Thursday, March 30, 2006

Back to the jet-age

Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur is a mix of old colonial buildings and modern skyrises.

We arrived at a curious little hostel, which occupied the two upper floors of an old colonial building with the space divided up into many tiny rooms separated by plywood and flimsy sliding doors. It was stuffy and our room had no window, and as a result the temperature held steady at 30' all night long. But the staff were friendly and the place had a pleasant enough atmosphere, and there was even a functioning sink outside the shared bathroom (we had heard lots of horror stories about hostels in KL, so we decided to make do).

We decided to visit the famous Petronas twin towers, which used to be the tallest buildings in the world. It was quite a change of scene to be surrounded by so much fancy glass, metal and polished marble. We were suddenly thrust into a thoroughly modern world.

The visitor video made a big deal out of the double-decker lifts, but when our turn came to go up to the sky-bridge on the 41st floor it was just the regular kind. After our chaperone gave us her practiced spiel, I asked her if we could ride on the famous double-decker lift, and she looked embarrassed and said "I'm sorry that is not possible". They don't let you up to the 84th floor either, but the view from half-way up is still pretty good.

Throughout our visit to Malaysia I had been looking out for satay - an old favorite of mine. I expected to see it everywhere but it was suprisingly hard to find. In Taman Negara we saw a restaurant with a satay sign and went there for lunch only to be told that satay was only offered at dinner time. We returned for dinner to be told that the guy who does the satay was away that day to play football. So when we stopped for lunch the next day in Chinatown, and we saw satay listed on the menu under the heading Typical Malay Food, I thought it was my last chance.

I was bitterly disappointed by the deep-fried, grizzly, glutinous product that was served to me with chili instead of peanut sauce. It was also our most expensive meal in KL.

The previous night we had gone in search of a posh restaurant listed in the Lonely Planet, and gave up without finding it and ended up at a neon-lit, muslim south Indian fast-food restaurant where we had the tastiest local meal we've had in Malaysia for about $4 for the two of us.

The next night we tried another indian restaurant across the street where the food was fine (although I suffered a little with my mutton) but we saw an enormous rat saunter confidently from one side of the kitchen to the other.

So it was with some eagerness that we anticipated our in-flight meal when we arrived at the Kuala Lumpur international airport (which is a full 75km out of town). We made full use of the glisteningly clean toilets and slowly stopped sweating as we readjusted to the air-conditioned world of the jet-age. We were soon strapped into our economy-class seats, enjoying a decent meal with white wine and our own entertainment centre. What luxury.

We had an overnight layover in Hong Kong airport, so we scoured around the departures area looking for the best spot to camp out for the night.

First we tried these lounge chairs in a resting area (the eye-mask was a Christmas present from me), but later opted for a set of benches where we could stretch out horizontally. Fortunately the announcement system turned off at midnight, but the musak played on. There was a whole cluster of other travelers (one wearing a full business suit) doing the same thing. They even have special lounges where you pay $60 to spend the night with a shower, small gym and internet centre. As it was, we managed ok, although we both got a little cold. There's even a special website that specializes in tips for weary travelers camping out in airports.

Our arrival in Bali was marred slightly by a long wait to get through immigration. But we soon found ourselves plodding around the streets of Kuta looking for a place to stay. It turned out that the next day was Nyepi (the Balinese New Year, or day of silence, where everything is shut, you are not supposed to leave your home, even electricity use is frowned upon). So we knew we wanted to find a place where we could chill out for a few days, and a pool seemed like a pretty good idea.

After much to-ing and fro-ing in the heat we finally settled on a nice place with air-conditioning and a pool, and headed out for dinner. On the way we passed a street procession in the dark (many shops and restaurants were already shut down) for the New Year celebrations. We found a cozy place to eat and I, finally, had a glorious satay dish.


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