Header image  
"East best, home West"
   HOME Myanmar


Malaysia, truly Asia

Coming to Kuala Lumpur after all the beauty of Myanmar still in my eyes, my nose, the dust still on my shoes and my clothes, felt a little strange, if not a mistake altogether. It is sometimes unbelievable how fast we make first impressions of a place that somehow persist until the end. Can it be that first impressions are more right than the later ones? I believe so.
The stay started with the hired taxi to the Hilton hotel. It was so arranged that it seemed unreal, more Swiss than Malay. The price was exact, the car seemed OK, but the driver did not utter one word during more than one hour of trip, as he  kept racing like Fittipaldi, holding the steering wheel with black gloves. Until it all came to a screeching halt, in the horrible traffic. But I can safely guess no other driver would have brought me faster to Hilton, although it sometimes felt as if he were going to bring us both much further, after a terrible traffic crash.
The KL Hilton, described as the “design diva’s dream” in the Lonely Planet, was another story completely. After the taxi race and its’ kitsch music, the lounge was bustling with extremely well dressed businessmen and women, mostly Chinese, but also Arab, European. An array of luxury cars was parked just outside the door:  Ferraris, Lamborghinis, with the Mercedes being the poor relatives. The staff was very helpful and interested, and the skirts of the Chinese models very short, but feeling seriously underdressed I quickly disappeared for a shower, all I could think of doing to appear better, since I had absolutely no convenient clothes for the place.
My Kuala Lumpur visit started soon after, with 2 espressos and CHOCOLATE cake in the Hilton cafe. It felt over-expensive but soooo good…
Kuala Lumpur is a strange place. It has three different populations: Malay and strictly Muslim, Indian and Chinese. Take the luxurious, shining metro and see all these people mix together in the most natural of ways. All Malay women wear a scarf after a certain age, and you can very safely guess who is who not only by how they dress, but also from what they eat. Visit a restaurant that serves pork and 95% of the clients are non-Muslim. Then visit restaurants say in Kampung Baru (a place with mostly Muslim Malay population) and the feeling is very different, going down to unwelcome sometimes. No alcohol served, no pork either, but you can find succulent fish everywhere, watching English football on the TV. I somehow got the feeling this is Kuala Lumpur, although the city boasts of a vivid Chinatown and an India town, called Little India.
I kept wandering for three days in suffocating heat trying to make out the few remaining colonial buildings with the help of my LP, but the overall feeling I got from the city was very similar to having been to an expensive restaurant and leaving with an empty stomach and the feeling it did not come up to my expectations.
With very few exceptions, the most pleasant being the Petronas towers. There was a time people came to KL to visit the two highest towers in the world, and although the twin towers do not hold this record any more, they still offer a surreal mirage in the urban landscape, especially in hazy evenings, as the ones when I was there. You need to book your entry in advance, and it is going to be much more sophisticated than you expect (you will get virtual people talking to you, their image projected on screens of vapor, among other things).
My best meal with a distance was in Kiu Mie, near China town, and the best tea in Old China cafe, where I downed some fantastic cold teas before being able to walk any more in the dazzling heat outside, wondering why this Indian lady was smiling to me, until I realized this (and more) was her job.
In the meantime, the Malaysian airlines flight MH370 had disappeared and I could not help thinking of that a bit more than I wanted to. The news was everywhere, although people went about their business as usual. This mixture of worry, tiredness and heat got the best of me in the end and I spent the rest of my time in the hotel, one of the most welcoming I ever knew, to the point that I felt like staying there forever, on this huge bed, and the swimming pool…
But all good things come to an end, and in the end I had to take my luggage, cross the road to the “Sentral” station, check in at the Malaysian airlines terminal (!) and with my hands free take the train to the airport, where, small wonder, a thousand controls were expecting passengers, due to the accident and the fear of terrorist attacks.
The question whether Malaysia is a Muslim or a secular state is often raised. One of the most remarkable things is that, even before arriving at Kuala Lumpur, an announcement in the airplane warns you that if you import drugs or are involved in human trafficking, “severe punishment will be imposed”. Open your local newspaper and you will read about it: I found three executions announced on the day I was travelling.
As you pass the controls, you quickly realize you should not mess up here: medicine imported without prescription can bring you many thousands of dollars of fine and up to three years in prison. Smoking in the toilets one year of prison. And so it goes. Small wonder Kuala Lumpur feels so safe. But also a bit fearsome…
And so it is, “tuan tuan dan puan puan” (ladies and gentlemen in Malay! I learnt it in the plane!), that this trip came to an end. I somehow feel all trips end when one stops thinking about them, or the people one met, and I therefore am convinced this trip is somehow going to follow me in my thoughts for a much longer time.

A big thanks to those who kept in touch, and worried, while I was there!