City with Two Faces
March 4th, 2013
Despite its almost 14 million inhabitants throughout the metropolitan, Kuala Lumpur feels like a pretty idyllic city. It's walkable and friendly to the pedestrians, it's fairly easy to get a sense of it just by putting your feet into motion.
Amiable people is to be found everywhere and it hit me how exceptionally well English-speaking everyone is. Asking for directions is never a problem. It's a city that easily falls into my taste. But there's been a peculiar sensation about it, and it's related to the weather. It produces a schizophrenic ambience, and it's a bit eerie how accurate it is.
The days are sunny and bright, casting a radiant glimmer over the many skyscrapers which in turn are reflecting the city throughout their mirror-resembling glass windows. It's a brilliant view. The air is clean and vibrant which gives every object an almost unnatural sharpness.
But around the same time basically every day, the city is undergoing a radical change. From the middle of nowhere, clouds are beginning to aggressively gather together and forming a dark gray dome over the city. The wind is gaining strength. Soon, thunder starts to rage as it would split the ground into pieces, and minutes later the water is pouring down with such a force as you think it would be streaming out of an upside-down fountain. The metamorphose is complete.
It's kind of bizarre how the previously so benevolent looking place has turned into this nightmarish and almost gory experience. The streets are beginning to flood and people are taking cover wherever there is cover to seek. It's not like an umbrella would save you. The force of the enormous drops is just to strong, you'll get drenched anyway.
If you're out on the street there is basically nothing to do but to accept the naturally given shower provided by Mother Earth. After a couple of hours it's like the whole thing never happened. Not a trace left. Like the returning sun has absorbed it all to the last drop. It wouldn't be that weird if it just occurred arbitrarily now and then but during my two weeks stay, only the exception of a single day was freed from this experience. Otherwise, it was like you could clock it.
One day I jumped a bus together with a friend I'd just met and went out to the Batu Caves. The caves are located in the outskirts of town, set in a limestone hill which contains a couple of various Hindu shrines. After walking up the steep staircase of nearly 300 steps we came upon the entrance to the 'Dark cave'. Supposed to be pretty tight and have living 'cave racing' snakes lurking around in the dark, we didn't enter. Though I am open to most things I didn't see it as a good combination fighting my claustrophobia with a set of fast moving snakes racing around my feet. I prefer handling one phobia at the time.
Passing that one, we made it to the other more spacious caves which had a very interesting (yet not reptilian) animal life. The tall roof was bleeding with streaks of fine tuned light, drizzling water along the walls made the place feel humid, doves were living at every crack available, roosters were walking the grounds, and swarming us horizontally as well as vertically were tons of long-tailed monkeys. It was a fascinating mix and I wondered how it all came to be this way. It was amusing to see a monkey challenging a rooster over some chunk of food.
Kuala Lumpur was the city where I first tried durian, the horrifying king of fruits. I've no idea what evil that fruit has done to get its nauseating flavor. The taste is indescribable. Rotten onions? Sweat drenched feet? Moldy cheese? I don't know. The only thing of similar character I've experienced is a special kind of fermented fish which is quite popular in Sweden during the summers.
Waking up at the hostel one day, I was facing a lion. Not a real lion. A costume made lion. The Chinese New Year has recently been celebrated here and a way of honoring is to make a lion dance. That was what was going on inside the hostel. Drums and tambourines were playing, food was flying everywhere, firecrackers set off the fire alarm, and in the middle of the insanely surrealistic scene; a lion, continually dancing around as nothing else mattered. Sheer craziness. In moments like this you wonder why there would ever be anything to worry about.
Kuala Lumpur gave me the feeling of an intermingled city. Lacking its own originality, she's borrowing traditions and food from surrounding cultures, producing a diversified quality which sets the standard and makes the city what it is. A plus is when you get to be the attraction to groups of tittering schoolgirls, eagerly asking if you can pose for photos with them. That makes you smile.