Kuala Lumpur: Recollections and reconnections

I definitely knew we weren’t in Kansas/Auckland any more when I was woken by the early morning Muslim prayer call.

A heady mix of the familiar and the new would be the best way to sum up KL. Sights and sounds long forgotten, but instantly recalled. Navigating the footpaths, cracked tiles, grates over open drains, and all. The underlying scent of sewage. Solid retro fire hydrants. The curious juxtaposition of all this against the high tech digital billboards, endless shopping (malls after malls after malls!) and other trappings of a cosmopolitan city on a whole different scale than what we’re used to. I veered between feeling like a total hick (e.g. attempting to figure out the monorail) and marvelling at the lack of certain basics (no GPS in taxis? Whaaaat?).

It’s been more of a shock for T, bless, who’s soldiering on despite:

  • The heat. Our first order upon arrival was to seek refuge inside an air-conditioned mall, but as we learned, things don’t open till 10 or later, and finding your way out of the currently-being-refurbished Sungei Wang plaza is a hell of a lot harder than it might seem.
  • The unfamiliar food. He’s reasonably used to Malaysian, but not for 3 meals a day. I would happily wander around at length, eating only street food, but comfort/hygiene concerns on his part are curtailing me a little bit. Where he sees a disease-ridden hawker stall, I see good, real, cheap food. Having been here before, that kind of thing is not that jarring for me.

“Is that a prison?” he asked of the first big building we passed. “Erm, that’s a school,” I said. True story.

Our four days passed in a bit of a whirlwind, meeting up with an old friend, a fellow blogger (again, thank you for showing us Putrajaya – see above – it was fantastic), some family, and my godmother/former neighbour. The latter was probably the most emotional. Physically, somehow the terraced row of houses looked smaller than I remembered; the entire street itself felt somewhat cramped. While some of the roads were familiar (I sometimes dream about those streets) the area, like any other, keeps getting built up further and expanding.

One common thread that comes through very strongly is the importance of politics. Elections were held just a week before we arrived, and is still the topic on everyone’s lips. Friends and family all brought up the fact that my parents emigrated to give us a “better life”, but speak of hope for the future, a more equal, democratic, peaceful one.

Aside from a couple of monorail trips, we mainly got around on foot, with rides from others (in particular from my friend, who deftly navigated the cavernous carparks and chaotic traffic like a pro – driving on these roads would probably send me into a catatonic state in no time) and via taxi. Oh, the taxis. Cabbies in KL are meant to be among the worst in the world. While I still have a tiny bit of Malay, my knowledge extends to, say, counting to 10, or simple words like hot/cold (panas/sejuk), which, combined with my NZ accent, made us prime targets for taxi rip-offs. As long as you get either a) prepaid taxi coupons or b) a taxi that uses its meter, you’ll be okay.

Next stop: Thailand. We haven’t been vigilant about avoiding ice while in KL, but we will from now. (I seriously hate paying for bottled water, but it’s a necessary evil.)

One other thing we haven’t been vigilant about? Tracking money. It’s been a little wacky as we’ve bought a couple of things and what with the meeting up with so many people (I feel sorry for T, being dragged around to meet all of them, which isn’t the most relaxing) but from now it’ll be about sticking to a budget (this is where blogging should help!) and taking things a bit slower as we (hopefully) settle into a little bit of a routine.

7 thoughts on “Kuala Lumpur: Recollections and reconnections

  • Reply SavvyFinancialLatina May 17, 2013 at 09:49

    Awesome adventures!!!! I haven’t seen my birth country in almost 20 years. I wonder how I will feel when I go back.

  • Reply Mike@WeOnlyDoThisOnce May 17, 2013 at 10:22

    Fascinating intersection of old and modern in some of those pictures. You have quite an eye for photography.

  • Reply Financial Samurai May 17, 2013 at 12:23


  • Reply Financial Samurai May 17, 2013 at 12:24

    KL is one of my favorite places in the world. I remember playing video games in Sungei Wang Plaza! Very seedy area on the 8th floor or something. Is it nicer now?

    Where is Putrajaya? The area is escaping me. Malaysian food is the best, but the heat is stifling!

  • Reply Michelle May 17, 2013 at 14:34

    Looks like so much fun! Definitely looking forward to all of your travel posts.

  • Reply Yuen Tuck Siew May 17, 2013 at 21:09

    Damn it! Only just found your blog – we could have shown you a great time and given you some local moneysaving tips!

    Enjoy Thailand and if you’re coming back through KL – get in touch.

  • Reply Link love (Powered by burgers and new faces) | NZ Muse May 11, 2014 at 13:27

    […] time last year we were in Malaysia, trying to acclimatise to the heat before starting the rest of our trip. But for now, the focus is […]

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