Sunday, June 16, 2013

Malaysia

Day 1 Shangri-La, Twin Towers
Flying into Kuala Lumpur you can see the palm-oil moncoculture - mile after mile of palm trees. My driver was amazed that I had travelled half way around the world with just hand-luggage, with the greeting ‘You here to party!”. On asking about the palm oil, he was at pains to explain that most young Orang-Utangs die anyway, as sure a sign as any that things are not quite right. But he was far more eager to discuss football. I was back, after 20 years to the Shangri-La hotel, the difference being the fact that KL had become a modrn metropolis, rather than a city of shacks.  A Copse of skyscrapers were visible from my hotel window, including the twin towers of the Petronas building. This is a magnificent piece of architecture, two horizontally ribbed rockets joined by a bridge. Inside, the standard shopping mall but at the back a lovely park.
I was here to give some lectures at a conference, in the university, and a visit to the Malaysian government, so off to dinner with the redoubtable Julie Stone of the University of derby, who do business out here. Walking back past the Beach Bar, famous for its ‘ladyboys’ I was almost pulled in by someone whose grip seemed just a little too strong for a woman.
Day 2 – Lecture to academics
Long day of 14 lectures in a row! Luckily I was up first with a keynote, in which I did my ‘Don’t lecture me!” talk, along with some analysis of MOOCs. At least we had ample opportunity to talk over dinner where Paul Chang (who owns a University) gave a rousing and passionate speech. We did bump into the king when at the base of the Twin Towers. His police bodyguard stopped us but was amazingly friendly, referring to his love of the ‘red team’ – Liverpool. There’s an election going on and the flags are out but the TV and newspapers are full of stories about corruption.
Day 3 – Lecture to students
Off to give a lecture to University students. Again, I pointed towards a future where lectures would be seen as odd (through a lecture). They were attentive and had lots of questions. Then off to the Government quarter with its massive brick buildings, to meet with the skills Minister and a team doing e-learning for the public sector. Rather odd Confucian remark from someone in the car that referred to rape. Then back to the hotel and out for dinner with some of the University of Derby staff.
Day 4 British High Commission
A trip to the British High Commission and was met with what looked like the Green Zone in Baghdad, a double-fenced, barbed-wire affair with metal gates and guards galore. Inside, however, was a lovely chap (embassy staff are always chaps) who proved both knowledgeable and useful.

On the way back to the airport I saw a girl come off her small motorbike. Skidding on the wet surface after a short shower. It was as if she had hit ice. Someone stopped and she was fine but it was at a  junction and she was close to being run over by the traffic. Seemed like a fitting metaphor for what’s happening here as the country hurtles at speed into the future but is bound to hit the skids, whether it be pollution, strife or political instability.

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