Tag Archives: kuala lumpur

2013: The year in cats

Okay, so I haven’t updated this blog in quite some time. I’ve been more focused on writing things elsewhere, and reporting on life as it unfolds hasn’t appealed so much. If you’re interested, I’d be happy if you’d check out my website for up-to-date info on my articles, zines and whatnot; and I’m on the Twitter if you’re into that sort of thing.

Anyway, I hear the internet is rather fond of cats, so I hope sharing the various cats (also, dogs) I’ve lived with in 2013 might go some way towards making up for my silence here.

I began the year, as has become customary, in Lyttelton, a small village (population 4000) next to Christchurch, looking after three cats and two dogs.

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Hidup Rakyat: Bersih 3.0 in KL


Soalan ditanyakan. Jawapan disediakan
The question has been asked. The answer is ready

I live in Kuala Lumpur, currently. My 32-hour stopover in February wasn’t enough, so seven weeks and six countries later, I came back. I’m here temporarily, but for a longer period of time than I spend in most places. I’ve been exploring the city, learning Malay, cooking and eating epic food, following lizards around, and waking up next to someone I’m completely smitten with. And last Saturday afternoon I found myself in front of the Lotus Hotel in the city centre, surrounded by protesters who had just been tear gassed.

Behind me, two young women were crying “Allāhu Akbar.” I got out of the way as a trampled body was carried into the hotel. Bottles of water were thrown to the street from the upstairs windows, and eventually a couple of emergency fire hoses were aimed from them as well, to cheers from the crowd down below. Protesters offered salt and water to each other. Riot police paced at the corner of the street, so I figured I wasn’t going anywhere for a while. Masjid Jamek LRT station was closed, but its metal shutters had been broken by people desperate to escape the gas, and police would later follow them in to beat them.

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Outside the Syrian embassy, Kuala Lumpur

Burning Assad

I had 32 hours in Kuala Lumpur and my principal interest was finding the Syrian embassy. I couldn’t deal any more with the disconnect between the atrocities documented every time I checked Twitter and the conversations I had with people around me when I surfaced from the internet: “What, there’s something going on in Syria?”

7800 martyrs, 500 children, 400 female

I didn’t know if there would be a protest and I didn’t know how to find out anyway; I just went, hoping that showing up on a Friday might increase my chances. I was right. Riot cops hovered around the periphery while flags, fists, placards and voices were raised. I caught only one or two keywords from the mainly Arabic speeches, but the pain, horror and outrage was clear. I had come here not only to show solidarity, but because I had reached a point where I desperately needed to be among other people who cared about what was going on. The attendees were mainly Syrian students, people directly impacted by the violence. A Somali who had just moved to Malaysia after twelve years in Syria told me of his classmate, Sardasht Ali, who was shot dead in the street, eighteen years old. He hoped to return to a Syria free of Assad. Insha’Allah.

All of Somali people with Syrian revolution

As the demo drew to an end, we headed back the way we had come, before a large group of Malay Muslims passed us by, heading too for the embassy following Friday prayers. A second protest, this time with locals showing their solidarity.

Malay Muslims demonstrate

And I wonder what it will take for white Westerners to pay attention and get angry now that there are no prominent fictional lesbians in the movement. Is the name Hamza al-Khatib as familiar to my peers as that of Amina? Hamza’s body was returned to his parents last year after he had been detained for protesting; they found that his jaw and kneecaps had been smashed, he had three gunshot wounds, he was covered in cigarette burns and his penis had been cut off. Whenever I see a photo of him, a smiling thirteen-year-old, my heart feels shattered. This is what the Assad regime does to kids. As one of the signs at the demo read: “The regime is committing massacre while the world is watching silently.”

Syria, Homs, the regime is committing massacre while the world is watching silently

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Everywhere and all over

I spent two extra days in Kurdistan because I turned up at Sulaimaniyah airport on time for my flight to Stockholm and the airport staff didn’t know anything about it. This turned out to be because Air Sweden had changed the departure airport to Erbil, two hours away, without bothering to let me know. I was now overstaying my visa. I stayed with an activist friend and his family. I didn’t sleep well at night because I was in the room that he normally slept in and he had received death threats. I didn’t bother to mention it because I had only two nights to worry about a prospective case of mistaken identity whereas he had to deal with it every night. They knew where he lived.

Finally in Stockholm, I had to quickly come to terms with all the snow and the fact that things were super-expensive. And then on to Berlin for half a day, too tired and in a hurry to bother stating that it felt weird to be back. My home from mid-February to mid-March was Leipzig, where I was looking after a cat while its owner was travelling.

I was in a neighbourhood not far east of the city centre. A few times a week I’d head down to the Turkish shops on Eisenbahnstraße to buy flatbread and yoghurt, which I’d eat with my date syrup from Amedi in Kurdistan. I didn’t go out much at all my first week, I was just glad to have some space to myself. I followed the protests in Sulaimaniyah closely, worrying about my friend’s safety.

I found myself narrating the cat’s every move. I couldn’t help myself. “Stretchycat!” I’d crow whenever he awoke from slumber and stiffly attempted to straighten himself out.

John from Belfast came to visit. We went out to Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, allegedly Leipzig’s most happening street, on a Saturday afternoon. The ghost town effect lacked only tumbleweed. That night we got drunk in a cheap smoky pub called Dolly Dimple. “Maybe it’s a stealth gay bar,” I said hopefully, watching the heavily tattooed girl dancing with female friends to nineties dance music. “I don’t think so,” said John, ever the realist. I requested The Key, The Secret by Urban Cookie Collective and the DJ agreed instantly. I drank a lot of wine. “Maybe he’s a nazi,” I said to John when a shaven-headed boy showed up with a dubious smile. “You think everyone is a nazi,” said John. I attempted to chat up the heavily tattooed girl for him. “Du bist sehr schön,” I explained, harking back to Blur lyrics rather than my two and a half years of German classes.

I allegedly turned into a troll on the way home. “You just don’t understand,” I wailed to John, weaving from side to side, “I hate EVERYTHING.” I couldn’t find the way back to the flat even though we were close, and John stopped a helpful passerby for directions. “Yes but what is there to do in Leipzig anyway?” I demanded to know. “Everything,” said the poor stranger after a bewildered pause. I don’t remember any of this. I am sorry for being a troll.

After John went back to Belfast I developed a social life. I met New Friend Andre and New Friend Ursula and went for VoKü with them, got a free haircut, took a day trip to Dresden with its tobacco mosque, attended house parties with cheap bars. I realised there were indeed things to do in Leipzig. If I were to move to Leipzig properly in the future, I’d already have good foundations for a life there.

I knew that one reason why I thought of my time in Berlin as artificial was that one of its main features had been a relationship that turned out to mean different things to each party. But besides that, it was artificial because it was too easy. If you move to Berlin everyone will be jealous of you. Everyone will tell you that you’ll love it. “Berlin is so you,” they’ll say. It’s not as if you won’t like it when you get there, but the experience will already have been scripted for you to some extent. As an English-speaking expat I’d lived in a bubble where I didn’t need to use German beyond the most basic of transactions, and few of the people I ever hung out with were German and in a way we could have been anywhere. Leipzig was different. Its low immigrant quotient was disappointing in the sense of less multiculturalism – beyond Eisenbahnstraße there didn’t seem to be a whole lot of scope – but at least I was spending time with locals and I felt more conscious of being in Germany.

The legacy of the GDR had not entirely faded. “These West Germans,” said one of my friends, “they’ll see apple trees and they’ll still go to the supermarket and pay money for apples. Us East Germans will just pick them.” I learned about the antideutsch people and Kamal K, the Iraqi man who had been murdered in the city centre. I went to the free museum to learn about life before and after the wall.

I watched Anita – Tänze des Lasters. It was in German. There were a few parts I didn’t understand but I got the overall gist and even enjoyed the film. I went for vegan kebabs at Vleischerei.

There comes a time in every place I go when I’m surprised that it’s almost over. But I have become used to saying goodbye. And anyway I will be back to look after Stretchycat in the summer.

Then Vienna, Istanbul, Kandy, and now Kuala Lumpur. I was last here in 1999. I didn’t last 24 hours back then. Cockroach Stuart and I gave up on it and took the first train we could find to anywhere, which turned out to be Penang.

Heading for Australia, crossing time zones in short bursts. Every so often, especially as my expenditure currently outweighs my income, I find myself wondering what I am doing. How did it come to this?

On my first night I stood on Jeffrey’s tenth-floor balcony. I could see the Petronas Towers and the KL Tower in the centre of the city. I could also see a cluster of lights shaped like a lassoo or a speech bubble, glittering in the sky above a tower block. What kind of futuristic craziness was this? But it was Genting, Malaysia’s Las Vegas, a distant town in the hills, not a projection in the air at all.