Customs…

Hopefully I won’t be boasting about how much of a great time I’m having here in Australia when I say that so far the most disappointing part has been arriving here. Not that I mean getting here in general, just my actual arrival. Perhaps I had overhyped any expectations from watching too many episodes of Border Security, but going through the airport just wasn’t as action packed as I hoped it would be.

My very first experience of Australian culture however, was almost textbook. Immediately upon exiting the plane from Kuala Lumpur I walked down the corridor and had to turn a few corners; so far no different from any other airport in the world. What made it (stereo)typically Australian is that before any form of pretty much anything, I was confronted with row upon row of booze. At Brisbane airport it seems, duty-free alcohol is much more of a priority than any form of official, legally binding, and internationally important paperwork.

But unfortunately this is where my good experience seemed to end. Fully prepared that in this day and age of technical over reliance I would have to ask to have any kind of chance of having a stamp in my passport (even my visa was completely digital), I wasn’t prepared for the fact that you can’t ask a self-service immigration machine. Coming as I do from a select group of nations, I had the ‘convenience’ of allowing myself into the country. As much as I appreciated the trust placed in me courtesy of my nationality, I personally would have much preferred the human touch of an actual person welcoming me to their country, stamp or otherwise. Oh well, on to customs.

Like my previous visit to the USA quite some time ago, coming into Australia required me to fill in a form of important and confusing questions. As the Australian economy relies so greatly on agriculture, this included questions about whether I had spent time in or around farms and/or vaguely rural environments in the last month. Coming from Somerset I took the advice of “if in doubt tick yes”, and figured a few questions would be better than the heavy fines I had often seen handed out on TV. Having gone through auto-immigration, I also figured it would give me chance to interact with a real life person.

Customs itself then consisted of someone at a desk who scan read my form, asked if my shoes were clean, and allowed me to carry on my way when I said that they were. The closest thing I got to Border Security was a sign that said the programme was being recorded today, which again raised my expectations of the immigration experience, but I guess by 9 o’clock they’d just gone home and either forgotten to take the signs with them, or left them there for the next day.

The more self explanatory decor.

The more self-explanatory decor.

After a quick train ride into the centre of the city, for which buying my ticket constituted the my longest conversation with an Australian at that point, I then spent my first night in Australia at the Base Central hostel in Brisbane. I also did so in a style which I hoped would be indicative of my many travels round this massive country. I stayed in a dorm with “Jungle Room” emblazoned across the door, and despite a pair of lacy knickers hanging from a wall fixture, figured it was instead so-called due to the jungle mural painted on the main wall. A room I shared with people ranging from a quiet guy reading on his bed in the corner, to a pair of Scandinavian girls who told me I had beautiful hair, and asked me to check out their shirts to see if they were too short to be thought of as a dress. And they were.

Yep, backpacking in Australia was going to be alright.

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Fear and loafing in Kuala Lumpur

If there’s one way to describe Kuala Lumpur, at least from my perspective, its extremes. My first experience of Kuala Lumpur was of flying low and coming in over green shrubs which I soon noticed were easily as tall as the people tending to them. This soon gave way to a bustling city that was in places either shabby, or extravagant. My hotel, naturally, was in the shabbier part.

Petaling Street Market

Petaling Street Market.

Not that this was a bad thing however, a little rough round the edges and big cracks in the pavement, but everything was clean enough and nothing that jumped out as alarming or dangerous. I got to my hotel when the market sellers were setting up their stalls in Petaling Street, the main market thoroughfare through Chinatown. But whilst everyone else was setting up for the morning, I had already been up for what had pretty much been a full day; it wasn’t much later than four am that morning back in Britain, but I didn’t actually seem that tired. Although I’d managed some rather light on and off dozing on the plane, it was most likely because you don’t really use that much energy sat in one place for nearly 13 hours.

Either way, I eventually managed to figure out the rather unique payment on KL’s metro system that I needed to get me there (rather than single tickets they use plastic tokens that I can only compare to the fairground variety, although they do also have MyRapid, an Oystercard equivalent), and soon found the door I was looking for. In front of this door were three ladies who I have to admit were wearing quite possibly the brightest and shiniest dresses, and had the most dolled up faces I saw throughout my entire time in Kuala Lumpur. Needless to say they stood out from their surroundings (especially considering the time of day), and the few reviews I had read about the hotel also having rooms booked by the hour didn’t seem that far-fetched. It was the sign above that said “Alamanda Hotel” which assured me I had the right place, however.

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Who says men can’t multitask?

Much like on the outside it had everything that was needed to serve its purpose, but just wasn’t very glamorous (I’m talking about the general area again, not the ladies). My room had a double bed and a TV, but that was about it. There was just enough room on the floor for my backpack, and despite not having a window, the walls were decorated with a stylishly ornate picture, and several smears I couldn’t recognise. I did have my own bathroom however, although this had only enough space to stand and face one of two directions; either towards the sink with a mirror attached to the wall above it, or the toilet and shower that were arranged in much the same way. It also came furnished with what’s known as a hand bidet. Despite this being the subject of possibly the first conversation I ever had with a good friend from Indonesia, and essentially being in essentially a tiled wetroom, I have to say curiosity didn’t get the better of me.

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The Supersonic Odyssey.

Finding myself in a strange new city however, and pleased with myself at having finally mastered the short Kelana Jaya LRT journey from KL Sentral to Pasar Seni station, literally just the next stop, I went out for a bit of an explore. I headed out on the monorail to Berjaya Times Square, a massive shopping mall to ease myself in gently, but one filled with small vendor stalls rather than the big international chains that would be found in the others. I also chose this particular mall as it had a small indoor theme park complete with roller coaster, although my need for speed was overcome by that for food, and I soon found a good compromise between Asian cuisine in a familiar style: the Chicken Rice Shop.

Stifling a few yawns I made my way back to the hotel in full expectation of my head hitting the pillow and falling straight to sleep, although I kept myself busy until the (very) early evening so as to sleep through the night rather than wake up fully refreshed in the middle of it. Despite my planning however, this wasn’t to be the case, and I instead spent the night awake until half 6 the following morning, in what was probably the most delirious night of my life. Jet lag is quite possibly the strangest sensation I have experienced; a lack of sleep when I was expecting it to be over abundant, something made even worse by the fact that throughout the past days travelling I hadn’t actually felt that hungry (I only had my small lunch at the Chicken Rice Shop after realising how long it had been since I’d last eaten), and remembered that although two meals were served on the plane, over such a long journey it was as in short supply as a decent kip.

Lying in bed spending several hours always expecting to fall to sleep but not quite managing it, I at least had Bill Bryson, wifi, and decent enough friends to put up with my ramblings on the other end of it to keep me company. By half 11 I ventured downstairs to see if the bar/fridge in an alcove area had anything to eat, and was served by the same man who earlier was at reception, and had to fix my room’s air con. He was also the same man who had pointed to his kicking foot saying “Ah, Rooney” when I told him I was from England.

Their selection hardly rated any Michelin stars, but far too hungry to be picky, I figured that if there’s anywhere I can get away with scoffing down a pot noodle as a midnight feast, it’s in the middle of Asia. This at least kept me going until six, when I figured there would now be somewhere I could get something a little more substantial, and on advice from a friend, filled myself up on stodge from the corner shop I found less than 100 metres away. A corner shop which happened to be a 7-11, known to those in countries which have them, as being open 24 hours. Far too hungry and tired to be annoyed however, after a breakfast of muffins and cream buns, I was finally able to get some proper, actual sleep.

Throughout that sleepless night though I was having visions of changing my next flight to an earlier one in order to escape, or even flying straight back to England, as I felt it was all too much for me. Luckily this was only symptoms of my brain being just as confused as my body, and I soon came to enjoy a place which only those not in their right mind I (trust me, I know!) could dislike or consider alien and unfriendly, and the three days I spent in this glorious city just weren’t enough.

Three nights in the Alamanda was pushing it though…