It occurred to me today that maybe when I left the US back on Nov 28, 2006, I never landed in Korea. Maybe, instead, I got sucked into some kind of Truman Show or into a random-pointless-life-experience-generator algorithm on a computer somewhere. That's just about the only way I can explain to myself the bizarrity which wrapped its greasy octopodian tentacles around me and dragged me along the streets of Kuala Lumpur today.
To start at the start: After buying a year's supply of biodegradable soap and toothpaste off of the welcoming team, I left Sadhana yesterday afternoon, unleashing, in my approximation, approximately 40 centiliters of tears as I said my goodbyes to everyone. I caught the (3.5 hour) bus to the airport, eating an organic guava or two along the way, and chucking the inedible parts out the window, as one is allowed/expected to do in India. The bus dropped me at a restaurant near the airport, where I dined on Rava Dosa (crepe-thickness pancake of fermented rice flour, cooked with onions and cilantro and black pepper) and Onion Uttapam (similar but thicker), served with wondrous sambar (thin sauce of water, dhal, tomatoes, and other veg), onion ginger chutney, and for the first and last time on my trip, some incredible mint chutney. Two other foreigners sat down to eat with me; it turns out they were German-speaking Italians who spoke even worse Italian than me. After some chatting and gifting them a guava for dessert (I left Sadhana with 6 of 'em in my bag), I moseyed on up to the airport, waited around till 23:30, boarded, slept for 3 hours, and woke up in Kuala Lumpur at 5:30 local time.
Now for the weirdness. Outside of the gate, some airport staff were waiting with names on pieces of paper, one of which was ROY/MICHAELANTHONYLINDE. They told me that because of my long layover (5:30AM until 11:30Pm) I had been selected to participate in the grand opening of the "Showcase KL" program, a new initiative by the City Council to draw tourists out of the airport and into the city for the day. I was skeptical, having been led around despite my better judgment many a time, and asked at least 10 times if everything was free and if they intended to take me to some pewter factory or silk shop and pester me to buy something. They backed up what their denials with lots of documentation, and there were hordes of them with badges and brochures and stuff, so I decided to roll with it.
They walked me in my groggy state to the ultra-lush CIP (Corporate Important Person) Lounge (by way of a private immigration checkpoint), where a continental breakfast of rice, peanuts, cukes, baked beans, fish sauce, eggs, french toast, pastries, OJ, coffee, and tea was laid out, allowed me to use a gigantic marble bathroom with a shower in it (didn't use that part), and then sat me down in a nice big arm chair to explain the day's schedule. I will quote directly from the sheet:
"6-8: Your arrival at KLIA where you will be greeted by the Welcoming Team. You will then be taken to the Corporate Important Person (CIP) Lounge for breakfast and Immigration clearance. As our invited guest, you will be given a Showcase KL Badge.
8:30: Arrival of The Mayor of Kuala Lumpur - Y. Bhg. Datuk Seri Ahmad Fuad Ismail at the CIP. All guests will be introduced to the Mayor. Casual talk over coffee before proceed to the Immigration Counter and Custom clearance.
9:30: You will board the ERL Express train to the KL Sentral together with the Mayor. Your journey will take 28 minutes.
10:00: You will arrive at KL Sentral. At the launch site ,the Minister of Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing and other invited guests will be greeting you. Enjoy a 5 minutes of KL Multi - Cultural Performance by Kuala Lumpur City Hall Cultural Troupe. Short Speech by the Minister and launch of the Showcase KL.
11:00: 5 minutes Lion Dance performance before joining KL Tour on KL Hop On Hop Off for free. During the tour you ca nhop off at any of the attractinos. Just show your tour badge aat our partner attractoins such as Aquaria, KL Tower, Bird Park, National Museum, and enjoy free entrance. At Pavilion besides shopping you can enjoy the variety of gastronomic delights at The Food Republic by using the RM30 coupon, courtesy of the Pavilion."
Thus, after a brief sleep in a cushy armchair and a breakfast of rice, peanuts, beans, and cukes, I had the good fortune of having a million publicity photos taken of me while shaking hands with the slimeball (deliberate overstatement) mayor of KL. I really wanted to ask him if he thought orchestrating and carrying out the 5-hour ambush of a pack of 25 unsuspecting tourists was a good use of his time, or if he thought the government should be using taxpayer money to purchase environmentally wasteful, suffering-intensive food products (eggs) for a bunch of white people, but he was mostly in the mood to talk about cricket and trout fishing. He chuckled constantly, called lots of things "fantastic," and made sure to outdo everyone, letting a New Zealander know about a nice little town and telling me that he had driven longer distances in the USA than I had.
After the little gathering, a gaggle of paparazzi surrounded us and we marched through the airport to the express train, taking pictures of us talking to each other and of the mayor and his consorts talking to us. I couldn't help but feel like I was being used, so I sabotaged every picture I could by making weird faces or holding my camera directly in front of my head.
We arrived at KL Sentral, the main transport hub for the city, to find the MoFTaUWb waiting for us. Two women in full flight-attendant style dress and makeup handed him gift eggs all wrapped up in lace, which he presented to each of us with a handshake. I accepted the shake and refused the egg, explaining to him that I didn't think it was a very kind gift to be offering. He ignored me, as expected, and we sat down to watch a nice if brief dance performance. Then he got up on stage and explained that the KL Showcase "Product" had been conceived in the spirit of Malaysian Hospitality* to help cure the "mind-numbing boredom" of guests in the airport. He didn't mention whether it was also an attempt to extract as much money as possible from people who otherwise wouldn't have ventured them into the city by cleverly leading them out of the airport and into the major shopping centers, conveniently located all along the bus route. (Oddly enough, as I was being all cynical, grumbling and gurgling and doing my best to take notes of all the sliminess, people continued taking pictures of me.)
The address culminated in a whole load of corny music, steam, and bubbles accompanying the cutting of the ribbon, and then yet another photo shoot, this time of the government officials in the middle of all us tourists. Then we got pushed onto the bus, were instructed to pretend to have conversations with the Mayor and Minister, and had more pictures taken. Then they left us alone to go about our day.
Weirdness over. For the rest of the day, I just took the bus to the bird park then to the old market, walked around for an hour or two, found the Petronas twin towers, ascended KL Menara (the big tower), rode again to the aquarium, then again to the giant megamall for dinner, and then back to the airport, where I'm preparing myself for the certain and immense shock my system will receive upon landing, due to 1)the freezing weather; 2)the fact that my veganism is about to undergo its first big test; and 3)the oh-shit-now-I-have-a-job-again factor.
*There's even a theme song, which includes gems like:
The soul of Asia [Ahem...I believe Seoul claimed this in 1988, if not before]
The essence of Asia
In this land where dreams come true
Malaysia...is truly Asia.