I travelled by taxi in Singapore a few months back and got into a conversation with my driver. We conversed in English the entire time and, while negotiating the best traffic route to take me to my destination, the taxi driver uttered surprise when I explained I was not local so I’d have to trust him to take the most efficient path.
“But you speak English so well. And you’re cultured. Like a Singaporean!” the taxi driver exclaimed.
“Uh, yeah…” I replied, “Many Malaysians do. We don’t live in trees, you know? You’ll be pleased to know your neighbours drive cars, work professional jobs and live in brick houses!” I added, tongue in cheek.
That was a comical situation alright, but not as uncommon as you’d think. This was in our neighbouring country, Singapore. What kind of reaction do you think I get from folks I meet in Europe and America?
When I lived in UK in the 80s, the only English locals who’d heard of Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia were those who followed the news because some unfortunate Brit sod had got himself arrested in Kuala Lumpur on drug possession, and everyone in the Western World was debating the mandatory death sentence that Malaysia imposes on convicted drug traffickers. More recently, the reason my friends in Florida are familiar with Malaysia is due to the unfortunate series of flight disasters involving Malaysian-owned airlines.
So, I thought for today’s post, I’d give those unfamiliar with Malaysia and considering a visit a brief introduction about my country, and Kuala Lumpur, it’s capital city, my place of birth and residence.
In a nutshell, Malaysia is a country of almost 30 million citizens (demographics as at 2015), geographically situated in South East Asia. Malaysia’s main body of lands are the Malaysian Peninsula (just below the tip of Thailand) which houses 11 of its 13 states, of which the federal and commercial capital is Kuala Lumpur and administrative hub Putrajaya, and the two states Sabah and Sarawak sit at the northern part of Kalimantan island. Neighbouring nations are Thailand, Burma (aka Myanmar), Cambodia and Vietnam to the north; Indonesia, Singapore and Australia to the south; and Philippines to the north-east.
Due to its historical significance as a commercial meeting place for trade in the 18th century, Malaysia is a hodge-podge of cultures. Its population is multi-ethnic and multi-cultural, consisting of Malays (approx. 45%), Chinese (approx. 43%), Indians (approx. 10%) with many other ethnicities making up the rest. The official religion is Islam, although many citizens practice other faiths; the most common, after Islam, are Buddism, Christianity and Hinduism.
The name “Kuala Lumpur” originates from the Malay words ‘Kuala’ (which means confluence) and ‘Lumpur’ (which means mud), thus signifying the geographical confluence or meeting of two rivers that run through in the city: Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang (you guessed it, ‘Sungai’ means river). Malay is the country’s official and national language, although many other languages are spoken amongst natives including English and dialects of Chinese and Indian.
Those who keep track of global architectural developments would know that the Petronas Twin Towers, which looms over the Kuala Lumpur skyline, was recognized as the world’s tallest building from 1998 to 2004. Kuala Lumpur is quite the center for retail, with over 70 large shopping malls and thousand of smaller retailer outlets offering the latest haute couture to the most intricate handicraft. Malaysians are also known for our warm hospitality and love for food. Because of the blend of cultures, you’ll find delicacies from all the main ethnic groups and other nations here, including Malaysianized versions of these too.
Apart from the Kuala Lumpur metropolis, our country is home to the most beautiful rainforests and beaches. Western tourists regard Malaysia as a one-stop center for world travels since we have a bit of all Asian cultures in one melting-pot. Plus, currency exchange with major Western currencies is decent AND the majority of our people speak English.
So, that’s a quick introduction to my beloved capital city and country. We are a civilized society. And, I assure you, we don’t live on trees unless we’re on a bird-watching stint.
My apologies for not having any of my own pictures of the Kuala Lumpur skyline to show you at this point. Instead (because I’m a foodie) I append below a few pictures of Malaysian delicacies to whet your appetite!
Just do a simple Internet search to find out more! And I hope you’ll consider visiting our land of beauty and multi-culturalism!