With such a short transit back home, I hardly had any time to do anything but show off the main sights and sounds of KL. We landed in the AM, and after a quick shower and lunch at Dad’s favourite Chinese restaurant, headed off into Central Market. At this stage I was asleep and simply sleep walking, falling Jeff’s footsteps as we both wandered, dazed and jetlagged, through the tourist traps of central KL.
Traffic was noisy, the air stifling hot. Home doesn’t really change, each time I return. We talk a walk through Petaling Street, where vendors hawk their wares. Pork floss like fluffy candy, heaped on trays, baked dumplings kept warm by heat lamps, barbequed slabs of sweet meat looking at bright red pieces of cardboard. It is late afternoon and school dismisses. The air mata kucing (literally cat’s eye’s water) stall is thronged with the blue and white uniforms of school boys and girls.
We stop by a coconut and sugarcane stall – my favourites of old, and ask for packets of coconut juice, decanted into a plastic bag, held together with rafia ties. We sip the cold, refreshing drink through red and white straws and wander the streets some more. There is less authencity in Petaling Street these days – the hawkers of fake bags and other paraphernalia are mainly foreigners, come to make their living in the big smoke from smaller villages dotted across South East Asia. I buy a clutch of mangosteens, hideously overpriced, from a roadside wagon heaped with local fruits.
We chance across a Chinese temple, and both of us venture in. Away from the madness and dust and traffic of the streets, the inner courtyard is quiet and peaceful. Bells of incense hang from the ceilings, spirals of smoke blur the eye. A large statue of a golden Buddha sits in the central hallway, and I point out the lesser gods to Jeff – the God of War, blackfaced and fierce, with his attendant tiger, the calm serenity of the Goddess of Mercy, the Kitchen God, with one hand laden with taels of gold, representing fortune, and a merry smile on his face.
Later we walk to Masjid Jamek, one of the oldest mosques in KL, sitting on the confluence of rivers that gave KL its name. The onion-like domes and white and red stripes alternate with the mature, green palm trees. KL is a city of greenery, despite its status as capital city. We head to Merdeka Square, where the declaration of independence was made joyously, in 1957 by a triumphant delegation, bearing the country’s freedom from the UK. We walk past the new Moorish architecture of Bangunan Abdul Samad, then, and now, serving its function as government quarters.
Escaping from the heat, we jostle with the crowds on the LRT and head to Menara KLCC, the Twin Towers. Jeff is unimpressed by the shops and bright lights, so after cooling down, we head outside, into the park bordering the towers. We sit in the shade and eat our mangosteens while contemplating the blue and silver shape of the Towers. Later on that night we have dinner at Kampachi, one of my favourite Japanese restaurants, and possibly the only reason I bothered to get up at all, after my afternoon nap. A serious case of jetlag calls for favourite food enticement!
The next day we take a drive out to Batu Caves. As we get there, the heavens open. A tropical thunderstorm unleashes buckets of rain on us as we run through the flooded car park, towards the patio of some shops, huddled at the bottom of the stairs. The coffee is poor, and expensive. There are stray dogs loitering around, and groups of brightly dressed, young Indian girls with frangipani in their hair. Busloads of tourists step gingerly off their tours, straight into the wrath of the rain as they wrestle with umbrellas and try to jump puddles. They are headed for the birds nest shop, the produce of which is harvested from inside Batu Caves. Made from the saliva of nesting swifts, these nests are an expensive delicacy in Chinese culture, and require manual harvesting, sometimes many hundreds of feet above, in the vertiginuous ceiling of limestone caves.
As the rain abates, we slosh our way towards the stairs. It is still raining as we climb up the 272 steps, the water making tiny waterfalls over our feet as we labour upwards. It is not a particularly arduous trek, but the wet rain and damp feet make it unpleasant. As we climb, I regale Jeff with stories of Thaipusam, of kavadis made from iron hot piercings, heavy chains and of devotees with needles through their skin and tongues. The simplest kavadi, or offering, is a canister of milk, gracefully balanced on the head, then given to the temple’s keeping. The temple itself is at the very top of the stairs, inside the depths of the limestone cave.
There are bats in here, and swifts, and some colourful murals depicting Hindu gods, or princes. After a look around, we head back down. The rain has stopped now and the skies are clear. Jeff spots some monkeys off the stairs, sheltering underneath some leaves. I manage to add other food hits on my travels – satay, cuttlefish with kangkung, nasi lemak, culup satay, char kuay teow, amongst others, but this was not an eating trip – we’ll have to go back and focus solely on that on our next trip back home. Our next stop is Australia, both east and west coast, with plans for wildlife spotting, beach lazing and some good ‘ol Ozzie barbequing.