague spots. At least they don’t itch, but I’m conscious of something under my skin. I’ll give it one more day before I seek a pharmacist.
Today the sky was blue…for a short time and with it very hot sun. This was what I had expected. That meant I got no further than the Sultan Mosque at the end of our street. Wrapped in an electric blue gown to make my legs more acceptable to the prophet, I spent a cool 30 minutes or so admiring the carpet, the inscriptions and neon score boards.
Keeping to the shade I walked 10 minutes to the Sin Lim Square mall to research camcorder prices. Here I met 2 methods of sale: the first one gave up when I told him my price ceiling, the second, between expecorisations, offered me a better and better deal, telling me that they needed the money to fix the ceiling to the shop and carpet it (better for dropped cameras!). I don’t like pressured sales, and even if the price was really good and there were freebies thrown in, I managed to walk away. I had only wanted to find out prices after all, and certainly needed to shop around.
By now hungry. I found a veggie Chinese restaurant and made the mistake of ordering from the menu instead of taking stuff from the buffet as usual. It turned out disappointing and small and a bit boring (mock chicken fried in oats with mango). Then, the waitress tried to give me another dish of sushi rolls that I hadn’t ordered and she didn’t have the English to understand the situation (luckily a guy at the next table translated for me). At least there was a view: passing shoppers, although all smart and good looking, strange how unassuming and characterless they all look. Got into another confusion over the bill, but walked away finally, still a bit peckish and having spent too much.
The sky was clouding over and the humidity dropping a little. I hopped on a bus for Kent Ridge, my plan being to walk the Southern Ridges and find the crazy bridge I had seen in Lonely Planet. The ride was long and it transpired that Kent Ridge is a hill with a large number of Christian schools and a university campus. The terminus at the top of the hill was hot, and there was no obvious place to start a walk, so I bought some water and got on the next bus into town.
In China town I went to the People’s Park Complex. This is the mall and square and court where the Chinese go to eat and shop. The other side of the road on Smith street and Temple Street is where the tourists go.
It’s cleaner, more expensive and not so buzzing. The food court at the People’s Park sells frog stew, pig’s intestine soup, and many other Chinese delights. I got myself some almond pudding (like a milk jelly in a cup), and watched the faces. There were guys in front of department stores demonstrating a new kind of mop, cobblers sitting under umbrellas (it had started to spit) gluing soles and hammering heels, old men playing majong. Great photo subjects.
My next plan was to get among the skyscrapers of the finance district, and jaw-dropping they were. I crossed over to the reclaimed island of Marine Bay and was underneath the building I had seen on the post cards and only glimpsed from the bus. The Marina Bay Hotel: three non-identical, non-vertical towers of 60 or so floors and plonked on top is what looks like a squashed airport fuselage or barrage balloon, which happens to be a sky garden. The shopping mall in front of it was like an immense railway station with its elegant arched curving glazed roof. The hotel itself was even more immense inside. The whole ground floor space being a massive public space with fancy restaurants, a 50m ceiling from which was suspended an Anthony Gormley wire sculpture called “Drift”. The outer walls were beautiful: kinetic surfaces of little metal plates which respond and move and shimmer in the breeze, or to the dribbling stream of water on the side face.
The $20 for the roof-top view was a bit too much, so instead I caught dusk over the bay looking at the finance towers of Citi and Maybank and many other hi-tech edifices, dwarfing the Victorian customs house and the colonial Fullerton Hotel, probably the only survivors of that time on the harbour front. The light was just right and my camera battery lasted just until then to get the picture i had wanted and to see the Singapore we all imagine. In front of the Marina Bay Shoppes is a floating glass pavilion which seems to be a Louis Vuitton showroom. Behind it, flooded with red light and a Cartier logo is the amazing sight of the Science Museum which looks like some giant concrete opening lotus flower. As I reached it I could see a guard of honour of liveried men in red bell-boy hats and jackets and a procession of black-tie-evening-gown couples striding in as if to some film premiere.
The high-tech illuminations on the water didn’t stop there. Next I crossed over the river on the Helix Bridge, which has to be the coolest bridge I’ve ever seen. A graceful enclosed footway with swirling twisting chrome lit with Christmas lights, on each promintory stood on guard a 2.5m reindeer adorned with purple lights. Sounds tacky? not at all.
On the city side of the bay the full scale of the Marina Bay Hotel came into view and it served as the backdrop and platform for a rather half-hearted son et lumiere: Louis Armstrong having all the time in the world as laser beams shot out from the roof of the hotel, the Shoppes roof flashed and glowed a medley of colours and some water jets went whoosh. Walking along back into town among the joggers and families out for an evening stroll i passed in front of the Youth Olympic Park. This is a floating football pitch, an island on the water, overlooked by a single banked tier of terracing on the dry land side. Bizarre. My long trek took me past the Promenade Theatre complex, looking like 2 huge glass durian fruits, the old and new parliament houses and up North Bridge Street. An Indian thali at Funan Square mall, past the awesome Raffles Arcade: amazing colonial housing, the weird art-deco marbled Park View (a hotel?) which looks like something out of Gotham city with its huge statues carrying football like globes of light around the top edge.
A shower was well-needed. Tomorrow is an early start. Another country. And Cyrus.