Blessed to be a witness

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Tuesday, April 19th

Ooh me head

I have to say, the people of Kuala Lumpur are the most hospitable I've ever met. Sometimes this can have unintended consequences, as I shall explain. We have both had such a hangover all day. Oh Lord.

Yesterday, eventually, Iwa could no longer justify showing us round any more: family and work called, and I don't blame her. Four days on the trot of being a tour guide would be a lot for anyone, let alone a complete stranger. We exchanged email addresses over the phone, and I sincerely hope we can repay her kindness one day.

Left to our own devices, we went up the other massively tall structure in KL, the Communications Tower, which is a mere 521 metres high. It's one of those ones like in Toronto - a tall lift and cable shaft with a blob at the top that you can walk around in. It's also pink, and when commissioned by the Prime Minister it gained the unwanted title of "Mahathir's Erection". We travelled an extra few kilometres as the cabbie circled the entire city centre, twice, totally unneccessarily. When we called him on this he protested that he'd only been driving a cab for three days, but I was unconvinced. We paid him only half the metred fare, and he said "thank you" rather pathetically, so maybe he was telling the truth.

The tower is much more visitor-oriented (Petronas Towers had us going up in the service lift), with a viewing platform and revolving restaurant. Great views over the city, and particularly of the twin towers, as well as a slightly unneccessary audio tour, introduced by the CEO of Telekom Malaysia, who, despite being Malay, had a bizarrely Caribbean accent: "Wel-come to de Communications Tower. Tank you for comin' ovah heah."

We then visited an Irish pub, Delaney's, that M had spotted from the taxi. This place appears to have come out of the same Irish pub sausage factory as many others in Asia, particularly Delaney's in Hong Kong, which might in some way be connected. Then we discovered Finnegan's, that did real - as opposed to ersatz - bacon sandwiches, the Muslim nature of the country making them a trifle difficult to find, and so of course we had to have a pint there.

As we were leaving, we saw one of the strangest things I've ever seen: a motor scooter, absolutely covered in cats. There was more than a dozen very contented looking kitties sprawled all over it, and the onboard sound system was playing what appeared to be Hindi pop songs, very loud. There were two notices on it, one explaining that they were street cats that had been taken in, cared for, and trained by the owner of the bike, and all donations were welcome, and the other from the chief vet of KL saying that they were in good condition, had regular check-ups, and were in no way tranquilised. They did seem amazingly dozy. The guy who ran the odd outfit told M, while clipping the claws of a very beautiful tabby, that he trained them to stay put when the music played. I have no idea how he transports them around. Asian attitudes to domestic animals are, in our eyes, iffy to say the least - there is little to no empathy with other animals as being capable of suffering, or any real motivation to protect them, and indeed kicks and punches are often seen awarded to strays and they are delicacies in some countries - so this was a refreshing change. Bloody odd, though.

Rode the monorail back to our accommodation again, and then stopped at a Chinese hawker restaurant, where we were tempted by a mega-deal on Tiger beer, as well as Marmite pork ribs, which were sensational. Thence to our pool hall, where we are now regulars and have a cheery relationship with the elderly Chinese man who runs it. Carlsberg was available, so we had a couple of them, and then at midnight the place shut, so we hied ourselves to the Reggae Bar for another couple of frames of pool. Of course, it being a bar, we had to have a drink, and a pitcher of beer was the best value.

While we were playing, a Malay guy came over, introduced himself as Aqueeb, and asked if he could play the winner. We agreed, me saying I wasn't that good. "That's OK," he replied, "I'm too drunk to play properly too." Our planned game never did happen, but after we'd finished, he and his friend asked us if we'd like to go to the party district. Inhibitions somewhat lowered by our earlier beer consumption, and since this was our penultimate night in the city, we agreed. And they drove us (the driver, Fidels, seemed sober. In retrospect, I don't think he was in the least, though he drove well) to Planet Hollywood, of all places. They chose it, they said, because it is less likely to be raided by the police - "regular or religious?" asked M. "Both," replied Fidels. Very strangely, religious police, it seems, have some legal jurisdiction here, sending offenders to Shari'a court - though they can only prosecute Muslims, not members of other religions. I didn't really get Fidels's background, but Aqueeb was in KL working, with a wife and children in Penang. "But don't tell my wife I'm out drinking on a Monday night!" he said.

There in Planet Hollywood, behind the bar, Fidels had a bottle of gin with his name on it. It was by this time so late that the music and dancing had finished there, but to our delight we found yet another pool table, so had another frame with our gin-and-tonics. Eventually we were kicked out, and so the Malay guys asked if we wanted to go and get a bite to eat with them, but by this time we had had enough - too much booze, and it was after 2am. So they drove us back to our hostel, where we accidentally ended up chatting with the lovelorn owner about his unrequoited relationship, and of course there was a deal on Tiger beer for hostel residents, so we had a nightcap...

Thus today has been a bit of a wipe-out. It's the first real hangover I've had since we left, and at my age I just can't take them any more. To make matters worse, my tonsils are swollen, and generally I'm feeling very sorry for myself. Taking it easy today, and tomorrow we take a five-hour coach to the east coast town of Mersing, from where we catch the ferry Tioman Island, where I hope we can put all this silliness behind us.

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To comment on this, or just to say hello, mail me at jim@crowaptok.com.