Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Malaysian Hash

No, it's not what you think, I haven't been caught dealing in drugs. That would be seriously stupid as the penalty for that here is death. Hash is actually a word that has many meanings, though for the (British) expat community it has a very particular one. Those of you who have never been expats (or even worse, aren't lucky enough to be British!) will probably be oblivious to the monthly ritual that is a hash. To cut a long story short, a hash is a sort of communal race where groups of people (the harriers) run after a trail of paper laid down by a "hare" (some bloke). But basically it's usually just an excuse for a piss-up. Anyway, this expat institution, and global phenomenon (just check out their website to see how many people take part in the craziness) originated here in Kuala Lumpur in 1938, when the chaps from the local men's club thought they would be able to drink a lot more beer if they went running beforehand. The reason I mention this is because whilst living in France I was subjected to hashes (though luckily not too often) and thought them rather silly, and now that I know the history behind them I still do.

But enough of my rambling. I'm sure you want to know all about Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it is universally known throughout Malaysia. The image most people have of KL (if they have an image at all) is of the Petronas Towers, which were, for a few years, the tallest buildings in the world until they were surpassed at the start of the year by Taipei 101. Unfortunately it is only possible to ascend less than half way up, to the bridge that connects the two towers, so you can't appreciate the height properly. The towers are actually quite aesthetically pleasing, but that may be because I'm quite a fan of skyscrapers (which I find to be a much better solution to crowded cities than the horrible urban sprawl of some, especially American and Australian, cities). The towers are just one manifestation of Malaysia's inferiority complex, whereby the government funds lavish public works projects in the belief that this will make other countries take them seriously. Sometimes the effects are good (as in the towers) and sometimes bad (as in the huge land reclamation drive in Melaka that has horribly fouled up the city's waterfront).

The other draw of KL is the shopping: same variety as Singapore at half the price. So I have been seriously considering investing in a digital camera, which would at least let me see my pictures straight away instead of having to wait until I get back home. Whilst I wait until I make up my mind, I have taken the opportunity of sampling a durian. I had heard of this fruit years ago and have wanted to try one ever since. The durian (picture below) is notorious throughout SE Asia due to its pungent smell, and is often on the list of forbidden items on public transport, along with guns and knives. Durian sellers are also easy to recognise as their stalls are usually isolated from their neighbours. Personally I don't find the smell too bad, though it is rather astringent, however the taste is very different. The closest description I can muster, is off caramel mixed with toothpaste. I can do without it, but the locals consider it a delicacy. There is one really neat thing about the durian though: it is probably the only fruit whose peel can be used as an offensive weapon.

Whilst travelling through Malaysia I have also talked to several other travellers (as you do) and lots of them have raved about Indonesia. So I have been fighting with myself over whether I should do a loop through Indonesia or not (apparently it's really cheap at the moment because people don't seem to be wanting to go there for some reason). Finally, almost certainly to my Dad's satisfaction, I have decided not to because the border pass between China and Pakistan closes in November and I don't want to arrive late.

No comments: