The first thing I noticed when I landed in Kuala Lumpur was the apprehension that I used to have when flying to a foreign city at night no longer overwhelmed me. I think this was because I had heard many good things about KL so was more excited to see it for myself than anything (plus im now a super experienced super traveller man who isn’t scared of anything). KL first encroached upon my site seeing hit list a few years ago on a Kenyan beach when participating in a sport weekend raising money for a local blind people’s charity. One of the fellow teachers I had met there was 6 months into a stint in the Malaysian capital and held it in high regard. So, when I was making plans to go to Indonesia after Vietnam and the flight made a stop in KL, I made the decision to check it out.
My first impressions were pretty surprisingly pleasing. The arrivals section of the airport led out onto a fancy glitzy shopping mall compete with h&m and a subway. I hadn’t really experienced the kind of clean corporate ambience that comes with a western style shopping centre for a few months and I was unexpectedly happy, almost refreshed by the bright florescent lights. I made my way to the speed train with relative ease which is where I first encountered the super diverse populace of the city that a friend in Hanoi had told me about. Without knowing anything about the actual figures or much of the history of Malaysia, I found it so interesting and exciting to see such large proportions of altering cultures and ethnicities seemingly living in relative harmony together.
Over the coming days I would experience this first hand, the multitude of languages, customs, cultures, practices and beliefs congealed into one city. Walking around KL its common place to see a Chinese restaurant, next to an Indian, net to a Malay, next to a Moroccan, next to a Starbucks. And this is where my biggest peeve with the place comes in and why, in my short week here, I have grown weary of it.
When I told my brother I was coming here his immediate response was ‘enjoy the shopping malls, it’s a capitalists playground there my friend’. A capitalist’s playground, more like a capitalist’s wet dream (which is what I was actually going to call this entry but to keep the crassness levels acceptable I opted against capitalists wet dream and opted for ‘the KL shopping mall’)((I realise I’ve said capitalists wet dream three times now, my bad, sorry grandma)). Case in point. The other night when I went for the 25-minute walk to check out the Petronas towers, probably KL’s most famous landmark, I navigated through 4 separate shopping malls, countless Starbucks and a 200-metre skywalk emblazoned with a Mexican cartoon man advertising purple crisps.
Now it’s the not the purpose of this blog to criticise these kinds of developments. Again, admittedly I don’t know enough about the growth of industry and investment here. Malaysia or KL specifically has obviously developed in a far quicker and in my opinion more characterless way to that of its Northern communist brother and sister cities in Vietnam whereby, for the most part at least, large American chains have been kept at bay. Again, I’m staying away from too much judgement but those of you that know me probably get the jist of my thoughts towards the KL I’ve seen. A friend suggested getting on the tram system and seeing more of the outskirts, so I did and not much changed. I did however move hostels away from the touristy area of Bukit Bingtang and found an awesome little hotel situated next to a row of authentic Indian tea shops, one of which ive been frequenting three times a day and gorging on dosa, puri and banana leaf feasts. Decent and authentic Indian food is spicy magic gold. This does come with its downsides though. Physically I feel like crap because a lot of the tasty stuff that we don’t see in the UK is often deep fried and devoid of any decent nutrient. But it tastes so good and it’s the first time I’ve found Indian food as good as it is in India without having to be in India.
One activity I did set aside for my time in KL is visiting the botanical garden. I love a good botanical and it’s interesting to compare how they differ around the world. A friend who I met in Vietnam, Dili, who had come to the end of her term of study in KL was also keen and mentioned checking out the bird park as well. I was pretty apprehensive as I’ve never been huge on gawking at captive animals and in recent months as I’ve found myself becoming somewhat militant with animal rights and ethics matters. Dili, a full-time vegan biological environmentalist who volunteered at Welsh bird parks, shared my concerns so after much research we decided that ‘the world’s biggest open-air aviary’ with a strict focus on ‘bird conservation and education’ would probably be okay. Moral of the story, don’t trust trip advisor in Asia or go to see any kind of animal attraction. It was somewhat horrendous and we both got quite upset so left within half an hour. I was pretty disappointed with myself after as I think I always knew it wasn’t going to be a healthy place but let optimism get the best of me. Lesson learnt. To perk ourselves back up we went and found some curry, not hard to do in KL. More specifically we went to a buffet Gujarati style place and it life was good (for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of going to Gujarat, the food is awesome and people are constantly refilling your plate. Middle class Gujarati blokes are huge).
Friends have criticised me for being lazy and just sitting in KL eating Indian food but as well as fulfilling my dosa quota for the year its also given me a bit of time to reassess my next options. Summer in the UK is always nice so ive decided to go back to my mum’s house which is now not in South London but in Eastbourne, a delightful little town on the south coast. A summer on the UK coast exploring a new place can never be a bad thing. Besides I’ve run out of money and need to go home to sort out a visa for China (probably going to go teach in China in October). The no money thing will hopefully be combatted by the interview for a temporary English teaching job I’ve lined up next week; apparently I’m committing to teaching people English?!
***Update, ive accepted a job offer and a cool little English school whereby I recon im going ot get some decent training and help with my teaching development. WHAT IS HAPPPPPENING?!?!