Turns out I didn’t quite realise the extent of my hosts’ intention to look after me. I had told them I wanted to do some last minute shopping, and 9 hours (!) later I return with Sharifah after having been driven all over KL in her little rattling car in search of the best deals. She stays with me for 2 hours in one mall, haggling prices in Bahasa to ensure I get a good price. We go to an arts and crafts centre to look at Malay craft, trawl through various fabric shops to find a specific Songkit (hand woven, embroidered material) piece I am after and she treats me to waffles and Chinese noodle soup (in that order). She takes me to the shops where she gets the materials for all wedding decorations and it’s like walking into little palace doll houses, completely engulfed in glitter and gold. We go through KLCC (the iconic Twin Towers), with a large shopping mall inside with all possible international (and British) brands on offer. She tells me that she and her ‘Golden Girls’, a group of retired friends, go to the little Harrods store for high tea sometimes. The British influence is very strong here - the wall plugs are British and the spoken language is so much better than in Indonesia. It’s both a little disturbing, and helpful, at the same time. She points out exactly where Will and Kate walked when they were here recently.
Everything in KL is grand, costly and BIG, with interesting architecture. The city s built upwards, with sky scrapers replacing traditional two storey houses, although in some cases keeping the facades. The largest number of shopping malls I have ever seen, with some stocking Cartier and the likes for fixed prices – while in the mall next door there is manic over the counter haggling and negotiation. It is certainly a place of paradox and controversy. We walk past a modern bakery and she explains that Mahathir, the prime minister who ruled for a long time and built the whole of Putrajaya and created a great motorway system through the city, decided to retire after 22 years and open a bakery.
She readily talks to me about her faith, and the Muslim life. She tells me about the five daily prayers one is obliged to perform, the larger mosques all the men go to on a Friday to pray together, and she allows me to ask why it is that women should cover up from the attention of other men who may desire her, but that the same isn’t true for men. She explains that it’s an old tradition, stemming from a deep reverence of women in traditional Islam. She also jokes about it men being less attractive than women and not needing the cover up. I suspect it's a common joke.
Everywhere is Muslim fashion, which is a new experience for me – shops dedicated only to conservative dress. It's refreshing to be in a minority, to be the silly foreigner with strange customs that don't belong here. It's nice to see a different world, a different rationale to everything you're so used to.
She insists on taking pictures of me in front of important buildings, and only gets me from the chest up every time, slightly wonky. We end the evening at a (very) local eatery where she buys satay, Nasi Goreng and says I HAVE TO try the special avocado and chocolate shake. I do, and it’s awful.
I realise however that after all the adventures of the day, I’ve made her miss all her five daily prayers. I figure the least I can do is drink the avocado shake.