Inbetweens : On the brief adventures of Itchybutt in Mall City
Kuala Lumpur Travel Blog› entry 268 of 268 › view all entries
I've started a fair number of my entries with passages concerning the manner and experience of Arriving. A brief illumination of the little moments that populate the spaces between points 'A' to 'B'. There must be a number of reasons for this and being an inveterate literary waffler must surely only be one of them.
Departures are endings and arrivals are beginnings and the life of travel is an endless procession of both of these. Most tales told are usually bounded or book-ended by them too. A constant cycle of narrative renewal. The traveller seeks to ward off the threat of 'normality' and the siren calls of home by weaving, or rather allowing themselves to be spun into yet another tale.
But these interim moments between chapters are usually little more than mute moments of unglamorous exhaustion. This act of constant renewal becomes wearing over enough time and distance. The body rattles on, its condition growing ever more threadbare by near imperceptible degrees. The soul, pulled along breathlessly like a leaf tumbling and spinning in the formers slipstream, awaits the next moment when it can settle, compose and, perhaps, even express itself.
In many ways this third sojourn in Kuala Lumpur is just one of those interim moments.
The Night-Fridge to KL
Midnight approaches. After the long late night queue at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in Singapore, passports have been inspected, carriages boarded and everyone now hunkers down, protectively folding in upon themselves in their seats like retracting anenomes, flinching from the attentions of fellow travellers and the abominable ice beast air conditioning units whose chilly breath fills the tin-can chambers to frosting point.
A young child wails and screams. Of course. No night journey would be complete without one. (Their hire must be included in the price of such tickets). But I sympathise with the little mite who finds himself tired and in a strange environment. Terrified by the noise, the fast window-rattling rush of night and all its strange forms outside and the abominable ice beasts inside this long thin moving rocking room. What is it with the affluent East and its obsessive relationship with air conditioning? Yes I understand the discomfort of heat, but there's not too much of that on a midnight train to Kuala Lumpur. Singapore had been, by some degrees, akin to being caught in a revolving door between a walk in freezer and a sun bed when moving from shopping mall to street and back again.
Despite his parents best efforts the kid's wailing and screaming only intensifies in volume and anguish. Sleep will be hard won for anyone tonight. This ginger anenome shrinks further into his shell, trying to ward off the onset of hypothermia. Nobody on the carriage is sleeping. Nothing can calm the kid who carves up our attempts to compose dreams by feeding them through the shredder of his larynx. An hour or so later of solid nocturnal squeal and following his fourth or fifth chewing up of the initial scenes of my dreams I screw up my sympathies like a paper ball and toss them out of the train window. No sleep for Stevie tonight. I then implore the abominable ice beasts that continue to growl from the ceiling, hungry for human life force, 'Take the little one as an offering boys, he's all yours.
Itchybutt goes to the Embassy (Part 1)
Two hour late train. No Sleep. Now KL. One big city to another. A sweaty longer-than-I-remember walk from Sentral Station to China Town and a return to the Red Dragon Hostel. A quick shower. Careful not to slip! An amusing health and safety omission exists at the Red Dragon Hostel as the showers are accessed and exited via short ramps which when wet, as they permanently are, offer the most treacherous of walkways to likewise slippery feet. A strange sadistic pleasure exists in lying on one's bed in the hangar-like dormitory awaiting the occasional Vwooop! and THUD!!! followed by the attendant peels of expletives and pain exhaled in a Babel of traveller tongues that indicates another bather crashing down onto hard tiles.
So, a shower, a shave and a sh*t. Sh Sh Sh. A change of trousers. A clean top. Even new shoes - bought for a song in a rag market in Sumatra! No breakfast. A rush. A map of KL. Scribbled directions to the Embassy of The Republic of Indonesia. A hope in my heart for a two month visa to Indonesia ( 'which rhymes!' ), multiple currencies in my wallet and a Monorail ticket in my pocket.
...oh yeah, and THE ITCHIEST ASS IN THE ENTIRE G*D-FORSAKEN UNIVERSE!!!
Seriously! What the f**k? Why now? Why this morning? Why at all?! Why, when I'm trying to remain calm and look my best (the latter of which being a redundant concept after 21 months on the road anyway) do I suddenly have to feel as if someone's rubbed chilli paste on my anus as I walk.
As Itchybutt tramps his way along pavement and hot tarmac, past endless dioramas of advertisements and boutique shop windows toward the Embassy his mood becomes ever more embittered as a result of his belligerent bum.
As is the human habit when one's temper is distempered my sleep-deprived mind daydreams movie reels in my head of angry situations and conversations yet (and probably never) to occur with me breathing self-righteous fire in the Indonesian Embassy at having been denied my two month visa. 'The scoundrels! How dare they! I demand to speak to the president!' [ wriggle-wriggle-squirm] Funny how the human body can generate energy from unfounded anger and irrationality when food and sleep are absented from the menu too long and one has a devilishly itchy-scratchy bum.
Itchybutt wiggles on...
We are all connected
'So I see youíre going to be in KL. I'm here too. We should meet up.' That's incredible! How did he know? A message on Facebook from a friend I made Couchsurfing in Bulgaria nearly a year ago.
Never take your pants* for granted (* underwear, not trousers, to my American pals! ;D)
The rain sheets down a remorseless waterfall from the Heavens. I sit on the stone steps of a Wendys burger-mart in my 'smart' damp clothes. The Monorail track above arcs out of the white-water squall to my right and travels on down Jalan Sultan Ismail to be swallowed from vision again by the rain. In the distance the bulbous, usually imposing summit of the KL Tower, framed by two high rise blocks, is turned into the faintest shimmering ghost of a structure owing to the thick grey-white water column between us.
Braving the rains, we meet and retreat to a coffee emporium on the ground floor of one of the endless glitzy retail Meccas that, as in Singapore, form the majority of the internal anatomy of this city centre in the 21st Century. This Mall City. It's a disconcerting, almost depressingly 'normal' environment, and a strange one for two travel-weathered backpackers to find themselves washed up in together momentarily. Like two aliens stopping for an intergalactic 'roadside' coffee on Planet Earth whilst on route to Mars and the moon respectively. Miro and I are both not long out of protracted stints in India and the earthy frugality of our recent common experiences juxtaposed by the clinical commercial crispness and material richness of our surrounds offers both pause for thought and amusement.
Miro comments on my rain-sopped attempt at smartness (shirt, cleanish trousers and 'proper' shoes) but I explain it was just a momentary sham to look the part when potentially sitting through an Embassy interview. The ragged truth of both of our backpack wardrobes, long whittled away by mishap and misplacement, is a tired, long-abused contingent of stained, frayed and never-truly-clean cotton ghosts. Hobo-chic. Fabric refugees from the multifarious abuses of international laundering facilities and the rough-love pummelling of a hundred half-hearted hand-washes. I think I've bought two new T-shirts in twenty months. The obligatory Vietnamese national flag 'star' tee (haggled down to $2 on the streets of Saigon) and an ungainly blue monstrosity with a Buddha effigy printed lopsidedly upon it purchased in the backstreets of Varanasi.
We agree that there probably comes a time when one must finally give in and treat oneself to a good old fashioned bout of retail therapy...no matter how small. A gesture of 'normality'. Especially where one's pants are concerned. 'I can't believe I'm walking around all day with a big bag of underwear!' Miro exclaims clutching a couple of boutique bags within which he excitedly intimates are NEW PANTS! I utter suitable expressions of envy and awe.
Yes, it's a sad but honest truth that discussion of the state of one's underwear (as with compromising 'body situations') can form the basis of near philosophical significance once one has been travelling long enough. These pants have travelled, crossed borders, shared cultures, been my constant companions, perhaps seen and experienced things no other pants have or ever should have seen and experienced before.
Yes, to rejuvenate ones pants is often to rejuvenate one's self and soul it seems. A lesson for life perhaps. A happy bottom makes a happy traveller. Perhaps this is the nub of my itchy-assness?!! Miro was in a desperate situation. His all had holes in, whereas mine were still good for the money. (I clearly hadn't been abusing them enough.) And sat here, typing these words today in England 14 months on and a year after my return home I can confirm I am still sat in undergarments that have seen the dawn of over thirty lands and am yet to purchase a new pair of undies! Yes, it's yet another 'too much information Stevie!' moment.
...well, I do own a pair that weren't originally mine but turned up when my laundry was returned all clean and nice on an Indonesian island and fit just a treat.
Itchybutt goes to the Embassy (Part 2)
To say that at the time of these events both the rumours and the realities of the Indonesian visa system were (and probably still are) as contradictory, ill-defined and confusing as one another is an understatement. It was often the only subject that travellers to the country (including myself) seemed to talk about over meals and beers. A vain hope that if enough rumours, false hopes and second-hand lies were exhaled into the atmosphere they might all just have coalesced into a cloudy vision or version of The Truth. For some reason everyone thinks their info from a friend of a friend of a hotel or travel agency ownerís dog is 'the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me Dog!' I've often observed how antsy and protective of their sources backpackers can get.
My own sources have led me here, to the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Kuala Lumpur. My source says its the best quick and no fuss way to renew your Indo visa and get two months more joy without hassle. Cheap flights on Air Asia between KL and frankly anywhere in the region smoothing the practical side of international stone-hopping. A rumour goes that the reputation for corruption and tardiness in Indo embassies got so bad that the President paid an unannounced visit to this particular one, bust some heads together and its become a paragon of administrative efficiency ever since.
A visa from here can potentially be issued on the day of request if you get there early enough and with a queue ticket number low enough. If, like me, you don't get seen until the afternoon you can collect it the next day. No worries.
The charming young lady behind the desk, her hands a blur of multi-tasking wonder, shoots friendly enquiries about my intentions for and opinions about her country. I make lots of ingratiating and crap jokes in patchy Bahasa Indonesia about what I have liked about her nation so far, no doubt making the obligatory references to the 'banyak orang ramah' [ many friendly people], 'makan lezat' [delicious food] and 'cewek cantik' [ pretty girls ] though my memory of both this interaction and Bahasa Indonesia have faded much with the passage of a year and more since the moment.
When I return the next morning, ass still itching away, my new two month visa sits blue and pristine inside my passport. Iím heading back. 'Yippeee!'
Flogged to death
It's night time in Mall City. The neon lights seek to shame the stars with all their garish colours. Miro and I are strolling up and down his 'favourite street in KL', Jalan Alor. Favourite for food. Jalan Alor is an end to end food stall and restaurant Mecca. A firm Chinese-Malay culinary enclave to the point where, being as such, pork can readily be found on menus here and this fact overlooked by the authorities of this nominally Islamic nation.
We opt to sit at one of Miro's trusted little palaces for the palate run by a rosy-cheeked bubbly matriarch called Ann. After much consideration of her menu of infinite pleasures I decide to opt for a frogs' leg dish for what I think is the first time in my life. One of Ann's specialities I gather. May as well try something new.
I ask her what frog dishes she has. 'Flog?' she enquires with surprise. 'Yes, frog.' I reiterate. 'Do you mean ahh flog or flog?' 'Err?... frog.' 'Nah, flog, or did you mean flog?' Heck. Don't get me wrong I'm well aware and sensitive to the oriental linguistic challenges of the letters 'L' and 'R' but I'm struggling to think what two 'flogs' there are in the food world that require differentiation.
In discussion Miro is none the wiser as to what alternative 'flogs' might exist for our consumption in the world.
So after all the charades I did end up with a lovely steaming bowl of ginger and spring onion flogs legs and I suppose you're keen to know my verdict on the dish. Well, umm? Tastes like chicken. Of course.
My belly full, I part company with Miro, our journeys around the globe diverging once more and I head off for a reunion with the incredible Petronas Twin Towers. A vision of contemporary architecture I never grow tired of once they're garbed in their glittering after-dark ice-light raiments.
Because you're worth it.
My ass has finally stopped itching. I'm wearing the same pants. It's time to leave KL. I stare at my jaded face in the mirrors of the Red Dragon Hostel. I've noticed of late I seem to be beset by a significant dry skin situation. Flaky face syndrome. Is my body's ability to take care of itself or simply just to care at all what happens to it finally running down? Is it just the constant heat and humidity? Over 20 months of it. All of my natural oils finally burnt away. One heavily desiccated diarist.
I trot to a nearby pharmacy in search of some miracle-cure-hydration-gunk.
'Who is it for? Busy life...' Well, kinda. '.
A sorry day perhaps when I concede to the need for 'anti-dullness gel'.
I lie upon my dormitory bed in a 'clean' pair of underwear waiting for the ADS to turbo boost my ATP before I leave KL for JK via a plane from KLIA. As I do so, the sound of a running show tapers off. A moment of silent anticipation. Vwooop! THUD!!! 'AAAARRGH!!! F*@%kin**a^@shi#$!!!!' The Red Dragon Hostel shower of doom claims another victim.