There is no doubt in my mind that KL BC (Kuala Lumpur Before Christmas) was a negative experience during which the seamier side of life here acquired supersized proportions in my over-active imagination. The beauty you see in the photo above, was taken today. I could say that it simply wasn’t there earlier, but I’d be lying. I guess I just did not notice it submerged as I was in ‘being sad and grumpy’.
I had needed to get away for a month over Christmas to calm down. I headed to my home town of Stamford to be with Josh and my parents. And there in places that were as comfy and familiar as my carpet slippers all that pent up fear evaporated. I knew the way to Tesco. I knew my way round town. I knew how to read the roadsigns. I even knew the route to take between all our family and friends. Every person I spent time with was a stress-free experience. I knew I could be myself. As my good friend, Eva, says ‘home is a place where I do not have to explain myself’. And that’s what it was like. Bliss.
This ability to step away from the stark reality of my new life allowed me to reflect and consider things at a safe distance among people I cared about. With every day that passed I became more circumspect. More objective. More discerning. As a result, as you can remember from my last post, I even found myself accidentally calling KL ‘home’ and was perfectly happy to come back.
This time I took the train from the airport to the station near our home without a qualm. This time I knew how to buy a ticket and how to use the gates that let you in and out of the station. I knew where to get a taxi to take me home and how much the fare was likely to be. Already things were settling down.
But then – bam – within 24 hours, our first ever visitor here was on our doorstep. I was still jetlagged and had a todo list left over from four weeks away to tackle but there I was thrown into playing hostess to Pamela. Now Pamela knew we had only been in KL for a few weeks but as the ‘old hand’ I was forced into the position of leader and tour guide.
While, just a month earlier, I had felt pathetic and feeble about my inability to make my new life ‘work’, Pamela seemed impressed by how much I knew.
And so, I realised that the rose coloured spectacles I’d worn on our ‘recce’ visit and that had been replaced from September to December by dark glasses had now become clear lenses. Now everything looked different.
This time, I noticed the traffic wasn’t really so bad. I realised I was no longer petrified to walk anywhere or take a train. I had begun to know the rules without realising it. This time, the green seemed greener, the birds sang louder and the supermarket’s range of goods seemed more impressive than before. I even noticed that there were approximately 3 security guards pacing each level of the car park and that there were CCTV cameras all over the place. There is even a guard with what looks like a rather dangerous stick (I’m being ironic) at the entrance to our compound.
I have always found that having visitors allows me to see a place through their eyes and when I see their joy or wonder on their face it rubs off on me and I feel some of that joy and wonder too.
In just five days we took a few trips, just Pamela and me and she marvelled at my bravery. Brave, me?
We visited Melaka for the day and laughed at the colourful tuk-tuks that looked like fake flower arrangements with butterfly wings and that took tourists on tours of the town.
We found a natural soap shop and asked the assistant what the word ‘nyonya’ meant as we had seen it displayed outside many of the restaurants. We learned it was a mix of Malay and Chinese cuisine and definitely worth a try. She also told us to go and queue outside Nancy’s Kitchen but first we had to question why a soap shop sold cupcakes? They too, were soap. In this city there were plenty of surprises!
The soapgirl suggested go and join the queue outside Nancy’s Kitchen, famous for its home-cooked nyonya and so we did!
The soft rolls, stuffed with beansprouts, greens and sweet onions were divine.
We loved trying all the different dishes and will definitely go back (or I will), especially when, after eating way more than we should have, our bill was about £8 for the two of us!
But then we wandered down Jonker Street, the road full of antique shophouses and touristy stalls, that spill onto the narrow road and cause the throngs of visitors to slalom down the street, watching out for stepping on toes and thus failing to look up and marvel at the ornate, gilded Chinese architecture that surrounded them.
But Pamela likes ice cream. I remember in Tuscany, when Terry Anne, Laurence and I had to find supposedly the best ice cream in Lucca and walked what seemed like miles to find our friend her fix. Today, she spied open freezers selling what looked like colourful plastic eggs. On closer inspection we learned they held sorbet. Did I fancy durian flavour or jackfruit? I don’t think so! I plumped for sour plum.
And our guest was happy.
Melaka is a fun place with some gorgeous architecture and food despite the tourists and just a two hour drive from home. This time we hired a driver, next time I’ll take the wheel (perhaps I am braver than I realise?).
Pamela had another request on her list – to try out the Sky Bar in the Traders Hotel, right in the centre of the city for a sundowner. Ian and I were not hard to persuade and at 6.45 pm on her last evening we selected Ernest Hemmingway [sic] cocktails and settled back on the magenta cushions that line the alcoves at this quirky 33 floor high bar (it even has a swimming pool in the middle).
I’d been to the Sky Bar before, back in May when we did our recce visit and when Joe and Emma our good friends from Oman days had played tourguides to us this time. I remember being impressed back then but definitely less impressed than I was this time. This time the city sparkled, the park below looked larger, greener and the mall less dominant. You see, now, I have walked in that park a few times with my friend Christa, I’ve visited the mall and it’s as if, now, everything has taken one of Alice in Wonderland’s draughts. Nothing is the same any more. Somethings are bigger, some smaller, some duller, some brighter but all in all, seeing the world through my clear spectacles and the eyes of a stranger has made everything so much better.