Sunday, May 27, 2012

Putrajaya, Pants, And Other Ponderings

So, getting from East Malaysia to West Malaysia by boat didn't work out either. My German couple were ready to take me with them, and even wanted to go to Singapore. But it just didn't seem like it was meant to be as they discovered their boat had a leak and were forced to leave it in Borneo themselves. I'm sure Charley Boorman didn't have these problems when he was filming By Any Means, but then again he has his own BBC film crew and lackeys to organise his itinerary. Kuching was getting boring and 16 days really were enough. I had seen all I wanted to, and had begun to get itchy feet. With a heavy heart I headed down to the airport as soon as I got the bad news and bought myself a ticket to Kuala Lumpur (although, as an aside, I did get to do something that I had dreamt of doing for some time, namely turning up at an airport and just buying my ticket on the spot).

The famous Petronas Towers which I revisited 7 years after my first trip here.

Having been to Kuala Lumpur and West Malaysia before I didn't have that many things I wanted to see or do, but I do have some friends here who I wanted to spend some time with. Shahin and Kourosh are two brothers from Tehran who have come to study in Malaysia. Not necessarily because the quality of teaching is poor in Iran, but their chosen fields, of computer game development and film and animation, are not particularly well-represented in Iranian universities. In fact there is a surprisingly large Iranian student community here in Malaysia, at least partly due to the fact that it is one of the few countries that Iranians have little trouble getting to without intricate visa procedures. A large number of the male students also use it as a legal way to get out of the country and avoid the dreaded two-year obligatory military service. In fact there are a great many international students here, mostly from countries you are unlikely to hear of, taking advantage of the relatively cheap, English-language education. Yemenis, Egyptians, Kazakhs, Tajiks, Sudanese, Koreans and Kenyans are just some of the nations represented (as you can see from the list many come from, at least nominally, Muslim countries) as Malaysia strives to market itself internationally as an affordable, English-language centre for education.

Kourosh, Shahin and I.

Their university is in Cyberjaya, which, as its name suggests, is a recently created town. Along with its twin Putrajaya it is supposed to be part of a hi-tec, Malaysian "Silicon Valley". It was the brainchild of the former, long-serving prime minister Mahathir Mohamad who had a vision of Malaysia becoming a power in global IT. The two towns boast wide boulevards, plenty of landscaped green spaces, modern buildings and amenities, and, like pretty much every planned town I've been to (with the possible exception of Zamosc, which was designed in the 16th century), absolutely no soul. It probably looked nice as a design maquette, with broad dual carriageways sweeping through the city in majestic, flourishing curves. But in reality all it means is that distances between locations are impractical for walking (especially given the hot, tropical climate) and so you have to go everywhere by car because the public transport infrastructure is so poor (buses are not futuristic). Then there is no town centre to speak of, where you can stroll between nearby cafes or shop along a pedestrian high street, instead you have sprawling, low-rise campuses (in Cyberjaya) and random collections of ministerial buildings (in Putrajaya) that may, if you're feeling generous, be called eclectic, but to me are just shambolic. Across from a replica of the Badshahi mosque lies a modern, stainless steel, reinterpretation of an aiwan, which is itself next to a building with art deco influences and just down the road from a concrete reinvention of the Khaju bridge. Whilst street names and neighbourhoods are an alphabet soup of letters and numbers that manage to remove any lingering sense of it being a place to live.

A Malaysian reinterpretation of the Badshahi mosque, only this time as the palace of justice.

I've also taken this spare time to sort out my possessions and take stock of what I have. I don't know how it happens, but slowly but surely I keep losing things along my way. Like a modern-day Hansel and Gretel I leave an unintentional trail of threadbare T-shirts, worn out socks, flash drives, battery chargers, underwear and other odds and ends in my wake. In fact there is very little in my backpack today that started out on this journey with me over two years ago. In Borneo alone I managed to misplace a pair of socks, a T-shirt and a flash drive. Luckily, with regards to clothes I have often been lucky in getting hand-me-downs from some of my hosts. Honza (a name, which, in the perverted logic of the Czechs, is short for Jan), who I stayed with in UB, gave me a brand new T-shirt. It's red, with a spiral tie-dye pattern across the chest. A present from his mother he told me that it was so hideous that he would never contemplate wearing it. Luckily I have no such compunctions and gladly accepted the freebie.

Somehow this stock-taking hasn't proven to be particularly effective, as between one load of washing and drying I seem to have misplaced two of my boxer shorts (i.e. fully 50% of all my underwear) and cannot find them any more. Not a pleasant situation which may force me to take drastic measures, such as perhaps buying new underwear. Not a pleasant proposition for a thrifty Scot, and which only serves to reaffirm my belief that clothes should be washed as little as possible...

P.S. Disaster averted - I have now found my boxers and can make my way to Indonesia with a clean conscience (not to mention underwear).

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