There’s travel and there’s business travel.
Though I had landed in Kuala Lumpur on a Wednesday, I hadn’t wandered farther than two blocks away from Shangri-La, since work and the company event within the hotel had captured my attention for the first two days. When I finally ventured out at noontime on Friday, my colleagues had already made their way to the airport.
Did you know that the name Shangri-La actually refers to a mythical Himalayan utopia, isolated from the outside world and hidden in the mountains? Similarly, the hotel was a haven that had shielded me from both the cultural beauty and unsavory reality of a still-developing nation. Nevertheless, it was a gorgeous place–one that I savored thoroughly (I made sure to sneak away a few bottles of their awesome lotion).
But a minute after I had hopped into a cab with my luggage, ready to roll, my vehicle was stuck in traffic. It reminded me of Manila, somewhat, with its congested, bustling roads and metropolitan living.
Though ideally only a ten minute ride away from the hotel, it took me thirty minutes to get to Reggae Mansion hostel at the heart of the Chinatown and Little India district of Kuala Lumpur. My taxi driver got confused with the winding, narrow streets, and after circling around the area twice, he pulled out his phone and asked for the number of the hostel. Using his own line, he called the reception and found the place. Even though I might have been ripped off by his meter (30 Ringgit, really?), I appreciated the gesture, and through his mistakes I caught a glimpse of the beautiful Jamek Mosque, which was a short distance away from my hostel.
The first thing I noticed at Reggae Mansion was that it was clean and well-lit. The second thing I noticed is that it was safe. Indeed, I couldn’t get in until the guard did something with a touchpad against the side of the wall.
Since my room wasn’t ready yet, I ate lunch at the courtyard of the hostel–to my guilt, it wasn’t Malay food. It was a delicious Rosemary Lamb dish, which I immediately chose because of the more affordable price of it compared to Singapore. After fueling myself with coffee, I was told my accommodation was prepared.
What a bed! I had to climb a scarily steep ladder to get up there, but it was cosy enough. The sheets were clean, the area was spacious and the ceiling was high. After dumping my things and changing from a dress into battered pair of jeans, I headed to the building I had seen earlier, the Jamek Mosque.
The Jamek Mosque is one of the oldest in Kuala Lumpur, and is built on the first Malay burial ground in the city. It nestles by the Gombak River, and is built in a Moorish style. Pulling aside a set of tourists with a more pimped out camera than mine, I asked for a photo and afterwards crossed the river to see if I could enter the mosque. Unfortunately, a sign emblazoned on the gate said that women who weren’t in headscarves weren’t allowed to enter, so I headed to KLCC, the Kuala Lumpur City Center, to see the famous Petronas Towers.
The sight was pretty magnificent, in spite of the somewhat overcast weather, and I was disappointed to learn that the tourist area was under construction, and that no one would be allowed up beyond the 4th floor, unless you actually worked there.
Uncertain of where to go next, I moved from the Petronas Towers to the Convention Center nearby, and was shocked to find that that there would be an event that evening by the Vienna Boys Choir, whom I had loved since I had heard the group singing Pachabel’s Canon in D in high school (listen to it here!).
Impulsively, I bought the tickets–then realized a little belatedly that clad in jeans and a tank top, I was decidedly a bit too frumpy for the show. Checking out the map, I found the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex a walking distance away from the Convention Center, and figured that I might as well take a peek and perhaps buy something for myself to wear for the night (heh, an excuse to shop, of course).
Well, once I arrived, the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex seemed quite deserted, as pretty as it was. I was one of the few non-staff members milling around.
However, the lack of people gave me a chance to stop and chat with some of the artists in the Artist Village, some of whom were quite chatty, asking me where I was from, and if I owned a gallery or whatnot.
For a while I looked at the clothing that I could possibly wear to the concert, but I realized that all the formal items were horrendously over my budget, and that I didn’t look as lovely in a kebaya as the mannequins. Instead, I bought the usual tourist atrocities (fridge magnets and post cards), I headed back to the city centre shopping mall Suria KLCC to make myself presentable. I figured that since people were always raving about the shopping in Malaysia, I had might as well indulge a little.
When I was finally dolled up and ready for the concert, I walked back to the Convention Centre and relaxed in the Plenary Hall where the Vienna Boys Choir would perform.
They had flawless voices, utterly deserving of their fame. Along with the traditional songs (Ave Maria, O Fortuna, etc), they also sang a variety of styles, from Chinese folk songs to an absolutely adorable Alphabet Polka. The collection ended with the Blue Danube, in which little Malaysian girls stepped in to waltz with some of the boys. Impossibly cute! But the kicker was when they performed surprise, additional songs at the end–when a local, award-winning choir stepped in to join the boys in song.
After the performance ended, it was nearly 11PM. A bit wary of how safe I’d be, I commuted back to the hostel and settled in to rest. And so ended a full, eventful day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Coming up next: Ina arrives, the Petronas Towers (Part II), and the Batu Caves!