Thursday, October 18, 2007

Kuala Lumpur

Before beginning our epic Southeast Asia trek, The Duke and I passed through Malaysia (Kuala Lumpur, to be precise). To anyone with a firm grasp on Southeast Asian geography, this may not make sense, as Kuala Lumpur is not significantly closer to Cambodia than Singapore is. To anyone with a firm grasp on Southeast Asian discount airlines, though, this detour is self-evident: Kuala Lumpur is the hub for Air Asia, home of the famed $30 international plane tickets. To me, at least, those plane tickets were worth the 7-or-so hour bus trip from downtown Singapore to downtown Kuala Lumpur. (Besides, KL gave me one last hurrah of speaking Indonesian, in a place where people didn't laugh at my American accent. They laughed at my Indonesian accent instead.)

So then, after supplementing our airplane-night’s-sleep on the bus, we had an evening to kill in KL. Though we didn’t find much to do—we mostly wandered around, looking at mosques, markets, and Malaysians—my overall impressions of the city were positive. As Steve has pointed out, it was refreshing to see a large city without the unemployed, chain-smoking squatters—quite literally—that grace Jakarta’s streets. The diversity was refreshing, with the population mixed between ethnic Malay, Chinese, and Indian, and even the street and shop signs were written in Malaysian, Chinese, Tamil, and English. Oh, and the food! The food! Malay food? Check. Chinese food? Check. Indian food? Check. Roti canai? Check. A full, and happy, stomach? Check plus.

What struck me most, though, was the architecture. I don’t typically notice the shape or design of a building, unless of course there’s a novel written on it or something, so this was very unusual for me. Yet something about the style of the city stood out to me: it was a tasteful and, more impressively still, natural blend of high-tech modern architecture with traditional Islamic elements. The shape of the Petronas Towers, is reminiscent of Islam’s eight-sided star. (Oh, and, in case you were wondering, they’re tall.) The train station is fully arched and minareted. (Credit to Steve for the picture, which is far better than any of mine.) And, best of all, Arabian nights-style domes and towers interrupt the city landscape. All this, too, without seeming contrived.

I wish I had had more time to explore, but based on the impressions of an evening, two thumbs up to Kuala Lumpur. I don't know if I'd call Malaysia Truly Asia, but I guess "Malaysia: Worth an Evening in Transit to Cambodia" isn't as catchy a tourism slogan.

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