It was September 1982, first day of high school sitting in social class. There was an “exotic” looking guy with black, black hair sitting next to me and I was curious and intrigued. I wonder where is he from and what brings him to this school in our small city of St. Albert, Alberta. His name is Fred. He was born in Penang, Malaysia and he had just arrived in Canada for his education. We became fast friends and Fred was my very best friend in highschool. (Christine is friends with Fred as well, and they were teammates on the badminton team). Fred kept saying, “Mark, you must visit Malaysia”. Fast forward to 2004 where we happen to be in Venice, Italy at the same time. After ten years, we reunite in St. Mark’s Square, Venice and enjoy a seriously overpriced drink and visit for hours. Another eleven years pass, and Fred’s ongoing push for me to visit his home country becomes a reality. We arrive in Kuala Lumpur (KL) and we are reunited with Fred, his wife of ten years, Doreen and his two adorable young daughters, Maya (7yrs old) and Hannah (5yrs old).
Kuala Lumpur metropolitan area is over seven million people, and it is known as the most industrialized and fastest growing region in Malaysia. The weather has been averaging 30C (36C on the hottest day with a ‘feels like’ temp of 39C) and the humidity is around 80-85%. Needless to say, we are sticky and sweaty ALL THE TIME; however, no winter coats or sweaters has been fantastic.
KL has an amazing buzz and energy to it like nothing we have seen or felt before. Yes, Toronto and Vancouver are ‘happening’ Canadian cities and the cities in Europe such as Paris, Rome and Prague are hard to beat, but there is a chaotic yet organized method to the madness in KL that has our jaws dropping more often than we can remember.
I think of our circulatory system as we travel through KL. I imagine our red blood cells rushing through our arteries at high speeds, swimming along beside each other then taking a turn at the last second narrowly missing and avoiding a crash into a wall as the cell swims happily along (perhaps oblivious to the path it has taken) to get to its destination. This is similar to the controlled chaos of the driving here! Vehicles are everywhere, cutting off each other and squeezing into driving spaces in a rather “quiet” (no honking), organized, and expected way. Six lane roadways with seven or eight vehicles across plus many, many motorcycles scooting in-between narrowly missing side view mirrors at speeds I would only do with at least 8 airbags ready to deploy around me at a moments notice. Thankfully we are not driving! But we are enjoying the show.
Hey Christine, “did you just see that lady on the scooter with 2 small children (all with no helmets) run that red light and continue on like they didn’t do anything wrong?”.
Speaking of transportation, Malaysia is a developing country and as a result, getting around as a tourist is not the easiest. KL has a variety of buses, LRT, mono rail systems, but they are not linked and the buses and bus information appear to be unreliable at best. (We took the local bus and may never have made it home if not for the help of two friendly girls completing missionary work in KL – one from Utah and the other from Christmas Island – both places we have enjoyed very much, the girl from Christmas Island can’t believe we have been to her homeland and smiles from ear to ear!) Taxi services are known to be “questionable”, so we have discovered an incredible service called “Uber”. Download the App onto your smartphone, request a ride and next thing you know, you have a local pick you up and bring you to wherever you want. Your trip is automatically charged to your credit card on file, no cash is exchanged, and your route is GPS’d the entire way. Our forty-minute ride from downtown cost us 9 Canadian dollars! A heck of a deal.
The currency in Malaysia is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM) and the current exchange rate will get you approximately 3 RM for 1 Canadian dollar. A large meal at a basic restaurant can cost 3 Canadian dollars; although it is very easy to find the overpriced coffee shops such as Starbucks where a latte will cost more than a huge plate of food.
I have always been a bit saddened by North American’s infatuation with commercialism but I feel like I have not seen a single person here without a smartphone in their hands. There are name brands everywhere! For those who can afford it, KL loves shopping! There are shopping malls around every corner, each providing a very welcoming air conditioned environment where you can sit, people watch and enjoy a culture combined of Malays, Chinese, Indian and small groups of other mixed races.
There is no shortage of great food! It is everywhere! The smells are intoxicating … and sometimes a bit overwhelming. In our first week we have enjoyed:
Eel (Unigi) (eel with feathery bones you eat), Salmon Sashimi, Steamed egg (Chawanmushi), Soba noodles (Buckwheat noodles), Satay (meat on skewers), Char Kway Teow (charred rice noodle), Nasi Lemak (peanuts, anchovy, chicken) with peanut dipping sauce, Teh Tarik (Pulled Tea with milk), Teh C Kosong (tea, no sugar, milk with ice), Nasi Kandar (from a chinese coffee shop, Indian dish – delicious), Vietnamese Pho, Roti (bread) Canai (pronounced Chanai), Nasi Lemak
Fermented Bean Curd Dishes at a family gathering: Fried lala (Malaysian clams), Braised Egg Plant, Fried Chicken in bean curry, Steamed fishhead in soy sauce and ginger, Beef & Ginger Kaway Teow (rice flat noodles – not a favorite thus far)
Local beer (Did you know Malaysia Guinness is recognized as one of the best Guinness brewed outside of Ireland, having previously beaten more than 50 breweries worldwide to win the coveted Guinness League of Excellence award five years in a row?)
Milo (unofficially a ‘National’ favorite chocolate drink), Ikan Pari – Stingray curry, Steam mixed pork with preserved vegetables, Homemade Chinese Herbal Soup with wolf berries, lotus root and Chinese mushrooms, Bubble tea, Roti Babi (pork), Belacan Fried Rice (spicy paste rice), Lemongrass Ginger Tea (so yummy), Spirulina, Hokkien mee (black noodle) with Sambal sauce, Cantonese fried noodles, Rassam (Indian pre-dinner drink which we thought was a sauce for our rice – oops!), Four angled beans – Indian, Bitter gourd (Indian) and rice, a lot of rice!
Fruits: Longans – so Delicious!!!, Dragon Fruit, Mangosteen, Baby mandarin, Papaya, Mango
With so many cultures KL is religiously diverse. There are many places to worship and we have already seen numerous temples. Islam is practiced primarily by the Malays and the Indian Muslim communities. Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism are practiced mainly among the Chinese. Indians traditionally adhere to Hinduism. Some Chinese and Indians also subscribe to Christianity.
As we prepare to move south to Singapore and the UNESCO town of Maleka, we say so long to the phenomenal Petronas Twin Towers standing at 451metres tall, the very cool and busy area of Bukit Bintang, the Brickfields (Little India), Batu Caves(Sacred place for Hindu’s in Malaysia), Petaling Street (China town), 1 Utama, Lion Dance, Chinese New Year preparations, and our amazing hosts Fred, Doreen, Maya and Hanna.
As our adventure really begins, we think of the latin word “Numinous” – describing an experience that makes you fearful yet fascinated, awed yet attracted. The powerful, personal feeling of being overwhelmed yet inspired.
Let the adventure begin…