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Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is new in every sense. The city only really got started in the 1880s and has only boomed in the last 30 years or so. There may be some older sections worth walking through but I haven’t found them (lets face it, my chill/cold has hammered both energy and curiosity levels). Below me, looking out over KL Sentral from my hotel window, lies Brickfields, evidently one of the older areas, now the Indian quarter. The houses there are mostly commercial, three floors high with brightly colored frontages. Could be good for some fotos.

The rest of the city is widely spread over a large plain with low rolling hills, itself fringed by higher hills and low mountains. Which means, even in this, the rainy season, that by 9am you can see the tobacco stain in the air as vehicle pollution mounts.

This is a city of wide freeways for cars, snaking through green parks and concentrated islands of high rises. As a modern city goes, not a bad idea. But it demands you have transport. No city that I have seen on this trip has (ever had) the European concept, tradition or history of a built up central area where culture, commerce and community are mixed together. Old Jakarta may have had (though in the book I bought I read that even in the 1850s one traveler told of the need for all to use transport to get around); the others surely never had.

After checking into the hotel on arrival, my first target was Petronas Towers. I got there by the Rapid KL ‘metro’, which is really good. In fact public transport in KL is impressive: fast, clean, smooth, cheap and with at least three ideas that others could adopt. There’s a monorail too, which I will endeavor to jump on if I’m OK and have the time.

When I exited the KLCC station just beside the Towers, a short downpour was just clearing the area; I was lucky to see them at all!

I love the flair of the building: sheer, smooth steel wrapped around a classic Islamic design. The use of shining steel reminds me just a little of the 1930s skyscrapers in Manhattan – Chrysler in particular – with the same attention to detail and the fine quality finish. It does not look like so many other pre-constructed buildings with their bolt-on facades or indolent exposure of concrete beams and walls.

The ride up is free (wow!) and there are batches of people every 15 minutes. I managed to ‘jump’ aboard one ride up thanks to an extremely sweet guy at the reception desk.

Before going up you are treated to a 7 minute 3D movie of the building of the Towers. I’ve seen better on Discovery Channel, not least because the storyline there is just a little less laudatory of Petronas. But fun to see, nevertheless.

The other riders were the usual mix you would expect to find – tourists, visitors and residents from all over – German, Italian, French, Indian, Chinese, Arab.

Between the Towers is KL’s luxury shopping mall, a classic list of worldwide high and low fashion brands. No city is worth its salt without them, it seems. The style of the mall is as you might expect – several floors of consumer delights radiating from a large open atrium with an architectural fancy, the sole differentiator between this mall and another. Here, as in Jakarta, Mexico or Sao Paulo, a great part of a family’s non-work time is spent, seeking out the next best thing.

Don’t ask me why, but sometimes these malls look like the jails designed by Bentham, with its rows of cells that can all be seen from the large atrium. Who are the prisoners – the people sitting in their blind, air conditioned units or those wandering the aisles with a fear of leaving without having bought something?

I’m satiated and past all this. I’m older now – I know now how insubstantial and unnecessary so many things really are. I buy few things nowadays (OK so what I buy is expensive, like cameras and my adored Mac); if I manage to save anything then it going to be for my next life adventure.

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