Wednesday, March 4, 2009

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

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

The notable part of my last day in KL began in an abandoned, walled-off lot I had seen from my room. It was large, about half a square block, but difficult to get into. It contained the ruins of a never-completed building’s foundation, pools of poisonous-looking water, and the brute, green, and magnificently varied growth that covers everything here not paved. I thought it would be good for a couple photographs. As I waited for my lenses to un-fog, two dogs-about-town decided with unerring canine sensibility that I didn’t belong where I happened to be, so I left on the quick.

I had thought about going to the National Art Gallery, but now decided that I would just explore the city on foot, get an impressionistic sense of how it works and is put together. So I started off in the most colorful direction. Here were covered outdoor restaurants where the food was made makeshift and sometimes eaten with hands. Much was made of rice and bean curd, supplemented with ingredients whose English names don’t feature on the handwritten menus. It was at such pseudo-establishments that I ate from time to time.
From here, I wandered through lower-middle class and poorer neighborhoods at a time of day when everything seemed to be about eating and meeting. In all, the people appear to be a happy, or at least not outwardly unhappy, people.
As I write this under the awning of a café drinking Argentinean wine topped with the spray from the daily thunderstorm, I’m reminded by the couple drinking next to me that I may never have been anywhere where there are more inter-racial couples. And the races are many: Malaysian, Chinese, European, Indian, African. I don’t want to draw any facile conclusions from this, but it is notable.

But I had walked all day. I walked, and I took pictures, and I thought of my surroundings. I happened to see my reflection in a shop window where dresses were being sold for the equivalent of US $1.50 and realized with a little embarrassment that I was soaked through with sweat. I decided to ride the monorail. There’s only one, so I knew it would take me back to places I was a little more familiar with. For I had no idea where I now was. Nor did it matter, but I was thinking a drink might reinvigorate me, and something surfaced which had been gnawing at the lower levels of my consciousness all day and the import of which now became acute. I don’t believe that regular drinking establishments as we know them – call them bars, taverns, pubs – I don’t believe these exist as such in KL. There are hotel lounges and clubs, and you can get drinks in nicer restaurants, but I was by now a little worried where my afternoon sustenance would come from. Much of my later wanderings were disappointing searches for cocktail hour, something I never found. But chance did land me in the café I mentioned earlier, and here I am now sitting in a deluge the likes of which are unknown in Wisconsin (where I live).

Damn, it’s raining hard. I lean over to the guy keeping me in wine at this bodega to ask how typical this is. It is, apparently, a big storm, and I’m finally ushered inside so they don’t have to keep the awning propped up over me any longer. Fair enough.
I’ve made no mention of the major shopping area immediately surrounding my hotel and directly across the street from my present situation. It doesn’t interest me at all, but it may interest others that it’s there. This is a world city and not impervious to Gucci, Prada, and other names no doubt important but unknown to me. What actually does draw my attention is that there are fashion ads everywhere, as there are everywhere else, but there is not one among this extremely varied population here who looks anything remotely like anyone in any of the ads. I have no grudge against fashion – how could I? – but the worldwide industrial demon that has taken possession of it, if it had a throat, that throat would require quick slitting, and I’d volunteer for the hit.

Let me now elaborate and summarize, for I’ve taken much of your time. KL is architecture most varied, people good and friendly and sleezy, food delicious and unclean, and I’ve not even mentioned the prominent beauty of the women. In short, it is a vibrant, partly modern, partly developing, city of the world. It is also located on the equator, so much daily activity centers around fluid loss and replenishment, though not so much replenishment as I would wish.
Finally and most importantly to me, but for the occasional times when I wish I were sharing this with someone else, I was able to inhabit a space outside myself; almost 24 hours I did this, and I am healthier for it. The soul is in remission.

The rain has lifted, and it’s time for me to fetch my bags and find the airport.
Recessionista/er Tip of the Day: If a tight cash flow inhibits soul-soothing from being performed abroad, Recessionistas/ers in NYC and Los Angeles should check out, a webstie that offers great deals on spa services, massages, waxes, etc. so you can find a moment of respite on a budget. (Thanks to Kat for today's great tip!)

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