Kuala Lumpur...the opposite of India
Trip Start Jun 25, 2006
127Trip End Aug 01, 2007
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Disembarking our flight from India in Singapore was a bit like getting out of a plane that had landed on another planet. Singapore is so unbelievably modern, clean, and efficient, it is pretty much the other extreme compared to most places we had been in India the past two months. We just transited through Singapore for a few hours but we'll be coming back in a few weeks for a longer stay. A quick hop on the subway into the city brought us to the railway station where we caught an overnight train bound for Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia.
Like Singapore, much of Kuala Lumpur is super modern, squeaky clean and a breeze to navigate. The city is an ethnic melting pot of Malay, Arab, Chinese, and Indian cultures all stuck amidst high-rise corporate towers and mega shopping malls that could easily be in any major world city
Although most Malaysians practice Islam, their practice of the faith bears little resemblance to that of the Middle East and reminded me of the open, tolerant, and modern Muslim nations of Tunisia and Turkey. Just as an example, I've had to do a few double takes after seeing young Malaysian Muslim couples walking hand in hand, the man wearing shorts and a sleeveless shirt, the woman with a headscarf wearing a short-sleeve blouse, skintight designer jeans and stiletto heels. Certainly not something you'd see in Egypt or Oman! Just to offer my two-cents worth, the practice of Islam here seems to be a much more inspiring, sustainable and reality-based version of the faith. Rather than being obsessed with the minutiae of how much of a woman's face should be veiled or how many of the holy texts one has memorized, the values of this society seem accepting of diverse ways of expressing faith, while embracing of people of other creeds rather than preaching their destruction. So many Gulf and Middle East nations seem aimlessly drifting towards radical religious extremism, and I have to wonder why is it so much more pluralistic and tolerant here?
With all the modern conveniences, seamless transit systems, good food, and ease of everything in Kuala Lumpur, I actually found the place to be a little bit too sterile. Is it possible that it's the imperfections, frustrations, and blemishes that give cities much of their character? On the other hand, Malaysia is so relaxing and easy
A tremendous wave of relief ran through me as we walked up the gangway into the Singapore airport. It was so wonderful there, that I think I would have been happy just hanging out in the airport for a few days. One of the first things we did was make a beeline for the airport Burger King to devour a 100% all-beef cheeseburger. And it was delicious, and did not have any spices in it that tasted remotely like curry. I started noticing all the little cultural nuisances that had started to irritate me in India were gone... people were standing in line with space between each person. People actually stepped aside to let others off the subway before trying to get on and didn't feel the need to push. There were no honking horns on the street, and not even one stray dog. No trash anywhere, no sewage stench, no beggars, and certainly no people peeing on the side of the road. It was certainly the type of reverse culture shock that I needed. We were only in Singapore for 5 hours, and I am definitely looking forward to our return visit in a few weeks.
Our journey from Singapore to Kualu Lumpur via overnight sleeper train was uneventful...no snorting, no chai vendors, no homeless kids sweeping the floor, no 5-hour delay. It's as if this train was actually running on some sort of schedule
While Todd found Kuala Lumpur a bit sterile, I really liked it because I was in need of a place with extreme sanitation. It is a clean and modern city, with a great public transit system, wide sidewalks, and lots of public parks with running trails, benches, and ponds. And it had some of the most amazing and outlandish malls I have ever seen. One mall was 12 stories tall, had a bowling alley, an amusement park with a giant rollercoaster, an IMAX movie theater, and a supermarket in the basement. And yes, there were stores lining all 12 floors. It was so massive that it was difficult to really take the whole place in. Kuala Lumpur is the type of city I can imagine attending a business conference in and enjoying it, even though it is business travel.