Impressions of Kuala Lumpur
“How much? Ten Ringgit?” I fork out a note to the silent man clasping a stack of faded blue tickets. Gruffly, he hands me one with the change. Standing outside Kuala Lumpur’s Low Cost Carrier Terminal (LCCT), I feel as though I have just landed in Indonesia. The lush carpet of greenery from the air, marked with endless rows of oil palms; the equatorial heat piercing through the billowing, crumpled clouds; the gentle maelstrom of organised chaos… all this is reminiscent of a half-forgotten childhood vacation.
Bama and I clamber onto the airport bus and I am pointed to the fold-down seat by the door. There’s no safety belt, only a long handlebar to my left for any curves and sharp turns on the road. My reward is a wide-angle view of the way into Kuala Lumpur, past rounded hillsides dripping with tropical foliage, clusters of red-roofed cottages, and a series of signs pointing to the purpose-built capital, Putrajaya. I am told it means “Victorious son” in Bahasa Melayu.
Night falls and we find ourselves opposite the Central Market, a low art deco building in pastel blue and white. Our table is a vivid shade of tropical azure, almost glistening below the comforting whirr of ceiling fans and panels of Arabic calligraphy. It is here, in a cozy, unpretentious place completely open to the street, that I have my first taste of pulled tea – teh tarik. Frothy and infused with the sweetness of condensed milk, it is a perfect counterpoint to our murtabaks, meaty omelettes draped in a paper-thin layer of rolled dough. Outside, the call to evening prayer comes blaring in on loudspeakers, gradually giving way to the familiar voice of Amy Winehouse. We are here on a brief stopover, but multicultural Kuala Lumpur – a dizzying concoction of Malay, Chinese and Indian traditions – already has me wanting to stay.