And why we called the whole (India) thing off
I am typing this in a restaurant in Kuala Lumpur. I’m not supposed to be in Kuala Lumpur, I’m supposed to be in New Delhi, but due to a cock-up of … well, not quite epic proportions, but pretty darned bad, Malaysia Airlines refused to let us on the plane. (No, no, I know what you’re thinking, but we were not drunk and disorderly, honest. We were gonna wait until we were actually on the plane before doing that!) The thing is, we forgot to get Indian visas, and unfortunately they don’t sell them at the airport. It’s our own fault: Pete was convinced he’d checked and it said that as British citizens we didn’t need ‘em; I just took his word for it. Turns out we were both wrong – a bit of a costly mistake! It took Pete two hours of arguing with the airline staff before they agreed to change our flights to another day. Our e-ticket said that we could change dates or cancel for a fee; Malaysian Airlines said that our tickets were not refundable or exchangeable under any circumstances; we said that our e-ticket was a legally binding document, and if they put incorrect information on it that was their problem, not ours… and so it went on!
Still, secretly I’m glad for another few days in Kuala Lumpur. It is a fabulous city – a mixture of modern urban and native rainforest. We love it here! It’s also one of the places I’d always wanted to visit ‘cos I liked its name (*). I first heard it mentioned was when I was very little; unfortunately I misheard what was being said and spent the next umpteen years thinking it was Koala Lumpur. Imagine my disappointment when I finally found out the truth and that it wasn’t a city full of cute eucalyptus-addicted marsupials after all!
(*) Other cool-sounding places I’d like to visit include: Azerbaijan, Timbuktu, Martha’s Vineyard, Alice Springs, Constantinople (before they renamed it Istanbul), Rangoon (before they renamed it Yangon) and my favourite: Looneyville, Texas. (I think I’d be right at home there!)
We spent the first few days here simply relishing the fact that we were back in civilization as we know it, and spent way too long in shopping malls enjoying the restaurants and the cinemas. (And, if I’m honest, the fantastic air conditioning. KL is practically perched on top of the equator, so every time we step outside we are met with a wall of heat and humidity. I think the locals have liquid nitrogen in their veins instead of blood, though, ‘cos there was an outdoor market near our last hotel that sold scarves, hats, gloves and leather jackets! Who’s buying these things, heaven only knows.)
So, eventually we’d seen every movie worth seeing and decided we ought to see if there was anything outside the malls. We were happy to discover the existence of the KL Tourist Bus service, which lets you buy a 24-hour ticket and hop on and off at various points around the city. There is an excellent monorail service here, too, but the buses are more convenient for reaching the more out-of-the-way parts of the city. Taxis are also plentiful, but they are very expensive, plus it’s a miracle if you can get a driver who will agree to put you on the meter instead of offering you an extortionate flat rate.
Two buildings that are heavily advertised here are the Petronas Twin Towers, and the KL Telecommunications Tower. Both have observation decks where you get to see amazing views of the city. The Petronas Towers were next door to the mall we’d been hanging out in, so we grabbed our camera and tried to get in there. No go. Tickets are free but limited; they start handing them out at 8 o’clock in the morning and they’re usually gone within the hour. (Apparently some people start queuing at 5.00am, the nutters!) We agreed that there was no way we were getting up at that indecent hour, stunning views or no, so we switched to Plan B and headed over to the KL Tower.
The KL Tower is not free, but it has a whole bunch of attractions included in the price of the ticket: an F1 simulator, Animal World, Winter Garden, and guided walk through the rainforest. We had half an hour to spare before the next rainforest walk, so we thought we’d spend it in the animal centre.
I nearly never made it.
We were heading that way, but I had to do a sudden about-face when I saw some guy standing by the entrance with a freakin’ boa constrictor around his neck. (Said guy is hereafter referred to as Barmy Bloke, ‘cos no sensible person would voluntarily use a snake as a fashion accessory!) *Shudder*. I hate snakes. Hate them. In case you haven’t caught on yet, I think this is the time to mention that I have a real phobia about the things. They are nasty, slithery, scaly creatures that have no place on a civilized planet, and when I am Supreme Ruler of the Universe, the first thing I am going to do is ban snakes (**).
I immediately cross to the other side of the road and tell Pete, “You go in. Tell me all about it when you get back. I’ll just be behind that palm tree, whimpering quietly.”
Pete says, “I’ll go and have a word.”
Now, from my position behind the palm tree on the other side of the road I am unable to hear what is being said, but I do notice a lot of gesticulating on Pete’s part, and what I am certain is an equal amount head-shaking and eye-rolling from Barmy Bloke. One thing is clear: Barmy Bloke is not willing to do the reasonable thing here, i.e. put the snake in a cardboard box, inside a wooden crate, inside a lockable metal container, seal it with sticky tape, duct tape, superglue, 1000 meters of chain, a blooming big padlock and a welding gun, then call a courier and immediately have the thing dispatched express to Siberia. That would be the reasonable thing to do under the circumstances. But Barmy Bloke, apparently, ain’t going nowhere, and neither is the monstrosity writhing round his neck.
Pete comes back and informs me that the staff have agreed to let us in through the back door, thereby avoiding all things Barmy and Snaky. Good ‘nuff. Inside there are cute things like monkeys and bunnies and guinea pigs. This makes me happy, ‘cos monkeys and bunnies and guinea pigs are fluffy and not writhy and scaly at all.
Here is a picture of a cute bunny, in case all this talk of snakes is traumatising you. (Don’t worry, there aren’t any pictures of nasty serpents in this blog, ‘cos I wouldn’t let Pete take any!)
It doesn’t last, of course. The reason Barmy Bloke is outside with his freaky pet is to attract people into the building and persuade them to have their photos taken with various (creepy) animals. Pete wants a go. He declines to handle a snake, thank god – I’d have to dump him if he’d done that! – but he did want to hold a little bearded dragon. I am in charge of taking his photograph, which is all well and good, but what you can’t see from the pictures is the row of glass cases just to my right which contain more rotten snakes! I am not at all happy about this, but I take the photos anyway. It is a testament to the quality of my camera that my hand-jitters don’t show in the pictures.
Pete and a bearded dragon - much nicer than a snake!
Pete's not bad, either :-)
After that I have had enough and beg for my freedom (through the back door again, naturally).
So, having successfully avoided Barmy Bloke a second time, we make our way to the base of the tower and wait for a guide to take us on a short tour of the rainforest. I know there are snakes in the forest ‘cos I saw the warning signs on the way in, but I am hoping that the guide will be carrying a machine gun and few hand grenades in case we see one. (People say such stupid things about snakes: “They’re more scared of you than you are of them” being a perennial favourite. I disagree. Put me and a python in an enclosed space and see which of us ends up drooling in a padded room first. I think you’ll find I’ll win that one, thank you very much!)
Mr. Guide arrives and I am disappointed to see that is carrying nothing but a map and a small photo album. I console myself with the thought that he might have a stun gun or a can of Mace in his pocket. At the very least I am banking on his having a primitive, homemade catapult at the ready. I have no time to ask him about this, ‘cos as soon as our little group is assembled, he’s heading for the trees.
Mr G. is a fantastic guide and is obviously enthusiastic about the natural world. There were four of us on the tour: a guy from the UK, a lady from Thailand, and us two (dis)honorary Kiwis. Mr G. spends a few minutes giving us a Natural Geographic pop quiz: “What’s the highest mountain in New Zealand?” “How many species of orchid are there in Thailand?” and so on, until he realises we are all equally clueless and don’t have a GCSE in geography or biology between us.
He knows the answers to all his questions, though; he is a veritable walking botanical encyclopedia! One of the many factoids imparted to us that day is the fact that cicadas can tell when it’s going to rain. If they are making a noise, the weather will be fine; when they go silent, look for shelter. We didn’t think much more about this other than, “Oh, that’s interesting” until the final few minutes of the tour. Mr. G. stops, listens, then suddenly starts to run. “The cicadas are quiet!” he yells back at us. We huff and puff along behind, and finally make it to the base of the tower thinking it was all a big fuss about nothing… and then the skies open up. It’s a belter of a storm: thunder, lightening, the works. If he hadn’t hurried us along, we’d have been soaked in two seconds flat!
The storm poses another problem, though, ‘cos we haven’t yet been up to the tower observation deck. We decide to go and sit in a café for a while instead, and wait for it to pass.
It doesn’t. If anything it gets heavier, and a thick fog descends.
We eventually realise that we could be there all day, so we figure we have two other choices: a) Call it a day and go home; or b) Go up to the deck anyway and have a look at a whole lot of nothing. We choose b), ‘cos we’d paid 38 Ringgit each for those tickets and wanted our money’s worth.
It wasn’t as bad as wed feared, up in the tower. You could see some of the city, even through the fog.
Here’s one of our pictures from the KL Tower. Not exactly the spectacular views advertised, eh?
Despite the heat, snakes, storms and thieving taxi drivers, ‘Koala’ Lumpur really is a fabulous city. We are intending to return some time soon for a proper extended stay (not just an accidental one ‘cos we can’t get a plane elsewhere!)
Having finally sorted out the Indian visas, we are now able to fly to Europe. We are heading to Athens initially, but intend to get out of the city a.s.a.p. and go to one of the pretty little islands nearby. Then we are going to find a hotel with a swimming pool and a bar, and do nothing all day except read and drink cocktails. It is this thought that will help me survive two consecutive days of long-haul flights.
See ya by the poolside!
Julie & Pete
(**) Other things I am going to ban include: reality TV (is any explanation really needed here? I thought not.); those *&$##@! stupid shoes with squeakers in the heels that people insist on buying for little kids (You wanna know where your sprog is? Put child reins on ‘em, for heaven’s sake, and stop inflicting that dreadful noise on the rest of us!); root beer, for being the most disgusting concoction known to man; the use of ‘ur’ for ‘you’re’ – actually extend that to cover all l33t ‘speak’; mowing your lawn before 9.00am on weekdays (and 1.00pm weekends); giant soulless malls that sell nothing but designer clothes (to nobody, apparently; the shops are always empty); pubs that insist on showing sports on TV, even when there’s nobody watching; annoying radio DJs (that’s probably 99% of ‘em!); non-existent road works (when your lane is blocked by ten miles of traffic cones, but there’s no construction worker in sight); skorts (the dreadful combination of a skirt and shorts. (Why???? What's the point???); the forwarding of chain letters or spam emails that contain urban myths. (Stop wasting our bandwidth!)
Indulge in these things while you still can, people, as my Master Plan will come to fruition soon. Now will you please excuse me while I go off and do a bit of maniacal laughing for an hour or so? Thank you…