Today brought some of the thrills of Kuala Lumpur: finding the ticket office for the ascent to the Petronas Twin Towers’ Sky Bridge, a walk through downtown, a real-life KL scam attempt, a view of the city from the top of the Menara KL TV tower, and meeting my esteemed colleagues Jörg and Carlos for dinner. Here is how I fared.
Suggested song: A Little Less Conversation by Elvis Presley
Today’s morning was taken up by doing laundry, a menial but necessary task after a week in hot and humid Southeast Asia. While necessary, it clearly is not a very adventurous or exciting activity. This would have to be remedied in the afternoon, I decided, and headed out just after noon had passed. Calling an Uber, I set off for the Petronas Twin Towers in KL Center.
Tower Ticket Trials
The first task of the day was to secure a ticket for the ascent up the towers. The last two days, the booking site was down, so I decided to get them at the ticket counter. After wandering, slightly lost, through the lobby and attached mall, I found the box office. Or so I thought. What I had found was the box office for the philharmonic. Here’s your public service announcement: Unfortunately, concert season won’t start until September 2. A bit bummed at missing the opportunity of listening to exquisitely played classical music, but armed with the directions to where I actually wanted to go, I left. A short while later, I had my ticket. Thursday morning, 9 am, it read, the earliest available time slot. Satisfied, I snapped a picture in the lobby, sat down for a coffee, and decided to amble along the KL City Walk next.
Another disappointment after the philharmonic let down awaited: the walk was closed for renovations. Oh well, still plenty to do. Setting my sights on the TV tower next meant only a short walk among the skyscrapers. Though a bit lazy, semi-aimless wandering was an enjoyable exercise.
My Own Personal Yogi S(c)am
And then, suddenly, an unmissable opportunity for mischief arrived, in the person of ‘my own personal yogi’! Now, KL is somewhat renowned, some would say infamous, for the short cons, or hustles, played upon unsuspecting tourists. Having read up on them beforehand — knowledge is power, after all — it was pretty obvious that I had just been picked as a mark for the ‘Yogi Scam’. Having some time on my hands and feeling rascally, I thought to myself: let the games begin.
The Yogi Scam is one of the more benevolent KL hustles, essentially a small-time, feel-good rip-off. The con artist pretends to be a (traveling) Yogi from India who has just found a bit of enlightenment that he wants to share with the world. Therefore, he roams the streets, finding people with a ‘good aura’ whom he can help along on the way to way to true happiness. A small donation, of say a hundred or two hundred ringgit, to help him on his journey, would be highly appreciated, of course. In exchange, he would share his insights on the mark’s — oh, sorry — on the worthwhile recipient’s way to permanent blissfulness.
This was too good to pass up on! Ok, smile, be a bit of a sucker, I thought to myself. I needed a name… What was that alias MacLeod used at the beginning of Highlander again? Oh, yeah, right, Russel Nash. Still smiling and nodding. Ok, the name is settled, now for a backstory. Antique dealer? No, too far-fetched for my outfit. Rugged boots, twill pants… right, construction engineer. Recently finished a dam project in Brazil. Wife, one kid, from the Upper Midwest, somewhere obscure, like Sioux City, Iowa. Perfect.
Still all smiles and nods, my Yogi suggested that we sit and talk a bit. Alright, I could do with a coffee, so I bought us two, and we chatted away. A little reluctantly, I poured out my life’s story. About a dull life in rural America, a constant restlessness that kept me away from home for months on end, a marriage that was suffering. All the while, I was wondering: should I ask him, why he had a Malaysian accent (although he looked like Indian stock)? And, shouldn’t Yogis be ascetic?
Well, apparently my marriage would be fine if I did this and that on certain days of the month, like the 14th, when according to the Chinese calendar, there was a full moon. Apparently, I was a moon person. Wait, Chinese calendar? I thought the guy was an Indian Yogi!? Well, keeping philosophies straight might be a skill he learned in the same school as cold-reading people. Abysmal execution. Well, maybe you can’t blame him, I was telling one blatant lie after another.
Soon enough, the talk came to donations, in a rather roundabout manner. Being handed a little envelope, I was asked to donate whatever I wished. After bumming a cigarette from a random passerby — after all, my hands were shaking from all the insights into my fake personality and that I really had to turn my made-up life around — I fished around in my pocket. The rest of the change from the café. Perfect. Telling the poor man that this was all I had left (apparently a drinking bender last night had left me nearly broke), I put a handful of ringgit into the little envelope. Smiling apologetically, I hugged him, took a selfie, and professed my deepest gratitude. We parted ways, but not before he reminded me that cigarettes and alcohol were bad for me and those around me. A giddy 90 minutes spent, I felt the investment was well worth it. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you are ever in need of some afternoon KL entertainment, how would you recognize the man? Well, here he is.
Substitute Altitude: Up the Menara KL Tower
Still feeling giddy from the encounter, I continued on to the TV tower. 105 ringgit bought me an elevator ride up the spire, after I had filled out a form stating I would not pull any crazy stunts, like BASE jumping or trying to off myself on purpose.
The view was decent, if a bit smoggy, with the added advantage that if your vantage point is not actually one inside the city’s most famous building, but from an equally tall structure right next to it, you actually get to enjoy its architectural aesthetics. A fun 30 minutes later, I headed down again and back over to the Twin Towers to meet my friends Jörg and Carlos, who had arrived in Malaysia earlier today.
Yogi Sam: You Always Meet Twice
And guess who I ran into at the next pedestrian crossing? Right, my helpful crutch, the ‘Yogi’. Standing there, looking at him, I thought of what could be done to up the ante even further. Hmmm, I got an idea. Waving at him while crossing the street, I asked him if he could spare five minutes. He could. So, I came clean with him, telling him the whole truth. My name was Thomas Crown — he could call me Tom — and I was a visiting researcher at a Singaporean university, originally holding a position as postdoctoral fellow in sociology at a prestigious east coast university. I was trolling the streets of KL in search for material for my next book, tentatively titled ‘Painting on the Canvas of Trust: The Artists of the Short and Long Con’.
I asked him, if he were willing to share some demographic information, in case I should send him an email questionnaire. Now, while he stuck by his story, I got his email. I left my ‘Yogi’, having the distinct impression that he felt like I was amusing myself at his expense. Maybe he is better at reading people than I thought he was!
A Dinner with Friends
A little while later, I was sitting by the pond at the back of the Twin Towers, trying to calm my giddiness by enjoying the illuminated fountains shooting up from the smooth surface. While the day did not provide the sights that I had planned to see, it gave further proof that true enjoyment comes from the people you meet. In fact, better than that, sometimes they provide one with incredible levels of rascally fun!
Speaking of enjoyable people, Carlos and Jörg soon joined me. They were still a bit knackered from their intercontinental journey but as hungry as I was. Strolling around, we decided on Korean for dinner. A tasty meal with friends, isn’t that a great way to cap off the day? Well, it is! And now, after another enjoyable chat with my excellent host Mahesh, it is time for me to find some sleep.