Community Magazine

Kuala Lumpur: Recollections and Reconnections

By Eemusings @eemusings
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I definitely knew we weren’t in Kansas/Auckland any more when I was woken by the early morning Muslim prayer call.

A heady mix of the familiar and the new would be the best way to sum up KL. Sights and sounds long forgotten, but instantly recalled. Navigating the footpaths, cracked tiles, grates over open drains, and all. The underlying scent of sewage. Solid retro fire hydrants. The curious juxtaposition of all this against the high tech digital billboards, endless shopping (malls after malls after malls!) and other trappings of a cosmopolitan city on a whole different scale than what we’re used to. I veered between feeling like a total hick (e.g. attempting to figure out the monorail) and marvelling at the lack of certain basics (no GPS in taxis? Whaaaat?).

It’s been more of a shock for T, bless, who’s soldiering on despite:

  • The heat. Our first order upon arrival was to seek refuge inside an air-conditioned mall, but as we learned, things don’t open till 10 or later, and finding your way out of the currently-being-refurbished Sungei Wang plaza is a hell of a lot harder than it might seem.
  • The unfamiliar food. He’s reasonably used to Malaysian, but not for 3 meals a day. I would happily wander around at length, eating only street food, but comfort/hygiene concerns on his part are curtailing me a little bit. Where he sees a disease-ridden hawker stall, I see good, real, cheap food. Having been here before, that kind of thing is not that jarring for me.

“Is that a prison?” he asked of the first big building we passed. “Erm, that’s a school,” I said. True story.

Our four days passed in a bit of a whirlwind, meeting up with an old friend, a fellow blogger (again, thank you for showing us Putrajaya – see above – it was fantastic), some family, and my godmother/former neighbour. The latter was probably the most emotional. Physically, somehow the terraced row of houses looked smaller than I remembered; the entire street itself felt somewhat cramped. While some of the roads were familiar (I sometimes dream about those streets) the area, like any other, keeps getting built up further and expanding.

One common thread that comes through very strongly is the importance of politics. Elections were held just a week before we arrived, and is still the topic on everyone’s lips. Friends and family all brought up the fact that my parents emigrated to give us a “better life”, but speak of hope for the future, a more equal, democratic, peaceful one.

Aside from a couple of monorail trips, we mainly got around on foot, with rides from others (in particular from my friend, who deftly navigated the cavernous carparks and chaotic traffic like a pro – driving on these roads would probably send me into a catatonic state in no time) and via taxi. Oh, the taxis. Cabbies in KL are meant to be among the worst in the world. While I still have a tiny bit of Malay, my knowledge extends to, say, counting to 10, or simple words like hot/cold (panas/sejuk), which, combined with my NZ accent, made us prime targets for taxi rip-offs. As long as you get either a) prepaid taxi coupons or b) a taxi that uses its meter, you’ll be okay.

Next stop: Thailand. We haven’t been vigilant about avoiding ice while in KL, but we will from now. (I seriously hate paying for bottled water, but it’s a necessary evil.)

One other thing we haven’t been vigilant about? Tracking money. It’s been a little wacky as we’ve bought a couple of things and what with the meeting up with so many people (I feel sorry for T, being dragged around to meet all of them, which isn’t the most relaxing) but from now it’ll be about sticking to a budget (this is where blogging should help!) and taking things a bit slower as we (hopefully) settle into a little bit of a routine.

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