|You may have seen the advert on tv, "Malaysia, truely Asia", with pictures of white sand beaches, brightly coloured temples, grinning children and those two big towers. The Malaysian tourist board are going all out to promote 2007 as the year to visit based on the fact that this year marks their 50th anniversary of kicking out the Brits. They may believe that getting rid of us is cause for celebration but it hasn't done anything to stop them from letting us back in without even a glance at our passports. We disembarked the train at the Singapore border to have our visas stamped out and have not yet been stamped back in anywhere so I guess we are currently travelling as illegal immigrants - if anyone knows of a good lawyer to represent us in case we get rounded up by the immigration police, we'd appreciate their number!
It's no suprise that Malaysia is marking its 50 years of independance with a huge global advertising campaign, advertising seems to be as necessary as breathing here. Every available surface is covered with glossy pictures of products, logos and slogans. One Monorail carriage we travelled on was decorated floor to ceiling in a single advert for the latest model of a laser printer. The stations themselves are sponsored by various companies, decked out in their colours and announced over the tanoy with the accompanying strap line at regular intervals, "next stop Kellogg's Frosties Tottenham Court Road - They're Grrrreat" Thankfully I don't think our Ken will let it happen back home!
The reason for all of the advertising, I guess, is because the national sport in Malaysia is quite clearly shopping. There are brand new, shiny, air-conditioned shopping malls galore here and in a hot, steamy city like KL they are completely irresistable even to a poor shopaphobic like myself. The food courts in these sterile asylums are quite incredible, with an endless choice of different delicious cuisines from all corners of Asia, yet the weird thing is that the biggest queue is at the Western Food stall where huge plates of soggy chips smothered in congealed gravy are served up, school canteen style, to excited Asian families. It reminded me of the brilliant sketch from "Goodness Gracious Me" when they all go out for an "English".
Malaysia is a real cooking pot of styles and cultures and makes for some fascinating people watching. In one glance you can see women dressed in berkas walking next to a group of chattering Chinese teenagers with belt-like skirts and hair styles I thought were only reserved for Toni and Guy stylists. It's quite easy to forget that Malaysia is a Muslim country - except for the mosques of course.
The Malaysians have certainly been busy since they booted the Queen out the back door. As well as constructing 1001 shopping centres they have also restored many of the original colonial buildings, landscaped some very pretty parks and gardens, produced an effective mono-rail network and still found time to build a few more mosques. Oh, and there are those two towers as well. Though no longer the biggest buildings in the world, the Petronas Towers are still very impressive and would give you a substantially sore neck if you were to try to look up at them for more than a minute or so.
Without doubt the best thing we did during our time in KL was to spend a few hours admiring the impressive collection of Islamic art at the aptly titled "Museum of Islamic Art, Malaysia". This has now taken its rightfully earned place as my favourite museum in the whole world and knowing my passion for old stuff you can appreciate what an accolade that is! Having just finished reading "My name is Red" I was in awe of the beautifully displayed minitures, fabrics and jewellery. There is a room full of detailed replicas of some of the most important mosques in the world (no suprise that D has already been to most of them) and a wall dedicated to the plight of Palestine which makes interesting, if tearful, reading.
We spent the rest of our time in KL dodging thunder storms and trying to blend in with the locals at the hawker stalls (I am never going to get the hang of this raw egg thing) but we were willing to bare our English souls in order to take front seats in an expat bar to watch the FA cup final on Star Asia tv, with substitutions proudly sponsored by Hyundai - naturally!