The desk in the Kuala Lumpur hotel room has a list of things you can buy as a souvenir. It actually says “Souvenir Price List,” on the top in case you're in any doubt as to what it is. I can understand Coffee Mug, at a moderate 50 ringgits (about 10 euros, just divide by 10 and double it). Or how about a tumbler glass at only 10 ringgits? These seem like souveniry things and you could get a tumbler glass on a plane couldn't you. But there are no less than 47 things on this list, including a 32 inch television (2,500 ringgits), a sofa chair, a standing lamp, or how about a Queen-sized mattress for 1,600? If you bought all 47 items you could completely recreate this hotel bedroom anywhere in the world, if you could get it all home. You'd have a souvenir hotel bedroom.
My last week in Bali was a lot of fun. The place was half hotel half hostel so it had a good social area where I had my most social moments of the trip. One night Ben, who was busking his way around Asia, played and sang and it was a good evening. A young English policemen, Darrel, turned us into a kind of trio despite me shocking everyone that night by having 3 beers, and much fun was had by all. Different nationalities, ages, backgrounds, reasons for being there, we all found a common place to become temporary friends.
After a week of that I descended into hell. I got a car to Denpasar airport and discovered just how miserable it is making a semi-domestic flight in this part of the world. It took a full three hours to get in the airport entrance and onto the plane. Bags are X-rayed as soon as you walk into the airport. Then again (with walk-through detectors) to get the check-in desks. Then again before immigration. The queue looks, to the untrained eye, like a queue. There are red taped-off lanes just like we're used to. But hoards of Chinese people simply think this is a way of slowing their progress to the front. Not just Chinese of course, but it's been the Chinese New Year which last for ever and large numbers of Chinese tourists are abroad, abusing the British notion of forming an orderly queue. Other nations use other techniques. They make the queue move faster by pushing from the rear. The walk in a group through the walk-through metal detectors as if they simply aren't there. It was, in a word, horrible.
After those three hours I had a three hour flight to Kuala Lumpur through some notoriously bumpy skies (please don't let the wings fall off, please don't let the wings fall off) and finally we had arrived. To another two hours of queue fighting to get through immigration. Two hours for someone to say Welcome to Malaysia. When I got to the baggage carousel, there were only three bags going around and around. One of them was mine. I bet the other two belonged to English people too.
There is a window in this room. It looks out upon skyscrapers and endless traffic. Behind me is China town and the famous Petaling Street where market stalls sell typical stuff to tourists. The guy who drove me into KL from the airport was Chinese and he pointed it out. So I thought that China Town was back the road a bit. But in the other direction – the direction in which my window points – is the equally famous Low Yat Plaza, Malaysia's largest IT mall. I know, because I spent the best part of two days there trying to buy a new laptop from the 20 million possible choices. I am typing this on one of those choices because it took me two whole days to actually buy one. The point I'm making is that, while Low Yat Plaza is in the other direction, it's madly Chinese. Have you seen BladerRunner? Harrison Ford has the job of tracking down androids who look just like us, and amid all this high tech is a world of noodles and back-street Orientals cooking up fake creatures and other high-tech wonders. That world was based on Low Yat and its environs, I'm sure.
So for a week now I've been immersed in Chinatown and high tech. I also seem to be in a place frequented by prostitutes, which at first I found slightly alarming. I kept wondering why I was suddenly attractive. I kept wondering why surprisingly alluring women saw me and reacted as though I had made their day. Then I realised that as a man of a certain age, alone in South East Asia, I'm sure I do look like the kind of man who would make their day, at least financially.
In fact, the first hotel I booked gave me such an uneasy feeling that after two nights I booked into the somewhat nicer hotel next door. I felt instantly better. Everyone was nice. Nobody looked like they were going to love me long time.
The first morning in the new hotel (this one, where you can buy a Souvenir 32 inch TV and matching Queen-sized mattress) I went for a walk (to buy a laptop) and when I got back the cleaning girl was cleaning the room next door. Mine hadn't been done but I didn't need it, and all my worldly good are in there and I prefer a damp towel to robbery. So I asked if I could just grab some more bottled water and coffee of the room.
“Yes!” the girl said. “You want your room cleaned?”
“No, I'm fine, just water is great. And coffee. I do like coffee!”
“Well, if you need anything, just call me,” she said.
She then wrote down her name and phone number. Sam. Not very attractive. She looked like she had a comb-over and stubble.
Later I went out and Sam was cleaning another room. “You are so SWEET!” she said.
Later, she explained to me how hard it is being a transgender person from Pakistan in KL and she tries to save money and send it home and she can't explain to her family that she wants to be a real girl and sometimes she has to take money for sex because we all need money and she doesn't like condoms.
You know the long queues and terrible turbulence in the plane and then the extra two hours of queuing? That was more comfortable than having Sam the cleaner try to gain entry to my room. I am, I admit, out of my depth in the big city, and I look forward to the next stop. Tomorrow morning I catch a train to the bus station, and then a 6 hour bus ride to the island of Penang up north. I hope it's less...challenging.
[ps...Have you tried the Armchair Detective Challenge yet?]
Slovenia, writing, other things