Shop till you Drop

by Ant Stone on September 24, 2010

in Malaysia

It struck me that Kuala Lumpur is not somewhere that East meets West; rather a place, where the West is accepted. When you’re helplessly lost within one of the dozen or more super-sized shopping centres in the Malaysian capital (which you will be), you could be excused for assuming that Kuala Lumpur is more Western than the West itself.

Sparkling floors spiral upwards; gleaming floor after gleaming floor showcasing every major brand, while musac echoes throughout the hallowed cloister of modern-day convenience.

Kay Ell: Shopping Mecca

It’s hard to escape the shopping centres in Kuala Lumpur, and if I’m honest, there’s little reason to try. Aside from the obligatory shops, they often house transport hubs and dining to suit every budget.

(Without wanting to go into too much detail, their bathrooms are more appealing than those of the low budget hotels I frequent.)

For people-watching, there are few better spots to imitate the invisible; and lest I forget the lure of the air-conditioning, and the bright white lights which lure me like a moth to the moon.

In terms of food, I am far from qualified to dare write on the subject after just two days in the capital. Though I am reminded of a myth oft lauded on Asia by overeager travel writers: that somehow, all the food in Asia is incredible, and guaranteed to be one of the more incredible aspects of your day.

When, in fact, you must first wade through a glut of gristle and grey rice before you find the dish to write home about — and perhaps even then, you might cling to it so tightly that even its appeal begins to fade.

Five Star (for effort) Accommodation

I’m staying at the Cintamani Travellers’ Lodge, which is a delight on so many levels.

For a start, it’s just 30RM (£6) per night. My room is windowless, and no more than seven-feet square, and the promise of air-conditioning comes in the shape of a rattling ceiling fan, which is quite obviously tired of its futile effort to recycle the city’s muggy air. I’m afforded the sensation that I now live in a fan oven, and I’m led to muse that I might wake up one morning, sizzling beside a stack of giant roast potatoes.

I do however, have the charming company of a small mirror, a grumpy bedside table and a noble looking hat-stand on which to hang my collection of one baseball cap.

If you’re struggling to imagine this room: It is exactly the sort of room where you might expect Robert Carlyle to poke his doped-up head through the wall and start yelling cryptic messages at you, before winding up dead the next morning.

But I will say this about the Cintamani Lodge: it is clean, and it is quiet, and it is friendly, and it is well located, and it is perfectly acceptable for the price.

My Malay Manuel

The reception is usually manned by a sporadically cheerful Malaysian man, who spends much of his evenings watching any one of the nine security camera feeds, or relaxing in front of the TV.

This is both safe and convenient. He knows when I am coming, and likes to hand me my key, or ask how I am — which I am grateful for, because I am seemingly the only person staying here, so my social life has been a little light, and therefore this fleeting etiquette has been elevated to a simple joy.

One unexpected plus, is that there’s free WiFi for guests (and the speed is roughly double that of my New Zealand service), and a small bar of nondescript soap and economy toilet roll left beside my bed.

The Small things in Life

I have also been reminded of the small things which can make such a difference to travellers’ lives. Such as hooks.

Hooks on the backs of toilet and shower doors can mean the difference between my narrow shades of happiness. A small shelf is even better; the existence of a small shelf in an Asian shower cubicle — where you can keep your shoes and clothes dry — is a rare gift from the gods.

They’re up there, laughing to themselves and saying, “Look at that poor, and offensively grimy Englishman. He looks like he could do with a boost, let’s give him a shelf for the day. What do we all say?”

And so they all shrug their godly shoulders, and the shelf appears, on which I can stack exactly half of my worldly possessions while I scrub away my woes. What more does a man need? No, seriously I mean that: what more does a man need?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurence Norah September 24, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Hooks and shelves.. you are so right on that one… a shower without them quickly turns into a highly complex balancing affair…

Ant Stone September 24, 2010 at 11:48 pm

I know. For me, it’s often the choice between a half naked dash through the hallways, then back again, or a leisurely stroll more suited to a nobleman in a silk robe.

Matt September 25, 2010 at 3:12 pm

I’m not sure you’ve painted KL to be a place I want to visit.

Ant Stone September 25, 2010 at 7:57 pm

Fair comment, Matt.

I think that might be a side effect of it not being the place I expected it to be. To be honest, it has some good points, but it’s largely just a big bustly Asian city.

As with everywhere, it is what you make it — I walked a hell of a lot, and made use of the excellent public transport, but it’s not somewhere I’d rush back to.

In conclusion, I haven’t yet covered many of the spots I visited in KL, but even they’re not likely to tempt you in.

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Leigh October 2, 2010 at 6:00 am

Your superb writing conjures up images that won’t make me rush to KL anytime soon. You’ve made a very good point on how one truly appreciates the simple things on the road – another reason everyone should travel.

Ant Stone October 2, 2010 at 12:07 pm

Thanks for your comment, Leigh. It really is the simplest things which matter, and that can render our feelings of a place. A hook is good, but the smallest gift is often just a smile between strangers. I don’t want to sound too prosaic with that statement — but it can be so true.

amer October 19, 2010 at 6:30 am

I hope you enjoy KL. KL for me is a unique capital city stuck somewhere near a tropical rainforest. I mean, its crowded, busy, acceptable public transportation, ultra modern but at the same time disorganized. Its hot, humid and definitely wet! It is multi-racial and the food is fantastic and cheap. Having said that, i would suggest you to venture outside the capital to really enjoy Malaysia. If you want the best street food in Asia, head to Penang or why not jungle trek at the Taman Negara – the oldest rainforest in the world..

Ant Stone October 19, 2010 at 8:31 am

Thanks Amer, some nice points in your comment.

“KL is ultra modern?” I have to disagree with that one, there’s little ultra-modern about Kuala Lumpur.

Keep reading for more to come on my recent journeys throughout the Malay peninsula.

meli November 5, 2010 at 11:28 pm

I really do enjoy hooks. It is the simple things in life that make our lives that much more easy! I love to hang everything in the show I hate when things touch the ground!

Ant Stone November 6, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Me too… I’ve become quite the master of the “One hook, twelve items” move.

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