I visited the capital of Malaysia last week for the annual East Asian Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS) conference for administrators in international schools. Most of my time was spent at workshops, speeches and receptions, but I did get out a bit to see some of the city and meet the people of Kuala Lumpur (KL). Malaysia is interesting to me because it is a moderate Islamic country. The Malays converted to Islam through interaction with Arab traders in the 1400s. 60% of the population of the country is ethnically Malay, with significant Chinese and Indian populations. There were also lots of European tourists and residents. The Chinese and Indians are allowed to practice their religions, in fact, the city was full of color and light celebrating Deepavali, the Hindu festival of lights. I got the impression that the three groups tolerate each other and there is not much interaction.
The contrast between a Chinese woman in tight shorts and a low cut shirt to a Malay woman with a headscarf and long robes was striking. As with many Islamic countries, inter Islamic tourism was apparent, but there is a disturbing trend (in my opinion) of Malays becoming more fundamentalist and women dressing in the full, black covering like I saw in the gulf region. Indian and Chinese taxi drivers complained about the dominance of the Malays in a humorous way.
The Petronas Towers look like a huge alien “death star-like” ship that has landed on earth. They are absolutely massive and show off the wealth generated by Petronas, the government petroleum company. They dwarfed the Exxon Mobil building across the park from the towers. We were staying at a hotel on the park in front of the Towers. The 1.3 kilometer loop was convenient to run in an otherwise cement city. The traffic is lighter than Bangkok and Macau, however.
The city was built in a tropical rainforest and before I left, I managed a short trip in the rain over to the botanical gardens. I wanted to see some of the distinctive plants and birds of the Old World Tropics. The lipstick palm (Cyrtostachys renda) did not disappoint and they had a great collection of storks which visitors could approach quite closely. It is an impressive conservation area in a city of over 7 million people. I loved the sound of the branch-broom sweeping away the leaves on the sidewalks in the morning. An action that is found worldwide in the tropics.
I will be visiting Singapore over the Christmas and New Year holidays and hope to get back into explore some more of Malaysia. As with almost every country, it has a more laid back feel than Japan and has an interesting ethnic mix, different from homogeneous Japan which makes it a nice get away.