My KL week

The Chow Kit station (Kuala Lumpur Monorail) (...

The Chow Kit station (Kuala Lumpur Monorail) (exterior), Chow Kit, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m coming to the end of my time here in Malaysia, and I’m looking forward to getting ‘home’ – home being such a variable concept right now that it belongs in inverted commas.

Having said that, even if the bricks and mortar and the familiar bits and pieces are missing for the moment, there are other things I look forward to – seeing Rigby again and the joy in his eyes when he beholds me; the small family I have left to me, more meaningful now than ever before; and my friends, and familiar ways and accents, the city of Melbourne, my bars, good coffee, trams, the footy, and the weather. And, I guess, to return to sort things out.

This last week has been a mixture of anticipating that, of working and keeping myself separate.

Monday and Tuesday I was back working again. Not necessarily suit and tie, more pants and shirt, but it was still the most formal I’ve been for a while (outside of funerals). I spent the two days pretty intensively interviewing people and making notes in the office. I’ve spent the rest of the week turning my notes into a report, with another short visit to the office.

Most nights I’ve tried to make myself scarce. I’m staying with Whisky, as I have every other visit. Every other time he’s been some variation of single, and so I’ve been welcomed warmly and we’d take the opportunity to carouse for days on end. This time he has a girl he’s very tight with, who lives in the same building. I’ve been welcomed just as warmly as ever, but have come second to her. That’s fair enough, though a little uncomfortable. I feel the unwelcome presence sometimes, and have either taken myself off, or been asked to. And so I’ve gone out alone most nights lately to grab a bite and to keep me occupied. It’s fortunate that I’m so accustomed to solo travel and enjoy my own company, but the timing hasn’t been great.

Whisky flew out to Madrid last night, and so I promised to get out of their collective hair altogether on Thursday night. I’m lucky to have a good friend who was able to help out. She suggested that I spend the night at her hotel to do some quality testing. Why not? And so Thursday afternoon I travelled across town to book into a hotel nearby Chow Kit.

It was a rainy afternoon. I went walking after checking in, camera in hand, feeling for once like a tourist. It was a refreshing change. I walked up and down, going up streets and then back again, through smelly laneways and obscure looking arcades that turn into markets. It was fine.

Chow Kit seems a predominantly Indian neighbourhood, though I gather many are Muslim – it certainly was a focus of the current Hari Raya celebrations. The main streets were lined by stalls that closed in the sidewalk like a tunnel. The stalls sold all manner of things, from cheap trinkets to the usual rip-off cases and clothes, mobile phones, shoes, DVD‘s – though these mainly Bollywood and local stuff. It was not an area geared to western tourism, and so did not market to them. And I saw no other westerners there.

As you might imagine it was busy with people, women in sari’s shopping, shopkeepers for once mutely keeping their mouths shut, and on the road beyond in the rain cars and busses and taxis and two-stroke motorbikes went along.

In the heaviest of rain, I found myself in an imperfectly covered food market. It was marvellous. Water dripped from holed and sagging tarps. Underfoot the ground was merely wet, or slushy from the passage of feet. Surrounding me were shoppers pausing at different stalls to peruse the produce on display – fantastically coloured fruits, some I had never seen before, and vegetables and spices and the odd stall touting hot food – samosas or freshly fried pastries, and the usual selection of cold sweets, sticky and colourful. I took shot after shot wandering up and down the place, the only white face in the joint.

On the way out I bought myself a murtabak for a late lunch and headed back towards the hotel in the drizzle. There in the virtual backyard of the hotel, I found another fantastic sight. In the intersection of a few secondary roads was a clearing with a few large, knotted, sinuous trees like you see often in Asia. The clearing was chocka with cars in various states of repair, and a cloth covered area with car parts. Around the cars worked a bevy of skinny, dark skinned, smiling men, their hands and clothes dark with grease. Underfoot the road was greasy with years of caked on oil. In between the odd skinny dog, not unlike the pariah dogs of India, wandered around. And in the distance in the clouds and through the trees were the twin towers of KLCC, shining brightly in the dim afternoon light as if encrusted with thousands of diamantines, and strangely beautiful.

Here I had come across the regional car repair hub, open to the air, the elements, and anyone who cares to wander through. For me it was another example of the great diversity of sights in Asia. Anything is possible.

Near dinner time I ended up in the hotel bar – well, I was here to check the facilities. As I expected it was near empty. Checking in earlier and walking through the hotel I had thought most of the guests Arab, here for Ramadan perhaps, or else Indian. I didn’t expect the local pub to be busy, and it wasn’t.

Still and all I stopped for a beer the gracious bartender was happy to pour me. I sat in the faux English pub and watched a Korean music program on the big screen. Watching foreign TV is often a fascinating experience, and pretty educational. There’s no doubt we of the west have a narrow view of the world, and it sometimes comes as a shock to find those dusky foreigners have a culture we have nothing to do with. That’s a good reason to travel right there.

I watched. not so enthralled by the musical content, but fascinated by the differences. Much was familiar of course, the good looking hosts with fashionably/weirdly coiffed hair, gabbling on happily but in a language I couldn’t comprehend. The acts themselves were different, what I saw anyway. I only saw one act who performed their own instruments. The rest were very pretty boy and girl bands. The boy bands seemed huge – up to about 15 members, all under 20, all with haircuts out of the Beatles songbook, all good – if wet – looking, and all with a variety of moves I’m sure send the Korean girls into raptures.

The girl bands were smaller, but just as pretty. I’ve never been there, but my observation is that Koreans are the most attractive of the Asian peoples, which is saying a lot. I was sipping on my beer when a group typical of this ilk came on. All the girls wore short shorts and tops that more often than not exposed flat midriffs. They had lovely hair and big smiles and long legs and all the other moves. A less virtuous man than I might have had impure thoughts watching as they performed their song (Mister Bang Bang, no less).

It was at about this moment I was asked how I was by the staff there. Without saying a word I simply looked back at the screen – which they were viewing with as much fascination as I was – and they broke into happy giggles.

Not much more to report than that. I’m back in Bangsar, about to watch some footy, later to catch up with Donna, visiting here on the way to Thailand. Fly home Monday night.

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.