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April 16, 2024

Princess treatment in Kuala Lumpur

By CARTER BANKER | March 7, 2012

To continue on the Asia trend of the past couple weeks, this week I will be talking about Malaysia. Malaysia is the definition of multi-cultural. Though technically a Muslim country, Malaysia is made up of large numbers of Hindus, Buddhists and Christians. Sitting on the subway in Kuala Lumpur, the country's very modern capital city, you will find yourself sitting with an Indian woman wearing a sari, a Buddhist monk, a woman in a colorful headscarf and long dress and a teenage girl wearing a tank top and shorts. You are also very likely to see Arabian Gulf women in full abayas that cover everything except for their eyes. Many of these women are most likely vacationing with their husbands and sons to escape the often-smothering restrictions placed on daily activities by Arabian Gulf countries.

Kuala Lumpur is a very clean and modern city, as I have found many large cities in Asia to be. The people couldn't have been nicer, but the lack of sidewalks and the abominable traffic prevents me from saying that the city is exactly tourist friendly.

On my first morning in Kuala Lumpur, I explored the areas called Little India and Little Chinatown. Little India was full of stores selling beautifully colored headscarves and saris. I bought myself a lime green headscarf with little gems on it to wear to the mosque later (and because I have always wanted one).

Chinatown was filled with shops selling goodies in preparation for Chinese New Year. There were lucky oranges, red lanterns and basically everything else that you could possibly imagine.

In the afternoon, I explored the Kampung Baru neighborhood, which is famous because it is an undeveloped, charming residential neighborhood in the middle of the city, right next to the Petronas Towers (the land mark of the city). It is highly sought after by developers but is protected by the city. Walking through the quiet streets, I was able to engage with the residents who emerged from their houses to peek out at me.

I've learned that the best way to overcome a language and cultural barrier is with a smile — it is a universal signal and it shows that you come in peace. Wearing a bright orange sundress (it was 98 degrees out), I hadn't realized that it was a predominantly Muslim neighborhood. But through non-verbal communication and body language, I was able to elicit positive and welcoming responses from the traditionally clad Muslim women.

It is always the children who are the bravest, as they love to start conversations with me. Little kids riding past me on their bikes would say hi. One boy playing soccer asked me where I was from.

When I said I was from the States, he said "Oh, you give me money?"

Visiting this neighborhood was a really unique experience for me because there were no other tourists, and, as I was walking through this quiet, residential neighborhood filled with small houses and trees, I could see the Petronas towers looming up from behind — talk about contrast.

I went to the sky bar that evening at the top of the Traders Hotel to get, what everyone calls, the best view of the Petronas Towers. It would have been cool, except the hotel pool is up there with a lot of fat Russian men in Speedos. They kept jumping into the pool and disturbing my peace, especially when one of their bathing suits fell down.

On the second day, I visited the Batu Caves right outside the city. The caves are a religious holy site for Hindus. At the entrance to the caves (well, it was actually more like one big cave) was a giant statue of a Hindu god (I can't remember which one) and behind that are the hundreds of steps leading up to the cave. Inside, there were many shrines dedicated to different gods with pilgrims going from alter to alter and praying. There were also monkeys, everywhere. I thought they were adorable and spent a good twenty minutes snapping photos of them, until one particularly hungry monkey lunged at me bearing his teeth.

After the caves, I headed back into the city to visit the Islamic Arts Museum. My guidebook and trip advisor (if you have never heard about trip advisor you need to check it out NOW! I couldn't imaging planning a trip without it) told me that it was one of the top sites to see in KL and one of the best Islamic Arts Museums in the world.

It did turn out to be a very impressive museum, but I was a bit frightened by the anti-Semitic and "how to be a good Muslim wife" literature that they were selling in the gift shop. Right down the street from the Islamic Arts Museum was the Masjid Negara, or the National Mosque. To go inside, tourists have to put on these long purple robes and headscarves. The women giving out the robes were very impressed that I had brought my own headscarf and told me it was very beautiful.

I must admit, when I had the whole ensemble on, I felt a bit like a Saudi princess (not that Saudis would ever be allowed to wear purple or green, but you get the point). I was not allowed to go inside the actual prayer center of the mosque, so I just wandered around the outside taking in the scene.

My takeaway? Kuala Lumpur is a great city to explore and well worth taking the time to visit if you find yourself in Southeast Asia. But, I wouldn't recommend going in the summer! In my next article, I will continue my discussion on Malaysia and talk about my visit to Penang Island, which is nicknamed the Pearl of the Orient.

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