mercredi 12 décembre 2007

Chico and Chucho at Hotel Allison Genesis, Kuala Lumpur

An open minded traveler attracts human interactions

The lunch was sumptuous. Sera Nyonya Restaurant at Hotel Equatorial in Malacca. Chef Bong and his assistant Yenny. Ohtak, Lychee Asam Boi, Cili ayam with fragrant beans. Very attentive staff.
Came out to the tropical air. A little humid. Slight drizzle. A beat up taxi pulls up. I want to go to the Bus Station via Hotel Puri to pick up my luggage. I will give you 15 ringgits. He looks at me and nods. I get in.
He is Malay, born in Malacca and lives right in town. The car is truly a beaten up car. Much like one of the taxis of Havana, only slightly better. The door knobs don’t function, dust has collected in spaces. An odour of yesterday hangs in the air. The usual Muslim exultations on the dashboard and the glass, now cloudy with age.
We started talking, in broken English and his good Malay and my good English and broken Malay, we could communicate, so what else. He was surprised to know that Tesco and Courts are all foreign companies... He thought they were Malaysian! Poor guy…but happy...He wanted to know whether I had visited any of the supermarkets, which came as a surprising question, but I suppose he was trying to find something in common..We drove towards the central station. He said, good buses lah, and cheap to KL... that turned out to be true, the buses are very cheap, 2 euros for the ride to KL. As I came out of the car, he asked, when are you coming back? Soon, Lah, I said imitating a local accent which is rather soothing. Take my mobile number, and he gives it to me. Hajji Ismail is his name, so this rotund Malay in an old beat up car had been to the Hajj and how nice of him to give his mobile phone number. I will call him the next time I am in Malaysia; in fact I might call him from USA... and say Hello to surprise him…
I am extremely lucky, and I believe the Good Luck Star of the Taxi drivers follow me everywhere since I have been lucky with taxi drivers in all the continents... from Accra to Zanzibar...
The traffic jam in KL is beyond description. There is decidedly a third world (developing country) look to it, more beat up cars... we are let outside the Pudu Raya terminal, because it will take the driver many more minutes to manoeuvre his vehicle into the terminal just 200 meters away. Taxis are waiting but none of them are interested in short rides so disappointed faces look elsewhere. A driver feigns ignorance when I ask him about Allison Genesis Hotel, but quotes 15 ringgit as his fare which in itself was not bad. I said 10 ringgits, he looks away but a old Chinese with a tuft of hair growing out of a mole in his neck is interested, I will take you for 12, he said, but just for fun, and a throwback to my Mizrahi ancestry I say, ten ringgits, he tries some more but invites me into his car, which is not a taxi but a small car, in better shape than Hajji Ismail. On the way over, the traffic is horrendous, we are unable to move. We talk, this time I can’t even speak broken Chinese and his English is strictly Broken...but communicate we did... By the time he left me off in front of the Allison Genesis Hotel, he has agreed to come and wait for me in front of the hotel at 6 45 am tomorrow to take me directly to the airport, for half the price of a normal taxi..
It is 8 pm. In one hour my friend JC would arrive, in the meantime I am going for a walk if it is not raining outside... I can see the twin towers of the PETRONAS towers from my room. The night is dark outside even in this city clogged with cars whose red brake lights cut through the darkness.
When I was trying to check in at the hotel, a very pleasant young man called Ikhval was trying to help me, couldn’t find my name under reservations, usually happens because of the variations in my name. A well built mulatto with a frail Chinese lady comes in, talks to the clerk.. Tell the people to come and listen to the crazy brasilian drummer.. That caught my ears.. Voce de Brasil? I asked him and we began chatting in Brasilian Portuguese, I was surprised that I could hold a conversation. He is the artist in residence at a place called No Black Tie and will be giving concerts with his band of local artists, but MPB, brasilian music..Eu moro na Cuba.. I said to him, and he said: was listening to Chucho Valdes last night.. in person? No it was recorded music but it was as if chucho was there.. we were laughing and I showed him my collection of Brasilian videos on my ipod.. I mentioned Chico Buarque and a smile appeard on his face.. I began humming que tu sera sera.. the song made famous by Chico Buarque.. So at the lobby of the hotel Allison, in front of puzzled malay clerks and visitors, Valtinho and I began singing Chico Buarque’s song and he being a singer knew the word and I knew the tune well enough to hum along.. I truly got a kick out of it..
That is how, ladies and gentlemen, my evening in KL began. As I was finishing up filling up the hotel form, JC called to say she would be at the hotel around 9 pm…
It is 1 pm in Paris, where I would normally have lunch at la Defense on work days .. it is 7 am in La Habana and Baracoa, where my affections are kept warm by my friends…
La Vida es un sueno..

8 pm in Kuala Lumpur, Ciudad Capitolio de Malasia, 12 de deciembre 2007