July 31, 2015
It was ridiculously humid when we arrived in Kuala Lumpur after a 4-hour bus ride from Melaka, and we still had to find our guesthouse – the perfect recipe for crankiness. Suffice to say when we finally got to Submarine Guesthouse, the place we had booked on agoda, just a rail ride, some wrong turns and a mile walk later, I was so happy to have a place to drop my pack and rest my feet that I momentarily disregarded the shabbiness of the place. But, it all settled upon me soon enough.
The guesthouse consisted of a handful of rooms and shared bathrooms squeezed in on the fourth and fifth floors of a tall building. A line-up of shared bathrooms – four individual water closets the size of telephone booths with hardly enough space for a toilet much less a toilet AND a shower – stood across the kitchen area and adjacent to the check-in desk. Someone prepped instant noodles while someone else came out of the bathroom all while we went through the check-in process. AWKWARD. The bedrooms flanked both sides of a narrow hallway which narrowed as we walked farther down it. Kind of like the hall from Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory but instead of the ceiling and floor coming together, the side walls did. Our room was basic enough for what we needed, nothing special; but, the rest of the guesthouse was so peculiar, we declared it the worst guesthouse we had been to so far (though little did we know back then what was in store for just around the corner. …but more on that later).
The awkwardness of the owner was also hard to set aside. His name was Kevin, a squat Austrian man in his 50s who puttered around barefoot while he talked to himself under his breath loudly enough for us to hear his musings. He seemed to have a knight in shining armor complex. He’d point out an issue, either directly or under his breath, then after some deliberation about the issue, he’d offer his own services to fix the problem. “Here is your room,” he said, pushing open the door. “Oh no,” he lamented, voice filled with dread, “She didn’t vacuum.” Dramatic pause as he turned back to us horrified and embarrassed. “I am SO sorry, please won’t you wait at the check-in desk (bathroom/kitchen). SHE didn’t vacuum.” We nodded yes then watched as he showed great effort to remove a vacuum machine from the closet and laboriously run the machine up and down the room’s small carpet space. Our hero.
When – during what can only be described as our lapse of judgment or perhaps just a moment of profound stupidity – we inquired whether our room was available for a second night, Kevin again made huge gestures to thump keys on the keyboard and stare into the blue computer screen until finally he slow-turned to us and, as if delivering a terminal prognosis, whispered, “No, I am SO sorry. Fully booked.” Cue Kevin 15 minutes later knocking on our door with a bright smile on his face. “I am happy to report we just had a cancellation. You can stay another night.” Saint Kevin, let us kiss your feet. What a strange person. Just another in the cast of characters we’ve encountered on this journey.
Kuala Lumpur is one of those really amazing cities in Southeast Asia with towering skyscrapers and an endless amount of cranes, evidence of a thriving city. It’s already modernized and continuing to grow. I overheard someone on the KL MRT reference Malaysia as a third world country, a puzzling notion especially considering we were on high-speed public transit through the financial hub of Malaysia – many signs of modernity and developed infrastructure, even more so than many U.S. cities. I always pause and scratch my head at the term “third world.” What does that even mean currently?
Chris and I spent five days in Kuala Lumpur. We moved from the awful Submarine Guesthouse to a fantastic low budget hotel, cheaper than the Submarine and way nicer with a private bathroom. Plus, it was right next door to a restaurant that served roti canai every morning for a buck – our breakfast spot for the next four days!
Kuala Lumpur is a fairly sprawling city, so we did a lot of walking during our stay. We visited Jamek Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in Malaysia, the National Mosque and the Islamic Arts Museum. Learned a lot about Islam and actually have a better appreciation of the religion. It’s quite a beautiful and humble religion at its core, all about worship and faith of God. No blood of his blood, no intermediaries like popes or priests. Just an imam who leads the call to prayer five times a day. I like that there is only the relationship between you and God.
We also did the main Kuala Lumpur attractions, most notably Petaling Street, the Petronas Towers and Batu Caves. Got caught in a rain shower at the open air aviary (bird zoo is what I called it) and ran away from the terrifying monkeys at Batu Caves.
Full photo album here:
For Chris’ take, see his post at Kuala Lumpur