Mekong Expedition 

Keeping my cool in Kuala Lumpur

Table of Contents

See the route of my journey on Google Earth

As I emerged from the plane at Kuala Lumpur's new Low Cost Carrier Terminal, a wave of sticky heat hit me. It reminded me at once of India, the way it stuck to your clothes and skin.

The first morning in KL I took the monorail towards Titiwangsa. I could look down on the streets, which were covered with blue and white flags and posters promoting the winning Barisan Nasional party in the recent elections.

Kuala Lumpur monorail

Kuala Lumpur monorail

The different ethnic that make up Kuala Lumpur's diverse population were coping with the heat in different ways. The Chinese girls were in miniskirts and carrying parasols, the Muslims wore head scarves and long robes and the Indian men were wearing hideous short sleeved check shirts. I had bought several of these when I used to live in India, which hurt my flatmates' eyes.

The different groups appeared to co-exist happily. Most world cities are very homogeneous, but in KL at least, the mix appeared to work. There were plenty of hijabs in Little India and saris in Chinatown.

Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur

There are plenty of scams to catch the unwary traveller. If someone invites you into a teahouse, you may end up with a bill that's hard to swallow. I've been wary (or lucky) enough to generally stay out of trouble, but when you're fresh off the plane it's easy to let your guard down.

Fresh off the plane

Fresh off the plane

While buying a mango juice I got talking to a girl called Jennifer behind me in the queue. When asked where I was from, I did my usual spiel about living in Shanghai. Jennifer' sister was apparently going to Beijing later than year to work in a hospital, and the sister was excitedly rung up so she could speak to me about living in China. Jennifer suggested we go meet her sister, so having nothing planned for the afternoon I agreed to get in a taxi and go to find her. Alert readers will have lots of warning sirens going off already., but I decided to play along. Things didn't totally add up: despite claiming to have a low-paying job in a DVD factory, we pulled up outside a nice house in a leafy suburb.

Inside there is no sign of the sister yet, but I get talking to an older gentleman who introduces himself as Mr Boknoy. While we wait, he explains his job is a card dealer in a casino resort near Kuala Lumpur. Being a senior card dealer, he now works in the VIP room where the big money players compete, such as his friend Mr Malik from Brunei, who won $20,000 only the other day.

Mr Boknoy claims to have devised a foolproof scheme for cheating at blackjack which he intends to use to make some money before he retires. He offers to show me this excellent scheme. While dealing the cards he flashes the next card for a split second, while making a hand signal on the table to indicate the dealer's face-down card. With this information its pretty easy to win every time. "We split the profits 50/50, ha ha!" exclaims Mr Boknoy.

At that point, who should arrive but Mr Malik from Brunei, a rather doddering elderly gentleman. "Perhaps you would like to play some Blackjack with Matt?" suggests Mr Boknoy, at the same moment Jennifer firmly pushes a bundle of notes into my hand.

I decide this is probably a good time to escape, so I make up some lame excuses to Mr Malik (who is no doubt in on the scam too, and not half as senile as he looks) and get given a lift back to the metro station. The "sister" has of course long been forgotten.

Back at the hostel the owner Sady confirms this is a known con trick. The sister or brother will magically be going to study where you live, to hook you in. If the victim is lured in by the thought of relieving Mr Malik of his money, he ends betting and losing his own money.

No doubt its not tremendously sensible to get that far into a scam, but I was intrigued to see what was going to happen next, and in the end Rebbecca and Mr Boknoy had a completely wasted few hours while I got some free entertainment, and an amusing story to tell!

Still, I don't think I'll be accepting any invitations to teashops for a while.

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

My fellow travellers at the Equator Hostel were generally on a gap year, trying to cram in the whole world without actually spending any money. "They overcharged me 5 ringitt, there goes today's beer budget!" It made me realise that in the three years since I'd last gone backpacking, I'd got both older and richer. I decided to keep my mouth shut about the 70 ringgits I'd just paid to spend most of the day in the KL Hilton swimming and drinking Long Island Iced Tea.

Read the next entry: Temple-bagging in Thailand