December 20, 2004

24 Hours In Kuala Lumpur...

I had never flown with Malaysian Airways before, but I was very impressed by the excellence of the food and service. More importantly, the flight attendents were very pleasing for my travel-weary eyes to behold.

Flying with Malaysian Airways, allowed me to stop-by Kuala Lumpur for 24 hours. Of all the mainland Southeast Asian countries, Malaysia was still the one I had not visited. I hardly consider 24 hours much of a visit, but it was a good taste.

I had assumed that the airport was a little closer to Kuala Lumpur, than it actually was. It takes about an hour from the airport to downtown. It is a very nice drive, on a modern road with beautiful oil palm forests for most of the way.

When I arrived at my hotel, the four star Dorsett Regency, which I had made a reservation for online, I was surprised to learn that they had overbooked. This was quickly rectified by upgrading me to.....the penthouse suite at no extra charge! The rooms were very luxurious, with televisions in each, as well as a beautiful adjoining marble bathroom. On top of this, there were also amazing views of Kuala Lumpur's skyline. Not bad for a backpacker.

Kuala Lumpur has gone through enormous development, and in many ways, while it was pleasant to stroll about, it did not seem to have much character. It seemed more like a clone of other developed cities, with department stores and Starbucks Coffee shops. For me, the highlight was in seeing the outstanding beauty of the Petronas Twin Towers, which were completed in 1997, and were the world's highest buildings for a brief moment. The design and engineering is breathtaking.

What amazed me the most about Kuala Lumpur, was the multiculturalism. It has not been an easy ride for this country, but there seems to have been a real effort to make multiculturalism a part of the national identity. The people seem very proud of this achievement, and I felt very welcomed and relaxed as a result. Everyone also seems driven to earn money. Both my taxi drivers told me how they believe that money is central to creating harmony. The devotion was startling to me.

Finally, after a three and a half hour journey, I have returned to India. I got a reminder of the chaos that can sometimes prevail here, when I was at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, checking in. Within seconds of assembling a rough excuse for a queue, jostling suddenly broke out, with people barging in front and throwing their luggage ahead of other people. It was mayhem.

One Indian man in the queue, came up to me, and asked if I would carry one of his packages under my name, as he had too much stuff. The reason may well have been genuine, but the response was a very clear "NO!". He then asked some Malaysians, who repeated the same mantra as myself. No one in their right mind would agree, especially after hearing on arrival in Malaysia, that drug smuggling is an automatic death sentence!

After finally getting through the redtape at Chennai Airport, I was met by a driver, called Ganesh. He gave a wonderful warm welcome to me, which immediately placed me at ease. We drove through the night streets, with the accompaniment of Tamil music.

The Beverley Hotel is a very comfortable, clean place, with an excellent restaurant and bar. I am certain that the standards I have had to begin this trip will soon be replaced by the usual $2 dives I usually stay at here.

Today has been a gentle day of acclimatising to the new surroundings. I have taken strolls along the streets, and had the usual motor rickshaw guys try to accost me for a ride. One man came up to me, with very convincing paperwork, informing me that he worked in airport customs, and had seen me yesterday, but required 200 Rupees (approx $2) for medicine for his wife. Now, forgive me for being a touch callous, but I don't think so. I always try to be as generous as I can, but sloppy stories are not the way to get money out of me. Travelling here and elsewhere, requires some careful discerning of who the really needy are.

I altered my plans somewhat, after realising that perhaps I was being a little too ambitious. Instead of going to Pondicherry, just south of Chennai, I have now arranged an eleven hour train journey to Kochi on the west coast, from where I will travel south, by boat, train and bus to the most southern point of the Sub-Continent, Kanyakamuri. After that, I will head up to Madurai, where I will visit the famous ancient temples, which are some of the highest in the world, and engraved with colourful imagery. From then on, depends entirely on the time that's left. I have three weeks in this fascinating country, but delays in transport have to be calculated in, so that I do not miss my flight back home!

Please check for further updates. Photographs from this trip will appear when I return to Japan. In the meantime, I will add photographs from my previous journeys.

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