We arrived in Kuala Lumpur (KL) at 4am, the city dark and quiet, the air thick with moisture. We checked into our hostel and lounged in the public courtyard waiting for sunlight. With the sun came city noise – people and cars. It was soon 7am and time to explore. We hit the streets and found locals buzzing about, many women wearing headdresses, taxi drivers eager to attract passengers, English translations on nearly every sign, palm and banyan trees line the streets. I was unsure what to expect from this place and admittedly, I ended up here because of the cheaper airfare.
Surprisingly, I recognized more than I expected. I could hear Katy Perry on nearby radios and found painted portraits of Justin Bieber in the Central Market. The company on my bottled water wants me to “like” them on Facebook. There are Christmas trees for sale even though Malaysia is an Islamic country. Nearly everyone speaks English. Buses are plastered in ads for Angry Birds. Was that 20 hour flight to get here just a hallucination? Perhaps I never left the U.S.
I soon filled in some of the gaps and started to feel the character of the city. Malaysia is a fusion of British, Chinese and Indian influence. The county was under British and Chinese rule for many years before declaring independence in 1957. There is also a clear Islamic influence. This combination of cultures is part of what makes KL feel unique. The people are diverse, yet tolerant. A quote at the Islamic Arts Museum explained this feeling well: “I am filled with pride because the citizens and inhabitants of various races and faiths in Malaysia are able to embrace the spirit of cooperation and understanding with Muslims in all fields. They maintain a respect for Islam traditions and restrictions of Muslims. Religious tolerance and harmonious community life is our nation’s secret to progress, peace and prosperity.” – Tun Hussein Onn (1980)
One of our taxi drivers moved here from Pakistan five years ago. It’s this tolerant attitude that attracted him to Malaysia.
KL is a big city and the world/U.S. influence surprised me. Next, we’re headed to Penang, an island off the West Coast of Malaysia. Smaller towns are sure to offer a different perspective.