Monday, June 28, 2010

Truly Asia

I'm in Kuala Lumpur, probably for the last time in a while. It's a city quite a few people I know profess to dislike. My first ever visit here seven years ago got off to a shaky start when my overeager taxi driver started telling me his wife didn't understand him and asked me to come and sit next to him in the front seat as we sped in his battered Mercedes along a near-deserted highway from the airport, surrounded by jungle as far as the eye could see. As we raced past an exit ramp clearly marked "Kuala Lumpur", I clutched my mobile phone, which had run out of battery, nervously.

The cityscape here is quite different from other Asian locations such as Hong Kong and Singapore. As Malaysia more or less successfully keeps its inherent racial, ethnic and religious tensions under control, the architecture reflects the mix of cultures and the exigencies of the climate, albeit with a relentless mall-creep which is typical of Asia's successful cities. The extraordinary, gleaming Petronas Towers rise boldly above the city, visible from miles around and startlingly illuminated at night.

There are plenty of flaws: the religious police, the corruption, the terrible traffic, a constant prurient interest in western women on their own; but I always feel a sense of wonder, curiosity and interest here. The lack of uniformity in the buildings means there's constantly some new and interesting conjunction to observe of Islamic minarets, multi-inclined Imperial Chinese roofs, shiny shopping malls, colonial turrets, ancient shop rows and dirty shacks.


Claire said...

One of the things I liked a lot about Ho Chi Minh City was its non-homogeneity: a Miami-style house next to a shrine next to a Govrnment building next to a semi-ruin. A great sense of chaos with its own kind of order.

Claire said...


g said...

I went to KL the other day too and also found it quite stimulating. I had to wait for everyone to pray before we could begin our meeting. So that made for a change! Bumped into your blog and enjoying it immensely!

LottieP said...

Thank you G! I enjoyed yours too.