19 April 2014

Kuala Lumpur: An Honest Account

Two months have passed since my trip, and that is the same length of time this post had been sitting in my drafts. Countless times I tried to find the right words to talk about KL. But words evaded me. Perhaps there simply are no right words. Only the truth. And so this will be exactly that.

There is this photo I took of a side street in Kuala Lumpur. Probably my favorite shot of the city. There was something enigmatic about the way the sun was hitting the vandalized walls of the sidewalk, and the arched beams were aesthetically nice. So I took a photo. It wasn’t until I was back in the Philippines when I was scanning my shots that I noticed something I didn’t see there when I took the picture. On the ground, lying there in the middle of the sidewalk, was a person. I was surprised and for a moment I had the goosebumps. There was an actual human being there on the floor. How could I have not seen?

The story behind this photo speaks volumes of how my stay in KL was—there were a lot of things I did not see. Whether it was a subconscious decision or just dim luck, in KL I came and went with barely anything lost or gained.

It was difficult for me to like KL. At least, that was how it was at first. From the moment I arrived, things were not going well for me. During the first night, my friends and I got the first taste of the rude treatment from local men that would go on for the rest of our stay (our other female hostel friends were apparently experiencing the same treatment), were surprised by some things we saw on the streets after hours, and got chased back to our hostel by a sewer rat which could pass for a cat in size. On my last day, I almost got hit by a speeding cab through a narrow curve, and got brazenly laughed at by a bus driver who witnessed the atrocity. Talk about empathy.

But it was unfair of me to ask for empathy when I had none, as well.

It was difficult enough that I arrived in that city barely whole in the first place, thus my lack of understanding, but KL wasn't being very welcoming as well. I have left a huge chunk of myself somewhere else, and with the new city being completely hostile, I scurried like a beaten soul to my hostel, nursing my longings and frustrations. It didn't help as well that at the back of my mind, I was already dreading, bracing myself for the looming plane ride back to Manila.

But truth be told, I knew all along the problem was not the city. It was me. Langkawi took so much of me, left little to spare, that even if it were some other place I came to next, it would surely only suffer the same fate in my hands. I came there already shut. It wasn't KL's fault.

Just like an addict withdrawing from his poison, I was stubborn and even a little mad. Almost because KL had paved streets rather than sand, dust in the air rather than the damp scent of the sea, and instead of rasta people with their instruments on the streets, were business men calling out for customers. The bustle of people rushing to their stores and screeching traffic took place in the atmosphere rather than the relaxing combination of reggae music and the sound of the sea I've come to love.

Eventually it had come to me though, that in pursuing this kind of life, where moving is the only constant thing, the only way to go on without regrets is to live fully in the moment, in a place, and then let go when it is as should be. I knew from the start that this was the price to pay for wanting to be everywhere. As you go along, you will sometimes find special things that you will want to hold on to longer, for as long as you can, but at the end of the day, you have to muster the courage to let go. And just be eternally grateful to have had those encounters in the first place. This new awareness was enough to get me out and exploring again, with a fresh set of eyes, instead of just regretfully counting the days away until I had to head home.

And just like that, things took a turn. The city did not disappoint.

It's funny how when you decide to open yourself to a place, the place opens up to you, too. I was not able to explore KL as widely as I hoped, but the places I did get to see didn't fail to fascinate me, nonetheless. But the best part of any trip will always be the people you meet, the new friends you make, and the experiences you make with them along the way, and for that, I will always remember KL and all the good things that took place there, however hazy some of those memories are. Come to think of it, even the not so good things—those are the ones that make for the funny, misadventure stories, anyway.

On my last hours in KL, I thought about all the things I could have done better on that trip. From big things like waking up a little earlier everyday so I could have gone more places, to little things like not having my last meal of the trip in McDonald’s like I was then doing. But as I was pondering on my what-could-have-been’s while stuffing my mouth with fries, something utterly unexpected happened. There, in the bustling dining area at McDonald’s. Of all places.

The past year, I found my life to have become a series of unexpected, memorable encounters. What happened in McDonald's wasn’t necessarily life-changing, but it meant something, nonetheless. It reminded me, like many other encounters in my life, that no matter how you plan, and no matter how these plans fail, you are always, always at the right place at the right time. There may be some things you will fail to understand, like I was towards a lot of things in KL, but eventually you will learn that everything is with purpose. For nothing good gets away.

When I think of KL now, my heart sinks a little and all I want is to go back. I feel like I have left so many things unfinished there. But maybe it is for the best. Because now, I have all the reasons for a grand return.


  1. Hello, Nicole! I'm a fan of your photographs and mostly your words. Just wanna ask what lens are you using in all of your photographs? :)

    1. Hello, thank you. :) I use a 50mm f1.8, mostly. Though for some of my older travel photos I used to shoot with an 18-200mm lens as well.

  2. What happened in the McDonalds?

    1. Haha never thought anyone would be curious enough to ask! I bumped into someone I met from another distant place. :)