One of the things that will live forever in my head, when it comes to Kuala Lumpur, is our farewell at the airport. The car drew up and a smart, white-jacketed young man was waiting to meet us. He handled the luggage, ceremoniously paraded us to the check-in desk, and made sure we went to the right line.
Once our luggage was checked in, he began a small hymn to Malaysia and its glories. Had we found our stay comfortable?
“Very comfortable,” I said. Sensing that this was not enough, in the silence that followed, I added, “Extremely comfortable. In fact, that was one of the most comfortable stays I think I’ve ever had anywhere, don’t you agree, Peter?”
“I can’t think,” said Peter, “of when I have been more comfortable. The five items of laundry a day was a particularly nice touch.”
We reached an escalator where we had to go down to security. This was obviously the edge of the young man’s territory. “You have to go down there,” he said, as if the wastelands of Mordor awaited. “I cannot come with you. You have your check-in cards, your passports?” We showed them to him. I wondered if he would ask if we had fresh handkerchiefs. “Now,” he said. “If there is any trouble, any problem at all, your plane does not leave or there is some other problem, we have a desk on the arrivals floor. Any problem, you come back and see me.” We promised. “And when you come back to Malaysia, where will you stay?”
“How could we think of staying anywhere else?” I said. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
So down we went into Mordor. On the way down the escalator, I said to Peter: “I don’t think that man will be truly happy unless he gets on the plane with us and makes sure our seat-belts are fastened.”
Actually, KL airport is nothing like Mordor; it is clean, well-signposted, has a charming array of gift shops, and its very own internal rainforest. All of which I appreciated when we got off the subway train that took us from security to our gate and Peter realised his passport was no longer in his possession. Back he went on the train to security. I mean, you have to put your belt in a tray and your shoes in another tray, your laptop in a slightly different tray and your passport between your teeth unless otherwise instructed. The passport was obviously back there with several unclaimed belts and some shoelaces people in a hurry had had to abandon.
I bought pearls from Borneo for my sister and some chocolates for my mother-in-law because they were called Beryl, just as she is. Beryl chocolates: the last thing I’d have expected to find in a Malaysian airport. I visited the airport’s own rainforest. I bought a monkey puppet for my daughter as it had a winning smile. I visited the expensive shops — I have never felt the urge to acquire, at an airport, cameras, jewellery or silk scarves, but I am happy for sales assistants to sing their praises. I visited the rainforest again. I was just about to get on the subway train in the opposite direction as well, throw myself on the mercies of Mandarin Oriental Man and demand a replacement passport — such was his confidence, I was sure he would be able to rustle one up — when a train drew up and Peter got off it.
“Did you find your passport?”
“Was it still at security?”
“Where was it then?”
“In my pocket. Sorry it took so long. What have you been doing?”
“Buying some chocolates called Beryl.”
“I don’t believe you.”
I demonstrated the truth of my statement.
Unfortunately they got squashed on the flight home. Entirely my fault. I put the duty-free on them in the overhead locker. Sorry, Beryl.