Sunday, June 25, 2006

KL Journal #4

6/23/2006 2:31 PM
Somewhere over the Malaysian sea coast

Our trip to Malaysia is finally coming to an end. We are now on a flight to Mumbai, via Singapore, Colombo and God knows where else! Budget travelers cannot be choosers. I told you about our trip to Melaka. Last Friday, we managed to visit another Malaysian destination. We went to Penang.

Yes that famous British colony of the ‘Penang lawyer' fame. We did manage to get ourselves to a good introduction to delectable Penang Chinese cuisine. Dimsums, prawn mees, claypot rice, murtabaks (not Chinese, Indian)…we went on a gourmet overdrive in Penang.

Penang is a little island off the coast of North east Malaysia that is now connected to the mainland by a bridge. It was a very famous British settlement that fell to the Japanese in 1942. I suppose that’s why Georgetown – the old town part of Penang – still wears that Colonial charm.

A very important aside. Just like India, Malaysia was a British colony. But a friend tells me that unlike the Indian freedom struggle, the Malaysian freedom movement was pretty intrepid. In fact, compared to the Indian movement, there was no Malaysian freedom struggle at all. Self-reliance was handed to the locals on a platter sometime in the 50s. The relations are amiable, needless to mention. Malaysia is a proud member of the Commonwealth. And most importantly, the British phase here is not something the Malays want to phase out. That’s why Georgetown is still called Georgetown and not TAR Negara or something like that… And most importantly it looks a lot like the way old Georgetown looked, I suppose.

We are landing in Singapore. More later.

6/23/2006 6:52 PM
Colombo International Airport

The last few hours have been extremely tiring. For a good part of the last two hours, we are waiting at Colombo Airport. Our flight was supposed to take off at 6.20 Colombo time. But we are still waiting at a no-smoking airport lounge with a gaggle of Pakistanis. The flight is a Colombo-Mumbai-Karachi flight.

The Singapore-Colombo leg was quite forgettable. Another gaggle of Tamils got on at Changi. Started drinking. One couldn’t handle his whiskey. Ending up puking and chewing his cutlery packet. I have seen worse. The thought of another human being throwing up in an enclosed space was too much for us. We had to change seats.

Met another Tamil. This one was quite decent and one of those temporary friendships were struck in the middle of this fiasco. He said he was traveling from PNG. Penang, I supposed and was about to impress him with my newly earned knowledge.

Papua New Guinea, he said.

Papua New Guinea of the South Seas, Gauguin paintings, the Mutiny on the Bounty. This is actually the first time I have met someone who has been to Papua New Guinea. Clearly thrilling.

Looks like there was a bomb scare in Colombo. So the crew was not able to reach the airport. Our flight has just started boarding.

Over and out.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

KL Journal #3

6/15/2006 9:15 AM

Why do people gamble? I always had this vision of gamblers. Desperate people, who are trying to reach out to that straw of hope. But at Genting Highlands, last Sunday, I saw real gamblers for the first time. Real people. Old Chinese ladies who you would otherwise see selling their merchandise in a night market. With the obligatory cigarette dangling from their lips. Quite the opposite of a suave James Bond playing roulette in a Nice casino. I guess it somewhat brought down the glamour of gambling in my eyes.

Next day we went to the see the KLCC Mall below Petronas Towers. Malls. You see one and you’ve seen all. Mannequins, the smell of plastic, shiny shop windows and the silent collective sigh, that you can hear if you listen a bit hard. I think malls are the confessionals of these times. You wash away your sins, make new resolutions…to drop a few pounds to get into that dress, to drop a few expensive habits to afford that dress.

One odd thing though. Kinokunhiya (I guess that’s the spelling) is the largest bookshop at KLCC. And 90% of the books at the shop were sold sealed. Yeah, I know you are supposed to judge a book by its cover. But where’s the charm of buying a book, if you can’t leaf through a few pages, read the first line? Where’s the charm of reading something like "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again," for the first time? It’s a kind of flirting that romances you into buying that book. To take it home that night. To make it a part of your consciousness. You can’t do that with a sealed book.

And then we went to Melaka. Melaka is a melting pot of cultures. Portuguese, Dutch, English, Malaya, Chinese…a perfect example of what really South-east Asia is all about, if you care to look below the Sony Handycams, pirated DVDs and tiger economies.

We saw Buddhist temples that double up as karaoke bars and Portuguese townhouses that double up as hotels.

Clearly the highpoint of our trip so far.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

KL Journal #2

Amy's Kitchen, Bayu Angkasa
6/11/2006 10:15 AM

Ok. It’s official. Those veggie Gujjus are taking over the world. On the way from the airport, we had this chatty 3rd-generation Indian cabbie. And he was talking about this veggie Gujjus who would come to KL and go mad ‘coz they haven’t found a veggie place!

Otherwise KL is great. Wide roads, lots of greenery. Swanky cars. The airport looks more like a mall than anything else. I mean, as if, ‘forget collecting your luggage, check out Prada first.’

Every road is called Jalan. Extremely friendly people, things are organized.

Oh, I had frogs last night. Ok. Slightly bony chicken-like. I did it and got over it. Let’s move on.

KL Journal #1

Mumbai Intl. Airport Lounge
6/10/2006 1:20 AM

Lounges can be very boring places if you have forgotten to pay a visit to the friendly airport bookseller. I have not, but the point is Gini has just disappeared somewhere and I am left holding the bags. So I cannot go anywhere till she comes back. So I am left staring that the boring information screens, sleepy kids bawling at their irritated jet setting Moms and totally bored airport attendants. Gini’s back. So it’s now my turn to go for a walk!

Even more boring. The only shops open at this hour are the duty-free shops and the coffee shops. As if some Greater Force has ordained that at this hour, the only stimulation that one can access is either alcohol or caffeine. Shit! I should have brought a book along. In the absence of that I read baggage tags, information kiosks. Shit! I can’t even smoke. For the next 8 hours!