Visiting Kuala Lumpur reminded me how tropical climates usually work. On Langkawi we had clear skies and sunshine every day plus coastal breezes to cool things down a little. Too perfect. In KL you can feel the humidity in the stiller air and there is a quick downpour every twenty-four hours, often as part of a thunderstorm. Best be under cover for those periods or be drenched in moments.
The conditions that promote such rapid plant growth appear to have rubbed off onto the concrete of this city as well. Central Kuala Lumpur is full of building sites as new skyscrapers are built and infrastructure is upgraded here, there and everywhere. We were on the thirty-second floor of a relatively old building with a lovely view over the KLCC Park (see below) but even at this height were at a lesser altitude than many of our neighbours.
KL’s people are as lively as the plants and the buildings. The streets bustle and the malls even more so thanks to air-conditioning; the rush-hour traffic is awful; the nightlife buzzes. Malaysia is a Muslim state that appears to strike a harmonious balance between religious traditions and non-Islamic choices. The former is exemplified by the large percentage of women who cover their heads, the latter by the way that that head-scarf is often worn with jeans and a long-sleeved t-shirt.
Malaysia’s multi-cultural make-up probably contributes a lot to the balancing process. Malay, Chinese and Indian are the three largest ethnic groups in the country and there are numerous other international influences mixed into that already broad palette. Such great variety has produced times of friction in the nation’s politics over the years but many good things come of it too.
One such benefit that we capitalised upon is the range and quality of food on offer in the city. In the course of a week we ate fine examples of Malay, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai and Italian cuisine. Memorable dishes included wasabi ice cream (tastes much better than it sounds), chocolate durian cake (doesn’t) and a Malay dish I can’t remember the name of that combines pineapple, chilli, shrimp paste, coconut paste and lime juice. While I enjoy Korean food a lot it was nevertheless a great pleasure to try some different flavours again. Indeed an overall highlight of the trip was the increased variety of everything available in KL; it made Ulsan feel almost one-dimensional in comparison.
Our visit coincided with the weekend of the Malaysian Formula One Grand Prix and with a happy grandmother available to look after Medina for the afternoon, Leyla and I took the opportunity to go. As with the Korean Grand Prix of 2010, the colours, the aromas and the overall atmosphere were terrific; the latter even more so being at a more established venue this time and with grandstand seats rather than being out in the open. The part we underestimated with the change of seating was the noise of the cars: it sounded superb but was near-deafening when reverberating off all the concrete and glass surrounding us. Definitely ear plugs next time.
Some bright spark at Sepang Circuit decided during a planning meeting that the best entertainment to offer after the screaming V8 engines of racing cars would be the screaming guitars and vocals of a rock band. Hence our seat tickets gave us free entry to Guns N’ Roses performing at the circuit after the race. Of course we couldn’t not go.
My asking directions to the gig from some people wearing Access All Areas tags resulted in meeting a Norwegian oil and gas engineer with connections to the project I’m working on (small world!?), going for a quick thee-up ride on a moped and nearly getting backstage ourselves. Alas we fell at the final fence en route to backstage but probably got a much better view and sound where we ended near the mixing desk front of house.
The gig was better than I expected. With my liking of GNR based squarely on the pre-Use Your Illusion period, I thought the eight-piece band was too large and sounded too dense but all the musicians played superbly, Axl was still hitting his high notes and while the tropical heat was clearly being felt there was animated showmanship from all on stage. Welcome To The Jungle was third or fourth song in the set and seldom sounded more apposite.
As we headed for the bus home we discovered our hearing remained miraculously undamaged and intact. Hopefully our memories of the trip will be as hardy.