As in Singapore, our first night in Kuala Lumpur is spent in a thunderstorm.
British storms begin like a growl in the back of the throat and grow into a little tantrum of rain. More often than not the sky tires of its noise and activity and gives up after half an hour, leaving behind it a damp mist that lasts for hours, days even. But in South East Asia the storms are a taste of the rapture.
With no warning other than a rapidly darkened sky these storms unleash a torrent of rain with such rage it feels aimed directly at you. The thunder makes a promise of violence that the lightening delivers and you wonder, is this it? Could this be the storm that makes the world news? But before you get too far into your macabre fantasy of being hit by lightening or swept away in a flash flood it stops. The sun shines brightly and dries up all the rain and in a few minutes it’s like it never even happened.
We arrive in Kuala Lumpur on a train from Singapore at around 10pm feeling dog tired. When the storm hits we open the windows of our tiny rented studio with the idea of taking photographs but as soon as we twist the lock the windows fly open with the force of the wind, dragging the curtains with them and allowing the rain to soak one side of the room.
There’s only one other option – I head to the roof. There’s a little sitting area up here on the twenty fifth floor and the few people caught up here when the storm hit stare as I stand in my red pac-a-mac in the pouring rain, trying not to drench Shaun’s camera.
I feel more of a sense of ‘being here’ in Kuala Lumpur than I did in Singapore. This could be due in part to the perk of staying up on the nineteenth floor rather than at ground level, looking across, rather than up, at the skyscrapers all around. We have a view of the famous Petronas Towers, but they’re so big I imagine almost everyone does.
By day, the towers are ugly columns of chrome, steel monstrosities added to the skyline of a real city in post-production, but by night they’re bright and twinkly, all lit up as camp as chistmas. At midnight we watch the towers switch off and as each section goes from light to nothing, just like switching off a giant christmas tree, I think about the scale of it, and the whole thing seems suddenly unnecessary and obscene.
Kuala Lumpur has this retro-futuristic thing going on. Its hopelessly inadequate monorail system wouldn’t look out of place in Bladerunner, all whirring fans and exposed electrical wires, and its dirty and dated malls, now ruined monuments to nineties consumer chic, are home to knock-off DVD stores and weekend flea markets.
This all sounds negative, but it’s not. Like other cities in this part of the world Kuala Lumpur has its share of carefully preserved monuments to colonial times, its Chinatown, its Little India, its super-malls for the super-rich but it also has a very unique feel about it. Like you’ve switched to an alternative timeline where history played its hand slightly differently but the end result is still the same; a dystopic, acid-rain, neon-lit, concrete jungle inhabited by skinny teenagers in rock tshirts, riding their motorbikes through the city in a thunderstorm, poor and soaking wet and just not giving a shit.