Boonoogling in KL

Living the KL life. I’m sitting here in an cafe in BSC using their free wi-fi while sipping on an English breakfast tea. The whirling fans overhead produce a turbulence of cool air. Waiters wonder by in jeans and little black aprons.

At some point in the next couple of weeks I have something approximating a ‘real’ job, putting my consultants hat on again and looking sage for the client. In the meantime I’m left mostly to my own devices.

High on the list of priorities for me is getting stuck-in to some stories too long unfinished. They’re good stories I think – at least they both have an interesting premise – and I reckon I can turn them into something good. I spent a few hours yesterday working on two of them, and made some pleasing progress. I reckon I’ll have a version finished of each by the end of the week. Doubtless there will be many re-writes after.

I’m writing an eBook on coffee at some point too, though feel uninspired by the task.

Somewhat unexpectedly I also received a commission this morning to re-write all the text on a website. It’s not the most exciting job – it’s for a dental practise – but is pretty easy. I’ll charge good money for something I can likely knock over in a couple of hours. Suggesting they might also want to do a web refresh too, which I can also handle, though not until I return to Melbourne.

That’s me in KL. Might go for a quick swim this afternoon. Later on there’s quite a generous happy hour across the road to check out. Plenty of work in the meantime.

Yes, I think, it’s strange how I manage these days.

(And yes, Boonoogling is a work I made up, but seems right- it means to drift informally but productively between disparate  tasks in a casual environment.)

I’m here…

Here I am sitting in an air-conditioned chamber on the ground floor of the hotel/apartment block I’m currently staying at in KL. I’m here because it is the only place within spittin’ distance where there is wi-fi. Not surprisingly then I am joined here by others surfing the net quietly in their bubble, some looking like students catching up on homework, others with earbuds listening to their favourite music as they type, and a table of men speaking some middle-eastern language enjoying the cool.

Yes, I’m in KL again. I’m here because it’s convenient to be here. I’m here because I had a flight credit I had to use inside 3 months. I’m here because with mum’s house now on the market I’m better off away. I’m here because it’s good to get away from a few of the things bogging me down in Melbourne. I’m here because it is good and oddly heart-warming to meet with friends again. I’m here because there is work to be done here. I’m here because I’ve got to be somewhere.

I arrived yesterday. I set out from Melbourne early in the morning, dark still, no-one about except the odd crazy walking the dog, standing in the street in the damn cold waiting for a taxi to take me to the airport. About 10 hours after that I emerge into a bright and warm country far from home. I walk along the concourse feeling hot in my Melbourne clothes weaving my way through the swarm of tourists and taxi touts and people just standing about. I drag my bag along with another slung over my shoulder. I ask directions and eventually find the Skybus I had booked from home. “Bus?” they call at me. I nod my head, begin to explain that I had already booked but they wave me on board unconcerned, as if they had been expecting me. There are people everywhere.

The bus fills and then sets off. Next to me is a woman in a headscarf. Everyone bar an elderly Englishman (I don’t know that he’s English, but he looks it) and me, are locals. The bus careers down the freeway, turning now and again so that the hot sun shines in one side of the bus, then the other. The air-con is feeble and the curtains are swiftly pulled across the windows to keep the sun at bay. After sitting in a  plane for over 8 hours reading and listening to music I do nothing but sit there.

Just short of an hour after we reach the terminus, KL Sentral. I ask about, looking for a train to where I want to go. Everyone looks at me blankly. I scan the boards myself then think fuck it, I’ll just get a cab. I find the same problem though. The girl I buy my prepaid taxi voucher from knows where Avenue K is, but the taxi driver somehow doesn’t. KLCC I tell him, Petronas. He shrugs his shoulders, his English as good as my Berhasa, and heads vaguely in the direction of the Twin Towers.

In the end I have to show him the way, going by scratchy memory and vague sight. That way, I tell him, left now. He goes left as I tell him, but when he reaches a place I know across the street from where I aim to be he keeps on going, as if he now knows better than I do. I have to direct him back in a large loop persisting through his dull doubt. Up ahead, I say, then left at the lights. But he wants to turn left everywhere now though, into the driveway of one grand hotel after another. No I say, keep going, to the end, the intersection, the voice trailing off in futility.

I’m obviously loco, a dumb gringo, or whatever the local equivalent of that is, but finally he accedes. As we approach Avenue K I point it out to him triumphantly as if to say there, I was right wasn’t I? He eyes the large sign depicting the place and then says slowly as if it all makes senses now, ah, Jalan Ampang!

Civilisation at last.

At home in KL

So I’m in KL now, arrived first thing this morning. It seemed an easy and uneventful trip. One evening I’m in Melbourne, the next morning in Kuala Lumpur, and ahead of schedule.

I’m at Whisky’s now. I arrived so early that I was able to catch him before going to work. Then, feeling pretty spruce still, I changed into my togs and went for a swim.

I lay there reading my book on the banana lounge while about me workers plucked weeds, tidied the garden, or gave the pool a good clean. The sky was the hazy blue I’m familiar with here and framed by the elegant condo’s expats live in and a shroud of tropical green. I thought about how things can be tough, but not so tough that this doesn’t exist, and I don’t experience it. I’m one of the lucky.

Earlier I had done a few leisurely laps of the pool, mostly underwater. I felt my lungs expand, my muscles lengthen. I thought back to when I was a kid and how, for years, I had swimming lessons every Saturday morning and at school. Swimming seemed to be a big thing then, more so than it seems now, and every kid I knew swam. I did a bit more than most, though my memories are hazy. I tend to think I had 3-4 years of solid swimming lessons, enough that I was one certification away from being a qualified instructor eventually, though I was only a kid. It probably only was a couple of years, really, though I never stopped swimming throughout my childhood. I remember I gave away swimming when I was invited to join a club to swim competitively. I understand why I declined it – swimming by then was a drag – but I regret a little that I never did. I was a pretty good freestyle sprinter then – today, I’m like a brick with arms and legs.

In the normal way of these things, it occurred to me that I should have asked mum what she remembered of my serious swimming days when I was about 7-10. Naturally, I never will now, but the realisation was easily accepted. Earlier I’d been travelling in on the KLIA express train and thinking how mum would expect me to check-in with her, “arrived safely”. It used to drive me crackers sometimes; she was so protective and paranoid. There were times I’d leave her home after a visit and stop off somewhere on the way home, and she would call. When I didn’t answer, she would begin to worry that I’d been in an accident or something equally silly. She was like that, and though it used to put unreasonable pressure on me, I came to accept that of her.

That went through my head as I looked out the window at the passing scenery. I couldn’t call her, and I felt a twinge at that lack and understanding that it would be some time before I grew accustomed to that. I decided then that I would not disregard it. Instead, for now, I’ll make those gestures to her in my mind as if she could here: I’m ok mum, home safe, arrived safe, don’t worry.

For some reason, I don’t like travelling at night, though it’s pretty well normal when going to Asia. Given a choice, I’d head off at about 4pm wherever I’m going; to travel at midnight or thereabouts seems somehow depressing. Still, the airport was busy last night. Lining to check-in, I looked about me and for the umpteenth time was surprised at how few Aussies, or indeed Caucasians, were on a flight departing Oz. I should be over that by now. I watched idly as the queue slowly snaked forward, roused briefly by the sight of long legs in tight pants and all the possibilities that presented to my bored mind.

I changed my currency, went through customs, bought my duty-free – a memory stick for my camera and some lollies for the trip. Then we boarded. I had my exit row by the window and watched with jaded eyes as the plane filled. Soon the vacant seat beside me was snapped up, and then we were taxiing down the runway and taking off on time to the minute – very rare in my experience.

The night went by. I watched The Artist, a very clever movie and entertaining in its own way but a strange viewing experience for those unused to silent films. The French guy who won the best actor Oscar gave an irresistible and very likeable performance whatever his name is.

The plane droned on. I slept. Fitfully. The lights came on, breakfast arrived, and I passed up the Nasi Lemak I couldn’t face at 5am and instead had the soggy scrambled eggs. It was dark outside still when we touched down, 30 minutes early, yippee – that’s a good flight in my book. I bought a bottle duty-free, had no dramas in immigration, collected my bag and strolled out to discover that here I was really, in KL finally.

Chaos tamed

If you haven’t figured out by now, I’m back from my lightning trip to KL. It was a chaotic, absolutely full-on, but successful trip.

I headed off last Wednesday on the 10am flight. I had an exit row to myself so was able to stretch out listening to my music or books. As on most flights I found myself flit between ennui and discomfort, though not as bad as some. The plane zoomed, insulated from me by the big noise cancelling headphones on my ears, the flight attendants wheeled trolleys up and down the plane while I supped on snakes and shifted from seat to seat. Once, somewhere between the north coast of Australia and Indonesia I looked out the window to find a tiny, pretty looking island ringed almost entirely by a sandbar emerging from the blue waters. It was a pleasant distraction.

I arrived late afternnon and made my way to Whisky’s condo in Bangsar. He joined me soon after and with a fond reunion and a drink under our belt we headed off for dinner across the road. The food was fine, the conversation interesting, and it was not too late by the time we returned to his place. We sat down and talked some more and after half a bottle of 18 year old Glenfiddich hit the sack. I was bushed.

Next day was the first day in the office. Didn’t know what to expect and figured I’d just go with the flow. Had about 7 meetings through the day with about 11 different people asking them questions about what they do, how they do it, what they want and so on, while I made scribbled, cryptic notes. There was a lot to take in, but I was reasonably happy come the end of the day that it hadn’t got away from me.

I’d been due to have a much needed haircut in Melbourne and failing that I popped across to the local mall to get a cut. just the same I told her, just shorter. I came out looking a little like Jerry Seinfeld when he got his neat haircut. I mussed it best I could, but it wasn’t working.

Whenever I travel I normally feel out of sorts for about 24 hours. The act of flying any distance seems to mess with my metabolism, with the result that I felt bloated and musclebound. Normally a day of sedate living – light on the food, the appropriate amount of sleep, some moderate activity – will see me right. That didn’t happen in KL, and I guess, in hindsight, never was.

Whisky was keen to catch up and make the most of our short time together, and I was too. I fully expected some big times, and was up for it, mentally at least.

Thursday night we went further afield and had dinner at some cool looking joint under the stars. The food was ok without being supreme, but I wasn’t particularly hungry in any case. Still, a couple of beers, a couple of wines, and a mojito kept me in the game.

From there we wandered on. Whisky wanted to take me to one of the hostess bars, and I was keen – from a cultural perspective – to check them out. We found a road lined either side by these bars. We walked up and down and then went into one. We were shown a table, and then were joined by a young Chinese Malaysian girl. Her job basically is to entertain us, and ultimately to encourage us to buy more drinks. That’s the theory.

She was a nice girl, but not nearly as pushy as I think you need to be in a job like that. Not that I was complaining. I don’t need anyone to tell me to buy more drinks. It was loud and I was feeling mellow and I didn’t really have the get up and go to engage in sparkling repartee, especially with a woman who had joined us not because she thought we were swell, but because we had money to spend.

This was a trend that emerged through the night. We went to a couple more places and I found myself feeling more and more disengaged. I discovered that I didn’t really like this scenario. I don’t need, or want, to pay someone to keep me company. I’d rather they hang around because they want to. On top of that the sheer logistics were tough on me. Most places were so loud that you had to raise your voice to be heard,. Well and good, but then the language barrier intervened unless I remembered to throw in a few token ‘las’ to make myself understood. In the end it was just too much hard work.

I do surprise myself sometimes. I’m as open minded as they come. Live and let live I reckon. I sat there in various bars while various girls tried to engage with me and I didn’t really want anything to do with it. And for all the reasonable excuses I made before, ultimately it’s because I couldn’t reconcile myself to that situation: a man with money being preyed on by women without it, charming and handsome by virtue of my wallet. If I sound like I’m being moralistic I’m not really – I don’t judge these girls doing that job. Good luck to them. And honestly, I leered at a few in one bar as they got up on stage and danced – they had the goods. It’s not me though, and I found it a trial, unlike Whisky who was well into it.

It was about 1am when we got back to his place – about 3am Melbourne time – and once more we sat on his couch and talked while we polished off the remaining half bottl;e of Glenfiddich.

Back into the office Friday. I felt ordinary at first, but even as that passed I felt bloated and as if I was about to burst out of my fitted shirt like Lou Ferrigno. I had another 7 meetings, and met with another 10 people, though it might have been a hundred. By now my brain was beginning to hurt, and one point some wadding fell from my ear. It was a challenging gig: two days to extract the necessary information, map divergent processes, and get some handle on people’s expectations of a new CRM. Somehow I did it though. There was more to absorb than I feared, but I managed it better than I expected. Come Friday afternoon the synapses were really firing, I was beginning to find connections and making sense of disparate elements. and even forming some preliminary conclusions. I felt quite excited, maybe even a little chuffed. Had I another day I’d have loved to go back to the first days people and ask the questions of them made obvious in my meetings with people on the second day. Not to be. We left, the book closed, I either had it or I didn’t. I thought I did.

Whisky’s parents were visiting from Perth. Booted out of my bedroom I set up in the spare room. Introductions were made, belatedly after all these years, then a few bottles of wine consumed before we headed out for dinner. We went to a palm leaf restaurant in Bangsar Village, a variety of really excellent Indian food served on the spot. Afterwards we went for the obligatory massage, this time a foot massage. It was excellent. My guy was a smiling Chinese from the mainland looking forward to getting home. I had no Mandarin, and his English was ordinary, but he managed to tell me that Malaysia good for bosses, no good if you’re not. Then as he expertly worked on my feet he’d exclaim how tough they were, and how big. My feet are not my best angle – size 12EE, and not far from being flat.

Saturday I slept in. Then I went across the road, wandered around upmarket Bangsar shopping centre eyeing off bits and pieces, though all I bought was a little bottle of wild raspberry vinegar. To Bangsar Village I went where I bought my DVD’s cheap, and then went for another massage – this time the full body version over 1 1/2 hours. She was very capable, bending me into shapes I rarely have the excuse to try at home. It was one of the best of the many massages I’ve had in Malaysia. You really can’t go there without having one.

I flew out that night. I bought my duty free (a bottle of gin and some chocolate) then sat waiting with my headphones on, feeling very much the jaded traveller. I hoped to have a row to myself, but the plane was full. I was squashed into place listening to music and trying all sorts of combinations to find space and comfort. Maybe the massage helped. Each time I found myself settling into a rough snooze they would put the cabin lights on for reasons I cannot fathom Judith. What the…? It’s 3am and the lights come on. Such was a painful journey endured. We touched down a little before 8am and it was good to be home.

Strange, concentrated trip. I was gone 3 days but it felt longer because I did so much. On Saturday we’d watched a little AFL footy from Melbourne, and rather than seeming familiar it felt a little foreign, almost otherworldly. In that brief space of time I’d begun to move to local rhythms.

After a sleepy Sunday I’ve been busy this week doing my research and putting my report together. My mate the CFO wanted me to add something extra in, something about IT strategy going forward. Happy to do it, but they’re getting a lot at a discount price. My report is 90% done, about 15 pages of facts and opinion written, hopefully, with not a little art. Now it’s Friday, drink in hand (hey diddle!), time to relax.

Looking up

It feels a peculiar day. It is overcast outside, but there is a sepia glow to it. It feels like it will rain, but at the same time it feels kind of timeless – I know that probably doesn’t make sense, but looking out upon the still clouds that is how it feels, as if this is a singular day different from most.

I slept poorly last night. I restless and hot in bed. It felt summery although the temperature was likely no more than 10 degrees outside. At different times I folded the doona down off my shoulders and chest to ease the discomfort. I slept and dreamt and woke up, and repeated the cycle. Come the morning I felt tired, almost doped. This has become the usual over the last week or so. I was out last night with the Polyamorite and she said I looked tired. I was surprised, but admitted I was. It’s the sort of tiredness that no amount of sleep will fix. It will pass.

Speaking of the Polyamorite we had drinks at a local wine bar before dinner at a Japanese restaurant across the road. She likes me. She asked how I had escaped marriage for so long. Had to tunnel out a couple of times I told her, before moving onto other subjects. I like her enough. She’s fun and cute and laughs at my jokes. She’s good company and I’ll see more of her, without it ever being more serious than that. She came back for a while and met Rigby over a glass of wine and that was that.

There’s always news on the women front, but I’ll leave the rest for another occasion.

I’m about to get stuck into a proposal I’m preparing to scope out the requirements for a new CRM system. I got the call yesterday. After a brief discussiin I was asked if I could submit a proposal by lunchtime today. That’s pushing it a bit, but I’ll get it done. Did half yesterday afternoon; the rest will likely take an hour or two.

What’s different about this job is that it is in Kuala Lumpur. I’ve been talking about this for about 6 months with Whisky, who is CFO there. I’ve been giving him tips on what the plan of action should be, what needs to be done, etc. Yesterday it paid off I guess. No guarantees of anything, but I’m in the box seat.

What is complicating is that they have a tight time frame. Normally I’d like more time to be more thorough, but that isn’t available to me. Rather than requirements gathering then, this will be a high level needs analysis – consulting with the different parties involved to determine what the prime requirements are of a new CRM. I should be done and dusted in a week, which is tight, but all going well the chances are I’ll be further involved if and when they decide to forward with the implementation. I don’t want to end up living in KL, but I’m happy to spend a week there every month, and given the time difference – just 3 hours – can work remotely communicating by Skype, etc. There is also likely to be an intranet redevelopment, right up my alley, which they have me pencilled in for. Could be good.

If it happens it will happen quick – I expect to be in and out of KL before the end of the month. Good timing, as I return in time to hopefully take up with another client promising a lot of work. Looking up.


Today it’s KL. I’m sitting in a funky café in one of the more salubrious areas of the city. I’m waiting for breakfast to be served  me while the fans whirr above me once again. I’m well rested after a hectic few days and looking towards doing the rounds of the city proper: first stop the Petronas Towers.

I should have been sitting here 24 hours ago but for the sort of unexpected occurrence that somehow becomes normal on holiday. We had packed up and checked out and where driving around to the other side Penang island for a look-see when a grinding noise coming from the left rear wheel made us stop. It had made troubling noises all the way to Penang, a sort of crunching sound, but it had become clearly worse since, and added to it was a squeaky, whiny sound. We stopped at a mechanic, were told it couldn’t be fixed before morning, and that was that.

Whisky and I continued up the road by taxi and checked into one of the mid-range resort hotels overlooking the beach. We had a complimentary drink by the pool and then a beer. Later we had a swim in the pool and played a round of table-tennis. Around us largely Asian couples mixed in with portly Brits enjoyed the facilities. As two clearly single men of relatively robust health we were out of place – family friendly is not really our go.

That evening we went in search of a massage further up the road in Feringhee, which in itself was a mix of luxury accommodation – including a 6 star hotel – a night market, and a bunch of restaurants and shops lit up like Vegas. Here there was a good proportion of Arabs. Most, if not all, of the women were covered up, including many wearing the full hijab. In these conditions it must be suffocatingly uncomfortable to be covered head to toe while your husband swans around in shorts and t-shirt.

I had my third massage in as many days, and the second for the day (the first deserves a post all of its own). Massage is big business like I say, and there are all sorts of variations on it, right down to cupping and ear candling (two I’m happy to avoid). On this occasion my masseuse was an acrobatic girl called Janet, who swung from poles embedded near the ceiling and walked up and down my back – not the first woman to have done that.

I left contemplating whether I was any better off for the experience. I certainly felt a kind of invigoration, but it was the kind that had me hobbling slightly. Given my experience with remedial massage earlier in the year that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing and besides, what the fuck, all part of the experience.

The rest of it all is pretty sedate. We had a lovely dinner that night eating delectable Malaysian curries served by an equally spicy hostess who – pun intended – clearly hoped to curry favour with us. She had her hair tied back tightly in a bun, large expressive eyes and wore a long, billowing, print dress which she would lift daintily past her ankles as she took the stairs. She played up to us, flashing those expressive eyes and indulging a verbal byplay that few men can resist and few women can approve of. We’re no different and so we generally fell over each other trying to flirt with her while she lapped it up.

Yesterday we finally started back with the car all mended. We circled Penang before taking the long road towards KL. Our car is a Proton, the people’s car if you like, an ordinary, under-powered lemonish sort of vehicle locally made and promoted. We managed to tool along at about 130 kmh on a freeway limit of 110 – an arbitrary number seemingly as no-one heeds it and no-one seems to police it. Every so often a European car – a BMW or Mercedes – would whiz by at about 150 kmh, as if with the car they had been given dispensation to drive as quick as you like. Mixed in with them were Hondas and Toyotas, prestige cars in relative terms to the Proton. Often they would rush by tail to nose, not so much tail-gating as drafting, sometimes three or four cars in line.

Along the way the sun shone and the rain plunged down. Then the sun would come again, and then the rain. The freeway cut through the sides of hills surrounded with lush vegetation. Often we would pass by these huge outcroppings of rock that emerged from the surrounding countryside like a pimple. They too were covered in a thick grown jungle, with sheer sides of rock that looked as if it might have been near liquid once with stalactite like croppings. Throughout all this I saw one monkey – roadkill, dead at the side of the road.