Thursday, 19 September 2013

Kuala Lumpur day 4 and 5

Jackie in the middle of a miniature Stonehenge in the Planetarium

We stayed a little longer in KL than we anticipated as we’ve decided to catch the sleeper train north to Penang and 19th September was the first available date where we could get beds in the same carriage and opposite one another. We’re going second class for the expensive price of RM40 each (£8). It leaves KL Sentral station at 21:30 tonight and arrives in Butterworth (just on the mainland near the ferry terminal to Penang island) at 05:30am tomorrow. Bit of an early start then! We could have gone on 17th as we intended, but only upper bunks were available in different carriages, 18th was the same and on 19th we could get two upper bunks on opposite sides of the carriage. People book the lower bunks in preference as they are slightly bigger and it’s less prone to rock as the train moves, but we’ve both slept in upper bunks before without problems, so hopefully it should be OK.

The old colonial railway station
Having a couple of extra days has been quite useful as we’ve seen things in KL that we probably wouldn’t otherwise have done. Yesterday we visited the National Museum, which traced Malaysian history from primitive ‘hunter-gatherer’ times through to the modern Malaysia in 4 rooms and we both learnt quite a lot. I now think I have a firm grip on Malaysian history from before European contact, through Portugese, Dutch and British colonisation, independence in 1957 and the formation of modern Malaysia with the integration of Sabah and Sarawak in Borneo and Singapore in 1963 and the departure of Singapore in 1965, but I won’t bore you with all the details!

The old station seems sadly neglected now, only commuter trains stop here now, everything else going to KL Sentral a little further downline. Full of character, it seems a shame it can't be put to better use
The National mosque
Today we visited the National Mosque and had to dress up in violet robes that they lent us on entry. As we peered into the vast prayer room a young Muslim lady approached us saying she will tell us all about it, so we spent a good half hour or so with her learning a bit about Islam, their values and the relationship to the biblical characters we know such as Noah, Moses, Abraham and Jesus and how they relate to Islam. It was really very interesting and we both now feel a bit more informed about something I, in particular, had no idea about.

All dressed at the entrance to the prayer room. It holds 3000 people shoulder to shoulder!
Jackie looking very demure
Our next visit was to the Museum of Islamic Art which, according to one leaflet we read, said ‘if you only visit one museum make it this one’ so, on that basis we thought we’d give it a go. It was also very informative and told us even more about Islam and, in particular the Hajj (spelt Haji in Malaysia), which is the pilgrimage to Mecca every Islamic person should try to make at least once in their lives. It’s an incredibly involved process and, it appears there is a ‘season’ each year to go, you can’t just go anytime, so there are literally thousands (if not millions) descending into Mecca in Saudi Arabia every year at a certain time so the logistics are immense.

This is actually a patterned rug showing Mecca and thousands of pilgrims
Mecca is the home of the Islamic religion and was the place said to have been built by Abraham on instructions from above and has, at its centre the ‘house of Abraham’ and the ‘black stone’ at the very centre, said to have been placed by Mohammad himself. This is the point all Muslims point their prayer mats to and, interestingly one poster indicated that the construction of the house by Abraham is mentioned in the bible, saying that he was instructed to go and build the ‘house of God’ on this spot. It was all very, very interesting.

Anyway, we’ve just about finished our time here and, after 5 days it’s feeling very familiar, we can find our way around on the monorail, railway and free bus now without much reference to maps and we’re finding it easy, good fun and quite cheap. Although it is more expensive than Thailand it’s still very cheap and we’re living nicely within our budget.

This is the old Majestic Hotel opposite the old station now sadly neglected. It once rivaled Raffles, but became unfashionable and closed some years ago. Various schemes have been put forward including one to reopen it as a grand retro hotel to be used in conjunction with the Oriental Express which stops at the station, but today it houses the commuter railway offices!
Couple of things that I didn’t mention is that the Orange Peko Guesthouse in which we’re staying is a budget hotel (£24 per night per room, including breakfast of as much as you want of cereal, toast, butter and jam, tea/coffee and bananas) and, although it’s quite comfortable it does have the world’s smallest bathroom! The bathroom is the size of a normal separate toilet with wash basin and has a shower over the toilet, so you could sit down while you shower if you wanted! It’s made up by the fact that the people on reception are first class people with perfect English, who can’t do enough for us. We needed an emailed form printed out so we could sign and post back to our FA in the UK, so they printed it, provided an envelope, stamps and even posted it for us! We needed another form printing off to sign, scan and email back, which they did again for no charge. The lady even gave Jackie a hug this morning as we’re leaving today. What nice people!

The other thing I forgot to mention is the cats and kittens Jackie has managed to find in various restaurants, some keen for strokes, others a bit more reticent and very few interested in having little bits of food she tries to feed them from her plate. They are obviously well looked after and we see lots of people making a fuss of them all.

Being woken up an hour before dawn (05:30’ish) as the loudspeakers on nearby mosques start their morning prayers is the other thing to get used to round here, but it only lasts for 15 minutes or so, so if we’re lucky we can get back to sleep.

It’s been a really nice experience here, we’ve both really enjoyed it and we may stop off here again on our way back down. For now, we go north to Penang and then gradually work our way south to Singapore by the end of October, so we’ll be passing back through KL again so may well stop again.

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