Kuala Lumpur is a level from Wipeout. You know, that PlayStation racing game with the flying cars? Look, my life is games, so new places evoke memories from my history with them, but the comparisons are rarely so apt. Kuala Lumpur is that future. Since the turn of the century, it has exploded with the concrete, steel, and glass dreams of the worlds foremost architects and engineers. They’ve already built so much and they’re not stopping — these guys are planning 300 skyscrapers in the next five years! If New York is a jungle, this is a theme park — Come See the Future! — twisting and angled monoliths rise upwards, reflecting the sky’s beauty in the day, and glistening with their own sparkles at night. This may all sound hyperbolic, but it really is the future — your city might have trains, but not nearly as clean, new, and ubiquitous as the ones here; your city might have sky-scrapers, but not as fanciful, radical, or plentiful as the ones here; your city might have malls, but not as… I think you get it. Kuala Lumpur is the first modern Asian metropolis I’ve seen, and I’m floored by it. Perhaps the rest of the country isn’t as far on the tech-tree, but those doubting this region’s future as an economic powerhouse need look no further than KL for a glimpse at the coming bourgeoisie.
We awake before dawn and take a train to the Batu Caves on the fringe of the city. Rarely are we on the move so early, but by the end of the day, over a million people will make the same trek, and we need to beat the crowds. The sun rises as we pull into the station, already packed with a nascent mob. We dive into the throng, pushing past the food hawkers and counterfeiters, past the ferris wheel and thrill rides. We’re not here for those. The further we go, the louder the speaker becomes — booming rhythmic music punctuated with traditional shehnai and sitar notes — though eventually, even that is drowned by the chanting: Vel Vel! one man shouts, Vel Vel! a cohort replies. We’re finally close enough to see them: the marchers in the Thaipusam parade. Vel Vel! come the chants again. The marchers are mostly descendants of Tamil Indians, celebrating the Hindu god of war, Murugan. Vel Vel! The worshippers show their dedication through various burdens, the most obvious: piercing hooks and skewers through their skin and tongues. But Murugan won’t let them feel pain. Vel Vel! Some devotees are shaved and painted. The paint drips with the sweat on their heads — even at dawn, Malaysia sizzles. Vel Vel! They also carry their burdens — most have milk pots on their heads, but some have intricate floats of many colours and feathers hoisted atop their shoulders, with even more hooks in their backs to show their reverence. Vel Vel! After fasting for a month and marching for hours, they continue to his temple in the caves. Some are solemn and stoic. Some hop and dance and sing. Some lick the air with red on their tongues — likely their own blood. Vel Vel! All have crazed eyes. A passionate insanity. Vel Vel! The gods are in the air. Vel Vel Muruga Muruga! Vaa Vaa Muruga Muruga! Vadi Val Azhaga Muruga! Adiyaar Elaiya Muruga!
Again, this week’s been vacation, a small treat for a few months hard work. The break’s been good. I’ve found myself explaining the game to more people — new friends in Malaysia — and I’m identifying the strengths in my pitch, the best probably being the randomness (which might need to be a more important focus, perhaps at the expense of complex prose). Thus far, I’ve written profiles for my main characters — the detective, the rival, the victim, the mentor. Next week, I’ll start actually crafting the scenes, and hopefully some writing — like, actual, will-be-in-the-game text — will finally get done!
Photos by Amanda Gansfield