72 Hours in Kuala Lumpur

The Petronas Towers at Night 

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.

Hotel Lobby 

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 sounds and sights of the urban tropics

 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.

Botanical Gardens of Kuala Lumpur

My Visit to Borneo

Sunset View from the Kota Kinabalu City Waterfront

I just returned from 5 days in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, located on the island of Borneo. The purpose of the visit was to attend our regional education administrators conference, so most of my time was spent in workshops and meetings. We stayed at the Sutera Harbor Resort, which was really nice. Unfortunately, I didn’t get much time to visit the city and get out into the incredible nature the region has to offer. We did manage to leave the resort a couple times and get into the city and I talked to a bunch of locals.

Malaysia is split into two regions, east peninsula Malaysia, with 24 million people, and in the west, it takes up the northern part of Borneo, with around 6 million people. Kota Kinabalu, in the state of Sabah, is the capital and the largest Malaysian city on Borneo. Unlike the main peninsula, the local indigenous people are not Malays or Islamic. There are 32 different ethnic groups and I met a few of them. You can see variations in the dress and facial features of the locals. Most of the women wore headdresses, but a significant portion did not. I asked taxi drivers, waitresses, hotel employees what ethnic group they belonged to. That resulted in me meeting Kadazan-Dusun, Brunei-Malay, Bajau, Chinese, Malay, and a mix of the above. They were not offended by my questions and seemed pleased to explain to me a bit about their group. All of them were happy to be part of Malaysia and everyone was quick to give us a smile, a laugh, and easy conversation. I felt very welcomed to the city.

The View Towards Mount Kinabalu from my Hotel Room

I did speak with the head pool guy at the hotel and he mentioned the issue of Philippine immigrants. They have come to Sabah in recent years, seeking economic opportunity mostly, but also because Malaysia is an Islamic country, and that region of the Philippines is Muslim. I read an article, blaming water quality on these immigrants, many illegal or unsupported. There was garbage floating in the ocean and the harbor and canals in the city stunk of raw sewage. The city desperately needs a waste water treatment system. It reminded me of Latin America a bit, and all that comes from a poorer country in the tropics.

It was nice to be back in the tropics. It was my first time to swim in the South China Sea and the water was very warm. Diving and beach holidays are popular in the nearby islands.

Typical Street View of Kota Kinabalu

I really want to go back with my family and go back as a tourist. The island of Borneo is one of my dream destinations as a biologist and lover of nature. I really want to go hiking in the Kinabalu National Park to see the Titan Arum, the worlds largest flower, the thousands of orchids and birds, and to climb Mount Kinabalu. There are also preserves for orangutans and the proboscis monkey. Maybe in the future.