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Kuala Lupur, known locally as KL. In my friend U-weih’s office as he edits some made for TV piece (to make money). He’s in final stages of prepping a film to shoot in August, based on Conrad’s Almayer’s Folly, script of which he’d given me 3+ years ago and which I never got through.  Not his fault but mine – I seem unable to read a script.  We’re staying with him, partner, 11 month old twins, and 4 year old daughter – all lovely.   U-weih is a funny guy, connected to the arts and theater and cinema world here, a little local powerhouse of some kind.   He just came back from US, where he holed up in fading hippy haven Woodstock, working on his script.   We’re just in from a short stay in Malacca, which if I recall properly also figures in a Conrad story.  It was interesting, though its Unesco World  Heritage status did not protect its center from being warped into Disney shape by commercialism, and now “Jonker’s Walk” – a long street of vernacular architecture is buried in the signs and lights of tourism, and its full length little stands and stores are hawking ubiquitous trash items to be found in any flea market and tourist trap on the globe.  Parallel to it though is another street, similar, but not so drowned, and having a stunningly beautiful Chinese temple circa 1600 something, as well as a Buddhist temple, and a mosque.  On this street one can see a hint of what the other was once like.   The center of Malacca is a mix of run-down low buildings, Indian, Malay and Chinese eateries, shops, etc., and a few new high-rise hotels.  On the sea front, doing a damned good job of hiding whatever beach there is, is a phalanx of giant hotels and shopping malls – yep, selling the same crap you could find in USA or Europe or the airport.  The wreckage inflicted by globalization is, well, global.

Kuala Lumpur has clearly grown immensely since I was here almost 4 years ago – back then the Petronas Towers shot up, with little in the way of high-rise competition.  Now a sea of glossy new skyscrapers vie for attention, new freeways swoop over the landscape, and a vast sprawl of housing developments, resorts, big schools and factories lead into the center – clearly money, or perhaps its ersatz soon-to-be-bitter equivalent, has run through here like a flood.  Everything is spiffier and cleaner than it was a mere 4 years past, and the remnants of “3rd and developing world” signs seems to have been replaced with a would-be Singapore slickness.  It isn’t there yet, but its clear that’s where it is heading.

We’re here another day or maybe two, then back toward S’pore by bus, along the eastern coast, hoping to find a cheap hotel for a few days before we fly back to Seoul.  U-weih dangles a proposition for a return here, to do a seminar during the KL Film Festival, in November.  Marcella likes it here, and we’re still nosing around for an alternative job to the Seoul one.  Maybe – though I doubt – something can be wrestled up here.

No, its not Malaysia, though in some places it could be.  Amazon instead.  But here and nearby, forests have been stripped, for the wood, and to make space for money-making plantations for coconut oil, and other such things.   And similarly the culture has in some degree, been stripped as well, and like Korea, one feels like everything has been Disneyfied, shifted to a simulacrum of some original, even when the original is sitting right there.  Though that is seldom, and if so, then draped in a wash of commercialism where the bottom line is the bottom line.   On the flanks of KL are McMansion colonies, gated communities, as obscene as those outside Denver or any other hot US city.  And I suspect they are similarly suspect in the same way as the American ones:  shoddy construction hidden by a cheap veneer of  “class,” and shoddy financing to go with it.   The collapse doesn’t seem to have arrived here…. yet.    But I feel the shoe falling somehow.

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