Looking up at the two spires towering into the sky, I was more drawn to the bridge halfway up which connected them. The building was impressive, but it wasn’t magical – as the name “patronus” towers would suggest. The real name was Petronas, as in Petronas Oil and Gas Malaysia.
What WAS magical was the park found just behind. It’s rolling hills and varied foliage led one to believe they had just stepped through the wardrobe into the jungles of Malaysia. Then the thunder rolled in and the sudden downpour drove us under a nearby pavilion where we were able to watch and smell the park come alive, while the city faded out of view.
The next day welcomed another Malaysian landscape, only this time it was through the eyes of one who lived the jungle life. We met him at the museum. It had only been open two days. We were its 25th visitor. The Cartoon and Comic Museum was tucked away in the folds of the Botanical Gardens. It felt special.
The walls of the museum were covered in work of local comics, cartoonists, and illustrators. Some drawings depicted political satire, others seemed to represent the 60s itself – feathered bangs and big collars. The cartoons that intrigued me most were also the most jubilant. Their subject was of a little naked boy playing childish games with palm fronds and wicker baskets. Even more intriguing was that the little naked boy was standing next to me.
His name was Lat, he was in his mid-fifties, and they were his cartoons. Lat is a pretty big deal in Malaysia. So much so that upon arriving home to Abu Dhabi, a friend of mine from Malaysia was in utter disbelief that I had met him. His drawings were a big deal too. They struck a chord with many of his fellow Malaysians. They had grown up in the houses depicted in his drawings. They had lived the cartoon.
With each of his storied descriptions, the pictures began to take shape in my mind. The naked baby being whipped around on a palm frond by his older brother wasnt just a comic, it was real. Lat grew up in a different Malaysia than the one we had toured the past two days. The pictures he drew weren’t of skyscrapers and mega malls but of small wooden Malay huts which were built on stilts to avoid both weather and wildlife. He wasn’t even 60 and his life had become an exhibit in a museum. It was fascinating to hear him speak of the changes.
We wandered out into the botanical gardens in awe of the beautiful story we had just heard. We marveled at this garden oasis in the midst of a booming city in a small corner of Southeast Asia. How strange it must be to grow up in a world that disappears right before your eyes. To draw your life in passing and then to watch it poster the walls of a museum, giving perspective to passing tourists. Surreal.
We walked the winding paths of the park, pondering the city, a mix of old and new, hibiscus and highrises. I for one favored the former.
As we prepared to leave the park I tilted my head and looked at the horizon everso. At the right angle the trees seemed to hide the unfinished business of man. The construction and the traffic and the bustling cars were shielded, and what your eyes were left with were two towers and creation itself.
That was Kuala Lumpur.