As it happens in life, we plan something and it takes another turn. So, all of a sudden I find myself boarding a Malaysia Air flight to Kuala Lumpur (as usual at an odd hour). My blog writings have taken a beating and I’m searching for time to do my daily jobs, just because my company thinks that I can be of some utility in some alien country, without enough knowledge. To give that feel good factor, we are housed in a comfortable service apartment, from where we can see Petronas Towers.
(A view from my room)
My first impression of the city is fuelled by the cab drivers here. Tourists be warned that very few taxi drivers believe in using a meter and most of them ask for any rate that they want. That gives it a very Indian feel – I know that’s a very generic statement, after all, some places in India do not follow a meter while many do. As a company representative, this is not too much of an issue as I get my taxi bills reimbursed but as a tourist, that may be a cause of concern. You can try out the bus or rail services but without local knowledge, it may not be that easy.
Be careful while crossing roads here – the drivers seem to have a foot constantly on the accelerator here. Statistics on traffic accidents show alarming figures and the Govt. is looking at means to curb this, including launching an operation called Ops Sikap, to ensure safety on all roads in Malaysia during festive seasons. But the death rate in traffic is still a healthy 15 everyday.
Another crisis I have in life is in terms of food. I am served non-vegetarian food twice and return it twice mid-way in the meal. Now, why would egg fried rice contain chicken? Beats me, but the waiter informs me that egg biryani contains small chicken pieces while chicken biryani contains big pieces and asks me whether I am a vegetarian or a pure vegetarian? Egg consumption makes me an impure vegetarian, I guess. After reading Jabberwock’s tirade against food fundamentalism, I decide to experiment with food, albeit in a vegetarian way. So, in the previous week, I try out spicy Thai Green Curry and then Lebanese vegetarian fried rice (not exactly quintessential country food but then sometimes, vegetarians do have to pay a price).
Next on the anvil are German and Brazilian restaurants to ensure a global feel. Nevertheless, I must confess that the life of a veggie is not very cosy outside India. I feel an outcaste at dinners but I’d like to recommend a small Tamil hotel named Printha near Raja Chulhan Road (next to Maybank’s corporate office) for authentic home made South Indian food. It’s a daily banana leaf unlimited vegetarian meal for me at RM 4 (non-veg is also served there).
I land in Kuala Lumpur on an on-entry visa, which means you get the visa once you reach Malaysia but you need to show them your return ticket, otherwise, it’s no entry. I make a friendly personal trip to Singapore last week in a bus from here by bus. You can travel by bus or train but bus reaches faster and it is quite comfortable. It costs me RM 35 (about Rs 450) for a 5 hour trip from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore and it is a beautiful lush green sight. You need a Singapore visa before hand to reach there which can be arranged in 3 days time here by travel agencies.
I have a valid existing visa and land there but do not reckon for what would happen while returning. There is no bus or train that processes an on-entry visa to Malaysia from there and I am forced to return via a Singapore Airline flight which costs about Rs 5000 – 6000, though budget airlines like Tiger Airways and Air Asia may provide services at lower rates. There’s one way ofcourse, if you can reach a place called Tuas and cross the border and secure the visa. But I’m no adventure freak and without knowing the country, I’m no mood to experiment with international boundaries, so I stick to the safe option of an airline.
Last week was the Chinese New Year. A really wrong time to be here, I must say. Almost all establishments are closed making life difficult during holidays. You’d think that such celebrations will bring in more shoppers but the logic is turned on the head here. Singapore takes a step further by closing down even restaurants, so please ensure that you do not find yourself in these parts of the world during the Chinese New Year, unless you have a well-stocked up kitchen. Of course, there’s one more way, find your steps to Little India and you will be spared the agony of being a hungry tourist in an alien place. Our service apartment arranges a show of the traditional Lion Dance for us, where a group of persons dressed as lions move across poles, erected for the purpose. We also get an orange each – a token gift during Chinese New Year.
Malaysia, a nation of about 25 million people, will celebrate its 50th anniversary since independence this year. The state religion is Islam (60% of the population) and it has three distinct ethnic groups comprising the Indian, Chinese and Malay population. Religious conversion and intolerance are issues here that many do not want to talk about and the Prime Minister has asked people not to discuss sensitive religious issues in public. There has been a lot of debate in recent times over a case in which a Muslim woman converted to Christianity but the state has refused to accept the conversion. This kind of religious intolerance is nothing unique to the world it seems and is not a problem in any one particular geographical setup. I guess some things never change wherever you go, the only that changes is the extent to which the feelings persist.
It’s almost 3 weeks now and I still haven’t ventured beyond Kuala Lumpur because of my work. Need to visit a couple of places at least and behave like a good tourist and make up for last time. So, maybe the next article will focus on any travel spots that I manage to visit.