March 4th - March 10th: Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaMalaysia is truly an eclectic mix of faiths and styles. Muslim, Hindu and Chinese; high tech and traditional; East and West. Kuala Lumpur is a city where gleaming high rise towers reflect images of mosques in their mirrored surfaces. It embodies this diversity, and draws upon it to create a unique city.
Trapped on the hyper busy expressway into town, I eventually found my way to Chinatown. Nestled amongst its bustling streets are many of the city's cheap backpacker hostels. Mopeds weave their way between bus convoys which pump out exhaust fumes into the daytime heat and humidity. The colourful streets teem with stalls selling a thousand fake watches, sunglasses, electronic goods and more. Malaysia's ethnic diversity is no more apparent than in the wealth of food it offers. Yet more backroads lead to labyrinths of inexpensive hawker stalls where food is cooked before you; noodles, rice, soups, vegetables, poultry, meats and fish, both fresh and dried. Seeking out this city's version of 'Little India', I gorged on delicious roti for breakfast and filled myself on banana leaf curries at night. A range of curries are served around a heap of rice on enormous leaves, which are then folded away from you when finished. With a little practise, clumps are scooped up with the right hand and flicked into the mouth - a messy business for the uninitiated! This replenishable dish leaves you barely able to stagger away and all for a very reasonable 60p.
Back amongst the far reaching tentacles of Euro RSCG, I collected my post from their office, ten kilometres away, in the satellite town of Petalling Jaya, including a new shipment of Rough Guide books for Thailand. I would like to thank Cecilia Chin, (executive secretary) for all her help and support. The taxi driver who took me there chatted away about the state of the weak economy. While questioning some of the goverment's strategies, he hoped the long term effect would be good and companies would have the confidence to continue investing in Malaysia. He appreciated how good the last few years had been and that capitalist economies worked in peaks and troughs - they would just have to weather the storm. I felt this acute business sense throughout all the countries of SE Asia that I had visited so far, and throughout all walks of life.
Tammy was in town, and we set about exploring the city on foot. I had a mission; to see perhaps the most impressive piece of architecture in KL. The magnificent Petronas Twin Towers, linked by a cat-walk high across the sky. It currently holds the record as the world's tallest building. Drawing on Islamic influences of the past and combining the latest building materials, the look is both futuristic and historical - the 21st century today. These silvoid masterpieces reminded me of a postmodern version of Gaudi's Segrada Familia - the building in Barcelona that was part of the inspiration for me to make this trip all those months ago.
Like the Segrada Familia, the Towers seemed to evolve from the domain of the imagination - I couldn't believe that that anyone had been able to put such a vision into practice. Ironic perhaps that Malaysia's showpiece architecture, its symbol to the world of its might within Asia, should be built, not by its own companies, but by Japanese and Korean firms! As dusk fell, the Towers lit up magnificently against the clear sky, and we lay on the steps at their base, wondering at their sheer presence. A lightning storm added to this dramatic effect, and we left, a little overawed...
I was plucked from my humble backpacker abode in bustling Chinatown by Mark Wardle, of the British High Comission, who had contacted me through the web site's message board and issued me an invitation. My new address: Jalan Ampang, Embassy Road. Mark welomed me into his home despite having both a newborn baby to contend with and his parents over from the UK. Fill your boots! he insisted, as he doted over their baby, Asha, and proudly showed her off to anyone who was willing. That evening we went for drinks at an expat bar with some friends where we all chatted the evening away. 'More people pass through Mark's house than through immigration!' a friend of his told me.
The following morning, Mark's mother cooked up a traditional English breakfast while I rediscovered Weetabix! The next few days were spent in the modern purpose-built High Commssion's compound. Possum, unlocked, was protected by a brigade of guards. Mark organised an interview with one the daily papers and we did an amusing photoshoot using the Twin Towers as a backdrop. The three photographers told me about life as news reporters in Malaysia and how they use the internet to find out what's really going on in the world... With the capital just about to unveil its new Grand Prix circuit, they mused about the priorities of public money expenditure, in these days of economic instability.
Lin, a Malaysian family friend from London, who has always supported me keenly, (she even offered to put me up in a smart hotel so I could soak in a bath!) put me in touch with her sister, Jin, who lives here, and I went out for lunch with her and her husband. I was truly being pampered! Jin is a lawyer and she gave me good advice on the way things worked in Malaysia. That night, I went out to eat with the Wardle family and they insisted on treating me to a delicious meal. Mark's father questioned me about Possum's saddle. It turned out he used to work for the saddle department of Raleigh and he told me about the days when everything was made by hand and saddles were cut from enormous hides by expert leathersmiths, for the great riders of the day.
Preparing to leave Kuala Lumpur,I noticed a split in the rear wheel. A 36 spoke rim is hard to find. I had visions of having to wait for one to be sent out from England. The local bike shop happened to be the one owned by the trainer of the Malay national road team and it was the very same shop that I'd been recommended to, by a Malaysian back in London. The owner had read my article in the papers and gave me an excellent handlebar bell, in the shape of a squeezy shark! By some stroke of luck, his other shop had a 36 spoke rim in stock. I dashed across town to get a new wheel built up. There, I met his son Edwin, a cyclist who used to race for Malaysia. He had trained with the Australian team and still held some of Malaysia's national records. Lung tests, fat tests, muscle tests, he'd done them all!
He listened enviously as I told him about my journey, whilst expertly fixing the wheel and came to the conclusion that we would try and meet up in a week's time at the Malay/Thai border, to cycle up to Ko Samui. Meeting for supper with Louis, a friend of his, we plotted a route and I left it with them to see if they could get the time off work. I was fortunate that the rim had split when it did. Not only was I able to replace it without a problem, I had also met two great guys who I would hopefully be cycling with.
I was time to move on, although Mark's friendliness and efforts to make me
feel at home, made this hard. I had a big day ahead. I said my goodbyes
that night and surfacing early the following morning, whilst everyone
slept, I padded out, kitted up Possum, and bade a fond farewell to the High
Commission. I would like to thank Mark and his family enormously for all
their kindness in adding a new dimension to my stay in Kuala Lumpur and
send my best wishes to little baby Asha.