Tamun Tun, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: around 7:30pm. Sitting on the balcony of a local coffee shop, the stifling humidity of the day time has mercifully subsided. With a ceiling fan whirring silently overhead and a refreshing iced green tea in hand, it’s just about the perfect temperature.
A haze lingers in the air – pollution from crop burning in Sumatra – as I gaze out beyond the hills at the other side of town. Suddenly, lightning flashes across the horizon, followed a few seconds later by a thunderous, rumbling crescendo.
A moment of silence…
Then, as another burst of electricity forks through the air, the call to Maghrib prayers reverberates eerily from the local mosque – the choral accompaniment to nature’s symphony.
The atmosphere is almost surreal, as if this were the opening scene to a Hollywood blockbuster. It’s the sort of feeling that begs for contemplation, calling into question the nature of reality. ‘Who am I?’ ‘What is this?’ ‘Where are we going?’ And, most importantly: ‘In the week that I’ve been here, have I eaten my entire body weight in rice?’
Those first three questions continue to escape me… however, the answer to the fourth is almost definitely yes. Those that know me personally will probably have picked up on the fact that I’m no longer eating wheat. Unfortunately, that’s a big part of the Malaysian diet, and the only alternative is rice. Or rice noodles. Or rice crackers. Let’s just say, it’ a good thing I actually like rice (at least, for now.)
Things have kicked off since the last entry. Last weekend saw me covering the Black 505 rally – an 80,000 strong demonstration for electoral reform – and on Monday I attended the opening of the Malaysian houses of parliament, where violence erupted and over 30 people were arrested.
Despite this, what I have noticed most about the Malaysian people is how friendly and helpful they are. As a loan film crew on both days of shooting, there were plenty of times throughout when I could have easily messed up if it wasn’t for the help of those around me.
For example: scrambling up a hill to get a better view of the demonstration, I managed to press the ‘battery release’ button on the camera, sending the £200 battery tumbling down the slope. Anyone could have run off with it as I gawped in horror, stranded, clinging onto a tree. Instead, the man who picked it up came scurrying up the hill and handed it back.
This was not an isolated incident of kindness. Thanks also to the taxi driver who, after welcoming me to Malaysia 20 times, gave me a face mask to protect me from the smog. Thanks to the man at the train station who showed me how to use the ticket machine. Thanks to everyone who shouted at me to stop when I almost walked into quicksand, and thanks to the protester who helped me interview people in Malay.
The kindness continues. Today, I went to see a village of Orang Asli – the indigenous people of Malaysia. I was shown around by one of the villagers, now a freelance graphic designer living elsewhere. All I had to do was ask. He picked me up from my hostel, took me to the village, helped me interview people, then took me back. I bought him a couple of drinks and some food, but I definitely didn’t need to. In other words – what a lad!
The only downside of the trip so far is the haze. It’s preventing me from getting any decent establishing shots, as visibility is very poor. I really hope that it improves by the time I leave. KL is a beautiful city and, at the moment, my enjoyment of it is slightly spoiled.
The mission continues. Watch this space!