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The local construction site...for years, seemingly...

This weekend we’re off to Thailand, to a place that looks incredibly upmarket – surprisingly enough, since it wasn’t actually that expensive and the flights were originally threatening to be more expensive than the accommodation – and I have to say, I can’t wait. KL’s an extremely busy city, non-stop – there’s that whole thing about New York being the city that never sleeps, but in all honesty, Kuala Lumpur seems to be the exact same. Where I live, as I said before, opens out right into the city centre depending on which exit you take and if there’s one thing that’s going on here like Ireland back in the 1990’s, it’s construction. The big difference is, in Ireland, even when the building boom was at its height, everyone still found it necessary to start work at 8 or 9 in the morning, and finish strictly at 5pm, getting things done just whenever they got done – over here though, everyone seems to carry on working right through the night, into the morning, through the next day and on and on, until whatever it is they’re building has been completed. So, when you turn off the lights at night, you can never be entirely sure what noise exactly will accompany the air conditioner through the night – sometimes it’ll be drilling, sometimes a cement mixer, maybe someone speeding along the road outside. That said, the work here has been so busy of late that they could theoretically build a mid-air extension to our 22nd floor apartment for all I’d notice. In many ways though, the whole city does have this sort of ‘Ireland back in the 90’s’ vibe to it – there’s jobs being advertised all over the place, there’s cranes and construction sites everywhere you look and things are still relatively cheap.

IGEM 2010 goes without problem...

Along with that, things have been very busy over here – as I started writing a little about last time, the place I work for took (a large) part in a recent green technology exhibition, where we did a lot of the organising, running around during the course of the 5-day event and lots of other stuff – I personally did an exhaustive search of the whole place in order to figure out which of the companies present at the convention centre had the best freebies, eventually settling for one company that was giving out free cups of coffee. But overall, despite the lack of sleep, the burning through call credit and the running around the KL convention centre over the course of the weekend, the event went off without a hitch and is already in planning for next year. In the middle of that meanwhile, it was Anna’s birthday so we went out with our housemates – now, the whole drinking thing here is a bit of an issue, to say the least. First of all, it’s not as cheap as I’d have liked – Malaysia’s mostly a Muslim country and so they employ the use of pretty outrageous levels of tax to try and discourage people from drinking – and it’s pretty much at Irish prices for a pint, sometimes even more depending what kind of an upmarket place you accidentally step into. One time, for example, in one of the absolutely terrible Irish pubs over here, a bottle of Tiger beer (from neighbouring Singapore) set me back around 5.50…Euro. I wasn’t impressed.

Andy Mac readies himself for a night of overpriced drinks...

The second major problem is that smoking indoors isn’t just ‘still allowed’ here…it’s perfectly acceptable and almost encouraged. Sometimes for example, you’ll get into a lift in the office and there’ll still be a cloud of smoke left by the previous occupant. The whole issue is compounded though when you go into any of the local bars, which are usually packed to such capacity that the whole thing is like being on a packed Dublin Bus, except with about 80% of the other people in the ‘bus’ smoking – I’m not too sure how this happens but the mixture between the often ice-cold air conditioning and the smoke means that the air is immediately stale, and stinks out anything you have in your possession no matter how quickly you leave. It also means that when you get back home, aside from your clothes just stinking, your eyes tend to be red and teary. Overall, it’s not pleasant. So, while I’ve been out a number of times, the whole thing of having to pay the same price for a pint as I would back home means I’m not a fan. The argument I suppose goes though, that you don’t really need to drink over here the way you need to at home anyway – i.e., there’s always something to do other than just being left to sit at home or go to the cinema. Nearly every third day, any of the shopping centres along my path to work seem to have found a new excuse to throw up a couple of tents outside, a few posters and start some new festival that they’ve just come up with.

Another festival comes to KLCC...

I said this last year, when I was sitting in Frankfurt for a while, and I’ll say it again, that for some reason the more markets and things that are on in any given city, the more they start to look more ‘same-same’ after a little while. Literally, in Frankfurt, they seemed to have a different food festival on every second day – which for the first week or two, was actually really cool, because it ensured that there was always good fresh food going on somewhere in the city. But then, by about the third week, it dawned on me that it wasn’t different ‘food festivals’ popping up in different places every couple of days; it was actually the exact same stands, give or take a couple of them, turning up in different parts of the city every second or third day. And to a larger extent, the same thing’s starting to get to me here too – certain companies will turn up with a big shop stand in the middle of one shopping centre today, be there for a week, disappear, and then suddenly turn up in a different shopping centre a day or two later. Speaking of shopping centres, don’t try to shoplift in Malaysia – I didn’t, but I’ve seen what happened to people who did. Walking back past a brand new shopping centre the other day and a group of kids are being dragged out by a couple of security guards, right out the front entrance onto the main street. I was thinking they’d be getting shoved into a cop car or whatever, but no, instead they were all thrown onto the ground, or punched in the face until they fell down by themselves, or whatever and then repeatedly beaten in front of anyone who hung around (we didn’t) – the moral of the story ? In spite of the high price of drink, I think I’ll keep on paying my rounds for now…

I’ll be away the next few days, and hopefully update with lots of good stuff in the next week or two,
Until then!

Reformed backpacker & former ultra-cheap traveller, Andy now atones for his past by overspending on premium travel experiences and failing at making the most of the miles & points game. Based in Malaysia, he is a product manager by day, and travel aficionado by evening and weekend.