‘Kuala Lumpur’ means ‘muddy confluence’, referring to the meeting of the Gombak and Klang Rivers. This name was probably appropriate when it was a small tin-mining settlement in the 1850s, but it doesn’t quite capture the vibrant mood of the gleaming city that stands there today. Now you’d be hard pushed to find the confluence of those rivers, hidden somewhere between overpasses, underpasses and soaring skyscrapers; in fact, ‘cement city’ would be a more accurate, if unflattering, title. I’m not sure whether it’s because Kuala Lumpurians want to disown their muddy heritage, or perhaps because acronyms are currently fashionable, but these days the city’s inhabitants prefer to be called KL-ites, and their city simply KL.
I’ve been to KL several times before, but never got nearer to the city than Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), which is over 50km away, to the joy of taxi drivers. Now I find myself based in the city for a few days researching a story on Malaysian starfruit, and find time to check out a few sights.
The one ‘must-see’ sight in KL is undoubtedly the Petronas Twin Towers, the city’s most prominent icon. It’s not far from my guesthouse, so I decide to brave the heavy traffic and walk. Luckily I check with the receptionist, who sends me in the opposite direction to the route I’ve planned, to take a raised walkway that isn’t marked on the map, and which leads all the way to the towers. I notice that pedestrians on the walkway are protected from the fumes and noise of traffic choking the streets below, so well done KL! One of the few cities I know that makes provisions for pedestrians as well as car drivers.
The ‘towers’ experience is as I expected—a rigid routine of ten minutes on the skybridge (41st floor) and twenty minutes on the observation deck (86th floor), ushered around by staff sporting fixed smiles. It’s difficult to compose images creatively in a place that’s been photographed a million times, but I have fun shooting architectural details and people taking selfies.
On leaving, I pass through the enormous Suria KLCC, one of the city’s most popular malls with several floors of designer shops, and I notice smartly dressed KL-ites pondering purchases that are way out of my league. I head into KLCC Park looking for an image of the towers from the outside and am immediately relieved to be among trees, ponds and lawns. Here’s another treat—a precious green lung right in the city centre, even if it is surrounded by cacophonous construction.
The towers may be Malaysia’s best-known symbol, but for a taste of the country’s multi-cultural character, I make my way to Chow Kit, the city’s biggest fresh market. Indian, Chinese, Malay and mixed-race vendors sing out their wares such as mangoes, jackfruit, and guavas. The vast, covered area displays a staggering variety of fruits, vegetables, meat and fish, and helps to explain the rich diversity of Malay cuisine.
After a few days in KL, I realize that the entire population is obsessed with food. It seems that the main thought on everyone’s mind is “What shall I eat for my next meal?” This question comes to a frenzied climax each evening along Jalan Alor, a street dedicated entirely to eating, and along Bukit Bintang, which is lined with trendy bars and restaurants. Locals and tourists wander up and down, gazing at displays of seafood on ice, barbecued meat on sticks, spicy curries and durian, all the while being badgered by barkers to sit down in their restaurant.
I join the throng to sample a pan-Asian fusion meal; Cambodian amok (a seafood curry) a Thai tom yam (spicy, sour soup) and a Malay mee goreng ayam (stir-fried noodles with shallots, egg and chicken). As I wash it down with a starfruit shake, I’m beginning to understand the KL-ites’ fascination with food. With so much to choose from, it’s easy to experience new taste sensations every day.
Getting around a city is always important, and KL gets a big thumbs-up for its user-friendly transport system. Well-marked and regular trains and buses run a great service for just a few cents, or in some cases free. From Raja Chulan, a KL monorail station just five minutes’ walk from my guesthouse, I can get almost anywhere in town.
While riding the monorail, I notice the sharp contrast between the rigid lines of high-rise towers and the intricate and colourful carvings on Hindu temples tucked away in the backstreets. So I head round to the Sri Maha Mariamman temple and marvel over the craftsmanship of carvings that adorn the temple, and the quietness of its courtyard induces a relaxed mood.
Not for long, however. Round the corner from the temple I hop on a bus to the Batu Caves, about 15km north of the city centre, to see something of Thaipusam, KL’s biggest annual Hindu festival. At the caves, amazing scenes are unfolding—men performing the kavadi attam, or ‘burden dance’, while carrying circular decorated canopies above their heads, spinning round in a trance. Many of them have hooks in their backs and are restrained from charging forward by someone holding chains behind. On the steps up to the caves, a solid mass of humanity surges up and down beside a giant-sized statue of Lord Murugan, to whom the festival is dedicated.
As I leave the city on the KLIA Ekspres train, having already checked in for my flight, I feel strangely calm before the experience of passing through an international airport, which can be fraught with anxiety-inducing delays. After undergoing the security checks, I sink into a vibrating massage chair and ask myself if I’ve ever had a smoother introduction to a new city before. The answer, I think, is no.
Y'all know Wikipedia, dontcha? That wonderful bastion of philanthropy, the so-called ‘free’ encyclopaedia staffed by selfless sharers of essential information—one of the world’s ten most popular websites, written by the people, for the people?
Well, I got news for you—Wikipedia is wicked, and I don’t mean that in a ‘so bad it’s good’ way. I mean wicked, as in nasty, calculating and, worst of all, corrupt.
How do I know? Well, one of their regular contributors just tried to sell me a page about myself on Wikipedia…for $910, non-negotiable. Ali Khalid tried to hook me in with the tempting thought that…”These days, anyone who is important is on Wikipedia. It shows people that one is popular and credible”.
So, just how credible is Wikipedia? Ali sent me links to the Wikipages of a couple of satisfied customers, who had paid the going rate to be deemed important, popular and credible. Lyn Mikel Brown, it appears, is an American feminist and Nancy Cruickshank retails beauty products.
I’ve no doubt that there are still a few well-intentioned souls writing for Wikipedia who want to warn us of the dangers of fracking (or whatever their obsession is) without receiving a cent for their troubles, but it seems there are richer pickings to be found by dipping into the endless supply of real-life people who want to be considered important or notable.
Fancy a go? Then here’s what to do. Write a few (free) biographies for Wikipedia of little-known but notable dead poets/musicians/artists/etc, in order to establish yourself, then market your talents to the millions of semi-successful people on this planet who would happily part with $910 for a taste of notability. Soon as you know it, you’ll be rolling in clover.
"Goodbye hello!”…reminds me of an old Beatles song, but the website hola.org is something much more insidious than anything we knew when we used to go round singing “I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello”.
A friend recommended it as a useful site that would enable me to watch programmes on the BBC iPlayer, which is generally not available outside the UK, as well as any other websites that are generally blocked in the land where I live—Thailand.
Being a sucker for anything that makes life a bit easier or more fun, I downloaded it and for a couple of weeks enjoyed my new-found freedom—watching the final of Wimbledon tennis and a few insightful documentaries—but then the trouble began.
I read an intriguing book recently--Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. It’s a kind of ‘1984’ for the 21st century, a post-apocalyptic novel (date unspecified) that mentions various factors, such as rising sea levels flooding major cities, holes in the ozone layer and a pandemic along the lines of the Ebola virus (which has just re-appeared in Guinea in the last few days), which have wiped out virtually all life on the planet. All that remains are a few human survivors and genetically-modified life forms gone wild, like wolvogs, pigoons, and rakunks.
Last week the TV news channels like BBC and CNN droned on for hours about the death of Margaret Thatcher, but this week they gave a single minute to the passing of Richie Havens—a gifted singer and songwriter who helped to forge the consciousness of the hippie generation. Since there are unlikely to be any eulogies of Richie on TV, I feel duty bound to rattle on for ten minutes about this heroic person.
Can you trust
When Stephen Kaufer was planning a holiday in Mexico about a decade ago, he couldn’t decide which hotel to book, and a thought occurred to him that might have occurred to any holiday-maker: “Wouldn’t it be neat if there was a website where anybody could review any hotel or restaurant and share it with the world?” Wish you’d got in there first? Kaufer’s tripadvisor.com is now the world’s most popular travel website by a country mile with around 60 million visitors a month and growing. But is it really the answer to everyone’s travel-related prayers?
It's official. By a landslide (well, 3-0), visitors to this website have voted for the shorter version of how to say this year, so the vote is now closed, and I hope you'll all go around calling this year 'twenty thirteen' rather than 'two thousand (and) thirteen'.
To be truthful, I'm relieved about this, as it seems pretty obvious to me, but I still hear people calling it 'two thousand and thirteen' every day, particularly news announcers on the BBC and CNN, who I would think should know better. After all, we didn't run around at the end of the last millennium talking about 'one thousand, nine hundred and ninety nine', did we? And can you imagine us texting each other at the end of this millennium, saying 'OK. C u at 4pm on 4 March two thousand nine hundred and ninety nine'? No way, we'll need shorter ways to communicate by then...if indeed humans are communicating at all.
So thanks for your participation - all three of you - and enjoy all the wonders that twenty thirteen has in store!
Don't get me wrong - I'm not that hungover that I still don't know which year we're in, but I'm having a problem with how to say it, so please help me out here and let me know how you say the name of this year.
When I hear people say 2013, they seem to be split about 50-50 between these two ways, so let's see what you think is correct.
is a British writer and photographer based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.