Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Saving a Soul: 24 hrs. in Kuala Lumpur (Part 1 of 2)

A 24 hr. Memoir
-Featuring the writing of Guest Blogger/World Traveler/Honorary Recessionista Peter...

When I was a high school expatriate in the last years before Germany’s reunification, the matriarch of the family I lived with diagnosed me with an ominous condition. “Die Seele ist krank.” The soul is sick. She had no idea.

Twenty years later, the soul is still ailing, and the condition has metastasized to both more and less vital organs. But I am not lost, I am not dead, and I will beat this thing. Today I find my soul, not under the head-shaking gaze of a motherly physician, but in the lap of luxury’s exotic mistress. Two weeks ago, Malaysia was one of hundreds of places I might never visit. But it’s tonight, and I’ve just asked my butler at the Kuala Lumpur Ritz Carlton to wake me with a pot of coffee an hour before sunrise. He glances at my camera bag and asks with a huge smile, “for pictures?”

Yes. It’s half an hour to midnight, and I have twenty four hours to myself. Let’s call this rehabilitation.

The last half hour of February 24th I spend walking and soaked. Finally I was nearing the Petronas towers. I wanted to photograph these lit up, preferably from across the fountain and pool I knew were in front of them. I didn’t know just where that was, but I was probably within a mile now. I took a couple shots of the towers over the tops of other buildings, and then its lights went out. Shit. Things shut down at midnight here. Keep walking, though, I might as well.
A young man in a park tries a ruse. “Card stuck in the ATM machine,” could I give him 8 Ringgits? My instinct is quietly but firmly to refuse, but these are different circumstances. It’s the witching hour in an outdoor equatorial sauna underneath the Gothic imposition of the KLCC towers. So I venture, “I’ll give you 8 Ringgits if I can take your picture,” lifting my camera. He declines. Maybe I’m the fuzz, he might be thinking. I don’t know because he’s gone now, leaving me to change fogged lenses in a too dark park.
I circle slowly around the towers, the eye to the viewfinder seeking some eternal moment to capture, the other watchful for a place to get a drink. I resolve neither the one nor the other for a while. Then I hear some music and move in. No, it’s not music, it’s a dance club. But next door is an outside lounge. I haven’t been able to find out whether Malaysia produces its own beer, but I see a sign for Singapore’s typically Asian rice brew, and I make for the Tiger. This is a really crappy place, and they charge 17R a glass, but once I remember the conversion, it’s not so expensive, and it all seems marginally less crappy, even the lung-aggravating clove cigarette ambiance contributing to what might become an improbable nostalgia if provoked by a few more Tigers.

I borrow a pen from the hostess. It’s here that I’ve written the preceding. After a time, I move out.

In the equatorial dark, one’s compass is a poor navigational aid. I wandered far tonight, and in no certain direction. I passed and photographed and conversed with vendors of food and other fruits of the street. Street food is good for the constitution, and I vow that I will tomorrow eat nothing but species of its genus. The other may be less wholesome and try unqualified systems of immunity, and I leave it alone.

I am on back streets, and by this time there are medium sized animals testing the lesser shadows and I cannot know their dangers or designs. Welcome home says the Carlton Ritz, and plunder please the bar mini. And I so do. My god, did I make it back here? Sleep comes slowly and in small measure.

To be continued in tomorrow's entry...

Recessionista Tip of the Day: Unless you have the luxury to travel for work as my friend Peter, going to exotic, international locations might feel impossible. Even if you can afford the price of the airfare, the accommodations break the bank. Well, if you don't mind putting on your best Bohemian beret and roughing it a bit, you can stay almost anywhere in the world as a guest in a fellow Wanderluster's home! Check out Couchsurfers - a site devoted entirely to connecting Recessionistas across the globe. Freeloading is the new pink, after all.

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