Sunday, December 25, 2011

My Little Tour of Kuala Lumpur

The Sultan Abdul Samad building and foreboding rain clouds.

I came to Malaysia to fulfill a promise to visit some friends who now live there. Most of my co-workers left the company for Kuala Lumpur four years ago as soon as our binding contracts expired. It was sad as these guys have almost become family to me. I was team lead but they called me "Kuya Ian" rather than the usual "sir", which was really endearing.

From looking at my friends' Facebook photos, I thought that Kuala Lumpur was on the same level as Singapore  - slick, clean, dynamic, and robotically efficient. When I finally got there myself I found that there is as much dirt and grime as one would find in other third-world Asian countries. Not quite a developed country, but it's getting there, as evidenced by the numerous building constructions going on around the city center.

Kuala Lumpur city center, viewed from the Menara Tower observatory.

Malaysia is multi-cultural, with its people comprising mainly of Malays, Indians and Chinese. Kuala Lumpur however has a somewhat decidedly Islamic flavor. Walking on its streets you could easily catch a waft of the strong musky scent of Arabic perfume and incenses and hear the mystical call to prayer blending with the modern city noise. Everywhere there are niqab-wearing women of different levels of concealment, with middle-eastern tourists being a lot more conservative than the locals.  The eight-pointed star, which is an important Islamic symbol has a prominent usage in infrastructure, from the tiles on the sidewalk to the shape of the Petronas Twin Towers themselves.

Speaking of which, one would think that a building as huge as that would be easy to find. It's just a short distance from my hotel, but the diagonal and curving streets of central KL did nothing for my miserable sense of direction. Why the heck can't we just stick to building cities on rectangular grids? Like in Sim City?

The gleaming Petronas Twin Towers

KL impresses me as a city that has grown out of a jungle. I live in the tropics myself but I've never seen trees so huge and majestic its giant branches battle it out with modern buildings over airspace. I even met an old fat monkey on a sidewalk, but the grumpy chap snarled at me and chased me in the streets before I could take a proper photo. What a douche.

A rainy street scene along Jalan Masjid India.

Before meeting my friends, I spent the day photowalking in the streets of the older districts. Going to the National Mosque, I came upon an old underpass which seemed to have become some sort of a headquarter of an Indian gangster. The evil look given to me by one guy was enough for me to turn around and fuck off, and take the longer way to the mosque instead. The mosque unfortunately has succumbed to ugly modern architectural design and wasn't much to look at in my opinon. The Islamic Arts Museum nearby is a lot more time-worthy, which has a lot of genuine centuries-old artifacts coming from as far as India and the Middle-East. The area around the museum and the mosque is quite lush and peaceful, and is my favorite of all the places I've been to in KL. There was a food stall where I get to try the floral-flavored Bandung drink and some deep-fried Malaysian treats before taking a long walk to Bukit Bintang where I was supposed to meet my friends. By the time I got there I was covered with sweat and rain and pigeon-poop.

I literally jumped for joy seeing my friends all-together. It was quite humbling to know they have spent some of their busy time for a little reunion. We had dinner in a Chinese restaurant in the posh Pavillion mall, courtesy of Ferds who was my co-team lead and the oldest in the bunch (after me). It was just like the good ol' days. We were having so much fun we tend to forget we're in a different country and occasionally spoke to the waiters in Tagalog. Knowing what a coffee addict I am, I was given huge bags of delicious white coffee from Penang as a parting gift. I felt a little ashamed that I've gotten so much but I had nothing to give back. I felt that should've brought with me some pasalubong, like Goldilocks polvoron or something.

Visitors watch in awe as a large shark passes by in the oceanarium in Aquaria, KLCC.

The inverted dome inside the Islamic Arts Museum - one of the favorite places that I have visited. It's quite peaceful and only the solemn recorded chanting of the Koran can be heared throughout the museum proper. 

Bukit Bintang is where the party happens. 

An old street in the suburbs.

 Giant Esprit store at the Pavillion mall.

I arrived just a few days after Malaysia's independence day; 
the national flag is on display in many parts of the city.

Late afternoon sky as seen from the Menara Tower observation deck.

Traditional Malay architecture at Kompleks Kraf.

Basbasan Nawa!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Visit to the Batu Caves and the Sri Mahamariamman Temple

Murugan temple. A pandit prepares for a puja ceremony.

The Batu Caves are actually quite far from central Kuala Lumpur, but thankfully getting there is as easy as hopping into a train near my hotel and getting off in the station named "Batu Caves". Ironic that getting to my workplace is far more difficult than getting to a cave.

The giant gilded statue of Murugan can be seen from the train even from afar. After I arrived, a tourist approached me and handed his SLR to me and grunted some incomprehensible word. I understood though that he wanted to have his photo taken, and being the hospitable Filipino that I am I happily did so. With all smiles I also handed my camera to him and politely asked to take a photo of me, but the jerk dismissively waved his hands and walked away. Resentfully I set up my tripod and just took self-portraits, after giving the bastard the evil eye.

The Lord Murugan. Even gods get love-handles.

It takes a grueling 272 steps to get to the cave entrance. I had to stop every 50 steps or so to catch my breath while trying my luck to get a good photo of the numerous monkeys running around, which look really cute begging and trying to steal some food from the visitors. I don't think I'd ever get tired watching these little critters. I was careful around them though as I didn't watch catch rabies.

The rock formations and the natural lighting inside the cave are impressive in itself. There are small shrines for various Hindu deities scattered around, but the icing on the cake was the Murugan Temple in the innermost part of the cave. The way the sunlight from a cave opening illuminates the temple was quite dramatic. It would have really looked astounding in photograph, but I was captivated so much that forgot I was shooting at very high ISO, resulting to a crappy image quality. But even so, it doesn't look that bad at all.

It's a working temple, that is, it isn't for display purposes only. There was actually a puja ceremony going on with the assigned pandit assisting about a dozen devotees, despite the noisy crowd and camera flashes.

Getting my way back was a lot harder now that I could see how high up I really was. It didn't help that I was going counterflow against pushy Korean tourists who believe they have the sole priviledge of holding onto the rails just because they're on a package tour.

Tranquility and beauty.

The Cave Villa
There is a Cave Villa nearby which one could enter for a meager fee. It's a shame that most tourists just seem to pass it by as it is really worth seeing. The cave villa entrance can be reached via a series of walkways and small pavillions over a pond with carps and swans and a little waterfall flowing onto it. I decided to stay a bit longer here to drink in the peaceful atmosphere.

The first part of the cave villa features a series of diorama about the Hindu religion, most of the writings I didn't quite get though, but the drawings were fascinating in an eerie way. Deeper into the cave was a mini-reptile zoo which actually looks like a mad scientist's lab to me. I was very paranoid walking around fearing I might tip over a glass cage containing a deadly snake. There were also weird looking turtles and fish on display, probably several other animals too - I didn't want to linger around too much so I didn't get to see much.

An impressive sculpture at the entrance to the Cave Villa.

Eerie dioramas.

Going deeper into the cave.

A huge snake greets you near the entrance.

A big cage. I don't even want to know what's in there.

A fish with a twisted mouth.

The Sri Mahamariamman Temple along Jalan Tun H.S. Lee

Sri Mahamariamman Temple

The Sri Mahamariamman Temple is founded by the same person who was said to have discovered the Batu Caves. It is the starting point of the Thaipusam procession ending in the Batu Caves, which is quite a long walk. It is also the oldest functioning temple in Malaysia. However, it is so newly painted and garishly colorful you would think you're in Disneyland. It's all pretty, but somewhat sterile.

The colorful interiors.

Jai Durga Ma!

Sri Murugan mural.


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