Rushing to the cinema to see Avatar, through Chinatown, I get caught in a rainstorm. In Petaling St, the traders all pull flimsy cellophane-style coverings over themselves and their stalls. The giant video ad screens chatter on unperturbed. The clouds turn the gleaming steel of the Petronas Towers slate grey.

It occurs to me that en route to see the present’s latest version of the future, I am rushing through the opening scenes of Blade Runner — the past’s most recent version of the future, now itself surpassed. The ruined rain-drenched city — a post-social world of street survival, the layers of rich and poor literally concretised in different levels — is here now. And as with all dystopias, its coming-to-pass is so mundane that one almost longs for the full horror. So, no replicants, no live mutant snacks, no sexy Tankgirl types, snake entwined. Just hawkers squeezed between the overpass outlets, selling nasi goreng from Tupperware containers.

Is KL the worst city in the world? It must come close.

Wrecking the existing town for a second-tier concrete metropolis, it has gained no sublimity, no inhuman awe, of the sort one could find in Hong Kong or Shanghai. Instead, there’s mid-level ’80s and ’90s skyscrapers, scattered in urban non-planning, the concrete already dulling and flaking. The chaotic building process made a city whose maintenance costs are phenomenal, so tiled footpaths laid two decades ago are coming apart.

The remnant areas — Chinatown, little India, Merdeka — are meagre and second rate, waiting the blowing of a new real estate bubble. The transport lines remain unintegrated, so anyone lacking a monthly ticket, needs to buy three to go three stops. It is not a horrifying city, in the manner, presumably of Lagos or Tiraspol — but even the horror would be something. No doubt many visitors say the same of Melbourne.

The future is here everywhere: T1N1 — prepare for the second wave, say the swine flu ads, with graphics urging people to keep a metre distance between each other. Did they deliberately choose a mid-’70s style to remind one of Soylent Green and other eco-horror films? Why don’t I feel more alarmed?

Avatar not nearly as bad in the scripting as many made out — anything more than an adolescent morality tale, and the fish tank-style 3D visuals would look even more ridiculous in the dialogue scenes. James Cameron’s snarling tough-talk disguises the fact that he’s the last of the New Left hippies — from Terminator 2 to Avatar his continued line has been that technology is a death force ranged against the female — and now indigenous — expression of humanity in harmony with nature.

In Avatar this is seen as reconcilable with information technology, ranged against old-style industry. The blue-skinned Navi indigenous that the humans mind-meld with are less noble savages than digital natives — hotdesking cybernomads logging on to the world spirit from a giant eco-tourist resort. As propaganda against the Bush-era approach to Iraq and points East, it is detracted from only by its loopy belief that indigenous life is without conflict, brutality or, apparently, work. Unlike Blade Runner it will not simply date — it will rot, ridiculous in a decade, unwatchable in two.

Logging on in the five storey Petronas mall, between the Coffee Bean and Auntie Amie’s bagels, the Wi-Fi service provides drop down menus for my age-group, sex … and race. Among the most jarring things I’ve ever experienced, the archaic category cheerfully presenting itself in cyber-tedium.

The fishballs from the 7-11 — the local one shares a building with a police station — are better than any of the ones from hawker stalls thus far. I wish it weren’t so, but it is.

Time Out Kuala Lumpur advertises for two full-time reviewers to cover its rather thin roster of attractions. I consider applying not despite everything I hate — the humidity, the concrete — but because of it. Only time I’ve ever had such a similarly perverse urge: seeing an advertisement for English-language tour guides at Dachau.

Should I marry D? Not unless she tells me her full name.

In Kinokuniya bookshop, a new sexy black edition of Mein Kampf. Scholarly edition? It’s in the “new arrivals” section. Around the corner, Henry Ford’s The International Jew‘ — “the book they don’t want you to read” emblazoned on the cover — nestles among the sigma six and gettingtoyes guides of the business section.

Wi-Fi down in the entire five-star hotel for the second day — online communication reduced to two coin-operated terminals in the basement.

The taxi sweeps past the gleaming KL airport terminal, en route to the equally busy LCCT — the low-cost carrier building, slab concrete, second-rate shops. The romance of air travel, the cathedral airports — De Gaulle, DC, Narita — are over, as much projections into the future as the frolicsome fancies of Avatar. Perhaps that’s a general rule — the future is here when its representations stop trying to look like anything, cease to embody ideas, are just there. If we fly at all in the future, it will be from these copies of Balaclava railway station.

I have seen the future, brother, it is mundane — no home tree, no mind-meld, no fires of hell, just falling concrete and humidity.

Peter Fray

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