Southeast Asia Tour Diary Tour diary 1: Kuala Lumpur – Think like a fish
Leaving New Zealand. We arrive in Kuala Lumpur(KL) and register a lovely sense of familiarity on returning to the late evening humid temperature. Zero hassles with passport control, if you had anything to declare, well, you couldn’t. They had just cleaned the floor and there was no way anyone was going to mess it up, so exit the building swiftly please- excellent. All our items arrive in the condition we sent them off in – doubly excellent. Then we find the bus to take us to KL Sentral, an hour bus ride into KL at night. And then we meet up with our friends Joe Kidd & I-Lann, wonderful to see them again, it’s been about five years since we were here last and that time appears insignificant as we settle down to reconnecting.
On the way to the house we stop for a midnight feed of spicy roti chennai , a perfect and delicious feast to start this journey with.
Friday morning, get reacquainted with hygiene KL style, cold water by the pot load, seems a much more sensible way to manage hygiene here and makes me contemplate the excessive water consumption back home.
Still no word at this point about the Surabaya and Bandung shows, Jogjakarta is confirmed and Bekasi is taking shape. Last minute details seem to be part of the regular local organising practice, makes us a bit nervy as the NZ style is to organise ages in advance.We take a walk for food and our first meal is at an Indian restaurant on classic banana leaf, a modestly messy and enjoyable tactile eating experience.
We take a walk through KL and it develops onto the ‘Bersih‘ walk. Joe takes us to the sites of action and activity from the week before. The massive ‘Bersih’ rally was dealt with by very heavy-handed police activity and, what appeared from the outside, as ludicrous political positioning. Bersih 2.0 was the second rally called for by a coalition of 62 NGO’s and civic groups calling for reform to the electoral process.
Bersih is Malay for ‘clean’ , signifying a desire for a ‘clean’ electoral process as opposed to the current ‘unclean’ and non-transparent process. The current ruling party has been in power since independence in 1957 and effective opposition has been reduced to a mostly powerless position. The transferring of power seems to follow family lines through the current malleable election process.Arrested for wearing yellow
The main identifying symbol of Bersih is a yellow t-shirt. And once the police started arresting people for wearing yellow t-shirts in the weeks leading up to the rally, and threatening to arrest any other use of the colour yellow if assumed that it was representative of Bersih, the global awareness of yellow mascots for Bersih grew exponentially.
The rally was held on a Saturday and there was an estimated 50-60,000 people in attendance. It is believed many more would have attended the peaceful rally, however the threat of arrest possibly kept many more away as the rally was deemed illegal after the local authority refused to grant a permit to the organizers. So with that in mind, it was an impressive turnout to an ‘illegal’ event. The rally started and the police cracked down with excessive force almost immediately, people were detained and arrested while in transit, and it must have been an expensive day for tear gas. 1600+were arrested and apparently all arrestees were released by evening. One man died during the day.
A Children and Maternity hospital was fired at with tear gas, the government denied this but then a number of senior doctors at the hospital made a public statement stating that the hospital was attacked but the police. Seems this attempt at repressive tactics has revealed some ludicrous and embarrassing scenarios for the government who do not want openness, transparency, and an election process that is difficult to corrupt.
There is a skill to develop rapidly while walking the city, and that is dealing with the traffic. It seems random, chaotic, and hazardous, but somehow it all works, it’s so different from the timid transporting masses back home. We asked a friend how she figures out how to navigate driving through the KL streets. Her advice took some meditation, but in hindsight is an incredibly astute and valuable piece of wisdom, “Think like a fish”, meaning make no sudden rash moves, surprise no one, move calmly and confidently in the knowledge that it is too much hassle for people to crash into you, and therefore mostly likely wont(but don’t abandon common sense here). How often do you see fish bumping into each other when swimming? The pedestrians, cars, buses, scooters all manage to weave together managing to achieve reaching their destination at some point.
After our ‘tour’ we head to the first venue Rumah Api, the House of fire, named after the venue was fire bombed sometime ago in a revenge attack on this DIY space. At this show we also share the stage with Atomgevitter from Scotland and Family Man from Germany. Both these bands have been touring Southeast Asia together for the past couple of weeks. We play our first set for this tour but get cut short after 4 or 5 songs as the police arrive and threaten to close the show.
Whilst the police prowl outside, we perform an impromptu whispered acapella version of Stella. Atomgevitter get to also play a short set and the show is complete. I learn the phrase ‘cut steam’ to describe our set, as on we were just starting to gain steam/momentum but was cut short. This phrase is also use to describe interrupted intimacy, nice description.
This show also holds special significance for many on the audience as a close friend had died just recently after a serious illness, he appears to be well known and liked amongst the KL punk community.
On Saturday we attend a book signing session at a KL gallery for a book introducing art to children. Our friend I-Lann has several works prominently placed in the book.
An interesting glimpse at another slice of KL life and worlds collide as we get to shake the hand of the consultant who spoke out to the media about the tear gas incident at the hospital during Bersih 2.0.
From the book signing, we journey two hours to the show in Tampin at the venue Seventh Heaven.It is a hot humid rehearsing/recording studio and finally we get to let off steam. Very happy with the set we play. We also get to see Family Man play this night, nice to connect with these lads.
The local scene seems have a taste for complex math metal with local legends Devilica coming out of retirement for a blindingly intense, exciting one-off set, and the locals go ballistic.After the show we do a spontaneous photo shoot on the street in a fluffy toy story.
We travel back to KL, check the email and are alerted to the fact that the Surabaya show is cancelled, we will find out more tomorrow as we fly to Surabaya in the morning, only hours away.
Time just to set the alarms to wake us in 4 hours – now sleep.