Starting the day with a dip in the pool, the one on the 37th floor, I had an early morning reminder of just how much Instagram has transformed the way we take photos.
Few people face the camera any more. I’ve lost count of the numbers of individual and group pictures where the photographer is capturing the back of people.
Gone are the days of accepting the stated: “Here I am at the Great Wall of China/ by the pool/ at the railway station.”
Friends and relatives being presented with the presentation show of the holiday snaps must feel compelled to ask: “How do I know that’s you? That could be the back of anyone’s head.”
Everyone is going for the artistic but natural pose of being caught watching, in this morning’s case, the sunrise.
Of course, several minutes are spent finding the perfect pose and several shots are ruined as the subject turns around to ask the photographer: “Well. Did you get it?”
As soon as the picture was taken, it’s onto to the next picture. I counted eight couples taking shots of each other gazing at the sunrise, though none of them actually did… just watch the sunrise.
Swimming became a challenge as I was clearly ruining a number of magical Instagram moments. So much for swimming pools being used for the described purpose.
Abandoning the pool, I headed out for a couple of guided walks (using free maps and signposted routes) around the Colonial Centre and Chinatown.
First stop, Masjid Jemak, the oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur and, as Neneh explained while she helped me select a robe, it was built by the British.
Like the Sultan Mosque in Singapore, the British again were not sure about designs so took inspiration from India. It’s a beautiful building and I told Neneh I had seen it a couple of times while riding the trains and had been determined to visit.
She said she had loved passing the mosque on the trains as a little girl and had always wanted to work in it. Now she volunteers here.
Once dressed up like a student at Hogwarts – the mosque provides visitors with brightly coloured hooded robes – I met Hafaz, another volunteer who has been telling tourists about the history of the mosque since he retired.
The mosque stands at the confluence of two rivers – the Klang and the Gombak – essentially the centre and oldest part of the city.
Kuala Lumpur literally means Muddy Estuary. The city was founded when ships could sail no further past the confluence. They had come for the tin ore that was mined here and the city grew as a result.
The Colonial Walk is a short circuit around some of the oldest buildings – some better preserved than others.
Overlooking Independence Square (Dataran Merdeka) is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building.
From here on the 30th August 1957, Malaysia’s first Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra oversaw the lowering of the British flag, while the Britiah national anthem played, and the raising of the new Malaysian flag.
Having wandered this district, I set off for Chinatown calling in for an iced coffee on the way. My coffee consumption has rocketed.
The Chinatown Walk isn’t as clearly signposted as the Colonial Walk but each historical sight does have an information board outside.
The district was lively though, again, not as busy as I would expect it to be. I saw a couple of traditional Chinese herbalists advertising Porcupine Dates as a means of combatting coronavirus.
People are nervous.
Where tour guides or shop assistants have not worn face masks when talking to me. I’ve watched them snap one into place as they’ve seen someone who may be Chinese approaching them.
The district has quite a rundown feel. The paintwork is worn and faded on many of the buildings but the Central Market food court in an art deco style pale blue building is a cheery spot.
Again like the Singapore Chinatown hawker markets, this wasn’t busy for a Saturday afternoon.
There are a number of Chinese temples and assembly rooms though my favourite was this, the Guan Di Temple and its addition, the Kwong Siew Free School which opened in 1927 to teach Mandarin to the children of Chinese nationals attending English language schools.
It was a way of maintaining connections to culture and heritage and if you were a ‘banana’ (unable to speak Mandarin) one adult student wrote that learning here was fun and if you did your homework you’d easily pick up the language.
As in Singapore, Chinatown doesn’t mean that only the Chinese lived here.
The Sri Maha Mariamman Temple was originally a family shrine, built in 1873. It opened to all worshippers in the 1920s and such was its popularity, it had to be extended in 1968.
Mariamman is a Tamil Mother Goddess whose name literally means Mother Rain. She is associated with abundance and prosperity as rainfall makes the difference between a good and poor harvest.
This was also the first part of Kuala Lumpur where I got a good street art fix.
One of the narrow alleys was painted with traditional style Chinese street scenes, ripe for interaction and, of course, Instagram. However, eager photographers were struggling to find willing participants as the props placed in front of some of the scenes, like a barber’s chair were far too hot to sit on.
One woman’s seven year old daughter was having none of it.
On a cooler day, it would have been a great shot.
And on that reflection, I headed off in search of somewhere a little cooler – the Aquaria. It has mixed reviews but it was worth every cent of the entry fee (75MYR) when I heard a girl singing to the piranha: “Shining, shimmering, splendid.”
That’s another earworm for you, courtesy of Aladdin, ‘A whole new world’.
I doubt I will ever hear anyone else serenade a flesh eating fish.
Aquaria is also a very good living museum.
It’s not a huge aquarium but the living reef – a slow conveyor belt ride through a tunnel – is superb. It may have been a little too ‘up close and personal’ to the sharks for some of the small children who made it clear this wasn’t as cute as the clown fish.
With rays and turtles swimming past, as well as sharks and shoals of fish, the water was pretty crowded.
As well as the sea life which us clearly the main reason for a visit, the exhibits on the environment and the importance of conservation are informative and clearly labelled.
One campaign was focused on the impact of a cracking for shark fin soup with visitors asked not to order it when they go out for dinner. Another highlighted the need to reduce waste – especially plastic.
Superb to see but then, just like the Cloud Forest and every other museum with a focus on the climate crisis and the need to take action… there is the gift shop, filled to the brim with that and plastic crap.
Honestly… here’s an idea – ban gift shops.
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