Kuala Lumpur

Trip Start Jan 16, 2008
Trip End Jul 28, 2008

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Flag of Malaysia  ,
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A trip to "KL" is an essential part of the Malaysian experience. With Indians selling fake watches and leather bags made in Taiwan in the heart of the Chinatown market, you sometimes have to pinch yourself where in the world you are. Never before have we witnessed such an eclectic mix of people who all see themselves as "locals". What's more they converse in often very broken English. This melting pot of cultures creates some spectacular food - the spicy fried noodle with vegetables, chicken, prawns and squid comes highly recommended and we both fell in love with the amazing satay and its gorgeous peanut dipping sauce. One evening we sat down at a street side stall with two Malaysians, one of whom was celebrating his 76th birthday and had come to see some friends in the city. Grabbing a snack before they headed off they had ordered too much, we willing accepted their satay leftovers and then rather embarrassingly they insisted on paying for the food and drinks WE had ordered! Such a kind and friendly gesture perfectly encapsulated our time in Malaysia and the people we had met.
In two action-packed days we indulged in a sight-seeing frenzy. With the KL skyline dominated by the Petronas Towers, a visit to the 41st floor skybridge was obligatory and more importantly free! (For once, a time to be thankful for the profits of oil). The views were majestic, but arguably eclipsed by those from the 276m deck of the Menara KL Tower with sublime panoramic vistas as far as the eye could see. Quite incredible thirty times zoom binoculars rather freakily allowed you to observe individuals on every street going about their daily business!
Without the money to indulge in the boutique KL shopping heaven, Kim's fanciful viewing was strictly limited. Instead we pressed on to be caught in a torrential downpour at Masjid Jamek mosque. Soaked to the bone in a full length hijab, Kim understandably felt a touch uncomfortable as we began to delve into the Islamic heart of Malaysia. Both feeling our knowledge of Islam was needing brushing up, a trip to the Islamic Arts Museum was timely. Beautifully presented (although occasionally extraordinarily technical), it would not be too much to say it holds worldwide significance for Islam and its associated cultures. Crossing the road to the National Mosque we were engaged into a lengthy conversation with a volunteer guide outside the main prayer hall. The gentleman was a highly-educated businessman who had travelled the world and now spoke of his deep-rooted beliefs. With little personal experience of Islam, it was extraordinary to hear him seemingly transfixed by his life after death in which literally "the apples are going to be crunchier and the water purer" in paradise. To live a life so focused on its end was difficult for me to rationalise, if not comprehend.
Islamic influences adorn the city most strikingly with the Petronas Towers with each tower's five tiers representing the five pillars of Islam and the masts that crown them resembling the minarets of a mosque and the Star of Islam. At night this is a truly breathtaking structure.
With Malaysia celebrating its 50 years of Independence (Merdeka) last year, the namesake square with the world's largest free-standing flagpole also has a cracking spot for a game of cricket! In the north of the city the views of reflections from Lake Titiswanga provided a great vantage point to appreciate the whole of KL's skyline, whilst the National Gallery contained the usual array of modern art work which you weren't sure whether it had just been left over from the cleaner's shift. We also made the journey to the Thean Hou Temple where the standard rampant Buddhist commercialism ran riot, including selling Kim the world's most disgusting sweetie - the clue's in the name = Chocolate Space Beans!?
A brilliant city to explore with the districts of Chinatown, Little India and the Malay area of Kampung Baru intriguing in themselves, KL is a must-see in any Asian sojourn.
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