Published: September 1st 2008August 31st 2008
The tallest twin towers in the world. Boring.
I had not planned on stopping in Kuala Lumpur but to due to conflicts in scheduling and the intricacies of traveling, I had no other choice, so I was stuck in KL for a couple of days with nothing specific to do. Kuala Lumpur is not necessarily one of my favorite places in Malaysia but it’s endurable. I probably like it a little more than Singapore, but I’m not sure. One thing for sure though. This place doesn’t inspire me to write negatively about it as much as it does Singapore because the place, at least on the surface, seems a little more honest than squeaky clean and fine
The taxi driver who drove me from the airport to the center of town was a Malaysian man named Mohammad. I tried to get a friendly conversation going. I said “what’s new in town.”
“What do you mean?”
“Why, what do you hear, what do you mean?” He got really defensive, as if I was an informant or a spy or something ridiculous like that.
“I heard about Anwar Ibrahim being charged of sodomy.”
“Where do you hear this?” He sounded really annoyed.
If you like tall buildings, KL is your wet dream.
“Why do you say this?” He seemed puzzled that I would even bring up the subject.
“It’s in the news all over the place.” I said this with casualness as if it’s no big deal, it’s not a secret because everyone already knew about it, it’s in the papers everywhere.
“What papers, where do you read this?” He seemed really nervous now. This is rather strange for a taxi driver to act so paranoid in a place that’s only mildly oppressive. It’s not even comparable to Singapore. Of course, the Singaporean papers have lapped it up in their front pages. They love nothing better than to see their Malaysian brethren across the causeway falter and stumble in embarrassment over a political and sexual scandal, especially homosexual scandal, to rejoice in their misery, because they hate each other.
“Where are you from?”
“Oh, so you are from America. We don’t like Americans to get involve in our country's business. We are not a colony, we are an independent country. You know, I could tell that you are from America. You talk like American. I drive taxi in Los Angeles once.”
“Is that right”, I
This is Kuala Lumpur
said, trying to change the subject. “How long did you live there?”
“I live there two years, then I come back. I don’t like Los Angeles. I don’t like America.” Then he added, “My name is Mohammad, what is your name?” I told him. Then he started talking some more about how Americans don’t respect other people, don’t respect their parents, and generally don’t like foreigners. He wouldn’t stop talking after that so I just pretty much responded with the usual uh huh, oh yeah!, wow
, and other such banalities, pretending to be listening even though I was really looking out of the window, amazed at how clean the freeways are. That’s one thing that has always struck me about Malaysia; the freeways are clean and ornate. They care a great deal about how beautiful their freeways look to the visitor. Mohammad, my taxi driver, was still talking. Now he’s telling me about the time that he got robbed while driving a taxi in the middle of the night in Inglewood. I would not want to be caught alone at night in Inglewood. I would not want to be in or near Inglewood at anytime of the day, period.
Around KL II
Nice and clean. I have forgotten where in KL this was exactly.
Mohammad kept talking. I kept replying with the usual “Is that right?”, “wow”, or the really meaningless response “that’s interesting!”
When people say “that’s interesting”, they really mean something else. They could mean it’s boring, it’s stupid, it’s ridiculous, or that it’s the most idiotic thing they’ve ever heard in their life, anything but interesting. That’s when that response becomes meaningless because it says nothing at all about what the other person really thinks about your story. They just do it to be polite or to be condescending, like saying “that’s interesting” with one set of eyebrows raised, a gesture that really says “you are out of your mind”, or the one with an exaggerated suspense of disbelief, like “wow, that’s interesting!” accompanied with a crooked grin and a big round saucer eyes wide open, a gesture of mockery.
Mohammad is still talking, and there’s no sign of him stopping anytime soon. Now he’s saying something about George Bush, his intellectual capacity, and what a better world this would be if he just disappeared from the face of this planet. He wouldn’t stop. I was starting to doze off, getting drowsy. “That’s interesting”, I said with as much
Malaysia takes pride in their squeaky clean freeways
enthusiasm as I could muster. Finally, we arrived at my hotel in the business district of Kuala Lumpur, in the Crowne Plaza Mutiara, The Place to Meet
, as their slogan says.
After checking into my room I took a shower to clean up a bit and did some personal tidying up, just basically getting myself organized. It was now sixty thirty in the afternoon and the sun was about to sink abruptly below the horizon and darken the skies just as quickly, like the lights have been turned off. I walked out of the hotel’s spacious lobby and out to the front entrance towards the parking lot and down the stairs where at the bottom there’s a big water fountain in front of a Crowne Plaza sign that’s familiar to many business travelers around the world. Just down below is a monorail station. I walked south bound down the road on Jalan Sultan Ismail, following the path of the monorail towards an area where there are many big shopping centers, restaurants, and hawker stalls. The smell of Malaysian food wafting in the air is familiar and comforting. This is Kuala Lumpur’s central business district. Just up north about two
Freeway of Love
In a pink Cadillac
miles up the road are Kuala Lumpur’s world famous Petronas Towers, a twin of spires that’s known to be one of the tallest, if not the tallest, twin towers of the world. Malaysia is an Islamic country, so fear not, because no Islamic Jihadi fanatic is going to ram down a 747 into these two babies anytime soon. It’s death to America and all the enemies of Islam, not Islamic Malaysia.
There are throngs of people everywhere shopping, kids walking around with no purpose at all whatsoever, and girls in tight jeans and T-shirts wearing head scarves as a sign of Islamic modesty, but the tight jeans and T-shirts with protruding little breasts kind of defeats the purpose of modesty. There was a big crowd gathered around the small plaza in the corner of Jalan Bukit Bintang and Sultan Ismail, just before the Bukit Bintang Monorail station. Apparently a musical event of some sort. I stopped by to check it out. It was a group of Malaysian musicians playing a Malaysian song that I couldn’t understand. The music too was foreign to me. It did not conform to the Western musical standards of pop, rock, blues, or jazz. It
I have no idea what this billboard is advertising. A botanical garden perhaps.
was not a traditional Malaysian music either, at least that’s what I was told by one of the bystanders. They played the usual modern instruments of keyboards, drums, guitars, and bass, but the music was just way different than what I’m used to. It had a melodic tone and a sinuous keyboard arrangement. The guitar was not the leading instrument. Instead the drums played the lead and the rest just flowed with that lead, with the bass keeping the beat to some unusual count, like a 7/8 or an 8/11, something that’s uncommon in Western music. I asked around who these people were. The bystander next to me said he has no idea who these guys are. Apparently none of the bystanders knew who these people were, but they played good music.
Just past the Monorail station I found an Indian restaurant. I went in and started pointing at the aromatic tandoori chicken, some spiced basmati rice, curry vegetables, and some deep fried vegetables with some chutney to go along with it. The Chinese fellow who handed me the food asked if I wanted something to drink. I said yes, I’d like a beer. He looked puzzled. I couldn’t understand what he was saying. Apparently he didn’t speak English very well. I said again that I’d like a beer. I said it slowly and enunciated carefully. He still looked puzzled, or was it confused, I didn’t really quite understand what was so confusing about what I said. Then he made a hand signal of a person drinking and I said yes, I’d like a beer. Finally, the man in charge, an Indian fellow with a thick set of hair and thick mustache, came over and asked me in English what I wanted. I said “Do you serve beer here?” He said “Yes sir, come right this way.” He walked me to the other side of the restaurants where I saw only a few people seated down. The Chinese fellow who I had a miscommunication with followed with my plate of food and a bottle of beer. I sat down in this air conditioned dining hall eating my food and drinking my beer, savoring the spicy Indian food and my tandoori chicken. There were only a few people inside this dining hall and most of them had alcoholic beverages on their table. That’s when I realized that in certain places in Malaysia, especially the Muslim quarters, alcohol is prohibited. I had known this but it’s been three years since the last time I was here and I had totally forgotten about it. One thing I like about Malaysia and Singapore though, maybe the only thing I like about these two countries, is the food. The last time I was here I walked around the small alleys in Masjed Jamek and ate authentic Malaysian food in one of the many hawker stalls around the area, and I had enjoyed myself tremendously. The only thing I wasn’t too keen on was that they didn’t serve alcohol, which was unfortunate because nothing goes better with spicy food than a cold bottle of cerveza.
I got up a little late the next morning, around ten in the morning, kind of just lazily lying in bed and not getting up until I finally got bored lying there, then took a shower and went down to the hotel restaurant for the breakfast buffet. There were tons of people at the buffet, a throng of greedy slobs splurging on all kinds of food, most going for seconds and thirds. Omelets, bacon, sausages of all types, rice, chicken (for breakfast?), Malaysian food, Chinese food, Western food, juices, coffee, designer lattes up the yin yang, toasts, donuts, and all kinds of other sweets. I generally hate crowds and I especially hate looking at fat slobs stuffing their faces with awfully unhealthy food. I chose to have just a bowl of rice porridge and a pot of tea, and watch the greedy slobs stuff food in their big fat mouth, eating like pigs, and displaying the worst behavior of humanity.
After breakfast I walked down to the Raja Chulan monorail station in front of the hotel. I asked the lady at the ticket counter how to get to 1 Utama Mall. She kindly circled all the transfer stations for me. First she circled the Raja Chulan station where we were at, then she circled the KL Sentral station where the monorail ends and where I should transfer to a Putraline train all the way to Kelana Jaya. From the Kelena Jaya station she told me to take the bus to 1 Utama. It cost only RM2.10 from Raja Chulan to KL Sentral. That’s less that US$1! The monorial is a nice way to see the city. You can see everything at this higher elevation. It’s efficient and clean. It’s also crowded because they only have six boxcars at most. Kuala Lumpur can be deceivingly modern and clean at first sight, especially if your first sight of it is the splashy new International airport, the Putrajaya, and the business district. High above the elevated monorail boxcar you can see pockets of Kuala Lumpur that’s less cosmetized, a little dirty and worn out, where people actually work and live.
KL Sentral is the Grand Central Station of Kuala Lumpur. From the monorail station you walk across a busy boulevard towards a large square building and walk up to the station serving four different lines going in every direction, even international destinations. There are trains going to Singapore and one going to the border into Thailand. I got on the Putraline heading southwest towards Kelana Jaya. The Putraline line is another busy and crowded rail system, but at least they have more boxcars that the monorail.
The train ride from KL Sentral to Kelana Jaya was somewhat uneventful. At the bus station a family from Albania was making a lot of noise. They got on the same bus with me but there was a great deal of miscommunication between the father and the bus driver. They were arguing for five solid minutes, the father shouting about something that I couldn’t understand, and neither could the bus driver apparently because he finally gave up and just waved the whole family through. It was another twenty minutes before we finally arrived at the 1 Utama Mall.
The only reason I came all this way from downtown Kuala Lumpur was because a Malaysian friend of mine in the Bay Area, knowing my passion for baseball, told me that there was a batting cage in Kuala Lumpur, perhaps the only batting cage in the country. I hadn’t thought about this until I checked my email the night before and received an email from my Malaysian friend.
1 Utama is your typical mall, a teenage haven for hanging out, flirting, the girls flaunting, the boys trying to meet girls, and the whole place filled with chain stores, boutiques, and Starbuckie types of places serving designer lattes up the yin yang. I absolutely abhor malls but they are hard to avoid, especially while traveling, because malls, with all its faults, happen to have specialty stores where you can get what you need if you’re in an unfamiliar territory. In some cases they even have amusement parks and if you're lucky, a batting cage.
It took a while for me to find it but eventually I found it on the very top floor of the mall. When I first asked around nobody could tell me where it was because Malaysians in general are not big fans of baseball. The batting cage was a familiar sight. Up on the roof top, the cage is shrouded by a huge net to prevent the balls from flying out into the parking lot and smashing the windshields of the mall patrons, the same way that all outdoor cages are netted everywhere in the United States. There are two types of pitching machines that I know of: the rotating wheel type and the slinging arm type. This one is the rotating wheel type. The problem with a rotating wheel is that if the tire pressure is too low the balls could go all over the place, either too high or too low, which can be dangerous if the speed of the ball is greater than 80 mph. Many batting cages will usually limit the ball speed to 70 or 75 mph to prevent accidents from happening, just in case the tire pressure goes out of whack.
Most of the time I use a wooden bat. I just like the feel of it when the ball hits the fat part of the bat, I like the sound of the crack, and I feel like I can generate more pop out of it than an aluminum bat. Aluminum bats are just not as satisfying as wooden bats. My personal favorite is a 32-inch Rawlings wooden bat with a red band around the neck. Unfortunately I don’t carry around my bat with me when traveling, and the batting cage only had aluminum bats, so I had to settle for that. 15 fastballs at 70 mph for RM15 was a little too expensive considering that I am used to paying only US$3 for 20 balls a session, but hey, we’re in Southeast Asia, so I couldn’t complain too much.
I let the first ball go by, trying to get a feel for the speed of the ball and the bat, in the same way that I would never swing at the very first pitch in a real baseball game. The speed of the ball was familiar. A 70 mph fastball is a batting practice pitch, the kind that major league players hit out of the ballpark during batting practice to impress the sports writers and the fans. Anyone with a little hand-eye coordination can hit a ball that slow, especially if there’s no movement on the ball, just fast, straight and down the middle. I watched the next one slide down from the top of a line of orange dimpled balls spiral to the rotating wheels, and when I saw the ball drop in between the two rotating wheels, I stepped forward with my leading foot while holding my bat back with my body in a slightly twisted position, gearing up to swing, and kept my head steady and my eyes on the red light which tells me when the ball is about to pop out, and when that red light flashed and saw the ball zooming towards me, I started to uncork my body, my shoulders mechanically sending all that torque down to my elbows, straightening my arms, and twisting my hands forward which caused a slinging motion of the bat towards the ball, my head still holding steady and my eyes still on the ball, and with my hands making the slightest adjustment to place the fat part of the bat to where the ball was going to be, belt high and at full extension of my arms. The feel of the bat hitting the ball was powerful, although not as satisfying as it would have been if I were using a wooden bat. The impulse on the ball sent it high up in the air, a moon shot that would have traveled at least four hundred feet if the net hadn’t stopped its motion.
I hit a few more balls like that all day, switch hitting from set to set, until I finally got tired. The owner of the batting cage was an unlikely fellow, an Australian guy wearing Tom Glavine’s number 47 New York Mets jersey. Tom Glavine is now back pitching for the Atlanta Braves. On the PA system is an internet broadcast of the Giants post game show with Kruk and Kuip. The proprietor asked me where I’m from. I told him. “Do you live here now,” he asked. I said no.
“Then how did you hear about this place?”
“A friend of me from back home told me about,” I replied. “He’s from here.”
The Australian guy thanked me for coming and I went on my way, exhausted from the “workout”, if you could call it that, and sweating like a dog. After getting a glass of iced tea from one of those Starbuckie types of places in the mall I took the bus back to KL Sentral and hopped on the train back to Rajah Chulan. I had dinner that night with some Malaysians that I met in Cambodia the week before. They took me into one those little Alleys in the Muslim quarters where we ate some excellent authentic Malaysian food.