Monday, December 18, 2006
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Troy and I have managed to tackle a lot of Asian cities, but one that we had yet to visit was Kuala Lumpur. The most recognizable landmark that defines KL is the Petronas Towers. These are the world’s tallest twin towers and second tallest building behind Taiwan's Taipei 101 tower. We didn't know what to expect of KL. We certainly didn't have our hopes up. We expected it to have a pinch of cultural diversification, a heaping spoonful of Muslims and a huge dollop of boring right out of a big jar of Singapore. We were very wrong. We actually liked it so much that we decided we could live there if it wasn't for such bad traffic and it being bloody hot all year long. (Did I just say "bloody hot"? Good grief, I've been hanging out with my British friends too much.)
KL only has 2 million people. Yes, only 2 million. I know that sounds like a lot, but compared to HK, it's not. I was amazed at how quickly you could escape the city to get to the incredibly gorgeous jungle. The other thing Troy and I liked about KL is that since it has space to expand, there were a lot of outdoor eating and entertaining areas. HK has like two. Seriously, HK is so packed for space that it is very difficult to find outdoor restaurants. Now if you are a shopaholic KL is the place to be. Troy and I...not so much the shopaholics. Although while hanging out in the mall I did find myself fascinated by the Muslim woman at Starbucks who was wearing the traditional black robe and a full face veil (or niqab) - btw, in KL most Muslim women only where a hijab covering their hair and neck. I wanted to know how she drank her coffee without taking off her veil in public. After subtly staring at her (is there such a thing?) I found she doesn't take it off. I would sure like to watch her eat BBQ ribs though. Oh wait, that's pork - that's a no no.
Being in KL around the holidays was a little strange. Outside of the fact that it was 90 degrees in mid December, it was astonishing that a city that is predominately Muslim actually participates in Christmas activities. I don't know if it was the surprise of seeing manger scenes in public areas, Middle East sheiks standing in front of a Christmas tree, or the fake falling snow made out of soap (actually looked pretty real). I don't know who I felt sadder for: the Muslim city residents that have to tolerate this holiday or the poor bastard that has to continuously mop up the soap snow from the mall floor.
We did struggle to find things to do outside of shopping. One place we did get to visit was an elephant sanctuary. At the moment they have 11 elephants here. Some are working elephants that are used to help relocate elephants that cause problems on farmers’ land, while the young ones are being rehabilitated to hopefully return to the wild. They had a baby elephant that was a month old. They only had her a week and she was very skinny because her mother abandoned her. Luckily the sanctuary found her before poachers did. She was so tiny but made an enormous amount of noise. Troy was able to get close enough to her in her cage where she proceeded to suck his thumb. One activity visitors could participate in was bathing the elephants. Sounds straight forward enough, right? What actually happened wasn't even close to giving an elephant a bath. We stood on a wooden platform next to a river while the elephant that is in the water walked close enough for you to climb on him. He then walked into the river a few yards and dumped you! It was quite fun as long as you managed to not get stuck under the elephant as he went down. We met two guys from Atlanta who were the definitive embarrassing Americans (we have come across some real winners "Scuse me! Do you speak American?") - they insisted on wearing red Santa hats for their "bath" with the elephant.
We also visited the Batu Caves which is the holiest Hindu site in Malaysia. Once a year over a million Hindus attend a festival here called Thaipusan. Hindus from all over the world make the pilgrimage here for the event. During the festival, Hindus follow a route to the caves while engaging in various acts of devotion. Some acts are as simple as carrying a pot of milk while others go to the extreme of piercing their skin, checks and tongues with skewers. Even though this would be an amazing festival to witness, I don't think I could handle being in the midst of a million very smelly Hindu Indians.
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