Sunday, May 24, 2009

Day Tripping in KL

One of the truisms about living in a place visited by tourists is that, as a local, you rarely (if ever) do the things or go to the places that are famous with tourists. Plenty of Coloradans have never been to a ski resort, taken the Coors brewery tour, or visited the U.S. Mint. Many San Franciscans only go to Alcatraz Island or Fisherman's Wharf when they're hosting out-of-town visitors. And so it goes here. I talk to many locals here in KL who have only been to Batu Caves once or twice in their whole lives, never been to the zoo, certainly never been to Taman Negara, Malaysia's 130-million-year-old national park, and most of the people I talk to had never even heard of Kuala Gandah, the elephant conservation center I visited a few months back. Not many locals bother going to the Skybridge connecting the Petronas Towers, nor do they pay to go up in KL Tower or visit the Forest Research park. Since I'm living here, it's easy to get caught in that rut... work during the week, relax and do laundry and run errands on the weekends, then repeat. Over and over.

In a conscious effort to not let that become the de facto routine for my life, I decided a couple of months ago that at least on alternate weekends, I'd do fun things... explore, take the camera, meet new people, do different things. As I'm writing this, I'm sitting at the Starbucks at BB Plaza on a busy tourist-laden street in the "golden triangle" of KL, Jalan Bukit Bintang. I must confess that I truly hate Starbucks, whether at home or abroad. I know they're not an evil company and in some respects, actually do good things. But largely because of their insidious ubiquity and their trendy, overpriced, sugared-up coffee drinks, I hate them. They're even more popular here than in the States because being able to afford Starbucks if you're a local is something of a status symbol. What you pay for a medium cappuccino here can quite literally buy your lunch for almost four days. I ordered a plain coffee here and nearly passed out when they told me it was RM7.90. Even though it's almost reasonable in US terms ($2.30), it's a bit much here for a simple coffee. So anyway, here I am... it's about 7 p.m., the afternoon light is waning, and a brief rainstorm has just ended. Loads of people are bustling by on the sidewalk and it's shaping up to be a mild, pleasant evening here in the heart of KL.

So here are some of the photos I've snapped around the city. Ordinarily, they can be enlarged by clicking on them, but this isn't always the case, and I can't figure out why some pictures aren't clickable. It's odd and, in this case, annoying because some of the pictures in this entry are among my favorite on the whole blog. I'm checking the code to see what the problem is, but frankly, this site isn't really the best at handling photos, which is lame since it's a very well-known blog site.

First up is a shot of the aforementioned KL Tower. Apart from the twin towers, this is the tallest thing in KL. It's built on a hill in the center of town known as Bukit Nanas (literally "pineapple hill") so at a glance, it often appears to be taller than the Petronas Towers, but at 1,381 feet, it's actually 102 feet shorter. The area surrounding the base of KL Tower is a 27-acre forest reserve, one of just a few such urban rainforest jungles in the world. I give the city of KL a lot of credit for preserving this space and not bulldozing it for more buildings and parking lots. This is, after all, some very valuable real estate. As for KL Tower, standing at its base and looking skyward gives a great impression of how very tall it is.

These next two photos are from the Luna Bar, atop the Pacific Regency Hotel near Bukit Nanas. There is a two-deck bar and a large swimming pool with open-air views of the city in all directions. Sadly, the orientation of the Pacific Regency relative to the Petronas Towers ensures that you only see one tower from Luna (the other is hidden perfectly behind the visible tower), making for a few wry "Ah, it's the twin tower" comments.

Another high-rise open-air bar in KL is the appropriately named Skybar on the 33rd floor of the Traders hotel near KLCC Park. The views are a bit better than those from Luna, but the actual execution of the rooftop bar concept at Skybar is one of the stupidest I've ever seen. It's an oddly elongated and constricted area to begin with and it shares space with a spa, of all things. Some of the seating is in these little cushioned "pits" by the edge of the building (it's glassed in, but no roof). There is an extremely narrow walkway to get to these pits, maybe 18-20 inches wide. Immediately on the other side of this walkway is a lap pool running nearly the length of the place, ensuring a marvelous extra helping of oppressive humidity to that which is already present in the open-air environment. In most bars, the actual BAR is sort of the focal point of the place. Here, it's a lap pool. The actual bar is way back in the back corner. Anyway, to leave your seat, you have to step up and over the cushions on the lip of the pit and down onto the walkway. It's hard enough to do sober, but I can't even imagine trying it after 2-3 drinks. I asked the hostess how many people had fallen headlong into the pool trying to get out of their seating pit and she answered flatly, "Countless." In an American city, they'd put a handrail or some handholds or something (or wouldn't have designed it so stupidly in the first place) if for no other reason than to head off a bunch of spurious lawsuits. But not here. They just let people trip and fall into the pool—complete with wallets, mobile phones, cameras, you name it—on a regular basis. It's bizarre. And if getting up from your seat doesn't send you hurtling into the water, there's another chance on the other side of the pool where a walkway winds aimlessly and, on either side of the walk, a shallow lake entirely covered by lilypads lurks waiting for its next victim. I can assure you that, in dim lighting (as one is wont to find in a bar), it all looks very much like solid ground. I almost stepped off the walk into the lake before realizing what it was. I'm pretty sure more than a few people have taken a tumble into the lilypads, too. Anyway, I managed to stay dry and get some shots of the ever-impressive Petronas Towers during and just after sunset...

Finally, I recently went with one of my friends to one of the major parks in KL called Taman Tasik Perdana—Lake Gardens Park. Within this large enclave, you can visit a butterfly park, one of the largest free-flight aviaries in Asia, a deer park, the national planetarium, and an orchid and hisbiscus garden. All of these pictures are from the orchid garden. The one of the water lily flower is one of my favorites that I've taken in a long time. There's nothing new about this picture; it's the same stock flower photo we've all seen a thousand times. But the flower was so brilliant with its contrast of purple and yellow, and so nearly flawless in form, I couldn't resist snapping a photo of it. The photo of the leaves is another one of my favorites. I'm not sure what kind of tree it is, nor what the symmetrical rows of dots are—seed or spore capsules, perhaps? It made for an interesting photo, though. The first two photos are close-ups of orchids.

I've recently cut back my work schedule to three days a week, so I'll have a bit more time for exploration and photography. I hope to write more and post more regularly here, too. That's all for now... I'll return with a new entry soon.

P.S. I've made a change in the settings of the blog that should allow anyone to comment without registering or signing up for anything. So if you care to comment, feel free!


barbmerchant said...

I loved this...the photos were amazing and as usual your writing is tremendously interesting. I tell everyone to read your blog AND to leave a comment! Not sure why they don't...oh well! See you soon.

paperclip said...

i hope that u like n gonna love yo stay here in malaysia

hv a wonderfull day up ahead exploring this country

hugs from tiny clip

Cinta said...

ur blog and mine has the same picture heading. :) I lived in Denver for a about 3 years when I was a girl. I have fond memories of denver. Hope u're enjoying ur stay in kl. There is so so much to see, do eat here!

barbmerchant said...

OK, it is too long between posts..from May to July is just too much time something from my visit there!!

Javier C.P. Low said...

nice photographs and post