The next day I went outright touristy and hit the museums. At the National Museum of Malaysia, I learnt more about the tense period of history that existed between the British colonial period and the modern day independent state; a fraught battle between the nationalists and the communists that lasted until 1989. The Malaysian Ethnography Museum next door, by comparison is less violent, showing the variety of different lifestyles embraced by the umbrella term ‘Malay’ – from the mainland peninsula people to the peoples of Tonga.
It began raining much earlier than usual – normally a late afternoon shower is expected – so I got stuck walking back in the rain without a paddle. I mean this semi-literally, as the roads normally and helpfully solid ground had liquified into torrents of streaming mud within minutes. I was soon up to my ankles in the run off of over flowing sewers and drainpipes from a city of 7 million people. I retreated vertically into an internet cafe 2 stories up, hoping that the rain would not continue to Biblical proportions (it didn’t thankfully).
After a few hours stagnating in wet clothes and shady websites, I emerged into the light and headed for a restaurant on the other side of town. I had agreed to meet up with a load of people from the website CouchSurfers – an organisation which facilitates world travellers and local citizens to meet up – in as safe a way as possible – and have a good time. By the time dinner was nearly ending, over 40 cosmospolitanites had all showed up. Dozens more were waiting for us when we all ambled contentedly up the street to a local Irish pub. Drink prices were exorbitant, but so were the good times on offer. Everyone had a good story to tell, and always eager to hear others. I have to admit the best one I heard was of one man who had been journeying through rural Cambodia, only to be propositioned by a shady looking man offering the chance for my friend to blow up a cow using a rocket launcher. He agreed that $250 dollars was a pretty fair price, but ultimately declined when he found out he would have to shell out another $150 to buy the cow.
I stayed the night with one of the couch surfers who very graciously agreed to let me stay on their couch (unsurprisingly), since my hostel was full that night. Before we got to her couch, we went to Jalan Alor – a famous road for street food, where we had,what I gathered to be, noodles in egg slime sauce. I must admit not the nicest thing I have had on this trip, but worth a try should you be inclined to eat slime.
The next day I had quite a lot of time to kill, so headed to the far north of the city to a place called Batu Caves. There are caves there. Some of the most amazing caves in the world, I would wager, both for their natural beauty and the human embellishments that have been added. The first thing that draws your eye as you go through the entrance gate is an 140ft high, 24 carot gold covered statue of the Hindu monkey god Murugan. A backdrop to this most extravagent of craven images, is a giant limestone cliff. The cliffs are covered with many species of trees and vines. These in turn are covered with hundreds upon hundreds of little Murugans – actually crab eating macaques.
I started on the gruelling 272 steps to the top of the cliffs and to the entrance of the caves, stopping at about step 26 for a rest and drink of water. And at 45, and 56, etc etc. When I finally arrived at the top. The largest of the caves is impressively so – its ceiling is 100m off the floor. They call it the cathedral cave for very good reason. As well as the huge sacred space, the walls themselves, through the action of water and limestone and time, seem to be creating religious statues and grotesques. Everywhere you look, deformed torsos and faces emerge. Along side these half formed petrified icons, human crafted statues in full technicolour have been placed at various points in the cave. The caves are famous for an annual Hindu pilgrimage called Thaipusam, with tens of thousands of pilgrims making the gruelling climb to the top. Further in the cave, the ceiling has completely caved away, leaving you feeling like you have fallen down a vast green well. Tree vines climb up the walls, while huge stalactites hang precariously down.
I stopped for dinner at the food court on Sultan Street again. I know I should be trying new places to eat, but I swear they’re putting some narcotic in their food – I keep coming back for more. While sitting there, devouring away, an old Malaysian Buddhist monk came up to me selling little woven bracelets he had made. I bought one hoping to practice my Malay language on him. He sat down and I tried parleying, but his Malay wasn’t as good as mine obviously was, so we just sat there in awkward silence, till pity and embarrassment took over and he walked away. This seems to be the raction I get talking to any local in their language. I am sure I am saying what my guide book says, but never ever get the reaction I desire. Maybe I’ll have more luck with Thai in a few days time.