A Day in Kuala Lumpur – Batu Caves, Royal Selangor, and Carcosa Seri Negara

The owner of Royal Selangor
Everything was delicious (I had a special non-seafood menu – that would be a theme throughout the conference), but by the end of the meal, we were all stuffed. And running almost an hour behind schedule.

We agreed to cut out one of the afternoon activities, but I was unwilling to push the dinner back – it was already set for 8pm, and we had more than a few jet lagged delegates.

Finally, we got on our way and first headed to the Royal Selangor Pewter factory. Kuala Lumpur is known for their pewter, and our guide filled the spaces between stops with a stream of consciousness soliloquy about every tiny detail he’d ever heard about Kuala Lumpur. Some of it I remember and will share with you, but my brain certainly reached a saturation point fairly quickly.

We did learn that although making pewter seems like a very repetitive, menial type of job, those who do it are considered artisans and are paid as such. It’s also a job that is handed down through generations – those who come from pewter artisans are given the first opportunity to become artisans themselves.
The other thing that I remember is that our guide said that pewter is often given as a wedding gift in Kuala Lumpur. It’s called a “seven generations” gift, because it is seen to be so meaningful that it will be passed down through the family’s generations. Since I’m headed to an engagement party next weekend, I’ll be bringing them some pewter and sharing the story.

When we arrived, our guide told us that the owner of Royal Selangor Pewter would be coming down to meet us and give us the first part of the tour. She was, as they say, a character and we had a chuckle right off the bat when she asked me if I was from New York (that’s what it said on my name tag), and I thought she’d divined that some other way (since I’d forgotten I was wearing it).

She told us the story of Royal Selangor – we had learned earlier on the bus that the “royal” comes from the king. As the story goes, her grandfather was walking outside during World War II, as bombs were falling and villagers were searching for food. Her grandfather spotted a melon-shaped teapot on the ground and bent to pick it up. As he did so, a piece of shrapnel whizzed just past him – the teapot had saved his life.He kept it with him for many years and used it as the inspiration for Royal Selangor’s melon teapot. The original now sits in their small gallery, while the new one takes a piece of the original owner with it – his stamp. It’s the only piece in the collection to have his stamp on it. Of course, the owner suggested that we each buy two teapots.

We wandered around a bit, learning that none of the pewter goes to waste – it’s all recycled and used for other things at the factory. We also got the chance to see artisans at various stages of creating – one was stamping a small cup by hand to give it a textured finish, another was casting a mold of a tree with melted pewter, and yet another was delicately shaving off the thickness of a pewter cup – that reminded me very much of wheelthrowing with clay.

It struck all of us that while there were fans going at full strength, the factory was not air conditioned and it was HOT in there. Certainly not the most glamourous of jobs.
We puttered around a bit in the gift shop, and one of the delegates brought out the printouts that his wife had sent him – her shopping list. Then, we were on to Batu Caves.

Batu Caves are a religious site, where a festival is held every year and 800,000 people come. The caves are found about halfway up this mountain, with almost 300 vertical steps to reach them. They are flanked by the world’s largest Buddha statue. Oh, and there are tons of little monkeys there.

So, since my resolution for the year is to “live life out loud,” I decided to commit to walking up the steps, despite my desperate fear of heights. The delegates all know of it, so they were kind enough to support me on the way up. Our guide had warned us about the monkeys, saying that while they were great to photograph, you didn’t want to get too close to them – they would either try to steal things from you, or they would hiss at you.

Well.

I was walking with one of our American delegates, who was a couple of steps ahead of me. He was about a foot or two from the concrete railings (as you can guess, I was hanging on to them quite tightly), and as I said something to him, he turned towards me.
At that moment, the monkey sitting on the railing opened her mouth in a hiss, and leapt towards him, biting him on the shoulder. Then, she scampered off. It was a drive-by monkey attack.

Although the damage was minor, he did later go to the emergency room, and get a tetanus shot and some medication…just in case. Fortunately, it seems as though rabies is non-existent in Malaysia, which is some good news for him!

Eventually, we reached the top. And it was hot and humid, as expected in KL, so we were all drenched in sweat. It was also HIGH and I was a bit unsure how I’d feel going down. Fortunately, there were platform breaks about every ten to twenty steps, so that helped to visually break it up for me.

But at the top, you still weren’t done. We walked into the caves, which were just breathtaking. They were filled with stalagtites and stalagmites, bats and pigeons, and even a couple of roosters. People were there to sightsee and worship, and there were a few religious ceremonies taking place. We walked up yet some more stairs and into what felt like a clearing, with a hole in the top of the cave to the sky – it was beautiful. I was so glad I’d made the effort to get up there.

The way down was certainly slower, but there were no monkey attacks and we were soon on our way back to the hotel.

Or so we thought.

The one thing that we learned about KL very quickly is that traffic is a nightmare. I mean a total nightmare. And it’s even worse when it rains. So picture us on a bus on Friday night at rush hour, trying to get back into the heart of the city.

And it’s pissing down rain. And they’ve closed one of the highways to let other traffic out.

It wasn’t pretty.

We were supposed to be back to the hotel by 5pm, which we’d already missed because of running late from lunch. We got back at almost 6:45.

And we were departing for dinner at 7:30. Fabulous.

Everyone raced around to get ready – those of us who had walked to the caves were grimy and sweaty, so we definitely needed showers. We made it out the door and onto the coach before 7:30, and I knew it was about a 30-minute drive to dinner.
Well.

It was still raining. And still Friday night. So what should have been 30 minutes turned into one hour AND 30 minutes. It was an organizer’s (i.e. me) nightmare.

Fortunately, the venue was stunning – it was one of two mansions in the middle of the gardens, called Carcosa Seri Negara (the one we went to was Carcosa). After our bus driver almost drove us off a cliff trying to turn the bus around to get into the driveway so we wouldn’t get wet (and seriously almost drove us off a cliff), we were grateful to get inside and see the beautiful colonial-influence in the mansion.

Our host had been there for a LONG time already waiting for us, and had managed to organize a more beautiful room than t he one the venue had chosen for us. We started with a cocktail out on the porch, and the sound of the pouring rain hitting the leaves of the jungle plants was just so peaceful. Our host had brought a number of bottles of red wine from his wine cellar with him, which made the tired delegates happy, and quickly changed the mood.

Soon, we were dining by candlelight at a long table in a beautiful room. It was then that we got another funny tale that would become the center of discussions for the conference.
Our English delegate had been on a flight from London to Bangkok, where he sat next to a woman who he chatted with during the flight. She had invited him to join her on Sunday to go swimming with baby elephants, and they learned they had a mutual friend.

One of our American delegates had subsequently been on a flight from Bangkok to KL (the monkey-bite victim, coincidentally), and had also met a woman who had been feeling a bit unwell on the flight. He’d taken care of her, and she’d invited him to go swimming with baby elephants on Sunday.

When we gathered for dinner that evening in the lobby, the two were talking, and our English delegate mentioned this invitation. The American paused, and said, that’s funny…she isn’t English by chance? The Englishman agreed that she was, and the American said…her name isn’t Katie, is it?

It was the same woman.

So now, it became a question of how she was planning to go swimming with both of them without the other finding out, and they joked that the Englishman would agree to the plan, but the American would show up. All of this ended up going out the window, but it was a very popular topic of conversation that Friday evening.

Eventually, it was getting very late and it was time to go. We were hopeful that the bus ride back wouldn’t take as long, since we were all tired and expected to be fresh for the 9am meeting the following morning.

The return ride took seven minutes.

Seven.

It took us an hour and a half to get there, and just seven minutes to get back. Amazing. That’s pretty much KL traffic for you!

Of course, when I got back, I was wide awake. I finally got to sleep around 2 or three, and was up reluctantly the next morning. Despite the grumbles as we separated the night before over sticking to the schedule, everyone was pretty much on time the next morning.

Each of these handprints represents someone who has worked at Royal Selangor for at least five years
The steps at Batu caves
 The steps at Batu Caves
A monkey at Batu caves 

The steps were STEEP
From the top of the steps
From the top of the steps
Inside the caves
Inside the caves
Another monkey!
Check out those teeth!
A storm was rolling in
A storm was rolling in
Carcosa Seri Negara
Carcosa Seri Negara
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