My favourite moment in Malaysia so far happened inside the ‘Dark Cave’ at the famous Batu Caves just outside of Kuala Lumpur. Everyone turned off their torches until it was pitch black, and we had a minute of silence for the victims of MH17. This was the sort of darkness you’re almost never allowed anymore. No fire exit signs, smartphone screens or glowing standby lights to adjust to over time. My eyes kept straining for light, but nothing came back. And it was so glorious. I could have happily stood there for an hour, feeling very very peaceful and zen.
It can’t last, of course. Especially not when an Australian tourist insists on shining his torch straight at a snake after being politely but repeatedly asked not to. If I spoke Parseltongue, I tell you, that constrictor would have received some immoral encouragement.
The other animal of note at the Batu Caves are the monkeys – which I still get an odd thrill from being around. Not that I trust them, of course. Monkeys are obviously untrustworthy: any fool who’s seen The Jungle Book can tell you that. But still… monkeys!
I didn’t do a great deal in Kuala Lumpur itself, besides wander around Independence Square, and visit the first museum I came across. The prime exhibit there was a scale model of the city, which lit up and flashed myriad colours while bombastic music played and screens boasted of Malaysia’s growing GDP per capita and impressive tourism income. It’s an interesting country, Malaysia. One of my taxi drivers described it as a harmonious society of three cultures. Another scoffed heartily at this description and preceded to give me a lengthy and personal denunciation of its constitutionalised discrimination.
I really don’t mind taxi drivers ripping me off when they’re willing to talk politics.
Anyway, on Sunday I took a day trip to Melaka, which is smaller and prettier and more ‘historic’ than KL. Mosques, temples and churches jostle side by side, befitting an old trading town ruled by a succession of three European colonial occupiers. Although in one of the Chinese temples, I did read the following sentence which read very curiously indeed to my Europeanish eye:
Worshippers sometimes request the services of a more experienced person to pray on their behalf.
On that note, saying where I’m from is complicated now. I mean, it’s not really, but you know when a tour guide asks they don’t really care and would probably appreciate a simple one-word answer as you shuffle past. So what do I say? London? Chicago? I staved off an identity crisis when I got back to my hotel room late on Sunday night, immediately started the kettle and settled down for some tea and Peter Capaldi’s first episode of Doctor Who. Like praying towards Mecca, it doesn’t matter where you are in the world when it’s New Who time: just orient yourself towards iPlayer and enjoy.