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Kuala Lumpur

Written on: Saturday April 26th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

A longer than planned stay in the capital of Kuala Lumpur because of the need to obtain an Indonesian visa gave us plenty of time for exploration. It was now just Rob and I as Jiame, Ari and Adriana had gone to Melaka. We stayed at the very clean and friendly Grocer?s Inn in China Town, realising a few days later that we had mistaken it for the hostel we had planned to stay at, but in the end quite happy for our error. It was over the next 4 days that I introduced Rob to my serious habit of walking countless miles, so that by the end of our time in the capital we both had sore feet. We explored the Golden Triangle area and it?s posh shopping plazas (although their food courts don?t compare with Bangkok) went up to the walkway of the Petronas Towers, until 2003 the tallest buildings in the world but now having to make do with just being the tallest twin towers in the world and one evening took in the panoramic views from the top of the KL Tower, where you can climb to an even higher viewing deck then you can from the Petronas Towers. We had arrived in KL at the wrong time really. It was Saturday afternoon, meaning I did not have enough time that day to go the Indonesian embassy to get the 60 day visa I needed, and the next day was Sunday and the embassy was closed, so I would have to wait until Monday just to apply. To top it all off I wasn?t actually sure they were going to grant me the visa at all as I didn?t have a confirmed ticket to show that I was leaving Indonesia which they require to accompany all applications. Nonetheless I dragged Rob along with me in what became quite an enjoyable adventure. Taking in the sights by foot once more we actually walked so far that we left the parameters of the official KL map in trying to find the embassy. We arrived eventually at noon after a good hour and a half walk there to be told by the main gate security guard that we weren?t allowed to enter the grounds of the embassy as we weren?t dressed appropriately. Granted we weren?t in our finest Prada suits, but our shorts and T-shirts weren?t so disgusting as to cause offense. Nevertheless we were told we would have to return with our legs covered, despite it being close to 40 degrees. After our calf pounding pilgrimage there we didn?t relish the return all the way back to China Town and then back once more. So instead I pleaded. We must have looked quite the sorry state at the gate promising the guard that we weren?t to know as it was our first time there and when we would return to hopefully pick up my visa we would both be much more thoughtful over our presentation. Of course like most of the pleading I?ve done to try and get my own way on this trip I?ve learnt that putting on your finest English accent works wonders. Once more I was not disappointed, as gate security not so staunch after all finally gave in to my shameless begging. The first hurdle cleared we climbed the side-steps of the foreign visa department and I mentally prepared myself for the pack of lies I was about to confidently blurt out in order to try and get my 60 day visa. A business-like middle-aged lady with perfectly circular-rimmed glasses met my eyes and without any sort of friendly greeting thrust the application form at me from behind the counter and commanded me to return it completed with two passport photos, a photocopy of my passport and proof of my return flight or boat from Indonesia. By borrowing a pen I could take care of the first bit, the application, but the other three items posed a problem. In mine and Dave?s formidable preparation before we had left England I had taken photos of each of us in front of my white wardrobe back home, formatted it so that it was the size and shape of a regular passport photo and then printed a bunch off on photographic paper. Sadly though I?d gone through the lot, but as this seemed to be a common problem that foreigners encounter whilst coming to get a visa those entrepreneurial Malays had come up with their own little photograph studio right outside the government embassy that would save us bungling Westerners. What?s more the passport officer informed me, there was a photocopier machine just next door where I could copy my passport. The photo studio turned out to be a plastic seat in front of some building work going on right outside the embassy. One guy taped up some red fabric behind me, another held an umbrella over my head, while the third got ready to snap my most serious of passport photo poses. The problem was that the set-up was so ridiculous and so quintessentially South-East Asian that it took me ages to keep a straight face. I returned to the efficient passport administrator lady quite smug with myself after gliding over hurdle number two, even though I?d forgotten to get my passport photocopied and I funnily enough still didn?t have a ticket to say I was leaving Indonesia. Gladly though my luck was about to step up a notch or two more. I handed her my passport, my application and my photos baring a grin from ear to ear and she eyed them all up. ?You are from England?? she questioned me. ?You are teacher?, she had noticed my answer in the profession box,  ?What you teach?? I answered all of her questions honestly and when she found out I taught English her entire outlook towards me changed. She completely left the subject of passport applications and began to tell me about an English course she was studying and her assignments she had to do and how she was finding it quite difficult. She also told me that she was in charge of rewriting all of the Indonesian notices translating them in to English, and kindly asked me whether or not I would mind having a look at the ones she had just written and checking it over. Not one to want to disappoint I happily agreed and so spent the next 30 minutes or so revising the official Indonesian Embassy notices for her. While I was doing this she started to process my application. ?Where is your photocopy of your passport?? as she reverted back to her previous officious tones. ?Oh I forgot to get it on the way back in.? I meekly replied. Her eyes glanced up at me, ?Oh don?t worry, you can get it tomorrow when you pick up your visa.? Then came the lies.?Where is your ticket back from Indonesia?? she questioned me.?I haven?t got my ticket yet? I told her. ?I?m taking a boat from Penang to Medan and will buy a return ticket when I arrive there.?, which was sort of true.?You must buy ticket now to show me??But I can?t get a ticket from anywhere else other than the Penang ferry port.? I quickly made up hoping it was true.?Hmmm, Okay but tomorrow when you come to pick up your visa can you try to bring a ferry ticket with you.??I?ll do my best. And here, I?ve rewritten your notices for you.?A smile beamed across her face and she started to ask me if she could bring in some of her papers tomorrow from her course to show me so that I might spare a few minutes to help her. The following day I did just that. Sporting a pair of sweaty jeans I skipped past the gateman, climbed the stairs, bounded in to the reception area and then despondently dropped my head at the length of the queue of people waiting to either apply or pick up visas. I didn?t even have a chance to get to the chairs in the waiting area though. One man stood up to leave the booth in front of my Indonesian English learning friend and she stood from behind the Perspex glass counter, caught my glance and extravagantly beckoned me over to the desk. I felt everybody else?s eyes on me as I jumped the queue and took the seat in front of her. She pushed my passport through the kiosk gap without requesting either the photocopy of my passport or my boat ticket, then excitedly pulled an English language teacher?s book in front of her and for the next 30 minutes questioned me on the symbolism of language, it?s intrinsic nature and lexical bonding, most of which I had no idea what she or I for that matter was talking about. After this time she became aware that I was growing a little restless and that the queue to see her was getting quite large, so she asked if she could have my email address to ask me any questions if she were to get stuck while writing her assignments, told me that two months wouldn?t be enough in Indonesia as it was so beautiful and bid me good luck on my travels. As I made my way to the exit I glanced up at one of the blown-up notices on the door to find it was one of the ones I?d rejigged the day before. A few filthy swear words would have made that quite an interesting document.