Symphony and sushi

Trip Start Nov 06, 2006
Trip End Jun 15, 2007

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Monday, April 9, 2007

On the flight from Vietnam to Malaysia, a quirky character with a pronounced lisp tells us he lives in Kuala Lumpur, which he describes as "boring," and confides that he goes often to Bangkok for debauchery. With a hint of disappointment in his voice, he announces he's a communist and was hoping to find "some of the old East Germany here," where he had spent his childhood, but found only remnants of socialism visible in Vietnam's new hybrid communist/free market economy.

The drive between the airport and downtown Kuala Lumpur is lined with lush plantings and perfectly manicured landscaping, and there's barely a bump along the entire hour-long ride. This looks more like Disney than the Southeast Asia we've grown accustomed to!

Downtown is a fascinating mix of old and new, rough and shiny, East meets West, and above everything hovers the impressive glistening castle of stainless steel, architectural testament to the power of oil, the Petronas Towers. It was fun speeding 41 stories up by elevator to take in the fantastic views from the walkway that spans between the two towers.

This city is by far the most modern and cosmopolitan of the places we've visited. We're amazed by the variety of restaurants, bars, clubs, and shops here and there are big, glossy high fashion ads and billboards everywhere. In our swanky new clothes from Hoi An, we went out for a date - an evening of chamber music by the Petronas Philharmonic in the world-class Petronas concert hall (tickets for $3!) followed by a sushi dinner. Good fun!

It's my first visit to a Muslim country and, no surprise, it's completely different from what I'd imagined. Many women wear the traditional headscarf but most do not cover their faces. One playful female cashier even flirts with us and asks for our number! The different religions appear to mix comfortably - we see Islamic mosques, Christian churches, and Buddhist and Taoist temples all over the city. Then again, though we don't witness it firsthand, the religious police occasionally clamp down on gay bars, enforce closing times for nightclubs, and make trouble for any Muslims caught drinking alcohol, so it's not exactly progressive, but it's been a highlight of our trip.

In two days we've only gotten a glimpse of this city, so we'll look forward to more time here later!
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