Kuala Lumpur

A poor man becomes rich for three days as his economy class seat touches down in a different exchange rate zone. Richer even than money for being welcomed by a true friend, fed delicious food, introduced to a cheerful family and driven around the sights of a most amazing city.

The contrasts between Adelaide and KL are everywhere you look, when you can take your eyes off the beauty of the cosmopolitan people, the narrow streets are packed with cars, scooters, barrows and everywhere is  a throng of busy people, a riot of colour and the tourist is spoilt with choices of what to do and where to go.

That evening Zai drove me up to the edge of the jungle and insisted that i stay at his expense in a cabin amongst the dark trees of the Riverstone Eco Resort. In the morning i sat on a balcony amongst it all and the wildness was at once familiar and comfortable. As if some genetic memory made me feel at home so close to where my Grandmother was born. And it felt secure as well. In the rain forest of Australia the fauna is aggressive, leaches, ticks, march flies and snakes are after you everywhere you go but here the forest seemed benign, too languid to come at you, too content to uproot the teak huts from their stilts.

The second day Zai, who i studied engineering with in Wales in the nineties, asked me to put on a white shirt. He took me to the Proton car factory where Malaysia is producing its own cars at a rate of a thousand a day. This was a treat, production engineering is intriguing, if you like that sort of thing. The plant was clean and efficient as far as i could see and i learned much about the assembly technique. The atmosphere was unusually relaxed for a factory, which did not please Zai, but the line was in motion, The strange part for me was being welcomed as a natural part of the environment. The car plants i have been to in the past have made me feel a trespasser.

Zai explained that there was respect for the British in Malaysia. They had created infrastructure that endured, they had laid the foundations of political stability and they had proved the worth of determined problem solving. If the local people could take these lessons more fully to heart the whole country would raise itself up. I was surprised by this, there has been an attitude amongst Australians, well maybe within myself, that the colonial era was an imposition upon the wourld. To hear Zai insist that i should share some pride in it was deeply heartening.

Over a sensationally strong cup of coffee at a roadside cafe Zai thanked me for setting good examples for him by being so determined to extract thrust from a rotor. He had noticed and appreciated the sacrifices i had made to get that work done and assured me that it would be a worthy inclusion for my CV.  I was stunned, after fourteen years of failure i had ceased to expect any tolerance, least of all accolades! Thankyou Zai, i can now go forward into engineering for other people with pride in my past instead of shame.

As if on cue a delicious shower of rain began and  the waitress gave me a look of what i am arrogant enough to think of as unashamed lust, from beneath a pretty blue scarf.

That second night i slept in a budget hostel in the city centre. Exhausted by two days of travel and wide eyed wonder at the beauty surrounding me, i lay on my bed, cried for a moment over the loss of my sweet love four months before then decided to get the next flight out. If I stayed another day i might not ever be able to bring myself to leave. There were difficult things to be done in London, best to get on with it before another admiring glance from beneath a Hijab glued me permanently to the spot.


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