Monday, June 13, 2011

Kuala Lumpur: Part 3

[Editor's note: Typing this stuff up takes a long time. In an effort to avoid month-long (or longer) gaps in content, I've decided to shorten posts.]

And now, on to the thrilling conclusion of Brandon's day of wandering in Kuala Lumpur....

The biggest complaint I have about Kuala Lumpur is that it's ridiculously difficult to navigate on foot. The roads are haphazardly laid out and sidewalks even more so. Things meander and abruptly end and there seems to be no method behind any of it. To get from Chinatown to the Lake Gardens, one has to cross a river and a set of train tracks. Apparently, no one has ever considered doing this on foot before. I'm some sort of pioneer, blazing a new trail through the psychotic urban sprawl.

It's Easy to See Where You Want to Go

By cutting through a market and navigating some heavy traffic on the far side of it, I manage to discover a sidewalk passage across the river. However, to get across the train tracks running alongside the river, I must detour about half a mile to the next station. At the station, there are signs pointing in the direction of the Gardens and you can see some of the famous buildings that dot the region as you cross the bridge over the tracks. However, this is apparently just some sort of decoy, because as soon as you exit the station on the other side, there is a busy highway with no apparent crosswalk or overpass.

Successfully Navigate the City and You May Find Stonehenge

I wander back and forth alongside the highway for a while before finally giving up and imitating the few brave locals who just dart between bursts of cars and wait on the median for a chance to get across. The unexpected difficulty in crossing the half mile between Chinatown and the Lake Gardens means it's after 6pm by the time I arrive. I pass by Stonehenge and head the the world's largest walk-in aviary. There are a lot of birds inside.

This Albino Crow is Just One of the Birds Inside the Aviary

These Birds Were Also There.

Monkeys on top of the Aviary Mock the Birds w/ Their Freedom


I head back to the hotel on foot (this time by wandering behind a post office and through a complicated maze of a parking garage) and I am exhausted. The heat, lack of sleep and foolish decision to wear a new pair of shoes on my journey are taking their toll on me. I arrange for a taxi to the airport in the morning and decide that the necessary 5.30AM departure and general exhaustion will likely hinder my nighttime exploration. I figure I'll check out the nearest restaurant/bar district rather than explore some of the more distant options.

The immediate surroundings of the hotel do not boast a lot of interesting restaurants. I find a place and get another noodle dish. It's ok, but nothing special. I stop in a small pub next door for some watery Tiger beer. It's definitely a local hangout and pretty packed at 8pm. The food and beer give me some strength and I decide to explore more.

I chose poorly. This area is the worst. It's just a strip of bland, pretentious, over-priced bars and restaurants. The types of places that make a spot out front for the customer who came in a Lamborghini. You'd be hard pressed to design a place I'd like less if you tried. A block away I walk around a pile of trash and watch a shirtless tenant of a rundown 1st floor apartment hanging his laundry in the dark. I'm disheartened by the juxtaposition. I mean, if you're going to gentrify, don't you at least have to send the poor people further away?

I stop in another pub. It's empty and the air conditioner seems to be losing it's battle against the humid night air. I head back out and am drawn to another filthy little alley. There is a sign indicating a saloon, which gets my hopes up. This alley seems like a great place for bar with bat wing doors. Unfortunately, all I can find is a hair salon. With that fresh disappointment, I call it a night and head back to the hotel for what little sleep I can get.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Kuala Lumpur: Part 2

I awaken quite suddenly. The bed I'm lying on is unusually fluffy. The covers are half flung back and there seem to be far too many pillows. The room is dim, but the highlights lining the edge of the curtain indicate that it is still bright outside. I'm groggy. The sleep seems doesn't seem to have helped much. On the contrary, it seems to have only reminded by body what it was missing out on. My body does not appreciate the memory.

Snatch Theives are a Problem that Merit Warning in English

I drag my ass out of bed and back out into the heat. I have a general plan to grab some food somewhere in Chinatown on my way to the Lake Gardens.

By Gum, the Monorail put Kuala Lumpur on the Map

For the most part I like Kuala Lumpur. It's not terribly big, has variety and character and isn't filled with people harassing me to buy something. There is a ton of construction going on, but plenty of older buildings that give off a sense of grittiness that I appreciate. Also, there is a monorail. Aside from it's airconditioned goodness, monorails are strongly coupled with that one Simpsons episode in my mind and that amuses me. Ah, Matt Groening, you destroyed America's hopes for mass transit for at least a generation.

Who Can Resist the Allure of the Alley?

As I pass through Chinatown, scouting for food, I'm irresistibly drawn to a dirty alley. What could be down there? Why, anything and everything! I mean, if I were laying out a city, I would definitely put the best parts at the ends of dirty alleys.

As it turns out, there are a couple of old ladies with a food stand at the end of this particular alley. It is clearly destiny that I eat at this food stand. I gesticulate at my stomach with the universal sign for food procurement. One lady gestures back that such needs can indeed be accommodated. I order something that my guidebook referred to as a 'must eat'. The old lady says something about Soba noodles. I'm not sure if this is a variation of the thing I asked for or if she's telling me she doesn't have that specific thing. Since I don't know what the thing I ordered actually is, I don't really care and say that Soba noodles are fine.

As I wait on a half-busted plastic stool a cat wanders past. An old man enters the alley and walks about halfway to the food stall. He stops there, maybe 25 feet from me, sets down his plastic bag and proceeds to urinate on the side of a building.

Unfortunately, the food does not live up to the lofty standards of the alley's ambiance. Maybe I just don't like this particular dish (some sort of noodle soup), but I am disappointed nonetheless. I guess you can't just wander into random alleys and get delicious food for under $2 while animals roam about and old men excrete nearby like you used to be able to. What is the world coming to?