a quick jaunt south
The Colosseum Hotel stopped me in my tracks, I had forgotten anything of it until I found myself standing outside it’s weather worn front door. The Colosseum is where, 10 years earlier, I had stayed on the very last day of the motorcycle journey that had taken me from England’s Home Counties, across Europe, The Middle East, across the Himalayas and along the length of Indian to the tropical far south and eventually through South East Asia to Malaysia’s Port Klang, where the wheels stopped turning and a slightly tatty BMW was hauled aboard a ship bound for Rotterdam. Quite a journey, and here by chance I once again stood outside the final lodging place of that grand trip.
Following my recent Thailand Tour, which if I may be permitted a few moments of immodesty was, I think, rather well received by those on the tour, I was in Malaysia having a look at a city that was to all intent and purpose new to me.
I had not realised how long it had been since I had been a proper tourist. A lost white man stopping at every street corner to study his map, standing by a shop till proffering a handful of mysterious and puzzling coins to the assistant and puzzling for fifteen minutes over the urban rail network map; an intriguing mix of mono rail, sky train and underground, before confessing defeat and making enquiries at the info desk.
Considering its close geographical proximity it fascinated me just how culturally removed Kuala Lumper is from Bangkok. Although having in the past been shaped tremendously by Chinese immigration (I understand that 50% of Bangkok’s population is of Chinese ancestry) Bangkok is now ethnically culturally and linguistically Thai and religiously Buddhist. KL, as Kuala Lumper is affectionately known, is a melting pot of race, language and, although predominantly muslim, religion. Malay is, one assumes, the official language of the land but wherever the British went during their colonial reign they took with them Indians, lots of Indians. As a consequence the rapid machine gun like rattle of Tamil is oft heard, as is Hindi. As is the case everywhere across the globe it was trade took the Chinese to KL where they merrily settled, married, and established their own stye, religion food and language or, so far as I can tell, three languages, Mandarin, Cantonese and Hakka. Fortunately for we tourists the populous of Kuala Lumper found a common uniting language to be a fine idea, English. It was odd to be in a land where English is considered the language of choice.
Architecturally KL is a mix of colonial shop fronts, Chinese and Hindu temples, mosques and islamic edifices and some of the world’s grandest and largest skyscrapers. To me the high-rise buildings of KL present a different atmosphere from those of many other high-rise cities. So often in other cities the high-rise buildings are so close together they have an overwhelming presence that manages to block out their own scale. In KL there is enough open space between these huge buildings to give a true feeling of their height, a feeling of being amongst giants. The Petronas Twin Towers are seldom out of view for long as one wanders the city. Reaching the lions share of half a kilometres into the sky they were on one morning shrouded in cloud as I loped around town. By the night the Twin Towers, bright glowing towers of shining steel look like something from a 1960s sic-fi film.
But of all these fascinating marvels the greatest thing about KL was the wonderful health restorative properties of Guinness Foreign Extra Stout.