Monday, September 19, 2016

Culture club: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

 I visited Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia over a month ago and I'm just now getting around to posting about my first trip around in Southeast Asia. (Alright that is not entirely true, I made a visa run to Vientiane, Laos before I went to KL but that was purely a work trip that consisted of two night bus rides that were less than comfortable, so nothing special to report about that.) With a handful of friends and a backpack, we flew from Chiang Mai to Kuala Lumpur for five days of relaxation.

The Kuala Lumpur including the famous Patronas Towers

KL combines Indian, Malaysian, Chinese, and Islamic influences to form a bustling, culturally diverse city. In different pockets of the city, different cultural influences make their presence known, mixing together peacefully. KL ended up being a city full of firsts due to this melting pot of cultures.

Driving around KL

Of course, we hit up the highlights of KL like the Royal Palace and the Patronas Towers with the help of an open-air bus tour. In a lot of larger cities, they have bus tours that allow riders to hop-on-hop-off at their leisure. Before KL, I never used these services but it was a great way to learn more about the city layout at the beginning of the trip. After riding the bus for two days, we felt like we could navigate more efficiently on our own. This tour also let us see Chinatown, Little India, and a few museums throughout the metropolis.

Outside of the Royal Palace and the KL Tower

In Malaysia, Islam is one of the major religions, making Malaysia my first time visiting an Islamic country. Some of you may not know this, but I took an introductory Arabic language class my senior year at university, so KL offered me my first opportunity to but these incredibly basic skills to the test at the National Mosque and Islamic Arts Museum.

The National Mosque of Malaysia, the Masjid Negara Malaysia in Malay, is a major attraction for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. During my time in Europe, I visited a ton of churches, and the National Mosque was my first expereince touring a mosque anywhere in the world. Like the art nerd that I am, I anticipated making comparisions between these two places of faith. Mosques and Churches have many similaritities: beauty, peacefulness, mindfullness. Of course, the Mosque stuns the viewer, with natural light pouring in through every direction and stained glass in glittering blue and deep yellow geometric patterns in the prayer rooms cast an etheral light over the practitioners. In order to entre the mosque, robes are given to men and women and women are also given a hijab for modesty. While waiting in line to enter the mosque, I observed travelers from all over the world, all of whom were open to learning more about Islam. Not only that, I observed nothing but respect from my fellow travelers in this holy place of worship. Seeing people open to learning about other religions and respectign other cultures gives me hope for a future of acceptance.

Interior of the National Mosque

Inside the National Mosque

To beat the heat, we spent a few hours wandering around the Islamic Arts Museum in KL. Confession: I love wandering around art museums. However, I never actively seek them out when I travel; they just seem to find me. One of the highlights of Islamic art is the use of Arabic script to create beautiful, intricate patterns made out of words. One of the things I did learn in Arabic was how to write and pronounce the Arabic alphabet, so it was exciting to identify a few words in the art.

Not only is there Islamic influence throughout KL but also Indian influences. Prior to coming to Asia, I knew nothing about India or Indian food. For quite a number of meals, Indian food ended up being the closest and cheapest option around. Mexican food has always held the top spot in my heart, but Indian food is gaining ground rapidly to secure a close number two spot. Indian food, both spicy and sweet, is a vegetarian's dream. I loved eating tosai with egg and cheese, dhal, and drinking tea tarik. At all of the Indian places, the food comes served on a compartmentalized metal lunch tray and, for whatever reason, I was smitten with the trays which is probably due to the fact that they looked like cafeteria trays from the 70's and I love anything vintage and nostalgic. Little India served as a sensory feast full of incredible smells, delicious foods, and bright colors abounded.

A delicious Indian dinner

With my friends in Little India--Look at those gorgeous arches!
KL was full of firsts, including being my first tri pin Southeast Asia, like visiting to a mosque, eating Indian food, going into a cave at the Batu caves, and visiting a bird park (birds are a major fear for me--thanks, Hitchcock--so this was a big deal). Let's hope these firsts continue!

Batu Caves

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