29 May, Malaysia – ‘All Over The Place – Asia’
None of us got much sleep on our night flight to Kuala Lumpur from Delhi, so Friday was spent mostly in bed. On Saturday we were treated to the arrival of my next co-presenter Ben Shires, who promptly went to bed as well, so you couldn’t exactly say we experienced all Kuala Lumpur has to offer, but we’re all shattered from India and WE’RE NOT ON HOLIDAY.
Today we were visiting a place I highly recommend to any tourist swinging by these parts – the Batu Caves. Less than a half hour drive away from the Malaysian capital’s mega skyscrapers and motorways sits a huge craggy limestone lump with a giant golden statue of the Hindu god of war standing at the bottom of a long flight of steep concrete steps. The Hindus began to build shrines in the caves just over 125 years ago, and it’s basically an environmentalist’s nightmare. Once we’d scaled the steps (where the odd monkey hops about looking for “offerings” from pilgrims) two enormous natural caverns bigger than cathedrals opened up to us. At the top of them rays of sunlight penetrate the gloom and inspire wonder at the natural world and all it has to offer. But at floor level the base of the cave has been concreted over and various shrines and even soft drink stalls installed. The bats that gave the caves their name have long departed due to all this, although the government has reclaimed one cave and some of the natural habitat clings on there. Some of the crew popped in and saw centipedes as long as you forearm. Urgh.
Oh, forgot to mention – this whole time Ben and I were dressed as Batman and “Hindu” Robin. The way visitors were acting you’d think we were Hindu gods ourselves. We couldn’t go three steps without people grabbing our arms and demanding to have their photos taken with us, and some of them actually thought we were filming a new Batman movie, which was quite mind boggling considering we basically looked like we were dressed for a low budget stag do and Ben still had his glasses on over his Batman mask for comic effect.
The weather’s sunny and humid here so we were delighted to peel off our synthetic costumes for lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant, before we were subjected to more discomfort in a pair of all over bio-hazard work overalls complete with plastic eye goggles and face mask. This was for the opening of our item about durian – the world’s smelliest fruit. By this point we’d lost our cameraman Geraint due to some mystery illness he’s picked up (he’d gone back to the hotel. He wasn’t dead). It’s the first time that this has ever happened to us in 6 series of filming this show, but luckily our director Al if a “self shooter”, so we made the best of it on our smaller 305 camera.
Durian is funny stuff. Known over here as “The King Of Fruit” it’s banned on public transport due to its pungent smell, which is quite hard to describe. Some have said it smells like raw sewage or rotting flesh but I thought it smelt more like someone had left the gas on. At a large durian stall by the side of the road they cracked open a melon sized green thorny pod and handed us what looked like a pair of yellow kidneys. Our job as TV presenters is obviously to describe what eating one was like, and it proved quite hard. The best I could come up with was buttery, sweet and rich, with a very slight fizziness. It’s weird basically.
Our aim had been to take some out to tourists and try and tempt them into eating the stuff, but being a cameraman down we were running out of sunlight and had to head instead to a nearby market full of native Malaysians. Unsurprisingly they weren’t particularly interested in sampling a fruit they’d grown up with (I’m not sure I’d be very interested in 2 Malaysians handing out apples), but we managed to attract a couple of durian lovers in the end and just about salvaged things as the sun set and the dark storm clouds rumbled a thundery warning for us to get back to our hotel.