While we waited for our flight to be called we wandered around the small space that was Changi departures lounge. Upstairs we found a food court and argued about whether we were going to eat pork and rice in the canteen or a chicken burger at Louisiana Burger. It was eight in the morning.
‘It’s not just a chicken burger’ I reasoned, ‘it’s a breakfast meal.’
‘The only thing that makes that a breakfast meal is that you get a hash brown instead of chips’ replied Adam. He decided he was going to eat pork noodles. I let him go and queued up for my chicken.
Everything on my plate was a shade of brown. I tried not to think as I took quick bites, trying to fool my taste buds by washing everything down with an unnatural tasting mango juice.
Adam solemnly joined me with his chicken breakfast having given in to the power of Louisiana. Both of us ignored our food and chatted as we slowly pulled it apart and chewed it up. Confused as to why we had eaten when we weren’t hungry, we got onto the hour long flight from Singapore to Malaysia. As soon as the plane levelled out a couple of chicken tikka wraps were thrown at us, followed by pots of water.
‘I told you we get a meal’ said Adam.
The plane immediately started to descend. I stuffed the sandwich down and we landed in Kuala Lumpur.
Adam and I collected my bag and were directed around the airport in a complete loop until we came to a taxi rank. We withdrew some money and asked for a ride to the area I had booked in Chow Kit. The taxi driver was called Eddie and wanted to talk about the weather in London and our taste in music. Both subjects were fine with us. We were dropped at a shopping centre and gladly sucked at the air conditioning while I roamed around in search of a free Wi-Fi connection to contact our host.
We then had to be directed across the road to an intense looking tower block. We were staying on the 32nd floor. We got by security and managed to get as far as the 7th floor before realising we were supposed to have a key card in order to access the higher floors. We wandered back down and met Nikolas whose apartment we were staying in. Him and his girlfriend, Sasha, showed us to our room and offered to wash our clothes for a very generous 15 ringgits. We took them up on the offer as I had run out of pants and then headed down to the swimming pool. We bought a couple of beers, swam as much as we could and fell asleep in deck chairs until the sun disappeared behind the mall.
Tired of my sweaty hair falling in my face I told Adam it was time he took the beard trimmers to it. I sat on a towel on the floor and let him drive a clean sweep down the middle of my head. My precious fringe fell into my lap. He told me it was too late to change my mind. Fifteen minutes later I was a monk.
As the evening drew in Adam had a nap and I watched the most incredible tropical storm from the lounge. The sliding doors to the balcony were open and I stood just before them as a sheet of water fell. In the distance everything crackled and rumbled. Skyscrapers disappeared from the base up until it felt like we were in isolation in an apartment in the clouds.
Adam emerged having been scared awake by the thunder and came down to sit with Nikolas and I. I kept rubbing my hands over my exposed scalp. Adam had been in contact with a friend of a friend who lived locally and had offered to take us out for the evening. We didn’t know what to expect or how awkward it would be.
When Nigel came to collect us we had to walk out to the main road where we found him curb crawling. We got in like a couple of night walkers and he gave us a historical tour of the city before taking us to a restaurant in Chinatown. We let him order for us, both food and wine, and before long the three of us were tucking in and sharing tales of the great loves of our lives.
After Adam and I had paid the bill as a thank you, Nigel took us through the nearby market. He told us to keep our hands on our wallets. We were both amazed at the selection of counterfeits and bootlegs. Barrel-chested men in peeling football shirts and chains stood in doorways offering us a good price. I walked through like Obi-Wan Kenobi, telling them I wasn’t the shmuck they were looking for.
From there we went to PS150, a secret prohibition-era bar tucked down a back street. Nigel had to give some kind of special nod or handshake for us to gain access and from street level the bar dipped backwards through a covered alley and into something that looked like it was from a Nicholas Winding Refn film.
The three of us worked our way down the menu until midnight and then decided to head home. We had an early flight. Adam and I insisted on stopping at a 7/11 so we could load up on beer and cigarettes to take out onto the balcony. Once we had said goodbye to Nigel and were back on our very own Pride Rock we looked over our new kingdom and talked about the importance of living in the moment and being around people.
The following morning we went for an early swim to clear our heads and then packed up our stuff. I kept looking guiltily at the bin of hair in the corner of the room. It felt weird leaving it for our hosts. They dropped our cleaned and folded laundry back to us. It smelt so fresh compared to everything else I had in my bag. It felt a shame to collect it all together.
We hit up TripAdvisor for a Chinese temple and found Thean Hou, which had been given four stars. I struggled to establish how you could grade religious monuments. Set on 1.67 acres of land in Taman Persiaran Desa, it’s intimidatingly beautiful and tucked away from the manic hustle and shine of the rest of the city. I found myself speaking in hushed tones and trying my hardest not to do anything disrespectful. I’m not a religious person but I appreciate the importance others place upon it.
We took our shoes off on the steps outside and prayed before each of the statues. For all my naivety I was in awe. It looked like an album cover from the summer of love. I found my mind drifting to the people I cared about, those I shared my most precious moments with. It’s so easy to get caught up in everything that seems to be going on in our lives that it takes a lot to get away from it all and think about what truly matters. On the hillsides of Malaysia I was able to do that. I understand if it sounds pretentious and distant, that it doesn’t fit in with the version of myself you see but there was something about the area that enchanted me.
Adam and I burnt joss sticks and got our fortunes told. The latter was based on a game where you picked up a collection of sticks and dropped them into a divot in the top of a coloured drum. As soon as one stick bounces out it counts as your fortune. Each stick is imprinted with a number which relates to a drawer on the front of the drum. I had 41.
We sat just inside the door, our bags rolled up against the wall. My stomach started to growl and I realised we hadn’t eaten since the previous evening. When I checked with Adam he had no money. We had been driven out away from the city and I wondered if there would be anywhere we could eat. We headed out the back of the temple and up a winding staircase to a lane of ornate statues that came to a dead end. We headed back down and found an information centre that was closed.
As we were starting on our way back to the road we noticed there was a small shop underneath the hill. As we got closer we realised it opened into a basement area with a food court and stalls selling Buddhist items and joss sticks. We had ten ringgits between the pair of us, equivalent to £1.67. I started to panic. There was nowhere to get any money. None of the stalls would accept card. We didn’t know where we were. We didn’t have access to anything. We were far enough out of the city that it would be difficult to pick up a taxi and explain that we would need to withdraw money on the way. On top of which, I was hungry and irritable.
‘I really want to get a statue’ said Adam, looking back at the stalls from where we had strolled into the centre of the space.
‘We need food and water. We are going to need a taxi to the airport. You haven’t got any money. You’re not getting a statue. It’s going to take some kind of miracle for us to get anything here.’
Two plates of food and a bottle of water used up our last ten ringgits. The temple had Wi-Fi so we were able to book an Uber to the airport.
I’m not saying it was divine intervention but something was shining down on us that day.
We arrived with enough time to get something to eat before our flight. We checked my bag in and headed into the terminal. We walked back and forth and the only place to get anything was a coffee shop with garish blue lights and pink font. We were both starving again and bolted down sandwiches, sausage rolls and tiramisu, hardly traditional Asian fare but all airports look the same so you might as well eat the same.
I called my brother because it was his birthday and we had a very stilted conversation because of the delay caused by the connection. Then we were loading ourselves into cattle class and heading on to Thailand.