Day 64: Bad First Impressions of KL

Trip Start May 20, 2008
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49
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Trip End Aug 19, 2008


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Flag of Malaysia  , Wilayah Persekutuan,
Saturday, July 26, 2008

My Sumatran friends warned me about Malaysians. "They're arrogant." "No, I don't like Malaysians." "Argh." "Bah." etc. I think Malaysia/Singapore and Indonesia have a relationship similar to that of the Southwestern US & Mexico. One is wealthy and developed, the other is the richly cultured but underdeveloped impoverished land that the adjacent developed country exploits for cheap labor. I could see why my the Bukit Lawang gang said what they did. There was an immediately noticeable nosedive in the friendliness of the locals here. People would simply grunt when I said hi to them, brush me off when I needed directions, and in one instance a man was resting his elbow on the back of my seat (preventing me from leaning back), and simply stared blankly when I eyed and gave what in any other place would be an unmistakable, unspoken "get your elbow 'tf off my seat, dude!" glare. Before I whine about the locals though, I must rave about my breakfast. I stopped by Penang's Little India and hit up a South Indian cafe I'd read about on the net. Remember that curry crepe I had near the end of Nepal? They served them here too, the name of the dish is "Paper Masala Dosa/Dosai/Thosai" if you ever see it on a menu in the US. Chicken curry might not be the best thing to put in your stomach immediately after waking up, but man that was some good stuff. Anyways, after breakfast and recovering from a largely sleepless uncomfy night, I took a ferry to the mainland and hopped on the first available bus to Kuala Lumpur. The bus ride itself was unworthy of note.

Kuala Lumpur was like any other big cosmopolitan city around the globe: traffic snarled, mega malls everywhere, KFC-infected, glimmering skyscrapers abound including the Petronas Towers, the 2nd tallest building in the world at the moment and the tallest until Taipei 101 was finished a few years back. The towers were my only sightseeing stop for the night and induced vertigo every time I looked up at them. In the towers was a massive air-conditioned mall, which I hung around for a while simply because of its air conditioning. In the basement of this mall I struck a jackpot: a supermarket! The first one I'd encountered on this entire trip! As I remembered from the Eurotrip, the cheapest local food by far was to be found here. Despite this I bought only some soymilk, grapefruit juice, and a bakery concoction. Malaysia was more expensive than Indonesia, but still cheap enough to make eating at budget restaurants and hawker centers a viable activity, no need for me to cook my own food. Also present in this mall was a movie theater, but I resisted the urge to see The Dark Knight, The X-Files, Indy4 or any of the other half dozen major pictures I'd missed in Nepal. You're backpacking Charles, don't screw around in a movie theatre.

On the monorail ride back to Bukit Bintang, the nightlife filled neighborhood that housed my hotel, I very, very slightly dented my ticket. It was a minor barely noticeable blemish, a simple dog-ear if that. Despite this, the exit gate refused the ticket and directed me to the ticket office. The ticket lady sighed, barked at me that "This is Electronic! Ticket! If damaged you pay again!" (despite there being no such warning on the ticket itself, either in English or Malaysian) It wasn't even damaged, it was a tinsy little crease, I swear. Very frustrated for what reason I couldn't guess, she marched out of the ticket booth and proceeded to swipe the ticket again and again through the gate until at long last it worked. As I passed through the gate, she continued to practically yell at me about how the ticket shouldn't be bent, it's electronic, yadda yadda, to which I thought to myself: "Yes lady, I know how a magnetic strip works, it's called the NYC Subway and unlike yer backwards arse system the machines there can actually read the fraking ticket." Sigh. Did I mention how much I hate hate hate the Kuala Lumpur rail system? It's expansive and will get you where you need to go, but along the way there are so many little annoying quirks that send the blood pressure boiling. Firstly, there's the whole "the ticket can't be creased even the slightest" issue which I guess isn't something worthy of complaint, then there's the passengers... You see, even in Los Angeles, not a public transit capital in the slightest, passengers still obey a sacred unwritten rule of Metro riding: Out of simple common courtesy, you don't attempt to board until the exiting passengers have exited. Not so here. The train arrived at the station, and before I could set one foot off I was mowed down by the impatient hoard waiting on the platform. With a great deal of physical force I managed to get off, but I was like a fish swimming upstream in a rapid river. This happened again and again on future monorail rides, sometimes with me on the other end waiting and watching as other deboarding passengers fell victim to the mob.

Other annoying quirks include the lack of easy transferring between lines. There will sometimes be entire blocks separating the rail lines, and a ticket is only good for one entry. To transfer, you must exit the system, find the other nearby station (without proper signage), wait in line again (the ticket machines never work), buy a new ticket, and hop on the next train. The ticket must be purchased from a booth on the correct platform too. In one instance, there were four cashiers on the wrong platform, and only one working the platform I needed. An embarrassingly long line had built up around my platform as a result. The other platform had no line. I crossed over to it and tried to buy a ticket, but the lady grunted rudely and pointed across the tracks. I pointed to the line, and tried to reason her way through the illogic causing the line imbalance. "You go North, you buy ticket from North line! GRUNT!" Goddamnit are you kidding me? What would have been a five-minute transfer on the inefficient-by-normal-standards LA Metro took a whopping twenty minutes here. I grew up in a city, I understand that cities are generally friendliness deficient. But you see, New Yorkers (for example) at least have reason behind their madness... this was just... maddening.  Arghhh, facepalm.

Rant aside, I grabbed one of the best and cheapest dinners of the trip and called of the night.
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Comments

dooo on

Malaysians tend to think that they're as developed as western countries just because KL has railway transport and monorail, they don't know that their system is so backward, as well as their attitude.

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