Malaysia - An Unexpected Journey

(Posting from my phone. Will post more pics once I have better internet.) 

Surprise! Change of plans! Instead of spending a fifth week in Sri Lanka, which would have entailed an all day trip to Colombo and over $100 for a 5 day visa extension, I defected to Malaysia. It was either there or Maldives based on geographic proximity, but Malaysia was much more affordable, mostly because I had enough starpoints to book 7 nights at the Aloft in Kuala Lumpur. 

Anyways, it was kind of a blast from the past when my ex-boyfriend, Donavan, met me at the airport. It was nice to see a familiar face - for both of us I think. We took a teksi to my hotel so I could check in and drop off my bags. Then we had a quick dinner at the food court in the mall next door before going our separate ways since I had arrived pretty late in the evening.

My first impression of Kuala Lumpur (or KL) was that it was pretty similar to Singapore. To use an expression commonly used here: same same but different. Lots of skyscrapers and malls and tangled streets full of vehicles. But after a while I noticed a lot more culture and diversity. It's my first visit to a Muslim country but it wasn't complete culture shock because it's pretty modern and there are still a lot of Asians and Indians in addition to the Malay. 

Apparently it's rude to point using your index finger, so you're supposed to use your thumb to indicate a direction. I failed miserably at this and hardly ever remembered to adjust my gesture until after the fact. But I'm sure most people just chalked it up to me being an ignorant tourist. They also seem to have something against using the letters C and X. Instead, K is substituted for words like Teksi, Ekspres and Sentral. 

I didn't cover my head with a hijab or anything, but I kept almost everything else covered to 1) adhere to conservative dress customs and 2) minimize sun exposure. 

Anyways, my number one priority was doing laundry because it had been a month since I did a proper wash with machines. D took me to a laundromat and then I satisfied priorities two and three: waffles and bubble tea, respectively. (I had a long term craving for my favorite breakfast food. Pancakes would also have been acceptable.) 

After dropping my clean clothes back at the hotel, we headed to a mall called Publika. I normally hate malls but this one was exceptionally artistic, hosting several galleries and crafty shops featuring Malaysian talent. I found some great silkscreen postcards that I couldn't not buy. There were also some public sculptures and murals throughout the space. And food. Anything you could possible want to eat of drink was within walking distance. We decided on a hipster-y looking place called Fahrenheit 600 where I devoured a bowl of veggie pasta. 

After a restful Monday spent gorging and lounging at the Aloft, I decided it was time to see the city. I bought a two day pass for the hop on, hop off bus and saw the touristy sights. I made it to the Museum (spelling), the National Palace, the (supposedly) world's largest bird park/aviary, the Culture Center, the National Visual Arts Center and Central Market. I could have probably gone to more stops if they had more busses and/or less traffic. 

I actually met one of the artists exhibiting at the Visual Arts, or rather, she met me. Sylvia Lee Goh is an older Asian lady that's been painting still life, figurative and landscapes for over 40 years. She has a surprisingly strong grip for her age. I know because she firmly led me around the room by my wrist to discuss her favorite pieces. She was very spry and we conversed easily in English. She also cares deeply about and is often influenced by environmental issues with regards to her work. There was also a lot more contemporary work in the other gallery on the first floor and an impressive collection of monochromatic photography from the early 20th century. 

The museum was more informative than anything, like s crash course in Malaysian history. It's chronologically divided into four sections: pre-historic, the Malay Kingdoms, Colonial and Modern Day. After the kingdoms came the Portuguese, the Dutch, the British and then an attempted seize at power by the Communists. 

Here are some more tidbits I picked up from the museum. 

Tin and rubber important during colonial era. Reason for transportation/infrastructure. 

1511 Portuguese conquer Melaka

1641 Dutch conquer Portuguese, Melaka 

Pangkor Treaty 1874 - British colonial administration

Emergency Period 1948-1960: Communist Resistance, Anti-British

1957 Independence (Federation of Malaya)

1963 Malaysia including Singapore

1965 Singapore Independence

1989 dissolution of communist party

FLAG designed 1949 (Contest)

Glorious Stripes (Jalur Gemilang) - Most definitely inspired by the American flag

14 red/white stripes represent nation's 13 states plus federal territory of Kuala Lumpur

Navy blue = unity of people

Crescent = Islam

14 pointed star represents states + KL

Yellow symbolizes Malaysian Royalty

Ethnic Groups: Malay, Chinese, Indian, Sabah, Sarawak (last two in Borneo) 

I was excited to find a local yoga studio called Yoga dynamics where I could take a few classes before arriving in India the following week. Even though it's less than two miles from my hotel, it would take 15-20 minutes to get there by teksi because of the labyrinth of roads and slow moving traffic. I participated in a few Hatha classes led by an American expat. It was the perfect level of practice that I needed and it was nice to be in a class again instead of just me and my lonely mat. 

I was surprised to find an abundance of street art on both sides of the the river near Central Market and a busy bus station. I suspect it was sponsored because I saw a few logos amongst the murals and tags. The art was pretty inaccessible though - I had to just walk along the street with barriers in between me and the 15-20 ft drop below and couldn't find a way down so that I would be at eye level. Even if I could get down there, parts of the concrete sidewalk/riverbank were completely gone in some places; either torn up by the construction equipment I noticed or washed away by a flood maybe? I was only able to get a few crazy snapshots from afar with my iPhone. I was glad I had already gotten my street art fix in Penang (see additional post.) 


I decided to lighten my load a bit and mail home a box of clothes that I didn't absolutely need. It weighed 2.3 kg (5.07 lbs) and cost RM 98 to send. The guy at the Pos said it would either take 16 weeks or 6 to 10 weeks to arrive in the U.S. Either way I think it will be a small miracle if the box makes it home at all. 

Exactly one week later, my journey came full circle and I was back at the airport where I started, retracing my previously blazed trail back to Colombo and then continuing on to Bangalore, India!