Soooo….. I don’t know where to start. Haha. The last few days in Kuala Lumpur have seemed like a really weird dream. When I flew in I was pleased to see that I didn’t have to fill out any forms at immigration and after I handed my passport to the official and gave my fingerprints, I was given a 90 travel visa. After that I grabbed my backpack and headed to customs which I was nervous about because I know how strict they are about drugs here and I was nervous because I have such a big bag I was surely to get searched. I was worried about having to explain that I’m not really a photographer here on business even though I have so much camera gear. As I approached I saw a family being searched and I thought “fuck”, but the customs official smiles and waives me through.
The bus system was really easy and I only needed one transfer to get to my hotel which was an hour plus from the airport and right on the edge of china town and what seems to be a big party district.
Very pleased with the city so far, I put my bags in my room, had a shower and decided to go for a little walk. That was when I was to feel culture shock for the first time. I didn’t make it ten steps before I noticed all the rats and cockroaches in the ally’s and on the sidewalk. I passed a restaurant and noticed that everyone was eating everything with their hands. I noticed one man with rice all over his fingers lean away from the table and blow snot on the floor and then spit. It’s a different kind of table manners than I’m used to but certainly not everyone here has such disregard for cleanliness as that “gentleman”.
The next block proved to be even more interesting. Every fifteen steps held very different and foreign smells from all the street vendors lined up along the sidewalk. A group of prostitutes stared at me from a corner and one turns a little and smacks her ass. The whole time looking at me with the same blank expression on her face. She licked her lips and I smiled but had to look away. I heard dance music coming from a bar across the street so I went over and stepped in. A woman led me through the crowd of drunk ( and I’m pretty sure a lot were on ecstasy) people to a table in the back. I ordered a pint of beer and when it was brought to my table I was handed a bill for 29 Ringgit($10)! I asked to look at a menu to see if I was being ripped off but it was correct for some strange reason (or they have a separate menu for suckers like me that don’t ask the price first). Lesson learned. I paid the bill sourly and decided to drink my beer quickly and leave due to the amount of people staring and giving dirty looks at the only tourist in the bar.
After I left, I only made it a few steps before a prostitute in a tight pink dress grabs me by the arm and asks me where I was from. I tell her Canada and she says “ohhhh I love cCanada”. She then leaned in and whispered “you want to give it to me for free? I have private room”. She kissed me on the cheek and I had to pull away and tell her(or possibly a him) that I was flattered but no thanks. She (or he) made a weird noise and as I walked away I noticed that a six foot tall lady boy was watching and he tells me she is crazy. I laughed and walked down another street. I asked someone sitting on a wall where I might me able to find a quiet bar to have a beer. Boy was that a bad idea. He pointed to a place across the street and I noticed the fluorescent sign that he was referring to. I walked in and look around and I notice a woman at a desk that just points to an elevator. Inside stands a man who I thought was just the operator but halfway up I notice a pistol sticking out of his pants and judging by the mean look on his face I figure he is more like a bouncer. The doors open and a short funny looking man rushes up to greet me. I notice it doesn’t look much like a bar. Then I see all the woman wearing next to nothing and lounging all over the furniture.
I realize what kind of place this is and at the same moment the funny looking man shouts something and they all line up. I told him that I am tired and just would like a beer. With a semi-sour smile he points to the bar without saying anything. He shouts again at them and they all return to their lounging (or resting unfortunately). I order a beer for a much cheaper price than the last place and the funny looking man leads me to a dark room full of men in lazyboy recliners with swiveling computer monitors. I had been really nervous since the elevator and I let him lead me to an empty lazyboy.
He tells me to relax for a while and I sit down only to think of how to get out of this situation without pissing anyone off. The computer monitor turns on and pornography displays inches from my face while loud moaning seems to be coming from speakers built right into the chair. I’m sure all of this is meant to arouse me but all I want to do is go back to my quiet little hotel room. I chug the beer and get up. The funny looking man, who must have been waiting only a few feet away, urges me to sit back down and relax. He asks me if I need another beer and I tell him no and that I am very tired from traveling. I lie and tell him that I will be back tomorrow for sure and finally his sour look changes to a fake smile. I get back on the elevator and the man with the pistol stares at me the whole ride down. I’m sure he is wondering why I am leaving so quickly.
As dirty and loud as it is, I am happy to be back on the street and headed to my hotel. Once I get there I immediately shower the filth from that place off of me and go straight to bed.
My sleep was filled with strange dreams and nightmares. I woke several times to the sounds of things scurrying on my hotel room floor but I am too exhausted to care. I wake in the morning to a tiny moth trying to fly around under my blanket. I wondered if it’s cocoon was in my blanket (the next morning I woke to the same thing so I’m pretty sure it’s a popular spot for larvae). I head straight out of the hotel to get coffee and breakfast. I find a nice clean looking place and sit down and order the Nasi Lemak (I’ve heard it’s one of the most popular dishes). It was good but I wouldn’t suggest it to anyone for breakfast. I find that the dried anchovies don’t taste the best after brushing your teeth. It was decently cheap though and I did finish everything despite a scruffy and dirty cat who kept bothering me and even jumped onto my lap a few times to get some food.
After that I decided to do something more familiar and go for a walk with my camera. It’s Chinese New Year right now and I thought I would be able to get some neat shots in Chinatown. I walked for twenty minutes and after taking about ten photos I was yelled at four times before I decided to stop. It was not like the Philippines where I would be thanked for taking people’s pictures. Instead almost all I got were dirty looks no matter how much I smiled or thanked them and one person even spat at my feet. On the walk back I tried asking people if I could take their picture and only a few agreed or gave me a slight nod of compliance. I decided I would go take pictures of landmarks instead. The immense Petronas Towers were even more breathtaking than I had imagined and the KL Tower was higher than I had ever been in a building. After that I got a little lost trying to find my way back. I’m also not used to the cars driving on the other side of the road. This is a first for me and I almost got hit by a motorcycle going extremely fast because I looked left first instead of right while crossing the street. He swerved a little and went by only a couple feet in front of me. He was going so fast I couldn’t even hear him until he was right in from of me. Another lesson learned.
All in all though, I am not disappointed at myself for coming into the city and not taking a bus straight out to a small town somewhere. I’m not a fan of big cities anymore and this is the craziest and most foreign place I’ve ever been…but it has been quite the experience though.
This post is written by Patrick Anthony Rojo who is travelling around South East Asia and is a freelance photographer.