Sunday, 25 March 2007

Malaysian KUL

I’m sitting back in Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA to its friends), sipping a beer and enjoying their free wireless internet service. My flight leaves in two hours, and I kind of wish I had a bit longer at this airport. This is because KLIA is a great airport. Which is fitting, because KL is a great city.

Really great. I’ve spent barely a day and a half here, and I’m all set to move in. I can’t think of anywhere else I’ve ever been that can compare. New York is a fantastic place, packed with culture, world-renowned landmarks and with a distinct edgy flavour – but it’s not as good as KL. I loved Zagreb, with its enchanting city centre and outdoor cafes spilling onto the roads to create a lively, friendly, exciting atmosphere – but KL is better. And for all I enjoyed Korea, even its thundering, bustling capital Seoul can’t rival its Malaysian counterpart. I’m flying back to Aberdeen and, well, oh dear: no competition, it’s like Barnet vs Barcelona.

KL is something special: a cosmopolitan capital without pretension, an Asian metropolis clean and orderly, a concrete jungle packed with greenery, a city pretty head to toe. It’s on the ascent and has a long way to go, and the optimism is palpatable everywhere. It’s Asian Muslim, and has married the best of both worlds without succumbing to the negatives. It’s developing with a direct eye on being developed. Architecturally, it’s magnificent, with one dead-gen world famous landmark surrounded by a host of other original, delightful structures. It’s peaceful, friendly, leisurely, fun.

It’s great, basically.

Of course, just 36 hours there; can that be enough for a considered view? Probably not. All I really saw was the city centre, plus a wander round Chinatown and the Indian part. I went to the top of a tower – the KL Menari Tower – and viewed the city from above, and almost all cities look good from 250m up on a clear day. I stayed at a wonderful, soothing, stylish hotel, and where you stay always facilitates your experience. But then, people fall in love in an instant, so they say; love at first sight when their eyes meet from across the crowded room. Only time can tell whether that first jump of the heart develops into a lifetime of growing old together, or is a passing infatuation over all too soon. But what I do know is that no other city has ever come close to matching KL’s first impression, and I feel I’ve only scratched the surface as a superficial tourist.

As you might be able to tell, I rather liked Kuala Lumpur. Likewise, I rather liked Malaysia. After the grim, disturbing hell that festers in Nigeria, Malaysia reaffirms faith not in humanity. This isn’t a perfect nation, but to be honest in my week here – albeit spent very pampered – I’ve seen very little imperfect with it. As I say, I’ve barely scratched the surface. But the place has been a revelation, and I can’t wait to go back.

My day and a half, basically, has been spent relaxing and doing a few tourist things. I could quite happily have spent my entire time in my hotel, but felt it prudent to do a little sightseeing. I took a long wander round the shopping centre of the Petronas Towers, and bought a gold-plated chess set for £300. This might seem excessive but the moment I saw the set I knew I had to buy it: it was beautiful, and if I had refrained I’d be bitterly regretting it now. I wandered for a while in the evening, through the Indian part of town, then to what I think was part of Chinatown, where I allowed myself to be hustled into an outdoor restaurant, where I stuffed my face with barbecued squid and 660ml bottles of Tiger. I queued early in the morning to get a ticket for the Petronas skybridge (the bridge linking the towers). I wandered up to the KL Menari Tower and watched the city from above. I bought books, drank coffee, sat outside, and looked at all the Asians.

Because KL is cosmopolitan, but Asian cosmopolitan moreover. From the West, it’s easy to lump Asians into one category, or perhaps two – Chinese and Indian. But a wander through KL and it’s clear how distinct all the nationalities are – the aforementioned Chinese and Indian in their various forms, Malaysian of course, Japanese, Indonesian, Filipino, Thai, Pakistani, Arab: all these were seen. There were hardly any Westerners or Africans. All this multiculturalism meant, of course, one important thing: great food.

But I see that I should really be moving on towards making sure I’m on this flight, otherwise I’ll be trapped here. Which might not be so bad. But duties call in Aberdeen, and I’m sure I’ll be sent off somewhere else within a few days – maybe even hours – of getting back, so I’ll just have to lodge a request to go on future Malaysian jobs, and perhaps strongly encourage my company to open an office here.

1 comment:

Mike said...

Writing as I am from an office on the 75th floor of Petronas Tower 2, I have to concur - I love the place.

I've been to almost as many places as you, and this is one of the few I would choose to live in!