Kitschy Kuala Lumpur: Initial Impressions

Let’s skip the apologies for the inexcusable absence and neglect to the blog and jump right into the update: our new adventures in Kuala Lumpur.

Twin Towers, Petronas TowersThe last 6 weeks in KL make the craziest roller-coaster at Six Flags look like Mr. Toad’s wild ride at Disneyland, to say the least. Everything from the arduous 48-hour journey it took just to get here, to house-hunting, haggling, exploring, robberies, protests, new friends, good music and good drinks. I had to mention “good drinks,” because damn it was so difficult to get a decent cosmo in India!!

KL, I must say, is a pretty cool city… on the surface. Awesome architecture, impressive skyscrapers, trains so clean you can practically serve a 5-course meal from their floors without so much as a spec of dust in your food, malls so grand and opulent that it makes even the most posh shopping centres I have seen look like road-side stalls along slum-ridden streets, and society-amenities so wonderful that you’d swear you’re living at the St. Regis or Ritz Carlton instead of just a regular KL-type-condo. I mean seriously, we have 2 gyms – one on the roof that offers exercisers sweeping views of the city below, an Olympic-sized swimming pool (that’s right, 50m), salons, nail shops, grocery stores, and cleaners, all neatly packaged and secure in our little condo society. In Mumbai, I was lucky to be able to hop on the treadmill at our apartment gym without first having to ask the cockroach if he was done working out. Haha.

But, underneath the disguise of grandeur and opulence of the surroundings, lingering visitors are subjected to the less-than-impressive underbelly of Kuala Lumpur. A city that beguiles tourists with elegant style, yet offers little beyond that. A cursory glance of the top things to do in KL by sources ranging from various travel guides to even the NY Times lists shopping malls and eating places as the top, must-see things to do, with a bird-sanctuary coming in a close 7th… yes, I’m totally serious. Boring!

Now, let me be clear, this less-than-glowing review of KL has everything to do with the city, and does not extend beyond that. In fact, I cannot wait to leave Kuala Lumpur behind and explore the beautiful beaches and lush forests around Malaysia. Helloooo dream hiking trip! Hehe. But even beyond that, to learn about and witness some of the amazing Malay culture I have read and heard so much about. Unfortunately, a lot of that culture is hidden behind the soulless towers of shopping malls that fail to constrain the unbridled consumerism amidst its marble walls.The Pavillion, Shopping

Ok, ok, so you get the picture – the draw of Malaysia definitely falls outside its largest city. However, with that said, I must say, it is quite nice to be able to get anything you need from clothes to food anytime you want. Fruits are fresh, veggies are clean, the air seems less polluted than Bombay, the roads are spotless, people follow the rules of traffic, and, crossing the street doesn’t take an act of god and a few small prayers to make it to the other side safely.

But… I miss India.

In India, in Bombay especially, the city doesn’t pretend to be something that it’s not. It assaults your senses the minute, nay second, you step out of the plane… with everything from incense to trash, food, goats, cows, chicken, chai, smoke, sewage, and even the more overpowering smells of pride and love and opportunity that seem to waft over every entering visitor. Those – the cacophony of scents – is unquestionably Bombay.

There’s just something unmistakably elusive about India… pretty much every city in India, that leaves you clamoring to hop on the next flight home, yet longing to go back as soon as possible. Even Bombay, the city that I love to hate, and hate to love, has that effect on me, as you can see. The city, the country, is brimming with culture and rich history that there is never a shortage of things to do and learn that extend far beyond shopping malls and restaurants. I’m not saying India doesn’t have its problems. Please, let’s be serious here. If the government spent less time posturing and pontificating and more time trying to educate its people on issues like clean water, WOMEN, preserving its natural wonders and thousand-year-old temples and sites, then perhaps things would be different…

Sorry, I digress. In closing, there are wonderful and not-so-wonderful things about KL – just as there are in any major city around the world. It just seems as though the “bad” things, like consumerism and racism (yes that’s right, racism), are magnified here. One description I heard of Kuala Lumpur seems to reign true more than the others, “it’s a developed city with a developing mentality.”

Now, who’s coming to visit?

There are 66 shopping malls we can visit in the city alone… haha, jk. No, but really, who’s coming to visit – there are great things to see and explore outside of KL that we are just dying to see! love

In all seriousness, we have only been here not even 2 months. That’s enough time to have the honeymoon phases of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed tourists wear off, but not enough time to explore the city and all it has to offer. So, with that said, I am determined to prove the NY Times, Lonely Planet, Frommers, Fodors and TIME Magazine wrong, and find the top 10 things to do OTHER THAN shopping malls, restaurants and the bird sanctuary. I am not finished with Kuala Lumpur yet, nor have I written it off as these touristy guidebooks have. There has got to be more to this city than that – and I am excited to hit the streets to find out! Stay tuned!

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6 thoughts on “Kitschy Kuala Lumpur: Initial Impressions

  1. Very well written Lauren! I hope that it gets better and that you do find ‘your thing’ there. I am still looking for mine in Arequipa, but in the meantime there is always wine and beer ;-). Please expound more on the racism…I’d love to know what you mean. More importantly I would like to know how many people Id have to strangle during my visit. lol

    • Hi Alexandria, Sorry for the late reply! I definitely recommend getting an agent to help with looking for a place to live. They can find you more options in your price and location range. Most condo-complexes have gyms and pools for working out, but if you prefer a gym, most malls have a gym or two you can join. Be careful with the snatch thief situation out here. It is really bad!!!!!! Thieves on motorbikes come and take purses or any valuable jewelry right off your body while in motion – it’s really scary, and a really major problem. I have lived all over the world from the middle east to central america, and thought “yeah right, i’m always vigilant, this won’t happen to me…” sure enough, it did. So be careful. Best not to trust anyone on a motorbike! As far as places to drink, Bukit Bintang is a fun area for going out with lots of bars, pubs and clubs. Good luck, and enjoy KL!

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