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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

LIVING IT UP IN K.L.


To have right understanding means to view the world exactly as it presents itself to the eye. That means seeing without imposing any preconceived notions upon what you see..."

March 22, Wed. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

It was a smooth trip all the way, no hassles at all, right the way from Vancouver. L.A. airport isn't too pleasant b ut we found our way over to the international terminal with no problems. (Our luggage was checked straight through to K.L. so that was good!) After our five hour lay-over we boarded Malaysian
Airlines and from the minute we got on board we were pleasantly greeted by the lovely crew -- the girls in their blue patterened Malaysian dress, the stewards in blue jackets.
Everyone with big smiles, so gracious and cheerful. The long, long flight passed by quite quickly and somehow we managed to sleep for most of it. Arrived at Taipei for a refuelling stop (1 hr) and were allowed into the terminal to look around. The first thing you see is a big sign warning that drug trafficking is punishable by capital punishment. The airport in Taipai is impressive but nothing compared to the airport in Kuala Lumpur which is a space-age creation. We were awestruck! We found our driver, no problem. People are so helpful and friendly. It's an hour's drive into the city along a pleasant boulevard lined with palm-oil palms and flowering shrubs. The countryside is lush and beautiful. From a distance we saw the spires of the twin towers arising in the mist and the other tall tower that's like a larger version of the Seattle space needle.

Entering the city we saw many beautiful buildings, some exceptional architecture, some modern, ultra modern, others of a unique colonial design. The city is one of the most spectacular that I've ever seen. We just kept ooing and ahing like two kids in Wonderland.

Then the hotel: the Mandarin Oriental. Holy Moley! Talk about posh! The door men are dressed in white and gold traditional costumes, the other young men wear red sarongs and hats, the women are stylish in their traditional or modern clothing. Everyone here has been blessed with such beauty and serenity of character.
We agreed we'd probably have smiles plastered permanently on our own faces reflecting the hospitality and cheerfulness of the Malay people. (And it's genuine!)

We spent our first afternoon and evening just walking around the vicinity of our hotel and gawking at everying in amazement. There is an extravagant shopping mall next door between our hotel and the Twin Towers, the Suria KLCC. Every designer known has a shop there and it's real, not copies. (We even found some well-known brands such as Bata shoes, and The Gap alongside Versace and Gucci.) By late afternoon a tropical storm complete with thunder and lightening and torrential rain spoiled our plans for a swim in the hotel pool. We opted to stay indoor and enjoy the many varieties of things there are to offer in the hotel, and went to bed early -- by 8 a.m.! *(note: this hotel, the Mandarin Orientlal, ought to be called "the Royal Mandarin Orientlal" as it's like a palace and you are treated royally!)

Today, Wednesday, up early (6 a.m) and down for a buffet breakfast that offered everything from varieties of fruits, waffles, pancakcs to Asian, Chinese, Indian and Japanese food. Then we went and attempted to line up for tickets to go up in the Petrona Towers but were out of luck as our ride was coming at 9. Right on time too!

We went on a half-day tour of the city first passing the origins of K.L, where the two muddy rivers converge (see my previous blog on the history) and all around it are the first of the colonial building built in the mid 1800's including the law courts. Here in Malaysia, drug trafficking, murder and possession of illegal weapons are punishable by death. They don't pussy foot around with criminals. Hence the country is very safe and serene. Then off to see the King's palace, a sumptuous yellow building that was once the home of a wealthy Chinese man who had seven wives. (yellow is the royal colour and once upon a time you were shot if you wore yellow!)

They have an interesting governmental structure here. The country is divided into states so there are 9 sultans and 5 governors. Out of these a king is chosen, rotated every 5 years. The govenrment is elected every 5 years but as it is so satisfactory it's always the same. Everything here is subsidised by the government including education, care of the elderly, medical and homes for the needy. We drove by some shanty towns were squatters have built shacks on government land. The government has now begun to build high-rise apartments, 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms for these people which they can purchase for a very low price (affordable) and will be able to own. They have a lifetime to pay.
These new housing units will be ready for use in the near future. The system here works. No wonder everyone is happy! Only 3.9% unemployment. And you can ride public transit anywhere all day for just a few cents.

Past the palace we drove by the large Lake Gardens Park which is where the original settlement started. In this huge park is the world's largest covered bird and butterfuly sanctuaries. After this we toured the
world's largest pewter factory, the Royal Selangor. We watched the workers demostrate how the pewter is made. Pewter is composed of tin, antimony and copper. The first pewter objects were found in Egypt dating to 1500 BC. After this we visited a famous jewelers and were shown how they make gold rings (by a wax moulding process. Fascinating!) Then we drove to a place for a photo op of the Twin Towers.

These amazing towers, the Petrona Towers (owned by Petrona petrolium company) were designed by an Argentinian who also designed the Cannary Wharf Towers in London Eng. They were built by Korean workers who took only 4 days to construct 1 floor. The towers were completed in 2 years. They are built of steel and glass and stand 452 meters high, each tower connected to the other by a bridge mid-way up. They used to be the world's largest towers but now Taipei has built one to exceed that height.

Our hotel is right next door, so we left the tour then and decided to spend the rest of the afternoon at pool side. The pool is on the third floor of the hotel with an amazing city view. Even at the pool you are treated with great attention, given ice water, towels, spritzer for cooling off. We had lunch pool side and a refreshingly long swim. The temperature is hot and steamy althought not unbearable.

After our swim we went for a leisurely walk around the plaza and park behind the hotel, and then to cool off into the air-conditioned shopping mall for another look around, drooling at all the shops. It's a shoppers paradise. Expensive though! (**Note: my Pentax camera is definitely broken. I am relying on the old Richoh for slide photos and had to buy some throw-aways. Digitals are cheap here but I'd prefer to wait and get one at home where i'm sure of a warranty. so keep your fingers crossed that my photos turn out! This has been the only bummer so far!)

Tonight we had cockatails in the hotel lounge and tried out another of the hotels many dining fascilities, the Wasabi Cafe (Japanese) but it was very pricey and we had a laugh at the tiny portions when we had thought we were getting a 'dinner'. So here it is now still mid evening and probably we'll retire early. Tomorrow another early day and the special trip to Rimbun Dahan.

There's so much to see here. Three days is barely touching on it, just giving us a little taste. It's an incredible city, full of amazing sights, and so pleasant to be here. (No pan-handlers, beggars or street-people, just a lot of gorgeous people wearing lovely costumes and smiling at you or stopping to chat and greet you in a most hospitable and earnest way!) And clean! My gosh is this city clean!


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