Malaysia’s capital appeared through my bus window as skyscrapers clustered above pavements loaded with people on the march to where they needed to be.
Everyone hustled forward, like New Yorkers with smiles. Infecting me with the energy I needed to begin my final week in South East Asia.
Kuala Lumpur (KL to most) was everything I’d come to expect of cities on the continent. Old. New. Strides forward with reverent backward glances towards tradition and heritage. It didn’t surprise me to see ancient hawker markets in the central business district, or frail buddhist monks on modern metro trains. A little bit of everything nestled in a pocket of land just underneath Malaysia’s wet, jade highlands.
A short bus ride beyond the city, I visited the world famous Hindu shrine of Batu. Having never been to India (the only place that I would have experience anything larger) it initially appeared like a theme park to me. I alighted my bus alongside crowds of pilgrims in their hundreds, who were being tipped out at the end of an ominous, albeit polite ticket queue. Entry was a serious business and I’m sure most people clocked the sour faced administration clerks. Their stormy mood mocked by the animated faces of the giant statues above them.
Buffet restaurants with photo menus that swung on steel billboards lined the slim toe of tarmac at the foot of Batu’s looming limestone cliffs. Despite being a permanent feature of my travels around the region, these rock formations immediately felt alien as frame for the frenzy of human interjection that surrounded them.
Manmade edifices of deities in pink, bright blue and orange guarded entrances to all manner of shrines. The largest of which was the colossal Murugan, a Hindu deity covered in gold paint. His towering presence made the 270 steps behind him seem trivial as they reached upward, like the segmented back of a marauding caterpillar, to the main cave. Nothing, I quickly realised, stretches the concept of perspective like a photo of the ever-upright Murugan against the stairway to Temple cave.
Back in the city centre, views from afternoon tea at the Television Tower bore all the bold, straight lines of a Picasso painting, making the curvy shapes and hues of Batu seem like a distant Dali dreamwork. Although two notable curves; the sparkling lungs of the country’s famous Petronas Towers, steadily breathed life into all the regeneration around them.
My perch; the top floor of the least glamorous of KL’s towers, was encased by a grid of diamonds that criss-crossed cold glass panels framing a dizzying drop to the streets below. Suddenly, as if acknowledging that the buzz of this captivating city needed a more fitting backdrop, the sky darkened to slate and a fuzzy rumble of thunder met the slurping of my ice-cream sundae. From my doily-strewn table, I watched a vicious storm roll towards me like a tidal wave of rubber smoke.
Back at ground level I rushed along in the scent trail of frying prawns and nutty satay chicken skewers. Ploughing through KL’s steamy streets towards dinner, I wondered if the afternoon’s dramatic show had all been for me: The penultimate act of my stage play through South East Asia that had held its very own moments of suspense, love and tragedy.
If so, there was one final scene to play out. A weekend in Singapore.