Kuala Lumpur: the Phog!
I have now spent five days in Kuala Lumpur, a place most people refer to simply as KL, but which I insist on referring to as the KL because that's the way Cohen would refer to it and that's a good enough reason for me. (You either get it or you don't, sorry.) Overall, I have to say I like the KL. It's not a great place for a tourist--I've spent more time than I would have liked just wandering around aimlessly--but I think it would be a nice place to live. If nothing else, there's lots of good restaurants, which I always think is a big plus. Also, despite its size--about two million people live here--it seems to be pretty compact, so that while you can take either the subway or the monorail around, you can actually get to most things on foot.
Or at least you can theoretically, I guess. Despite how close together many of the things to see and do are, there's not a big emphasis placed on the pedestrian experience. As a result, I often found myself either winding my way across the middle of eight-lane roads because there was no other way I could see to cross (luckily, China prepared me well for this) or simply wandering in circles because there was some sort of obstruction, like a river, that I didn't know how to get over (luckily, my life has prepared me well for circle-wandering.) Walking around was also a bit hard since, being a former British colony, they drive on the wrong side of the road in the KL, so I was always looking the wrong direction for oncoming traffic. Happily, I managed to avoid being flattened, which is always a plus. (And, for all you Brits out there, I'm sorry, but it is the wrong side. We invented cars, after all, which means we get to decide. So there.) (And yes, "who invented the car?" is a tricky question, but the first working gas-powered car was created in America in 1893. The really amazing thing is that it took us over a hundred years to find an excuse to invade an oil-rich country. Does that mean GW is a genius? Possibly.)
The strangest thing for me about the KL is that it's the first predominantly Muslim country I've been to. It hasn't really affected me that much--other than the annoying fact that the breakfast buffet has beef instead of pork bacon--but it's still strange to be woken up every morning by the muezzin calling everyone to morning prayer at five-thirty or so. Maybe it's just me, but I couldn't get behind a religion that made me get up so early every day. In fact, I've started to wonder if that's the reason Muslims aren't supposed to drink alcohol: if you need people up and about before the crack of dawn, you need to make sure they weren't out partying late the night before, and what better way to do it? Just a thought.
In general, though, peninsular Malaysia is a pretty moderate place, and maybe one of the most culturally mixed places that I've been--besides the Malaysians, there's also lots of Indians, Thais, Chinese, along with a healthy dash of Colonial-era architecture. (The eastern part of Malaysia, which shares an island with Indonesia, is a little more hardcore.) So mostly you just see women who are dressed normally but happen to have a headscarf on, which generally matches quite well with their outfit. Although, given the way Muslims are usually shown in the US, it's a bit strange to be in the mall buying pretzels from a couple of girls with headscarves at an Auntie Annie's Pretzel stand outside a Hermes store, but maybe that's just me. Actually, I've only seen three or four women wearing burqas, which are the full on black cloth robes with a veil and everything. And even at that, one was coming out of a SonyStyle store with her kids, and the other was sitting at Starbucks drinking a latte, lifting up her veil just far enough to slide the coffee cup up to her mouth. Needless to say, Holly and I were very amused.
Anyway, since most of you will never visit the KL, I have assembled for your viewing pleasure the biggest phog (photo blog) yet. You can thank me later. Or now, whichever you prefer. And gifts are always nice, just for the record.
Here's the story behind this first picture. The KL did not exist until 1857, when a bunch of people looking for tin to mine landed at the point where the Gombak and Klang rivers met and apparently decided to make a city. Being imaginative sorts, they named it Kuala Lumpur, which means muddy confluence, and then half of them promptly died from malaria and things of that nature. But since they did find tin, the city turned into a boomtown and yada yada yada I'm here right now. At any rate, here is the confluence I have just described, which I was actually thinking would be more impressive:
Of course, the big thing to see--literally--in the KL are the Petronas Towers, currently the world's tallest buildings at about 1,482 feet high. What can I say? They're big. Their design is based on an eight-pointed star, which is a common Islamic symbol (though I have yet to figure out why), as you will see later in this phog.
From the foot of the towers:
Almost the same place, but night:
The bottom of one tower. The entire structure is plated with those steel-like panels. It makes it very shiny, at any rate.
Being a Muslim country, there was also a lot of Islamic stuff around. Duh. Like this arrow, for example, on the ceiling in our hotel room. It points in the direction of Mecca.
This is Masjid Negara, the national mosque. It's hard to tell from this picture, but the main dome--the blue roof--is in the shape of a star.
Being a mosque, you have to dress appropriately to go inside, and since I was pretty sure shorts and a t-shirt didn't cut it, I didn't even bother. However, I did take a picture of these Japanese tourists who are robing up so that they could go inside.
This was above the main entrance to Masjid Negara--it shows the current time and the different prayer times. Apparently, there's a lot of them.
A walkway in front of Masjid Negara. Note the eight-pointed stars.
One of the buildings by the Petronas Towers. Looks sort of like an eight-pointed star, doesn't it? (As to the Petronas Towers, as I mentioned earlier.)
There's a lot of what I think of as Islamic influences in the architecture. This entire building, of which I could only photograph a small part, is in the shape of an eight-pointed star:
Another Islamic-influenced building; the lattice work is very similar to the building in the picture above:
The Railway Administration Building:
The KL train station:
The Supreme Court building, which is located on one side of Merdeka Square, where Malaysian independence was proclaimed in 1957:
Masjid Jamek, a mosque that sits right at the confluence of rivers that gave the KL its name:
Some random architecture shots:
Remember when I said Malaysia was pretty moderate? Here's a group of school children on their way to the mall. What kids are doing going to the mall in the middle of the day is beyond me, but whatever.
As a former colony, the KL also has a lot of Colonial architecture, like these buildings:
This very Art Deco building is the Central Market:
A shiny new McDonald's in an old Colonial building. Somehow, it's all very fitting:
This is Merdaka Square, which I mentioned before. It used to be where the British played cricket; now, it is home to what is apparently the world's tallest flagpole, at 328 feet. (If you look closely, you can see some tiny flags flying on standard-sized flagpoles.)
Like pretty much every other town in the world, the KL has an Irish Pub, just in case you want a pint of Guinness. If anyone can explain the prevalence of Irish pubs to me, I'd be happy to listen. I mean, Guinness is good, but it's not THAT good.
Of course, as you might have guessed from the Petronas Towers, the KL is also a very modern city as well. How can I be sure? Because it has three really fancy malls. (The last one, the Suria KLCC, was the best. Trust me.)
One of the malls had a new Timberland store in it, and to advertise they had live models sitting in the store windows and reading the paper. How that says Timberland I have no idea, but this little girl seemed to find it very amusing:
And, like any other modern city, there's Starbucks. A lot of Starbucks. Including this one, which was under a tent. And if that wasn't weird enough, it shared the tent with another restaurant: Kenny Roger's Roasters. Weird.
Although it's not all shiny and new, of course. This is the view from one side of our five-star hotel room:
the KL also has a very nice subway system, which I only mention because it was so very clean and very empty and very orderly. Especially when compared to, say, Shanghai and Beijing ...
On one side of the Petronas Towers, just outside the Suria KLCC mall, was a really big public park with a pool and everything. It was quite pleasant, if I don't say so myself.
Did I mention that almost everyone in the KL seems to speak English? Very handy, that. In fact, they apparently know it well enough to butcher it, as you can see from this sign. Holla, indeed.
Then again, sometimes no English is necessary. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest that this sign has something to do with an all-you-can-eat buffet ...
As I mentioned before, the KL is a very multicultural city. The next four pictures were all taken on the same street. The first is of the Hindu Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Luckily, I only have to type it; I don't have to say it:
Right across the street was the Taoist Guandi Temple:
Right outside the Sri M. Temple. I think the monk must be Taoist?
Right outside the Guandi Temple, although I think he's actually affiliated with the Sri M. Temple. Just a guess.
Finally, last and maybe or maybe not least, depending on your picture viewing preferences, I have some random street shots from the KL:
Lots of motorbikes here. If you look, you can see that for some reason a lot of people put their jackets on backward when they ride. I have no idea why, but it beats capes, that's for sure.
The little green WALK signal guys were funny because they were actually were animated to show the person "running" across the street. Maybe it's just me, but every time I saw one, I thought about Pitfall. There's alligators in Malaysia, right?
A random street that I will pass off as being typical:
The open air market in Chinatown, which is where you go to buy knock-off purses and other merchandise. Weird coincidence that it's in Chinatown, huh?
A building from the future, circa 1960. I think it's seen better days.
An eerily empty underground walkway in the KL Train Station.
This is, without a doubt, the best sign I have seen in a while. "Where are you going?" "To the Fook Hing coffin shop. Those Fook Hing coffins are the best man, the best." "Yeah, I dig those Fook Hing coffins ..."
And finally, me, taking a picture of myself in a highly reflective window. Hey, I have to amuse myself somehow ...
So that's that. If anyone actually got all the way to the bottom of this post and is even now reading this sentence, thanks! Now we are off to Phuket for vacation (the Chinese get the first week of October off for "National Day," which is their Fourth of July), so no updates for a while. Although in place of updating the blog I will hopefully get a wicked awesome tan, so that's something. For me anyway--you're sort of screwed. Sorry.