I can now understand why most people think Singapore is clean and easy to navigate: by comparison, Kuala Lumpur is a messy city and a chaotic capital.
We stayed right in the heart of Chinatown, a couple of blocks from Jalan Petaling, a busy night market jam-packed with vendors of all kinds of counterfeit goods and small eateries. By day, there is barely any room to step on the sidewalk, since it is the top-choice parking spot for drivers. By night, there isn’t any sidewalk: gas bottles are attached to small stoves and cooks fry mee (noodles) and nasi (rice) on the street, and the little room left is taken by orange plastic chairs and late-night passer-by.
Kuala Lumpur is a pedestrian’s nightmare. The city is sliced by freeways on the ground and the train/LRT above ground. There seems to be a construction site at every corner. Crossing the street is best done with both eyes closed and a prayer book in hand, as you try to dodge trucks, cars, irate taxi drivers and motorbikes. The pedestrian green light, a flashing animated little stick figure that runs, sums it all up: run like hell.
Yet it is a fascinating place. People are pretty laid-back and very friendly. Food is great. The mix of old and new, as well as the cultural melting-pot, is mind-boggling. Indians, Chinese and Malays, Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam seem to get along. I’m sure it is partially because they have to, but it is still an interesting sight.
China and India, the two Asian giants, have never been that close, politically and culturally. Ghandi and Mao’s “friendship’ lasted about three years, and many border disputes have plagued the relation between the two countries. To put it plainly, both cultures are extremely different, kind of like two long-lost siblings. To see Chinatown by Little India, baozi by Indian curry, is fascinating to me.
I have been into many Buddhist temples and various churches and cathedrals, and Kuala Lumpur gave me the chance to visit both a Hindu temple and a mosque. It’s funny that every religion has different rules regarding the proper dress code: in Singapore, at the Buddhist temple, I had to cover my arms and shoulders, and this time it was my head (for the mosque) and I had to take off my shoes to step into the Hindu temple. The mosque was very intriguing for me, both because non-Muslims aren’t usually allowed in and because of all the bad press Islam is getting as a religion. As a non-militant atheist, I consider religion a personal choice—only proselytism and taking whatever holy book literally bothers me.
We wanted to visit the Petronas Tower but unfortunately, the sky-walk was closed for the week, so we had to observe them from the ground. Pretty amazing building—I wonder how it stays so shiny, considering the pollution and the dust!
You can see the complete set of pictures taken in Malaysia on Flickr.