Kuala Lumpur: "R x T = D"
July 7, 2006
Dear Family and Friends,
Selamat pagi. Good Morning.
Did you know that the lift at the Menara Kuala Lumpur travels at an ear-popping rate of 276m in 58 seconds?
The lift at the Manara Kembar Petronas travels at the rate of 5m per second.
So, can anyone tell me the kph for each lift? How about mph? Don't ask me! I was an English major, remember?
My day (Day 3) begins at the booking queue for the Petronas Towers Skybridge Visit. I opt for a 4:45pm ticket. I wander away and around and end up in an adjacent shopping mall. Now this is no ordinary shopping mall. I have strolled into a six-tiered, air-conditioned combination of Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Rodeo Drive, Bond Street, Orchid Road, Chestnut Hill and Bal Harbour. Here's a partial list of the shops:
Boss, Guess, Coach, Polo, A/X, Aigner, Gucci, Hermes, fcuk, Diesel, Laura Ashley, L'Occcitane, Ermengilda Zegna (they are having a sale), Versace, Escada, Ferre, Bulgari, oops, I mean Bvlgari, Piaget, Dunhill, Mont Blanc, Patek Philippe, Chanel, Cartier, Bally, and Tiffany & Co with its unique beige marble exterior. The Love Diamond, Mikimoto, TAGHeuer.
There are a few unfamiliar to me: Nitya, MaxMara, Raoul, Edmundser, Salablanca and Kookai. Oh yes, Inner Secrets. Don't be shy; close your eyes and try to imagine what they have on hand there. Don't tell Victoria.
On the way out I spot The Hour Glass - Contemporary Horological Art and exclusive agents for Rolex, Tudor, Cartier, Carl F. Bucherer, Longines, Breitling, Andemars, Piguet, Daniel Roth, Gerald Genta, Harry Winston, Bregnet, Jaeger-LeCoultre. TYB, my stainless steel Walgreen's Special Timepiece keeps exact time after five years and only one battery replacement.
I did treat myself to a perfectly ordinary cup of coffee at San Francisco Coffee - 5.20 RM (Malaysia Ringgit) or about a buck forty-four. Jan, the "big spender." Now don't anyone ask me for a present from this place.
All of this is to say that in my opinion, Kuala Lumpur is the most modern and the most striking of all the capital cities in Southeast Asia I have visited. The streets are clean and a little congested, but compared to Bangkok, traffic moves freely even at rush hour. The main roads are mostly boulevards. There are dozens, hundreds of high-rise towers but I always have a sense of spaciousness. I can see the sky and the distant surroundings. Electric and telephone wires are underground.
Yes, I am quite the proper tourist my first visit to Kuala Lumpur.
DAY ONE - The "Colonial District Walk"
A short walk from my hotel I find the elevated monorail from Bakut Bintang to Hang Tuah and change for the Star LRT (Light Rail Transit) to Masjid Jamek.
Masjid Jamek "set in a grove of palm trees, KL's most delightful mosque is a tranquil creation of onion domes and minarets of layered pink and cream bricks."* I linger and relax after my stressful subway ride. The guard assumes I am not a Muslim and requests I not enter the mosque - just "walk outside."
I find my way to Merdeka Square - an enormous lawn - former cricket field - and the spot in 1957 where Malaysia declared its independence. In the middle of the lawn is the tallest flagpole in the world - 100 meters high with no external support.
Several really impressive public buildings surround the square. My favorite is the train station "built in 1911, this delightful example of colonial whimsy is a Moorish fantasy of spires, minarets, towers, cupolas and arches."* My other favorite is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building with its "blend of Victorian and Moorish architecture."* It now serves as the Malaysia Supreme Court Building. The guards smiled as they waved me away.
I end my walk at the small but charming St. Mary's church, and head to a food stall for some grilled fish, rice, spicy gravy and cucumber salad and a pineapple juice made in a blender from a pineapple!
I wander into Little India and escape the heat at a cafe for an ice coffee and a couple of Indian sweets cakes. I promise to return soon for lunch.
I backtrack to my hotel - stress free this time. I manage to take the trains in the proper direction! And just up the road is a wide avenue lined on both sides with many small ethnic restaurants. The servers beckon with menus in hand. The tables overflow out on to the sidewalks and beyond the parking meters on to the street. One lane of cars manages to squeeze through.
I choose one spot and order two "small" dishes: chicken with chillies and beef with onions. Just one would have been enough, but they were so delicious.... After one day I am getting a sense of the city and the country. Ancient Thais and Cambodians, modern Portuguese, Dutch and English all have influenced this area. I meet second and third generation Indian, Bangladeshi, and Chinese. And of course indigenous Malay people who look like and speak the same language as nearby Indonesians. They all live together as a seemingly harmonious national group as they continue to practice their individual cultures.
DAY TWO - ISLAM
(My left knee is giving me quite a pain. I reckon that back in Bangkok, a Thai massage girl twisted me just a bit too far. So I pop a Naproxin, pop out my walking stick, and pop into a taksi for my ride to Masjid Negara.)
"Set in five hectares (one hectare = 2.47 acres) of landscaped gardens, Masjid Negara, The National Mosque, is one of Southeast Asia's largest mosques. A 73m high minaret stands in the center of a pool, and the main dome is an 18-pointed star - symbolizing the 13 states of Malaysia and he five pillars of Islam. Forty-eight smaller domes cover the courtyard; their design is said to be inspired by the Grand Mosque in Mecca."* The mosque can accommodate 15,000 worshipers. I remember to remove my shoes at the main entrance and on my way out I pick up "Invitation to Understanding Islam" - a series of small pamphlets on a variety of subjects.
Just across the road is the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia...www.iamm.org.my.
My first stop is the special exhibit called "Abrandi - Ikats from Central Asia." This is a colorful exhibit of extraordinary delicate silk textiles and garments. Check out the website.
After a delicious coffee and cake at the Restoran, I explore the permanent exhibits.
The aim of the museum is to collect the art and artifacts of Muslim China, Muslim India and the Mughal Empire, and the Malays - the three main ethnic groups of Malaysia. Books, calligraphic scrolls, manuscripts, porcelain, ceramics, glassware, bronzes, coins, textiles, weaponry, jewelry. The emphasis is on the Qur'ans printed and drawn in different styles. As the brochure says, "All serve to represent the diversity of Islamic peoples and the multi-cultural heritage of Malaysia."
The Architecture Gallery "displays models of some of the greatest monuments of the Islamic world." These mosques and monuments are simply astonishing even as just models. I have my strongest reaction here. I have one of my "moments." Let me just say this at this time...We in the USA, we in the West must take Muslims and Islam seriously. Why? Because Muslims take themselves seriously. Muslims take Islam seriously.
At the gift shop I buy a book called "Islam, Basic Beliefs" by Salahuddin Ahmed. I have begun reading it. I guess I will have more to say later.
I finish up my day at the Lake Gardens and the National Monument. "The massive National Monument sculpted in bronze by Felix de Weldon, the creator of the Iwo Jima monument in Washington, D.C., this memorial commemorates the Communist defeat in 1950." Talk about common ground!!
DAY THREE - TOWERS AND TEMPLES
(So, did you do your homework? What are you waiting for? The Algebra Regents is next Thursday!)
"Amidst the city of Kuala Lumpur stands the Menara Kuala Lumpur at 515m above sea level. Majestically poised at a breathtaking height of 421 meters, the Tower doubles as Kuala Lumpur's best known ambassador." www.menarakl.com.my. 421m = 1390 ft = more than a 1/4 mile. Arithmetic I am good at. This communications tower is the fourth tallest in the world.
I ride the lift to the viewing deck for a "superb panorama of the city from a dizzy altitude of 276m - over 900 feet above the ground."
I walk round and round the deck as I look for the perfect shot, the perfect view. Along the way I meet three girls from Singapore who "promise" to write.
A taxi ride out of town to the modern Thean Hou Temple. My driver stops twice for directions after getting quite lost. We find the road to the temple and drive up the hill.
"Thean Hue (Queen of Heaven) is worshiped in coastal areas of China and is the protector of those who make their living from the sea."* The temple is colorful; many worshipers are lighting joss sticks and praying. And from the hill there is a great view back to the towers of KL.
Back to town to keep my own promise to return for lunch in Little India where I happily order the banana-leaf meal (all the food is ladled on to a place-mat-size banana leaf). The rice in the middle is surrounded by several delicious vegetable and curry "sambals." Going native, I eschew fork and spoon. The meal is finger-lickin' good! Mango lassi with a straw.
Now a long walk to Chinatown to find painted old shop houses and the bright red incense wreathed Guandi Temple - Guandi is the Taoist god of war. Across the street is the Sri Mahamariamman Dhevasthanam Temple - a colorful cool tile-floored respite from the hot Malay sun.
I am getting a little anxious to arrive on time for the Petronas Towers ride. There are few taxis around and when I spot one and wave, they don't stop. I finally figure out they only stop at taxi stands! I am in Asia or what? Finally a kind man (no women taxi or bus drivers here) pulls over.
I am on time and ride to the Skybridge on the 41st floor, only a mere 146m. This is a non-event compared to the KL Tower this morning.
The 88 story Twin Towers actually rise to 452.9m above KL - the world's tallest building. www.petronastwintowers.com.my. The structure is quite beautiful, and intricate, with Islamic art and religious influences, yet unique and modern. I am glad I went.
I am glad I decided to visit Malaysia. Hotels are comfortable, the food is good and everyone is curious and friendly. English is widely spoken and I have learned a few words of Malay... a very few.
My day and visit to Kuala Lumpur ends with dinner at yet another sidewalk restaurant, a relaxing massage, and my hotel room (CNN, ESPN - a re-play of the All Star Game, and CineMax). I pack for my four-hour bus ride to the beach.
I plan to travel here for three weeks (T) over many kilometers (D) and I expect the rides will be a little slow (R). I am hopeful the equation will continue to be interesting, informative and maybe a little invigorating!
See you at the beach.
* The quotations and references are from Lonely Planet "Malaysia, Singapore & Brunei"