Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – August 1999

Selamat Datang! – the first words which greet you on arrival in Malaysia.

Colourful markets in Little India

Colourful markets in Little India

August

31st August is Malaysia’s National Day. There will be parades in Merdeka Square. Malaysia prides itself on being “a veritable melting pot of people and cultures.” The current ethnic mix can be attributed to the British who bought in labourers from South India and coastal China. By 1931, these immigrants began to outnumber the Malay population, although today the Malays (including the indigenous Orang Asli tribes) make up the largest ethnic group.

On the 15th August 1957, Malaysia became independent, and in 1963 peninsular Malaysia united with Singapore, Sarawak and Sabah to form a union (which Singapore left after only two years) forming Malaysia as it is today.

August is also the peak time for sea turtles to come ashore and lay their eggs. Four species come to the shores of East Coast Malaysia. However, now the numbers have greatly diminished, perhaps partly

due to the behaviour of rude human observers. If you are lucky enough to see turtle please respect them and keep your distance.

Malaysia is holding a Japanese festival which ends in October. This includes a film festival (look in daily papers for details) and a series of exhibitions/displays/workshops around the city.

Two exhibitions I thought sounded interesting were:

28-31st August – Origami workshop and exhibition

Isetan Gallery in KLCC

10-27th September – Contemporary Clay exhibition

National Gallery, Jalan Temerloh

Wandering Around Town

The fabulous copper domed Sultan Abdul Sahmed Building

The fabulous copper domed Sultan Abdul Sahmed Building

Walking is hot work, so drink lots of water! The Star and Putra light rail systems are up and running and provide an excellent form of transport around the city.

Although most of the famous sights, temples, mosques and markets are described in guidebooks, it is also fun just to wander aimlessly and discover places that may not be marked on your map. When you get lost, and stand squinting at your map, locals will always come up to you and offer you directions.

Although most of the locals are genuinely friendly, and curious about where you are from and what you you think of Malaysia, there are people who will try and rip you off. At the guesthouse we heard several warnings from people who had had very bad experiences with this couple who seem to operate near the central market. A well dressed man and woman, they approach lone tourists and ask questions, when they find out your country, they will coincidentally announce that their sister is studying there.

This is not really unusual as many Malaysians study overseas, however next they will start asking you to go with them for a drink and tell

them more about your country . This is when you announce that you are late/ must meet your friend or whatever. You will find that most people who approach you will stop and chat to you on the street then shake your hand and be on their way, so when they start asking you to go with them you should be suspicious.

Do not go anywhere with this nicely dressed, friendly

couple. They will introduce you to some thugs, and extract as much money from you as they can, possibly involving card games (you will always lose). Anyway be sensible rather than paranoid.

Food

As a Vegetarian, I found finding food a little frustrating at times. I have heard people complaining about the lack of Vegetarian food in Malaysia, so here is some advice.

I have noticed that Indian restaurants run by Hindus tend to be better for vegetarians than Indian restaurants run by Muslims. Muslim restaurants usually have star and crescent symbols in their signage, while Hindu restaurants often have names like “Sri Krishna”and will also have a small shrine inside.

If you come across a Chinese “vegetarian” restaurant do not be alarmed when you see the menu!! It may feature items such as Shark fin soup, Peking duck, Tofu stuffed with beef, and sweet and sour pork. My first experience with one of these restaurants had me walking out in disgusted confusion! In fact, these dishes are made from elaborate

replicas or “vegetarian meat” which can be found in some supermarkets. Even if you cannot bring yourself to order something with such a carnivorous sounding name, there are usually some vegetable and bean curd based dishes also.

Art Galleries

The National Gallery has moved to a new location, near Lake Titiwangsa in Northern KL (it was once near the railway station). The new address is 2 Jalan Temerloh.

The busy streets of KL are a mixture of old and new

The busy streets of KL are a mixture of old and new

While this is now quite out of the way, I would recommend a visit to anyone interested in modern art. The gallery features frequently changing exhibitions of both local and international artists. I went recently to see the Malaysian finalists of the ASEAN art awards and I was inspired by the overall quality,

diversity and innovation throughout the works.

If you are in the Suria KLCC mall (beneath the Petronas towers) and are bored of shopping, the Petronas Galerie is also worth a look. Until September 5th, it is having an exhibition of Malaysian Songket.

Entrance to both these galleries is free.

Arrival

The Malaysian Tourism website provides information on KLIA including the options available of getting from the airport into town.

Accommodation

According to the guidebooks, the majority of backpackers head to Chinatown. After having also stayed at another nearby establishment (and viewing rooms in several), I must recommend the Odyssey Backpackers. Located at 46 Jalan Silang, on the third floor, the

Odyssey is clean and secure with friendly and helpful staff. Elsewhere you will probably need your own padlock and an affinity for bedbugs!

Communication

If you purchase a Telekom phonecard, be aware that the cardphones are out of order and there is only one place in town where you can make international calls: The Telekom office.

Internet cafes are mushrooming, and are cheap. Downstairs from the Odyssey, the Melody internet cafe is nice. It provides a breakfast deal of toast, coffee/juice and 1/2 hr internet for 5RM, although it doesn’t open until nine.

Helpful Links

Malay Tourism

Visit Malaysia

Malaysia Directory

Lonely Planet

The Author

I am a Kiwi currently living in Petaling Jaya, a satellite city of Kuala Lumpur. After travelling through South East Asia earlier in the year, my partner and I have returned to live and work in Malaysia.

We believe that living in another country will provide a different, new and exciting set of challenges. Also we look forward to opportunities for further travel and exploration.

Apart from travel my main interests include; Art, Wildlife/ Conservation and Eastern religions/ traditions. So don’t be surprised if I focus on these subjects!

I am currently living in my tevas (it’s too hot for boots here!) and suffering from the curse of Cinderella’s step sisters.

At intervals I am lured into shoe stores with their tempting arrays of shiny, fashionable and ridiculously cheap shoes, to undergo a kind of consumer torture.

At the urging of eternally optimistic saleswomen, I attempt to squeeze into shoes which are inevitably two sizes too small!

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