We sensed a vibe shift of this city immediately when we got off the plane. There were heat sensors that scanned us all. I presumed checking for sick individuals with fever to quarantine. Rules were posted. Every public announcement was concluded with: “Severe penalties may apply”. Even in our accommodation there were lists of financial consequences for broken or taken items. On freeways everyone stayed in their lane. There was more police present than any other place we visited to date.
As we rolled into the city center from the airport outskirts, large buildings took form. Skyscrapers mixed with 20 story apartment complexes. This was clearly a city modeled on modern principles of design and money. This place definitely promoted itself as a financial center for Malaysia. It attracted business people and the elite from all over.
Jalan Alor Night Food Court
Street food was an apt description, but the connotation didn’t match for the Jalon Night Market. This street was open 24 hours for all to enjoy. Restaurants lined this two-block stretch. The restaurants put tables and chairs all the way into the street allowing just enough room for a single car to pass or during busy hours streams of people walking up and down. Some street vendors also took spots where tables did not exist and put out some stools and tables of their own. There was very little merchandise and a whole lot of food. Durian and lesser fruits, juice stands, Chinese, Thai, Malay, and Indonesian food restaurants and food stalls line the streets. Throngs of people pour up and down the street. Touters called: “Hello Hello, come see. Come eat”, they rang bells, they put menus in our faces. Everyone was vying for our attention and our Ringgets. Hawkers went table to table. People sang and played guitar for money. While authentic Malay food could be found, it catered mostly to tourists from all over.
Money attracts opulence. We thought we’d try it out. We stayed at a swanky downtown 51 story hotel with an infinity pool. We showed up to enjoy ourselves in a pool. I certainly had never been this high in a building before.
We managed to get our pictures in front of the Petronas Towers and the KL Tower. We felt a little out of place as there were plenty of other people in their designer wears and designer bodies who were working hard for that perfect shot. We watched one couple spend nearly 45 minutes of photo shots to get just that right pose. Thrusting out of water, chest out, pouty lips. Another person spent 30 minutes taking selfies of themselves looking sternly and philosophically off in to the distance. (If you have to take selfies of yourself looking philosophically into the distance, you’re probably not as philosophical as you might think).
Clerks and attendants were everywhere ready to help; ready to enforce rules. “Sorry no children in the gym. Sorry, you must be dry before using the elevator. You are too close to the edge, come back. No sandals in the gym. Pool towels are for hotel guest only. No garbage in the hallway.”
We certainty felt awkward leaving dusty shoe prints on the black granite hall in front of the elevators.
The veneer of wealth was thin. The building was fantastic; however we weren’t alone in being slightly out of place. We watched a great many people coming back from corner stores with food, so they didn’t have to eat at the expensive restaurants. At night when we turned on the lights, cockroaches would scurry. The Ikea furniture was on a floor that wasn’t stained properly because the sliding doors weren’t slid to the side.
As buildings like these go up, communities are pushed out.
From our 15th floor window we could see five new skyscrapers going up. In the middle was a small community that appears to be getting smaller. The Malaysian news is rich with stories of housing bubbles and the loss of affordable housing. (Click Here). Also recent news to eliminate more parks from the KL landscape is further evidence of priority given to money over other intangible goods. (Click here)
We puttered around the Central Market and Pedaling Street. Souvenirs and knickknacks to buy along with assorted food stalls.
Nestled next door to Pedaling Street was the Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Shoeless and with appropriate dress, we went inside. Several priests were praying, visitors were paying their respects to the various alters, and some visitors meditated in corners. Other visitors walked around focused on filming themselves in the temple. It is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia, built originally in 1873, and then the ornate tower below was added in 1968. I know so little about the Hindu religion and I felt out of place.
We did very little here, except for eating and lounging around. We spent a huge portion of time recovering our sleep, catching up on lessons, and planning for the next portion of our trip.