Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

After a twelve hour delay in Brussels and London, I finally arrived in Kuala Lumpur late in the afternoon of January 25th.  KL, as called by locals and many visitors, is an impressive city of approximately 4 million inhabitants, spread over about 243 square kilometers.  It harbors the highest twin buildings in the world, the Petronas Towers, as well as the fifth tallest communications tower worldwide, Menara KL.

During my four days in Kuala Lumpur I stayed in an area of town called Bukit Bintang, which is the main commercial district.  And commercial it is.  While walking through it you have the impression that every Malay has at least three business in its name: usually in the trade, transportation & food sectors.  This is also what makes the city so different; you can see that this is one of the last SE Asian tiger economies still moving upwards.  Malaysia was significantly affected by the Asian crisis in 1997, but recovered much better than the majority of its neighbors, showing 7% economic growth in 2004.  It is generally accepted that this was mainly induced by economic policies introduced in the seventies; disconnecting economy from racial groups.

Interesting about Malaysia is that it actually has two simultaneous legal systems – the secular system imposed by Parliament, as well as syaria, or the Islamic law, which only applies to Muslims.  According to federal law, a non-muslim affected by a syaria ruling can seek recourse in the secular courts – although this is currently under discussion in the Malaysian court of appeals.  It works nice in theory, though.

Malaysia consists of three major ethnic groups – ethnic malay, about 58% of the population, Chinese, 24% and Indian 8%.  The city has the typical major city style suburbs which are populated by certain groups, such as a Chinatown and Little India, but in general the groups are much more mixed on the streets than in other cities.  A broad-smiling taxi driver put it to me this way: “Indian and Chinese mix amongst each other quite often, while Malays are a bit more reserved”.

Public transport in Kuala Lumpur is very convenient, with buses and trains as well as a spectacular monorail with great views of the city.  People speak english very well, making it in general a very convenient city to travel through.  In its outskirts it also entertains a wide variety of museums, amongst which a museum on the occupation (of which these people know quite a bit, having been “visited” by the Portugese, British, Dutch and in the end, the Japanese).

It was on August 31st of 1957 that the Union Jack was lowered and replaced by the Malaysian flag (albeit only a subtle difference), at a place called Dataran Merdeka, Merdeka Square.  This nicely mown grassfield is the home of the worlds tallest flagpole, which you can see on the below picture.

The beautiful white building in the back, the Kompleks Dayabumi, is a typical example of the fusion architecture Malaysia is so proud of.  Many buildings in the city combine islamic and secular design, leading to a spectacular view from really whichever location in the city you are.

Close to the city center you can find a large park that contains a number of great sights – amongst which the Museum of Islamic Art, a butterfly orchard and a large bird park.

Kuala Lumpur also combines a large number of religions – Islam being the predominant one, joined by Buddhism, Hinduism and animist religions.  Islam in Malaysia is a mixture of the Sufi and Wahabi schools, which is quite unique.  Wahabism is mainly a school founded by clerics who felt Sufism had altered too much from its intentions due to innovations in society.  Nevertheless, Malaysia gave me the impression of being very tolerant.  The clashes of Southern Thailand are frowned upon here in Kuala Lumpur.

The below two photos were taken at the Thean Hou buddhist temple, just outside of the city.  From the top of the building you can enjoy an absolutely marvellous view over the Kuala Lumpur skyline.

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