0029 A First World City in the Jungle (Malaysia 001—new)

Kuala Lumpur Travel Blog

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Way to hot to be sitting in the sun like that...

Day 017: 16 hours, 22.5—total 29.9 kms

 It takes me 2 days to fly from New York to Kuala Lumpur, so there’s plenty of time for me to think through and try to figure what the hell this trip is all about.  I know this is the first time I’ve ever been to this region, so I’m not going to try to unearth some hidden memories.

Or am I?  See, my father was a pilot in the Vietnam War, a war which which has cast a shadow over my life, my family and my country.  All my life I’ve been trying to come to grips with why that war really took place, what really happened there and whether the sins of that war have even been atoned for.

 

A few years ago, when I learned that Vietnam had opened its doors to tourists—even American tourists, I knew that I needed to go there and face my family’s past.  I want to see for myself what has come of that country and meet Vietnamese people face to face and let them give me their point of view.

So I guess that as the desire to spend an extended period of time in Minstrel Mode started building up inside of me, Vietnam just seemed like a natural choice.  In this Adventure Life, my only objectives are to discover new places and share my music with the world… something that seems perfectly suitable for a trip to Vietnam.

But I guess I decided to make this trip a bit more complicated than that: I decided to fly to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and make my way overland from there to Vietnam, making it a pilgrimage of sorts with many discoveries and significant moments along the way.

 

And so, here I am, just 2 months after my Dream Life began, taking a journey literally halfway around the world.

 Arriving in Kuala Lumpur

 My stopover in Stockholm, Sweden is downright annoying.  I don’t generally complain about airports, but I guess I just assumed that Scandanavian countries are these utopian places where everything functions just perfectly, everything is clean and neat, and no one is ever uncomfortable.  But it takes us a full hour just to get through the line to get into the transit lounge.  There we’re in a cramped room with not enough seats and another long line if you want to get into the single toilet.  And pity the smokers who all have to squeeze into a “smoker’s cubicle” the size of a phone booth!  And… sorry about the stereotype… but aren’t all Swedish women supposed to be beautiful? 

Anyways, I’m not going to judge a whole country by its airport transit lounge… I’ll have to come back and explore Sweden itself some other time.

Kuala Lumpur’s airport on the other hand is a beautiful, spacious glass structure with little enclosed sections of jungle in the center… a pleasant welcome.  But I’m not here to explore the airport so I quickly exit the airport and look for public transportation into the city.  There’s a train straight to the city—but a bus that’s a bit cheaper, so of course I go for the bus… The bus station will certainly not be winning any prizes—but it’s not really run down either.

The long ride into KL gives me a couple of insights into the country.  I see miles and miles of jungle that has been converted into palm oil plantations.  Other sections are in the process of being torn down.  It’s kind of a painful thing to see… but then again, progress has a price…


I don’t really see cities or towns on the way—just cluster of high rise apartments.

  Clearly Kuala Lumpur is a commuter society.  And folks use the vast network of freeways to go in and out of the city. 

Two things I do like right off the bat about this relatively developed society: 1. People live in apartments rather than in suburban sprawl. 2. The freeways are still loaded with scooters instead of SUVs, in spite of the constant rain they get in these parts of the world.  All the guys on scooters wear their jackets on backwards to keep their chests dry.  And when the rain really gets bad, they all cram under the overpasses…

I don’t know if Malaysia is “officially” a first world country, but it certainly has many of the elements of one.  Which makes it one the only developed countries in the tropics… So it’s going to be interesting to try and figure out what makes this country tick.

Finally I can see the stunningly beautiful Petronas Towers on the horizon… They may no longer be the tallest towers in the world, but they are possibly the most beautiful superskycrapers in the world…

We finally reach the train station which is wrapped around with a spaghetti of highways and overpasses.  I decide to stay on the bus and see if it takes me somewhere more pedestrian friendly.  We continue on, and in a few minutes we’re in the most jam packed senses saturating Chinatown I’ve ever seen.

I figure first thing is to find a cheap hotel so I can lose my luggage… I find one and quickly ask for their cheapest room… they put me in a room about the size of a walk in closet… Now I really feel like I’m in Asia!

I head outside, soaking in the sights, smells and sound. I decide to leave my guitar in my room for now until I get this place figured out. The heat is stifling, but I don’t care—I am absolutely determined not to let the temperature slow me down on this trip.  If the locals can handle it, I can handle it.


I head through a crowded market street that sells everything under the sun… and then suddenly the city turns from Chinatown to Indiatown… the street is lined with Indian eateries and sari shops.  It seems that Chinese Malaysians and Indian Malaysians are the businessfolk here in Malaysian society, much more then the Malays themselves… In fact, I have yet to see an eatery that sells “Malay” food!

I continue on to a more modern district of much lower density. I’d like to hike all the way to the edge of town.  But to walk along long, shadeless walls in this kind of heat is going to get old really fast… Finally I turn around.

This time I head straight for the Petronas Towers.  They are surrounded by a beautiful park, and inside is a glitzy, air conditioned shopping mall… I rested up for a bit before taking on the challenge once more…

I’m getting the feel of this place, now I need to go back and get my guitar and play some music.  On the way back I take a detour in through a jungle park… and out into a residential neighbourhood on the other side—just as an mob of Chinese girls were getting out of school.  It seems that there are a lot of Christian private schools around—but I highly doubt that very many of the students are actually Christian… Sort of like what I saw in India. 

The mix of cultures and religions here is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. In the market, a Chinese lady will be selling pig ears practically right next to the Muslim selling cow stomach… right next to the Hindu selling incense sticks… and nobody seems to be the least bit bothered…

I go back to my closet and grab my guitar… The jet lag is really kicking in, but I’m determined to make this first day count.  I head out to the area around the main mosque and government buildings.  I find one building that beautifully blends English and Malay architecture… With KLs high rises and TV tower in the background, I figure it’s a great clips showing several facets of Malaysian culture… But of course, it’s way to hot to sit there in the sun for very long…

I continue on to where I find a shady park.  I’m ready to pull off my very first concert in Asia…

I’m not exactly mobbed by curious onlookers—but then again, I’ve chosen a spot where there aren’t a whole lot of people around.  I guess I want to start this off a bit slow, and let it grow naturally.  A couple of Nigerian fellows stop for a short chat then continue on…

From there I continue on and the city suddenly turns into jungle.  It seems that KL proper isn’t really that big of a city—the bulk of the population live in the high rise clusters that have popped up at random all over the landscape.  My theory is that, with so many people having their own means of transportation, and with its good freeway system, Malaysian cities sprawl much like American cities—which is going to make exploring these cities on foot quite challenging.

I head on right through the jungle down a quiet road.  But the road dead ends at some military compound so I head back… I find another road which takes me to another park with a huge monument dedicated to the Malaysians who fought for independence…

From here I cut across through yet another park with a pond inhabited by giant reptiles… and from there manage to figure my way through the highway spaghetti to the train station.  It’s up on a hill, so it gives me a good view of the surrounding area.  Temples of Malaysia’s diverse faith dot the surrounding neighborhoods.  Let’s go check them out…

My first temple is the Chinese temple which is a huge, multistoried elaborately decorated structure which I was able to explore freely… on one floor in had ping pong tables—so it seems to serve more than just as a place of worship…

Next I head to a Hindu temple, a group of percussionists are holding a jam session inside… I venture in, and am told that I can come in if I take off my shoes…

Next I continued to the Buddhist temple which seemed to also serve as a school of some sort…


And finally I headed past KLs main mosque, a beautiful, mostly open air structure…

An Indian fellow strikes up a conversation with me on my way back… We get to talking, and he gives me a wealth of information on the complexity of Malay society… How he feels Malays are given all the high positions… their struggles in the educational system… How he feels it isn’t fair that anyone can convert to Islam, but Muslims can’t convert to any of the other faiths…

“But do you think you have better opportunities and a better life here than you would in India?” I ask him.

He has to admit that he does. But clearly this multicultural society is more complicated than it seems on the surface.

Finally, I head back exhausted to Chinatown… The market area is even more alive than it was in the daytime…I’m not quite sure what to have for supper... The open air stands selling noodle soup look good… So I just chill out for a little while… Gazing at the dreamy glow of the Petronas Towers on the other side of town…

It’s been an amazing first day in Southeast Asia.

Vanessa_Mun_Yee says:
Hey, congrats on your featured blog!
Posted on: Aug 08, 2011
SmileyGirl says:
Congrats on your feature!!!
Posted on: Aug 08, 2011
montecarlostar says:
Congrats on your feature Nathan!
Posted on: Aug 08, 2011
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