Kuala, you're great!
I always enjoy my time in Kuala Lumpur. Maybe it's because I can relate to the people and food more readily than I can in Spain, or maybe it's because the tropical climate mirrors what I grew up with in Hawaii (Hot and Humid, except Hawaii has beautiful breezes), but whatever the case, I always manage to have a nice time there. Kuala Lumpur is filled with all manner of neat things to see and do, and because we had landed on the morning we had to start working at the racetrack, it was only fitting that we had a few free days after the first Preseason Test of '08 to explore the city and brave every and all food stands we came across. Well, to be honest, I think I was the only one who tried any of the true local foods and drinks, but then I'm probably the only guy on my team who grew up using chopsticks.
The work week at the Sepang F1 circuit was exhausting. Testing is always a little more rigorous for a Team than a normal race event, although there is much less stress and we don't have the time constraints of a morning session followed by an afternoon session. The whole day is a session during testing! We'd arrive in the mornings about an hour before the day would officially start, time to get the tires up to temperature and time to finish prep the bikes before they'd be running. Then the riders would go out, come back in, change something, switch bikes, go back out, come back in, over and over, all the while searching for the best combination, the best compromise. We logged several 14 hour days at the track in a row. The two previous days of set up at the track were a equally as frantic, because we had to change over a couple things on our GP8's and I was busy unpacking a ton of material from Ducati Corse that we'd be using over the course of the season.
New parts, new part numbers, and new files meant that I was in overdrive most of the time trying to learn and re-learn what had changed on the bike and also deal with the changes we'd made within the Team structure. Certain members had shifted laterally from one side of the garage to the other, stepped up to fill vacancies left by previous Team members, and the dynamic of the Team had shifted slightly into a more rigid atmosphere. At least for now. We'd been working with Alex Hofmann for two years, and there's something to be said for the amount of time a crew works together. We don't just work together, we live, eat, travel, and try to function as one. This was our first real time working with Toni Elias and Sylvain Guintoli, in conjunction with the the crews who would be supporting them throughout the season, and after such a long break without riding GP bikes over the winter break, it would take some doing to get back into the swing of things and build up the relationships and feelings needed for everything to start clicking. We needed time to gel.
We worked, and learned, and sweated. And we wore these strange Puma shoes with hard plastic soles. I will now be looking for aftermarket insoles.
The work week ended, and we had two days before we needed to start setting up in Phillip Island. Instead of spending one day in KL, and another day in PI resting up before the testing, we had arranged to stay in KL for two whole days, which for me was just great. Our hotel in Malaysia is pretty far from the circuit, about 40 minutes if there's no traffic, but it's also quite luxurious and I love the buffet. Not to mention I would be spending my days and evenings walking through downtown Kuala Lumpur.
The Hotel Ecquatorial in Bangi provides it's patrons with a bus that goes directly from the hotel entrance to the city center. For free. It leaves twice a day starting at noon and coming back at either 8:30PM or 11PM. It is the hot ticket for cheapskates, because a taxi will take you the same distance (about 45 minutes!) for roughly 20 USD. However, rather than spending money that I don't have because I'm still waiting for it, I opted for the bus. Not because I'm a cheapskate, hahaha.
Heading into KL on the Hotel provided bus. In the distance, the twin Petronas Towers, the Space Needle-looking TV Tower, and my Oakley GMT in the window's reflection.
Step one of travelling - stay hydrated. I absolutely love Soy Bean Milk. As a child I would spend my summers in Singapore visiting my grandmother, and the open market next to her government apartment complex had a milk vendor. For five cents I would get a frozen beer mug full of the stuff, and it's a drink I've come to appreciate since then. I spent most of our free time wandering around the city with Sergio, the track engineer (crew chief) for Sylvain Guintoli. We're rooming together this season, so I bought him a set of Hearo's ear plugs, haha. The shopping highlight, or rather, the Window-Shopping highlight of the trip was spending a few hours in the Starhill Gallery shopping center, which is full of high end watch dealers. We're talking ALL the major and minor players in the horological scene. I think that outside of Switzerland, this is probably the highest concentration of little spinning gears and springs that exists today, and all of the boutiques are within walking distance of one another. In a clean, air-conditioned environment. Such a tempting place, hahaha, now I just need to win the lottery!
Here's Valentino at the Jaeger Le Coultre store, Starhill Gallery.
Chinese New Year celebrations were just starting to get underway while we were there, as evidenced by copious amounts of red everywhere. Seconds after this photo was taken you could hear something that sounded like cats fighting, but it was only Chinese Opera.
Walking past one of the temples just outside the train station on the way to Chinatown. Little red lanterns everywhere.
The heart of Chinatown in KL is Petaling Street, but really it should be called Haggaling Street. So many transactions take place here daily, and no one is ever sure if they're getting a good deal or not. I ended up buying a small LED flashlight, which is perfect for checking out small motorcycle parts. Most of the typical replica goods were not present while we were there, the result of a crackdown by Customs because of an international policing meeting going on in Malaysia at that time.
After a week of Malay food, I broke down and headed to Hard Rock Cafe one night. The chicken is quite tasty, but the food there is still a little bit different from the standard Hard Rock recipes. I'm not sure why, but it's a question that I've asked myself several times. Maybe it has something to do with the water, or maybe it's because they really are cooking the french fries up in a giant Wok. Most free nights in Malaysia you can find several of the MotoGP teams and riders eating at the Hard Rock, so if you're a stalker type, this is where you should make your stake out.
Your bonus bike pics of the week come from a really cool like street that was filled with beautiful restaurants and clubs. There was a collection of race Nissan Skylines (matching bodywork and paintjobs) parked in a line on the street, just behind some porsches, but for the life of me, I can't remember the name of the street! If you have an idea of where I'm talking about, drop me a line, because I'd like to go back :)
I finished my night by packing up my gear and cooling down with one of these. We left the hotel early the next morning, took an 8.5 hour flight to Melbourne, and drove another 2 hours to Phillip Island. And we were in bed by midnight :)