Like many travelers before us, Bryan and I arrived in Kuala Lumpur craving a bit of down-home, USA-style modernity. We were expecting a few exciting perks -- like high-speed Internet access that's actually speedy, transportation that includes windows and seatbelts, and maybe even a place to trim my unruly hair. What we didn't expect was to spend our first full day in Malaysia happily stuck inside the tallest buildings in the world -- eating nachos and boneless buffalo chicken salad and watching X-Men 3 on the big screen.
[And I really must mention about the movies in Malaysia that a) tickets cost a bargain-basement $3 a piece, and b) the only popcorn sold at the concession stand was caramel -- how weird is that?!]
Kuala Lumpur isn't exactly the most charming city I've ever been to, but it's big, it's safe, and I think it's just what we we need at this moment in time. We're lazily mulling over an itinerary that will take us to more of KL's sights as well as some outside the city, like limestone monkey caves and a nighttime boat trip through a colony of fireflies. It's also possible to take a bus to the even more sophisticated (and more expensive) Singapore from here, and the tiny Brunei isn't much further -- but you can't chew gum in Singapore or drink beer in Brunei, so... We'll see. A completely dry country, can you imagine?
The cuisine in KL is dominated by Chinese and Indian (yum!) and our first breakfast consisted of tender, buttery roti grilled with egg -- for about 50 cents a person. Islam is the primary religion here -- the majority of women wear headscarves -- which makes for a different feel than Vietnam or Cambodia. It's clear that the economy is stronger and that the people generally more well-off, but many buildings still bear crumbling facades and costs have stayed mercifully low (except if you eat at Chili's, that is.) The temperatures actually cool down at night (a novel concept!) and if I happen to need any MAC cosmetics, I can buy them at one of the gazillion macro-malls right down the street.
As for the famous Petronas Towers themselves, I found them dizzingly beautiful. After the ancient beauty of Angkor Wat, these two buildings are almost the perfect complement: sleek, futuristic, massive, a feat of modern technology. It's hard to photograph something so big, even when you're lucky enough to have a full moon to include in the frame. I'm sure some have said that inside the towers, you might as well be in LA somewhere, but I'd beg to differ. Sure, you can buy a salted pretzel from Auntie Anne or a large with cream and sugar at Dunkin' Donuts -- but in LA can you see a brand-new release for $3 a piece or pick up your crossbow after lunch?
I think not.
Monday, June 12, 2006