12.6. KLIA

The intense overcapacity of this airport continues to amaze me, this time in the baggage handling section. There are 10 international conveyor belts and 2 domestic ones, all of them motionless (including mine... at least until I wrote these words.)

And again 28 minutes to the city on the Pan Sonic Express. Bip... krsht! Bip... krsht! Bip...

13.6. Kuala Lumpur

At the Seasons' View again. My reservation was there alright, but unfortunately they had forgotten to reserve the room itself: room 226, which I was first given, was occupied so they gave me the key to 126 -- and wrote down 326 in the register. The room in question was also a letdown: a cockroach scrambled across the floor when I came in, the hot water in the shower was tepid at best, the TV was broken, spots of mold on the walls...

But I slept the night anyway and had a tasty local breakfast (by request) of rice, chili sauce and little dried fish. Shades of Japan? And then I was off to the Menara KL (read: minaret), a sightseeing platform for tourists disguised as a telecommunications tower, sitting atop a hill in the middle of the city. The hike up was a bit sweaty even in the morning, but it was worth it for the views of the city. One sight not pointed out in the free and included (as in, obligatory for foreigners) audio guide system: the half-dozen eternal construction sites, left in limbo after the South-East Asian economic crisis.

I returned to Bukit Bintang and went shopping to escape from the heat. (Unlikeliest impulse purchase: a small bucket of kimchi from the Japanese supermarket in Lot 10.) Another great lunch in the basement of Lot 10, especially the scrumptious Thai jelly desserts that I picked at half-random from the display case for fractions of a ringgit per piece. Kalo kacang was especially tasty -- now to figure out what it is.

I still had an afternoon to spare and places to go, so I checked out from the hotel and headed to KL Sentral to dump my stuff, arriving mere seconds before a drizzle turned into a tropical downpour. I immediately checked in my rucksack at the KL CAT, but that still left me with two bottle of sake and a sweater that I didn't exactly need for sightseeing. Off to find a locker!

And find some I did. Insert 2 one-ringgit coins, put stuff in locker, attempt to close door -- and find out that you should have put the coins in only after closing the door. No refunds. I rummaged my wallet for more coinage, but no luck; no other coins accepted, and of course my 1 RM notes were useless. There were, needless to say, no change machines in sight, but I managed to swap one note with a kind, bored lady at the information desk. Now where to get a second ringgit? While pondering, I realized that some of the lockers were evidently slightly smaller and could thus be rented for a single ringgit, and with that problem solved (all this took around half an hour) I headed off.

Incidentally, there's a big notice board in the middle of the station announcing intercity train departures. At the time of my visit it listed a total of 5: four of those on the same day, and the fifth a repeat of the first one the next day. I hope the frequency improves a little if Dr. M makes good on his threat to extent the ERL line from the airport all the way to Singapore.

Speaking of utopian visions, I originally wanted to pay a visit to Putrajaya/Cyberjaya, the new Malaysian capital rising in the jungles south of Kuala Lumpur, but the KLIA Transit train service that goes there would only be opened next week. So instead I boarded an ordinary KTB commuter clunker in the opposite direction and rode one stop to Kuala Lumpur's old train station, which in its almost entirely disused state felt even more out of proportion than KL Sentral. But there was still a dusty tourist information office lurking right outside, which gave me the least useless (if still outdated) city map to date.

Thus armed, I forded a 100-meter obstacle course featuring swollen rivers and multilane highways to Chinatown; thankfully I had plenty of intrepid Malaysian traffic dodgers to imitate. The post-rain humidity made the heat worse than usual, and every now and then the moisture condensed into actual drops. I hid from one shower by ducking into a lovely old Confucian temple maintained by the Chen clan, all bearded ancestors and smells of incense, then continued on my way into the core of Chinatown. A giant outdoor market packed to the gills, half the market is devoted to selling prepared food in all its forms and the bewildered Westerner's primary problem is deciding what to eat. I couldn't decide very quickly, and when rain threatened again, I ended up at the food court of the distinctly scruffy "S&M" (oh my) shopping center. I tried Thai this time, and while the tom yam was good, my "Thai fried rice" wasn't and, worse yet, had clearly been sitting around for a while.

I left with memories of food poisoning squirming in my stomach, and since it was still raining, I committed a blatant act of capitalism and entered the nearby Starbucks. However, I can justify this on research grounds: the fact that the place was full of locals sipping on their RM 10 lattes clearly indicates that the economy is growing again. (And my stomach immediately settled down when soothed with familiar settings and air conditioning.)

And then it was time to start moseying back to the airport. A few last observations on the state of things Malaysian: