Malaysian weekend

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.

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building

The Sultan Abdul Samad Building

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.

Stark contrasts

Stark contrasts

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.

The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile

I wrote this a couple of weeks ago, but never got around to finishing it off. But I like the idea of putting a blog on auto-pilot, so I’m setting it up as a scheduled post while I travel.

Last weekend I realised how badly I was missing my Kindle so got myself a shiny new Paperwhite, and after a chance read of this Guardian interview the first thing I’ve been reading is In Plain Sight: The Life and Lies of Jimmy Savile by Dan Davies. For anyone outside of the UK who’s not familiar with Savile, he was a DJ, television presenter, charity fundraiser and all-round national celebrity for several decades during the 60s, 70s and 80s. The man was knighted. After his death a couple of years ago, he also became known as one of the most prolific sexual abusers the country has ever known, including many, many children and young teenagers.

The book is not perfectly written, but what does come through over and over again is that this was no double life. This is not a Jekyll and Hyde story of a man who carried his dark side to the grave. Everything was right in front of us the whole time, not least in Savile’s own autobiography, or the repeated (and ignored) complaints from his victims. The book is a fascinating study of how the actions of famous and powerful men can get stuck in a filter of ‘eccentric’ – in this case, for decades – where instead they should have been disgust and horror. Because even if you always found Savile creepy and weird, this – in a strange way – still provided an effective cover for the more serious truth underneath. The book is worth reading, because some of the examples are truly quite stunning.

Britain has a bit of a reputation for cultivating and celebrating eccentrics. In this case, these forces went very badly wrong indeed.

Hymn Shelf, Abigail Osbiston liked this post

“The sky had never seemed so sky, the world had never seemed so world.”

I crammed a lot into the past week – I think I’m secretly hoping to be so exhausted for the excessively long plane journeys ahead that I just conk out. (More on that later.) Back on Saturday night, we celebrated Nolan’s birthday for what I counted as the third time, but admittedly it was a significant birthday and he is a significant individual.

The next afternoon, I was lucky enough to get invited along to a pub crawl hosted by the League of Chicago Theatres. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “oi, Dominic, you don’t work in the theatre. Why are you crashing their events?” To which I would reply, defensively, that I was invited – and more effusively, that Chicago’s theatre folk turn out to be an extraordinarily lovely bunch. I mean, no offence to – say – lawyers, but I have trouble imagining the League of Chicago Lawyers’s pub crawl would be anywhere near as fun, or culminate in such good cabaret either.

I'm not senior enough for a black jacket, yet

I’m not senior enough for a black jacket, yet

This week included a free screening of The Blind Side in the park after work with Suzanne and co. Now, if we’re being honest, we should acknowledge that this is not a good film. I mean, if we were really being serious we’d say it was a patronising white saviour narrative – but let’s just settle for it being overflowing to the brim with cheesy American schmaltz.

All true, but there was also fair amount of wine, a generous spread of picnic food and excellent company. And I learnt a teeny tiny bit more about American football. So.

Sunset from the lake

Sunset from the lake

The next evening, Lauri invited me to come sailing with her friends on Lake Michigan. I’m not great with boats – it’s the same kind of headachey problem as the banana variety – but I must say it was worth it to see the sun set over the city, and watch the beautiful red harvest moon rise over the lake. I may have to wait another year for peak summer temperatures again, but I really would like to try swimming there too.

And then tonight I made excellent use of my free pair of Theatre Thursday tickets (acquired at some point during Sunday’s drinking) to go see a musical version of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline. I thought it did impressive justice to a memorably creepy book, and (icing on the cake) it was nice to spend a night listening to British accents use words like ‘flat’ and ‘telly’ for an hour or two. (We had a tasty Indian meal beforehand, actually, so it was quite the Dominic-friendly night.)

Tomorrow I am going to a baseball field again to actually watch baseball again: White Sox vs. Blue Jays, if you’re interested. Todd has instructed me to cheer for the latter, which I’m more than happy to do. Especially as they are Canadian. And then I should probably pack or sleep or something, because I have a 6am flight to Kuala Lumpur the next morning. Yup, I’m going to Malaysia! For work, for two weeks, which is just as well given the flight takes approximately six thousand years. It’s just you and me now, Kindle.