Sunday, 1 January 2012

Day 120: A Kuala Lumpur New Year and A Trip To The Top

HNY from KL.

It's been ten days now in Kuala Lumpur of "holiday" from travelling, and ten days with very little to report. I've been manifestly, well, not anti-social, but just non-social. And not inactive, just... well, ok, I've been pretty inactive in terms of physical effort. This seasonal break was intended as a period to write, and write I've done. Write, and plan for what's to come.

Of course, I've not been entirely holed up in my windowless hostel room, bashing away on buttons and musing on my mission, I've taken little excursions into the city. Some of these have been in the Bukit Bintang area of Kuala Lumpur, a flash and busy section of the city, with shopping centres and bustling crowds. Most evenings I've been around the Jalon Alor street, initially eating slightly over-priced Chinese food but since moving on to ultra-cheap Indian-Malaysian cuisine. But overall, a lot of my time has been in the KLCC area, especially at the Petronas Towers.

The Petronas Towers, already reviewed and assessed in terms of a Wonder, have impressed me no end. On the train from Bangkok, I found myself anticipating my first sighting of them. I've seen them in some form every day, whether by visiting them or simply seeing them peek over buildings in the distance. They are not buildings to tire of, they have grown in my affections. Particularly when I catch glimpses of them, do I feel a fondness. Waiting at the (outdoors) Pasar Seni subway station, despite having been there a number of times before, the other day I realised the two peaks could be seen quite clearly from one side of the station. Walking to Jalon Alor at night, they appear in the distance from behind nearby buildings luminescent and striking. They are unmissable beacons and elevate Kuala Lumpur.

For Hogmanay, I naturally gravitated there. I began wandering through Bukit Bintang, which was alarmingly full of people, many with the odd fashion of wearing neon devil horns and blowing klaxons. Usually dominated by cars and roads, it was funny seeing it converted into a place exclusively for people, and a refreshing change - Kuala Lumpur is a chore for pedestrians. And then for the turn of the New Year itself, I made sure I was in close sight of the Petronas Towers, moving away from the packed mass of humanity that compressed itself into the space near the towers, and found myself some open space in the large park it overlooks. Disappointingly, come midnight, the towers didn't do anything. There was an impressive fireworks display on the other side of the park, but the towers stoically remained unchanged. No fireworks, no colour changes, no team of fairylight-clad acrobats abseiling down the sides.

No matter. I treated myself today. Last visit, a few months ago, to Kuala Lumpur, I was greatly disappointed to find that the tower tour was closed due to maintenance. Now it has reopened. Even better, instead of the mere SkyBridge visit that for years was the only permitted way to climb the towers, an observation deck has now opened on the 84th floor (of a total of 88). The SkyBridge visit used to be free, but the combined trip now costs £10, which is highly reasonable although I think it's a shame that Malaysians have to pay this too. Malaysia's not a poor country, but neither is it yet rich, and I think residents of a country should be allowed to visit their national icon either for free or for a very subsidised amount.

The SkyBridge visit was as I remember it, from a visit in 2007. It's nice, it's pretty high up but not crazy, but it's a bit weird to be at that height and realise you're on a kind of bridge. From certain angles, you could see the spindly-looking bridge supports.

But it's the 84th floor where the £10 becomes £10 well-spent. It's very smoothly done, with lots of slick Petronas and government videos and quotes extolling their ambitions for a better, cleaner, happier future with rosy-faced children and wholesome attitudes. But nobody pays attention to these. When at the top of a high building, everybody looks down. And at around 400 metres up, there's quite a lot of down.

What grabbed me though wasn't down - it was across. Prior to this, the highest building I'd been up was the Empire State Building, and it's the highest thing in its vicinity (actually, the first time I was there, the World Trade Centre still stood, but they were a little distant). Stand at the top of the Empire State Building and you're at the top of the world. Standing at the top of a Petronas Tower and there's another Petronas Tower. Right next to you.

With the sheer height I was at, and my brain not comprehending seeing the Petronas Tower pinnacle so close up, I felt dizzy for a second. I've spent a couple of weeks looking up at these things, suddenly I was level. Of course, there's a whole city and beyond to look at, and I had the fortune of a pretty clear day, but the massive bulk of the 452 metre Petronas Tower twin with the sheer spire (which looked more elegant than expected close-up) was the focus of my attention.

Another little quirk I liked was the layout of the observation deck. Being near the top of the tower and where the tower has tapered considerably, the whole floor more-or-less was open as the deck. The floorplan of the Petronas Towers is done to Islamic traditions, but with a twist. The Islamic part are the two interlocking squares, which effectively give an eight-pointed star. But as a floorplan, this is quite wasteful of space, so between each point of the star a rounded bulge has been added. The effect, when viewed from the outside goes "square-circle-square-circle" etc. And that's the effect from the inside too, except from inside I was able to directly appreciate the extra floorspace given by the bulges. For the record, I prefer the bulges to the squares. But who doesn't?

And that was it, taking just under an hour, and leaving me satisfied that I have properly "done" the Petronas Towers. A good start to 2012 and another four months with nineteen Wonders ahead. Happy New Year.

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