Penang was another example of a city of decaying colonial buildings and amazing temples. It would appear that the only things that are properly maintained and painted are the odd colonial building (kept for tourist potential) and the religious temples, mosques and churches. Everything is left to slowly rot in the humid heat.
The first choice we had was how to get around. We opted for the hop on hop off bus, which took us past the clock tower and other well-kept colonial buildings. It is incredible to look back at the amazing reach of the British Empire and to appreciate the scale. All of these Asian/Indonesian sites had an array of buildings to house the ruling British Governors and associated military, bureaucratic and business people. They were all there in their little enclaves, ruling, exploiting and systematically stripping assets with their mansions, servants, polo clubs and cricket grounds. One can imagine the public schools, in the 18th century, churning out a stream of these people destined to live the life of Riley. Now the remains of their hegemony are preserved as part of the tourist attraction.
We hopped on and hopped off at the first temple.
The Burmese temple was probably the most garish yet, and the sister temple was a near match. We saw huge reclining Buddhas, gold Buddhas, standing Buddhas, white Buddhas, black Buddhas, blue and green Buddhas, fierce warriors, dragons, golden stupas and fair dancing maidens. All with gold, blue, red, yellow, orange and scaley glitter, bunting and adornment. All with sparkly splendour. All intended to create an impression.
Back on the bus to the next stop and off up the steepest funicular railway in the world to the incredible views and coconut ice-cream. The restaurant at the top was exorbitantly priced so it was back to the bottom and lunch with the locals. We observed where the taxi drivers and locals ate and jumped in. As we could not speak the language we are not quite sure what it was but it was spicy chicken with rice, with a mug of sweet coffee, and tasted excellent, and all for thirty pence.
Back on the bus we were dropped off at the biggest temple complex ever. Temples are great aren’t they? So much human energy, endeavour, creativity and hope poured into proving that there is a foundation to choosing this one over all the others. The drive to bigger, brighter and more elaborate (coupled with various attire, rituals and prayers) is like an arms race! If only they put as much energy into the city infrastructure!
We climbed up through covered markets with the sweat dripping down our backs. We inspected temples, Buddha’s, fountains, chanting, retail opportunities (what religious site is without them) and new building sites before making the final ascent through a lift in a shop to the biggest Buddha of all on top of the hill.
Back waiting for the bus we tasted the local pastry delicacies – both savoury and sweet – and both delicious, before hopping back to the boat.
Kuala Lumpur was rather a halfway house between moped madness and car craziness. My main lingering thoughts are of pot-holes, huge gold statues and the Petronas Towers. We (four of us) procured a taxi. The driver used carriageway, road signs and traffic lights as only a passing guide and enthusiastically illustrated what he was talking about with both hands coupled with turning around to grin at us while travelling at high speed. His taxi was the grimiest we had encountered and appeared to have no suspension and little left of the silencer so the cab filled with noxious fumes. He was very cheap though! We hurtled along, dodging around pot-holes, ducking in and out of traffic and driving, seeming suicidially straight at trucks. Somehow we managed to negotiate the twenty miles without separating our spirits from our body.
We visited the Batu Caves and marvelled at the massive gold statue that loomed above us as we drew near. We trudged up the thousands of steep steps past the massive carved figure and into the caves. Some devotees carried bricks or buckets of sand up the steps to demonstrate their sincere devotion (the ancient shrine was still being constructed).
The caves were an ancient site of worship. It was an impressive huge cavern with a collapsed roof allowing light to flood in. We fed the monkeys and photo’d the hundreds of shrines.
We climbed back down to check out the many temples around the base. Then I went in this cave that was like a Hindu version of Disneyland – very strange.
People and babies were painted up with yellow paint and were all in their best duds. It was a hive of activity! Throngs of people were milling about with women in bright coloured saris and the men with bright clothes and robes.
Clambering back in the death-mobile we headed off for Kuala Pumpur and parked up right by the central square.
The Petronas Towers were remarkable and very picturesque but we couldn’t go up because there was too long a queue – you have to book in advance. So we contented ourselves with staring up at it.
Diving in and out of traffic we somehow arrived at Independence Square, where we jigged about, stood in the middle of the large grass area and wondered at the array of different architecture then visited a museum which featured a model of the city.
Time was running out so our manic driver thundered off to the war memorial. We then had a brief glimpse of the Palace before thundering back to the ship.
For some reason we had sore backs, sore throats, stinging eyes, were pumped with adrenaline, had developed a cough and were deaf. But it had been another great day.
In Scenario 1 the population continued to grow eating up space, wilderness and destroying all naturally living creatures. Technology dealt with the problems of food, water, energy, weather and even oxygen in the atmosphere. We lived in huge urban developments and the world is devoid of wild-life and natural areas.
a. We realise the impact of our actions on the environment and limit our numbers, conserve the wilderness and wild-life, stop our habitat destruction and pollution.
b. We lay aside 50% of the planet for wilderness and wild-life. We do not allow roads, hunters or development in these areas.
We are extremely good at solving problems. We can easily create a sustainable future where wilderness and wild-life has a place.
a. We introduce contraception, education and family planning on a global scale and successfully reduce our population.
b. We use technology to produce better transport, housing, energy production, and food.
c. We do not have urban sprawl, deforestation, overfishing, or other unsustainable exploitation of the environment.
d. We raise the standards of life for all people globally so that there is no longer war, conflict or poverty. There are social services, pensions and sick pay enabling people to live without requiring large numbers of children to support them through hard times.
e. We produce technology that is not polluting and is sustainable. We have ample energy (probably through nuclear fusion and solar) and our farming methods are not cruel or ineffective. We can produce ample good food to support the population without encroaching on the wilderness areas.
f. The forests are conserved. Fishing is sustainable. The weather and global warming is controlled.
g. 50% of the world is teeming with wild-life that we can marvel at. The air, water and soil are not contaminated with carcinogens. We globally control the weather and global warming. Everything regarding conservation and pollution is controlled and enforced globally.
I know which of the two possible future scenarios I would prefer to live in.
Let us look into the future and extrapolate from where we are to where we are heading.
a. The population continues to grow
b. There are no catastrophes that wipe us out
Man is extremely good at solving problems. So let us assume that we negotiate our way through problem after problem. We do not annihilate ourselves through nuclear war or manufactured biological warfare. We do not succumb to a virus. We merely continue to grow in numbers.
These are the consequences:
a. Space and shelter. We need land and housing and our cities, towns and villages grow. The countryside becomes consumed in plastic and concrete. Roads connect and transport systems enable easy access.
b. The Wilderness. The wilderness and natural world become open to us and exploited for farming, mining, logging and habitation until there is no more inaccessible wilderness areas. Roads run through every place.
c. The Wild-life. The wild-life now has no habitat left, no food, shelter or way of living. It is butchered for meat, hunted for ivory or medicine (The rarer it gets, the more it is worth, the higher the price, the more worth the risk). The remnants of the wild things are corralled into parks or zoos and confined, protected and used as objects of tourism. Those considered pests, unpleasant or dangerous are eradicated.
d. Food. Even with all the wilderness opened up for farming, the seas fully harvested and hydroponics, genetic modifications and intensive farming methods there is not sufficient food for the burgeoning population. Food is produced from bacteria and fungus in vast industrial vats (Pruteen, mycoprotein etc. – already produced in large quantities – in our pies, sausages etc.), textured, flavoured and used as a meat substitute. Proper meat is a luxury food item.
e. Water. Water is a dwindling resource and desalination plants provide supplies.
f. Energy. Fossil fuels are replaced by large-scale sustainable technology – probably nuclear fusion supplemented with solar.
g. Weather. The effects of global warming are alleviated. The hurricanes and extreme weather conditions are now able to be controlled.
h. Oxygen. Oxygen is a natural product of photosynthesis. With the destruction of the forests and pollution of the oceans it is no longer being produced in sufficient quantities. Oceans are seeded to produce algal blooms and hydrolysis plants produce oxygen from water.
Our lives in these huge metropolises are highly controlled. Our environment is plastic. Our food, water and even the air we breathe is manufactured. We take our children to see the last remaining trees in the tree museum. We then go to the zoo to get a glimpse of and wonder at the little animals that used to run free in the wild.