Familiar yet strangely foreign. Those 4 words up my impression of Kuala Lumpur after being away for seven years. The journey began with our arrival at Changi Airport in Singapore where we spent a night with family. The next day, feeling slightly adventurous, we decided to take the long route to Kuala Lumpur through Malaysia’s rustic countryside via our local aging KTM train service.
While scenic, the train ride was anything but smooth. Built during the British colonial period the railway system was originally set up to transport tin ore and other mined materials. It is not exactly built with comfort or even safety in mind.
We decided to stay in the heart of the city at the Federal hotel in Bukit Bintang. This hotel carries a lot of significance to my dad who spent 13 years working there in 70’s as a senior manager. While showing signs of age, the Federal hotel was the hotel to be at back in the day.
Just for reference, Bukit Bintang is quite similar to the heart of Manhattan. The topic of Bukit Bintang serves as a good segue to the national pastime of Malaysia; shopping. Even before I left many years ago, Malaysia was a world class shopping destination and the home to several of the largest malls in the world. Well in 7 years, they managed to cram a couple more sprawling shopping centers into the tiny peninsular country. The crowds and amount of stores these mega structures hold is simply staggering. From Fendi to Nike, you name it and we have it.
Although I’ve only been here for a few days, I’m beginning to notice that Malaysia is full of contradictions. While some areas are heavily developed and modern there is still huge swaths of undeveloped land and forest. While boasting cultural and racial diversity as a major tourist selling point, there is still an undercurrent of friction between the races that is not readily apparent to the casual observer.
Surprisingly crime rates have risen significantly in the past couple of years, and personal safety is a big concern. The rise has been attributed to an influx of low income migrant workers from neighboring asian countries but I believe it goes slightly deeper than that. Like many countries in the world there is an increasing disparity between the top earners in the population and the poor. Couple that with a significant rise in living costs that is not matched by a raise in income and you’ll find the current situation justified. Despite the problems, I remain hopeful that things will improve.
Over the past few days, we’ve been reconnecting with family and old friends over amazing food. Due to it’s cultural diversity Malaysian food is truly unique; a culinary mishmash of southeast asian and colonial flavors. I promise I won’t bore you with pictures of food but you’ll just have to take my word that almost everything here is cheap and delicious.
Next up on the docket is a visit to the island of my birth, Penang. There will be more pictures and videos to follow as soon as I have some down time to process everything.