Itsumi keeps complaining about the heat, then I'd go GURL this is BREEZY. Occasional showers, sure - but this is by far the most comfortable weather in my last 7 weeks. And that word almost sums up my visit; COMFORTABLE.
Mont Kiara, where I'm staying, is like the Bel-Air of KL. The condo is on the 27th floor of a high rise with 24hr security, valet/car wash and the direct access to a 5-story shopping mall complete with a grocery store/deli, bar/restaurants, coffee/juice bars, H&M/Zara, gym/pool...the list goes on. A magic touch here is the inclusion of many Japanese brands that cater to the expats who could choose to be totally sheltered from any Southeast Asian-ness. KL is the city that HCMC (and probably other Asian cities) aspires to be. What's crazier is that she is still growing as fast as HCMC is, and I'm not sure if my Sai Gon can catch up. Cause she is WAY ahead of the curve; natural resources, central location, diversity, infrastructure and growing tourism. Maybe Singapore is the bastard son of Malaysia; heard they say "imagine everything you hate about KL and you get Singapore." ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
By the way, I need to apologize if I come off unreasonably down on SG. Upon meeting 2 badasses from Singapore at an awesome jazz spot No Black Tie, I was convinced that I'll need to pay a proper visit to the city.
A nice lead-in to the music talk - Before my arrival, Shinji the GM had told me about Gerald Singh, the first Malay to make the Billboard chart and just a warm-hearted human who rips on vocals, guitar and bass. His '80s act was solid (big thumbs up for playing "I Want to Break Free" by Queen) but his Sunday semi-acoustic duo with Albert Sirimal, another monster, was the inspiration that I needed. Exciting takes on familiar tunes, some local favorites, and guitar tones for days. We didn't stay late enough for the infamous jam session at Waikiki Bar, but the little bit I caught and the word around the campfire says it's THE venue I need to revisit. Every musician that I met says there's "enough work" and I believe it; bars and restaurants everywhere are hosting some sort of live music almost nightly with decent sound system that is actually manned. One corporate exec I met, a music fan, says the Muslim presence raises the price of alcohol higher, so most venues cater to higher income brackets, making their ops lucrative, yet the musicians are underpaid. Gerald wishes for more support for (non-Malay) original music, but neither is unique to this market lol. I'd love to dig in this scene further cause it looks damn healthy.
What else looks healthy? Muslims. A blanket statement, sure - but just look at them jamming their cellphones in their hijab chatting hands-free. Look at them shopping clothes and playing video games at the biggest shopping mall that I ever set foot in. Look at them just chillin', eating and playing, young and old. It should not be (and really wasn't) a surprise, but I can't help but think about how little of these images we see in the US media. Especially to see them as a part of this crazy multicultural gumbo, it makes me long for the same level of integration in the US, where I thought would be the place to embrace diversity. 911, in my view, turned that around. As a foreigner I felt that the entire nation was going angry, paranoid and, frankly, insane. Fast forward 16 years, the threat of terrorism feels even more urgent with the help of technology that brings an overwhelming amount of info with such immediacy, the world seems to be struggling and freaking out about virtually shrinking. Doesn't help when the most accessible "information" tends to be clickbait headlines. How do you form an opinion on the group of people you don't get to see up close? When grossly-biased leaders deny the credibility of journalism while spewing lies, how does a nation get to learn its neighbors who inevitably affect its future? With so much accessible at our fingertips, how do we understand so little about each other?
Rolling with the GM has been tremendous in that aspect; in his 18th year at a 120-year-old company and 4th in KL, Shinji is a bonafide trader that flies to and from every Asian country on a weekly basis, hires and trains KL locals and Japanese FoBs, shakes hands with all races in the name of business. He needed to learn the ways and nuances of every culture in the region to ensure that the deals are made fair and square, ideally with all parties involved going home smiling. It might take finding the right food for whatever dietary restriction or tastes, or drinking till you pass out in public so they drop their guard. Needless to say, I ate GOOD. His research would reach anywhere from the rowdy night market food on Jalan Alor where excited (and drunken) tourists flock, the juiciest duck I have ever tasted at Legendary Roast Duck which his Kendo buddies operate, to the secluded vibe of Tamarind Hills where Japanese wives gather for lunch and get toasty with glasses of wine. I just feel lucky that my boy, a Clapton fan whom I forced to learn King Crimson and Screaming Headless Torsos tunes back in the day, now has so much to teach me.
Like the lives of expats and their families. One Saturday we visited their kids school where 800+ Japanese kids from age 3 to 15 roam within the guarded walls and study adhering to the curriculum and guidelines provided by Ministory of Education, ensuring their smooth re-entry to the domestic high school system (if they wish to). For a non-parent (and certainly a non-academic) this was a rare opportunity to revisit Japanese elementary/secondary school life after decades, let alone the one that's set outside of the homeland. Outside of nostalgia, to be reminded of the slightly feudal, almost militarist tendencies of Japanese schooling annoyed the old rebel inside that had been asleep for ages. A literal No-Child-Left-Behind attitude, a general encouragement of self-policing among children, a total by-the-book methodology; basically everything that made me a young all-knowing cynic that turned to music instead. These kids, on top of having to adopt in a new environment, face a distinct dilemma of Should I Stay or Should I Go when their parent's stint comes to an end. Growing up is never easy, but these adorable three are lively, joyful and optimistic. I am not in a position to comment on parenting, but what a powerhouse, while her man is mostly absent, to keep three pubescent girls straight in a strange land where she herself has to adopt to. And to maintain a great sense of humor she always possessed from way back when, to stay true to her Southern Osakan grit. GM is a lucky SoB.
Or rather, I'm a lucky SoB to have these folks in my life.
Soundchaser/two-time Independent Music Awards finalist. New EP "Six Songs from Insomnia" is out on all major streaming platforms.