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Kuala Lumpur – A Melting Pot Metropolis

October 26, 2012

Kuala Lumpur, also known as the “KL,” is about the size of San Diego but [to me] is a hybrid of NYC, Chi-town, and Houston: the “micro-cities” and the hustle-n-bustle of New York City, the tall modern skyscrapers and metro-rails of Chicago, and the diversity of restaurants that you’d find in Houston. This place is like any other booming U.S. city with the loud horn-honking coming from BMWs and Protons (they do exist) along with the smell of spoiled food and whatever else it is that gives big cities that foul odor. I learned [via a cab driver] that the 1.5 million people that inhabit this city are a compilation of Muslim Malaysians, Chinese Taoists and Buddists, Indian Hindus with a healthy population of Christians. I’ve heard that some of the best parts of Malaysia reside outside of these city walls; however, we just wanted to pop in for a quick visit – mostly to take the elevator ride to the top of one of the world’s tallest buildings: the Petrona Towers.

The Petrona Twin Towers stand side by side at 1483 feet above the Earth’s crust. Each building has eighty-eight floors and gives you a 360 degree view of this capital city. They are the sixth tallest building(s) in the world, towering over all of the skyscrapers in the U.S. but falling short to the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I can’t help but to mention that while looking at these towers there was a powerful tug at my heart as I thought of our WTC Twin Towers. Its painful to think of them as being non-existent. On a sunnier-note, I was fortunate to take a 20 minute bird’s eye view of a sea of skyscrapers. It is just as beautiful of a site standing below and peering up at the towers that stretch out into the blue Malaysian sky. At the feet of these towers is a large and very ritzy shopping center: think NYC’s fifth avenue meets Houston’s Galleria. We didn’t do much shopping since our bags are slightly over the weight limit for Malaysian Airlines (20kg) which will force me to wear all of my heaviest clothing on my next flight. If you are unsatisfied with the shopping there, you can just go over to the other two large shopping centers that are just blocks away.

On our first full day here we took a “hop -on, hop-off” tour bus around the city. (I had to pop a Zofran to help me battle the bumpy and weaving bus ride.) I sat next to a woman that was visiting from Scotland. Since we were only centimeters apart, I decided to break the awkward silence by bringing up the only thing that I have in common with her country: my maiden name. It is most definitely a Scottish name and from what I once learned as a child while touring Epcot Center in Orlando, FL was that my former last name came from a tough-Scotish clan that feuded long, long ago with the Crawford clan. “That sounds ’bout right” she said backing up my research “you can’t go anywhere without bumping into someone with either of those last names.” One other thing that she told me (because food was the next subject on my list of inquiries) was that one of her favorite meals was haggis which is sheep stomach stuffed with potatoes and turnips. I’m not sure which was more shocking: the sheep stomach or the fact the someone eats turnips. I thought the latter was extinct. I promised her that I would try it if I ever made the trip to Scotland. I’m sure it’s better than crispy duck.

Our first stop was to Petaling Street in China-Town where you can get your fill of knock-off designer purses and Rolexes. I’ve been to many China-Town’s and I feel that this one does not hold up to the standards of those in the U.S. as the quality of the imitated products was sub-par. I couldn’t help but think to myself if this is what Romney was talking about during the last debate when he referred to China stealing from American businesses. I surcame to the pressure of one of the merchants and purchased a sweet pair of “Armani” Sunglasses that I bargained down to 20 Ringgits. We were initially warned that the prices for goods on the street increase by 40-50% when they see white skin, so I was not going to settle for anything less than a 60% decrease in the listed price.

From there, we started heading by foot to the Central Market where there were more shops (with much less bargaining room). While at Central Market, we decided to grab food in the food court where there was a multitude of Asian cuisine options. My chicken (again with much less meat compared to our hormone-boosted chicken) and fried rice that came to a whopping 6.30 Ringgits ($3.10) was gratifying. We avoided using the public restrooms here because we have heard of the unsanitary horror stories. If you find a toilet that is not “on the ground” (see picture) then you may see what would appear to be a normal one with footprints on the seat. The footprints are a mark that a local person just visited that toilet but chose to stand on the toilet seat (to avoid sitting on it) and then release into the porcelain basin. I saw this when we went out to a local bar the following night and I’m still trying to come up with a word that is worse than “disgusting” to describe it.

Between China-Town and Central Market, we inadvertently came across two vastly different temples standing across the street from each other. One was the multi-colorful (see picture) Sri Mahamariaman Temple that was built by one of KL’s oldest Indian communities. Because I didn’t want to take off my shoes and walk with bare feet into this temple, I (along with the girls) stayed outside while Michael went inside to take pictures to share with us. Across the street was the 120-something-year-old Guan Di Temple (which allowed for me to keep my shoes on). A Taoist entering the temple told us that it was a “hero temple” but we later looked this up to find that what he meant was it was built in dedication to the Chinese God of War. It smelled beautifully of incense and you could see the gold sculptures dimly illuminated by candles. The only other religious site that we visited was the Jamek Mosque that resided in the old town of Kuala Lumpur. The Islamic Mosque sits where the Gombak and Klang rivers meet. We happened to get there right as it closed but I was able to capture many pictures of the magnificant building and witness some Muslims in action. The guardian of the entrance there gave us a small run-down of the mosque which included explaining to us about “miswak” after we pointed to the bundle of branches that he had. Miswak is a teeth cleaning twig from the arak tree. It is traditional in Islamic culture for them to brush their teeth with this twig and allow the enzymes that are released from the twig to “purify their mouths.” He was very persistent in asking each of us who we were voting for in the upcoming election; however, he seemed to be discontent with my response.

Other stops that we made along the way included a short visit just outside of the Istana Negara (National Palace) which it’s design collaborates Malaysian and Islamic architecture. Every five years, this residence has a new King (and Queen) that is elected from among the nine royal Rulers in the Malaysian states. It was breathtaking to see and from the front gate of the palace we were able to see a different view of the Petrona Towers. We hopped back on the bus and drove past the National Mosque and Little India before being dropped off at Merdeka Square (Independence Square). I kept calling this place “Dirka Dirka” square as I originally misplaced the “r” in the name (Mederka) and correlated it to a quote from my favorite movie of all time: “Team America.” This place was one of the most fascinating places for me and not just because it contained the tallest flag pole (328 ft) in the world. Imagine facing a field that is larger than the average NFL playing field and at the end of that field is a high flying Malaysian flag that was proudly raised on August 31, 1957 replacing the British Union Jack flag, symbolizing their freedom from British rule. To my right is a long stretch of the Tudor-style Royal Selangor Club that serves as a gathering place for Malaysian professionals that has it’s own unique history. On my left is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (picture below) with it’s gleaming copper domes and a tall clock tower that could be called the “Big Ben of Southeast Asia.” Currently, the building is the home to the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture.

From here we opted on walking back to our hotel vs batteling the smells and awkward touches from public transportation. Along the way we noticed the dark storming clouds as they clashed against the blue cloudless skies that has been covering us all day. We were warned about their standard afternoon rain that occurs during the monsoon season. The only protection I brought with me was a ballcap – I suppose I could blame living in Sunny San Diego as the reason I forget to pack an umbrella. Regardless, I’m a girl that doesn’t mind to get a little wet. This feeling lasted until the rain started to beat heavily down forcing a retreat into a local Starbucks (yes, they have them here). We tried to wait out the storm but (due to our lack of desire to stay there and use public restrooms) we decided to go in search for a cab. It took us a good 20 minutes to hail a cab, getting me even more soaking wet. That 25 Ringgits was the best money we spent all day as we rode in the dry cab back to a building that our cab driver THOUGHT was our hotel. Language barrier or not – he mistakingly took us to the wrong hotel. After asking one of the locals, we were able to locate our hotel that was a four block walk back to the Park Royal. I guess this is the true Kuala Lumpur experience: rain, avoiding being hit by oncoming aggressive drivers, and having to ask for directions because every road is called “Jalan something-or-other.”

On our last day, we all decided to fulfill our own seperate agenda before going on to Bangkok where the excitement will again pick up. I opted to sit outside at a eatery breathing in the humid air of KL and watching people pass by. I invited a bold glass of a French cabernet to keep me company while I started working on this blog. To satisfy my appetite, I tried some popular Malaysian chicken satay which I have been dying to try. What is satay? Besides being simply delicious, is can be described as a mini-kabob of chicken, beef or fish that is marinated in flavor-full goodness. Mine came with a side of uncooked cucumber wedges, tofu, and sliced red onion to help reset my palate between each bite of chicken. All of this food I could dip into the side of the peanut-based sweet sauce that was provided.(E – can you learn to make this when you get back?) I had some more satay later as we all sat at a hotel sky bar to admire the Petrona Towers at night.

We took it easy the first two nights in KL. In fact, after our second day when we were caught in the middle of that monsoon rain, I did not want to leave the comfort of my dry sweatpants and opted for time on the couch while eating peanut butter and crackers. It sated the PB-withdrawal cravings that I had after 5 days without it. I watched what was left of the last Presidential debate on the internationally broadcasted CNN. I continued watching the programs that followed and I gained an intriguing perspective on how important this election is on the opposite side of the world. The programs that I watched gave a more unbiased view, which was extremely appreciated. What stands out in my mind is the theme of one of the shows concerning the “U.S. Political Civil War” which is exactly what it feels like anymore.
On our last night, we decided to explore the night life of KL to see what the energetic youth of this city has to show to us. The girls and I were initially a little uncertain about whether our outfits were too “risky” for the Muslim eye. (You do feel a bit self-conscious wearing shorts in a flood of completely covered women, especially when you see some that only expose their eyes.) We can’t tell if they are intrigued by us or judging us as [again] they all want to take a picture with us. Once we reached our second bar of the evening, we discovered that KL was not so innocent.

Upon entering this sultry establishment, there was a line of Asian women. Me (being the completely oblivious and naive person that I am) would never have depicted them as prostitutes until Michael told me. Maybe it was the frequent arm-grabbing that gave it away. Nonetheless, it was still a very entertaining evening watching the interactions between the older men and these women – it most definitely gives you a whole new appreciation for my occupation. The live band that was playing were amazing! They really enjoyed the enthusiasm Mel and I demonstrated as we tore up the dance-floor [by ourselves] with some air guitar to the song “Sweet Home Alabama.” I wouldn’t be surprised if we were the only people in that bar that knew where Alabama was. Each one of us girls were approached by a man (who did not speak English well or at all) – possibly hoping that we were prostitutes too. (Side note: these working girls were not happy at the [unwanted] attention we were receiving.) I seemed to grab a handle on it after awhile by just boldly repeating: “NOT FOR SALE!” I viewed this as good “practice” before we hit Thailand.

I knew it was time to go when the song “Mambo Number Five” started playing. We then grabbed a cab asking him to take us to the Butter Factory Club. The 20 minute cab ride took us around a few blocks to only end up about a block and a half away from where we started. That’s 10 Ringitts wasted. While we stood (alone) in the non-VIP line, we had to bargain with them to get into the club because most of us had used up all of our Ringgits. Our solution: paying 438 Ringgits for Champaigne Bottle Service and that allowed our entry. To no surprise, we were the only non-Asian people in the entire place. I like being the minority and sticking out like a sore thumb. We wanted to cap off our night by having some McDonald’s delivered to our hotel room (yes, this happens here) but we had some language barrier issues. We just got so we got our Big Macs the next day at the airport. The cab ride to KL Sentral (a link between downtown and the airport) was super quick because of the Islamic Holiday that was being observed and retracting Malays from the roads and placing them into the mosques.

So now two countries down with two more to go. Thank you Kuala Lumpur for an Asian Metropolitan Experience. You couldn’t top my love for Bali, but you put up a good fight. Now, next stop: Bangkok.

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2 Comments
  1. Laci permalink

    When you’re around those bathrooms for awhile, you get used to them! They’re pretty much everywhere here in Japan! lol. Sounds like you’re having an amazing time. We’re hoping to get a trip to Thailand under our belts while our here.

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