Wednesday 12 September 2018

17 Days in Malaysia: Part One - The beginning

So, it's been five days since I returned from being overseas for two and a half weeks for the International Federation of Library Associations World Library and Information Congress (henceforth referred to as IFLA WLIC). After a long-haul flight returning me from the tropics to the comparatively-chilly city of Canberra, I promptly caught a nasty cold, which I am still recovering from.

At work, people have been asking me, "So, how was your trip? Did you have a good time?" To which  I usually answer a combination of, "Yes, it was good... I think?", "It was so busy, I can't remember", and "Oh god, I just want to sleep for a week." Honestly, it was such a hectic whirlwind of a trip, that I haven't really had the chance to process it all. So, that's what I'm going to try to do now. In six parts.

Part One: The beginning.

Many moons ago, I bought my return flights to Kuala Lumpur at one of those travel fairs at the Canberra Convention Centre. I was particularly excited, as they were on the new flights flying directly from Canberra to Singapore, with a connecting flight to KL. That's right - no more catching the 3.5 hour Murrays Express to Sydney Airport, to line up for hours to check in, and get past immigration and security. It was a 15-minute Uber to the airport, and there was literally nobody in the queue to check in my luggage or go through security.

The downside? It was an 11pm flight, arriving in Singapore at 5:15am. Given that I had a substantial layover, with a planned library tour at 10am, and I hadn't really slept much on the plane, I found that my best option was to wander across into the transit lounge, and find somewhere to nap for a few hours until it was time to head out into Singapore.

Protip: The best place to nap for free in the Singapore transit lounge is the 24-hour movie cinema. Most other places will be quieter, but less comfortable, and with bright lights shining in your eyes. However, I can sleep through explosions, as long as it's a dark and comfortable.

Three hours later, I was feeling a little more refreshed and ready to face the world, so I headed through immigration, got a brand new stamp in my passport, and got on a bus headed for the Tampines Regional Library - where I arrived around 9:30am.

It turned out that my nap had been the best idea, because (a) it was already pretty warm outside, and (b) most places in Singapore appear to be closed before 10am, with the exception of food centres, Starbucks and McDonalds.

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After finding some simple-but-tasty chicken rice (Singapore's national dish) at the nearby hawker food centre, I arrived at the Tampines Regional Library and was met by Shi Lei, who gave me a tour of the whole library. My first impression was "Wow - where are all the service staff?" The entrance has a super touch-screen shopping mall-style navigational kiosk. All book returns are through a self-service returns chute robot, which transports the returned books for sorting and shelving once full. And all borrowing is done by the user using a mobile app, which scans the barcode on the book and issues it to the reader! The building is designed so that the further up you go the five floors, the more conducive it is to quieter usage, with the more collaborative and lively spaces downstairs, and the study and reading spaces upstairs. I particularly liked their "Culinary Studio" i.e. cooking class space, with cookbooks in the adjacent area, their teen spaces (both indoors and outdoors) with a screen that they can post their selfies to, and the digital signage which was engaging and dynamic in its style (and I must found out what platform they use for managing the content!). Best of all, they had a MakerSpace that actually maintains a core group of people using it on a regular basis, complete with 3D printers, raspberry pi kits, sewing machines, green screen and video suite, and other gadgets that I wasn't familiar with.
It wasn't until the following week that I discovered that this library was one of the five shortlisted finalists for the Public Library of the Year Award. Which is not at all surprising.

An hour or so later, it was time to get a coffee, and go exploring. I didn't really have enough time to head all the way into Singapore city and back, so instead I ventured to the East Coast Lagoon Food Village for some tasty BBQ sambal stingray and fresh cane juice...

...before jumping on a bus back to Changi Airport for my connection flight to Kuala Lumpur!

I arrived at KLIA at 5:45pm but it took a good hour of waiting at the immigration queue, finding the bus to KL Sentral, before I was on my way to town. Unbeknownst to me, it was also the evening before a public holiday, and so the traffic was particularly heavy, and I didn't arrive at the hostel until after 8pm. Finally finding my modest loft room, I ventured a block away to Chinatown, and found my first street food meal in Malaysia - Hokkien mee! Satisfied and travel-weary, I returned to the hostel for a shower and an early night.

The next day, I awoke to appreciate my hostel for the first time in full daylight. Staying in the Chinatown area, I was in one of the oldest parts of Kuala Lumpur. And although I wasn't conveniently close to the Conference Centre, like all the fancy hotels, there was a free public bus that would get me there in about 20 minutes. And at a fifth of the cost of said fancy hotels, it was definitely worth it!
This was my one day off before the satellite event started, which gave me a chance to settle in, do a little bit of wandering around, which mostly consisted of buying socks, and trying some of KL's world-famous egg tarts.

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And then, it was time to get to business - I met up with the team from the New Professionals Special Interest Group, to make the necessary last-minute preparations for our 2-day satellite event, IFLAcamp, which was to commence the next day.........

Stay tuned for Part 2: IFLAcamp!

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