Friday, September 30, 2011


My life's motto, as stated on this blog's home page is that I'll do anything twice -- and seriously, I will, unless you're talking eating grilled cockroaches, a Thai delicacy that has "no way in hell!" written all over it.


But when it comes to great cities, I don't always get the chance to do them again. Ooh, baby, baby, it's a wide world, and I want to see so much of it. Unfortunately, there's not enough time or money for regular backtracking. Sometimes once has to be enough.

So I choose wisely. Aside from the international cities I've visited, fallen in love with and moved to (Buenos Aires, Melbourne), there are only a handful that I've returned to on completely separate trips: London (which I frequented at least twice a year beginning in 1995, until I discovered South America in the early '00s), Montreal, Paris, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Rio, Sydney, Toronto (which I might have re-visited even if my brother didn't live there).

Sure I never grew to love Paris or Rio or Montreal, but the others were even better the second, third and, in the case of London, the umpteenth time around. A rule of thumb: If I like a great city the first time, I'll probably love it the second time. It's an ongoing theme with me (like it now, adore it later) -- my love theme for great cities!

So will Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, continue my love-'em-and-leave-'em-return-and-love-'em-even-more streak? In a previous post, I promised I'd return some day, but between you and me, dear readers, I secretly didn't think I actually would. In the end, it was a matter of necessity and practicality. My latest allotted 30 visitor days in Thailand expired today (29 September), and since I'm sticking around until January, I must switch to a tourist visa, which would give me 60 days in the country at a time with the option of extending, if need be.

I'd read that the Thai embassies in Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia make it pretty easy on Westerners desperately seeking tourist visas, so I narrowed it down to those three, although I was sort of craving adventure in Seoul. I've heard mixed opinions of Laos, and frankly, it doesn't interest me in the least. (Sorry, Devarni, hope you have a blast cruising down the Mekong.) I adored Cambodia, but I don't feel like I have to go back there so soon. With KL, though, after I left the first time, I always had this inkling that I'd missed something big.

It helps that I met some cool people here whom I'm looking forward to seeing again (I also met a Malay at DJ Station last weekend, and he's promised to show me around town), and several Malaysia-based magazine editors are interesting in meeting me. So it's part business, part pleasure, part visa run.

Last time I arrived by train from Singapore and departed by air to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, so the bumpy two-hour Air Asia flight from Bangkok gave me a brand-new first impression of Malaysia. Though I missed seeing the mountains from the right side of the aircraft upon descent (they looked so cool off in the distance to the right as the train from Singapore approached Kuala Lumpur last time), and the airport seemed a lot more '70s than I remember, could it be possible that KL has gotten even more enchanting?

There were a lot of western tourists in customs (cute and dirty blond was a running theme), where last time I remember seeing relatively few of them on the streets, so I'm already prepared to hear lots of Australian accents, mate. And those Malays still have strange taste in music: When I got into the taxi, easy-listening oldies by Peter Cetera and Amy Grant, Bee Gees and Anne Murray reminded me that here in Malaysia people are as obsessed with silly love songs in English from bygone eras as they are in the rest of Southeast Asia.

But the ride was worth sitting though the schlock. As the hilly terrain around the airport gave way to KL's skyline, dominated by the KL Tower and the Petronas Twin Towers, and those mountains in the distance, I felt secure in the choice I'd made to have a return engagement here.

Sade once sang that it's never as good as the first time. It usually isn't. But cities have proven her wrong before, and I'm hoping that KL is about to be another one of them.

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