Kuala Lumpur is a skyline of similes. It’s like a shimmering, uber-sleek high-definition megalopolis seen only on science-fiction paperbacks and speculative blueprints. It’s like an exotic mechanical orchid with its protruding steel antennas, its streamlined glass sepals, and its flashing-neon petals emitting the constant scent of grandeur, all amidst a sea of palm. Kuala Lumpur is like a ripe, seductive, nectar-drenched blossom, where the bees of the tropics, the deserts, and the distant grayed lands of industry congregate, pollinate, and amass their honey fortunes. It is like a place where, when the sun sets and the queen bee closes her chamber-doors, when the larvae’s stop their wriggling and the workers cease their toiling, when the pious bees quit their droning, the foragers conclude their foraging, and at last the driver bees commence their honking, it is then that the leisure bees emerge from their stainless steel honey combs, gorge their forbidden nectars, and partake in the waggle dance to the buzz of soulless electronica.
History cannot explain the present. A peninsula partitioning the tides of Europe from the ripples of Asia, the shores of Malaysia have long been contested by the world’s mercantile powers. Who controls the straits controls trade, and for millennia the Arabs, Chinese, Indians, Malays, Aboriginals, Dutch, Portuguese and British have fought for its cultural, religious, political, and economic sway. As to how that manifests, centuries later? In the year two thousand and thirteen, when the world’s third largest country is Facebook, its greatest beverage is Coca Cola, and its most prominent medium is texting, the globe is illuminated not by sunlight but by the incandescent glow of a billion monitors. And it’s too damn bright to squint into the past. What past? Right.
Underage Filipino girls prance around soliciting “massages” with marauding Arabs and clueless Australians, and often-neglected overage Chinese girls sit and pout, despite their more explicit services. Ancient monoliths tower over labyrinths of food carts where Chinese boil octopi and stingray on a stick, or for a premium, whole lobsters – short shorts strut besides veils which flutter beside hijabs which cover beside burkas which hide beside clubs where all is revealed and the shame incurred by a woman’s ankle, calf, or forehead is forgotten beneath a torrential downpour of 48% whiskey. Still, a flurry of burka’d bevies and their male owners bustle about touting mountains of luxury goods– a Louis Vuitton for every man woman and child, and a shoeless beggar with her suckling child at every street corner. Megalithic complexes with vastly artificial climates blast columns of alpine air through their interiors, incurring hypothermic reactions when the frigid air collides with the inhumanly humid native environment. Consumers frantically scurry from one cooled-space to another, lest they succumb to the equatorial sun and its tanning effects. Outside, vendors hock their forsaken Durians – the national fruit - said to mimic not just the odor of festering human shit, but the sulfuric, dog-vommitty nuances catalyzed through its sustained fermentation in the tropical heat. The pungent scent of a thousand emptied, curried bowels seeps through the cement, glass and steel, permeating stores only the visiting sultans can afford.
Innumerable animals are boiled, fried, and masticated. Noodles are slurped, rice is inhaled, and vegetables are tossed to the watery cement. Cokes are slammed, beers are sloshed, coffee is poured, tea is spilt, shirts are stained and pants are burst. And then eyelids start to flutter – nostrils flare, legs shake, even the omnipresent durian wafts its cadaverous scent. Hookahs are ignited and Arab men shout to invisible bystanders who they deem eager to buy their pirated wares. Its time for the evening’s sexual solicitors to begin their flesh parade, and looks like the ladyboys have their own alleyway or ten. The city’s un-kosher entrails pour out onto the sidewalk to the delight of many a hedonistic passerby, and like that the clubs open, and what do you do but follow.
Inside, whistling Yemenis and closeted Iranians yelp and holler and spray bullets of sweat into the artificial air. Intoxicated Chinese, Japanese, and Koreans forget their feuds and jump in shared ecstasy to the dubious beats of America’s mainstream – even the ostentatious Qataris, with their garish trinkets and expressions of disgust, tuck away their wives and children to come partake in the taboo revelry. The French and Germans shuffle around in the back, too shackled by social cognizance to partake in the fiasco of flesh and fury on the strobe-lit dance floor. But the beats just get louder and the dollar is only getting weaker and the lights just get dimmer and to hell with rules; when’ll you ever dance beside a man from Oman and a stripper from Thailand?
Outside a thunderstorm booms. It’s the same thunderstorm that’s been hammering these parts since Pangaea birthed this wet wet peninsula three hundred million years ago. The same storm that soaked the first Homo sapiens to settle Malaysian Borneo forty thousand years ago. The storm that greeted me with seventeen consecutive lightning strikes upon my turbulent landing, and the storm that presently soaks the Nepali laborers returning to their tenements after sixteen hours of picking up your cigarette butts and minting your five-star pillow-cases. The storm breaks at dawn. And at that very moment I awaken with the most severe hangover achievable by modern man.