Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Malaysia Truly Asia - Part 1

Photos:


Petronas Towers
Bird Park
Batu Caves
KLCC - Aquaria



I have just spent little over a week here in Malaysia, and what a time it has been! It’l take me years to explain it all in detail :). So I guess it makes sense to split up all the experiences into multiple posts. So here I go..


The Welcome:


I landed in KL on Sunday 20th Aug. The touchdown was on time. I was floored by the absolutely stunning airport (Kuala Lumpur International Airport – KLIA). In spite of being so huge and busy, the facilities are so immaculate that one will hardly face any difficulty in finding one’s way through.


We disembarked from the plane at a “satellite terminal” and a short train ride (about two minutes) took me to the main terminal. I just couldn’t believe it when I was out of the airport in 25 minutes flat – customs, baggage claim and everything! I had been advised to take the KLIA express to the city rather than taxi. The non-stop KLIA express takes 28 minutes for the ~50 km ride to the centre of the city – KL Sentral. And it costs only 35 RM!! (1 RM = approx 12 INR). A dedicated airport expressway is also under construction. This is a model of how the link to an airport should be if it is far from the city. And to think the Bangalore International Airport would be operational next year with stone-age link from the city.


Anyways, even before it was 6 a.m, I found myself at KL Sentral with hardly a soul in sight. Fortunately, the place is well marked. Signages are okay kind of. And I discovered that I just exit from KL Sentral, cross a road which is as narrower than MG Road; and Voila! I am at my hotel. What more could I ask for as far as convenience is concerned? Anyways, I slept for the rest of the morning and only woke up around 1 for lunch.


The People and the Culture:


Whoever coined the caption “Malaysia – Truly Asia” was absolutely spot-on. Malaysia is a mutli-religious, multi-cultural, multi-language, multi-ethnic society. The majority are the Malays, but there is a sizeable chunk of Chinese and Indian (principally Tamilian) population too. Although most signboards are in English and Malay, you do see lot of Chinese and Tamil boards as well.


Islam is the religion followed by majority of Malaysians, although there are Christians, Hindus and others as well. Inspite of all the differences, the patriotism and pride for the country is apparent everywhere – in the way people conduct themselves, in the newspapers, on TV, in malls – everywhere. It really is a “Truly Asia” experience here.


People are also generally very courteous. For example, drivers always give way to pedestrians at Zebra crossings. Secondly, English is understood and spoken widely (maybe I am comparing this with Bangkok and that’s why I am more comfortable here : ). Part of the reason could be that Malaysia was ruled by the British prior to its Independence. Also, the Malay language (also known as Bahasa) uses the English script.


The people are quite “modern” here. The first sign of this is the presence of women everywhere. One can find a large number of women in the workforce. This is heartening to see. The other indication is the mall culture. There are a few enormous malls (as I found out the hard way – I almost dropped dead walking from one end of a mall to the other ;)


The City and Infrastructure:


KL itself is quite developed as far as infrastructure is concerned. The city is a maze of expressways, fly-overs, underpasses and what not – even tunnels. Average driving speed within the city is in the region of 60 kmph!


Coming to buildings – obviously the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks KL is – the Petronas Twin Towers. But if you thought that these are KL’s only claim to fame, think again. KL has over a dozen ultra-high skyscrapers and hundreds of really tall buildings.


Coming to public transport. KL has a comprehensive network of train (a-la our Metro) – there are several “lines” of these, mono-rail and bus transport; not to mention the taxis. Getting from point A to point B is always easy – and cheap too if you are within the city. Taxis are relatively expensive – but you’d use these only if you are going to – say a suburb; or from a place to the nearest train station. Congestion is less compared to any place I have seen; although I did face traffic jams a couple of times. Taxi drivers sometimes refuse to go where you ask them to; and sometimes demand excess fare.


One bad experience I had was with the Putra LRT (Light Rail Transit) – that’s one of the lines of their equivalent of Metro. Most of the ticketing here is automated – with machines. But once it so happened that the ticketing machines at KLCC were out of service. So there was a massive Queue at the manned counters. I was waiting at the queue for more than half an hour; and I was still only half-way through when the machines started working. I quit my queue to go to the ticket vending machine. But to my bad luck I found that the machines were still not completely fixed. They refused to accept notes – and I did not have 1.60 RM in coins with me . Also by this time the queue for the manual counter had swelled. Thankfully, I knew of a monorail station about 10 minutes walk away. So I went there and took the monorail to KL Sentral. (of course this also gave me the opportunity to photograph the Petronas twin towers at night :D)


Food:


One thing you won’t miss in KL is Indian food. There is an area called Brickfields near where I stay; and it’s the Indian equivalent of ChinaTown :). It has all kinds of Indian shops and restaurants. And even otherwise, wherever you go in KL, you are never too far from an Indian eatery. You can eat traditional South Indian food on banana leaf; or you can eat Chapati, roti, Dosa etc. Lassi is available almost everywhere.


Although vegetarianism is well understood, sometimes you gotta be careful. I had gone to one Indian restaurant at Batu which proclaimed to be “Pure Vegetarian”. We went in and my friend handed me the menu with a wry smile on his face. There were all kinds of vegetarian dishes in the menu alright. “Veg Chiken, Veg Mutton, Veg Fish”. How I wish I had taken a photo of the menu card :D


You also get Chinese food like fried rice and noodles; although I haven’t experimented much on that count.


Tea and coffee are normally made of condensed milk, or no milk. Its kinda strange – I’d rather prefer these beverages with pure milk instead.


Entertainment:


The people are pretty modern in this aspect too. Myriad kinds of entertainments are available. Amusement and theme parks are present both inside the city and within couple of hours drive (example at Genting Highlands).


Many of the malls have multiplexes; and cinema, just like the population, is a colourful mix. I was told that Malaysia has its own film industry; but there is a huge craze for Chinese; and Bollywood movies too. At first I thought that its only the Indian-origin population which watch the Bollywood and Tamil movies; but I came to know that its not the case. Bollywood movies in particular are released with Malay sub-titles; and everyone watches them. A R Rahman is a rage here; and I have friends who carry atleast a dozen ARR CD’s in their cars!! People are very knowledgeable about Bollywood stars; and I was kind of embarrassed going into conversations about Big B; SRK et al.. because I got the feeling my Malaysian friends knew more than me.


Sight Seeing:


I have done a little bit of sight seeing so far in KL; principally the Bird Park, the Batu caves and the KLCC (Petronas twin towers and Aquaria). I will write up on each of these in separate posts. I guess I will be visiting the Petronas towers again; because last time I went there I did not climb to the observation bridge on the 41st level. So I will reserve the post on Petronas towers for later.


There’s tons of stuff to do in KL itself. Malaysia is celebrating its 50th year of Independence. 31st August is “Merdeka” (Independence Day). The celebration is going on in a big way. At each and every step one will find some aspect related to Merdeka celebration. There’s an international fireworks competition going on and we hope to be able to visit that.


Other things we have planned are Genting, and some coast/island trip. We actually wanted to go to Langkawi island; but it would require a 2 or 3 day trip; and not sure when we will have the luxury of 3 days at a stretch. Lets hope we get to visit this paradise!


Well, that’s it for now. I’l be posting bi-weekly blogs and photos whenever I get time. I will also write up on my other sight-seeing trips when I find the time. Doston, agle post ke saath hum phir haazir honge – same blog; same URL. Tab tak ke liye Namaste, tata, good-bye, please do take very good care of yourselves.

3 comments:

itsme said...

awesome description of the places bro..
Also the snaps of the petronas towers are amazing.

Njoy ur stay there. Visit as many places as you can..

I too have a blog pending from my side.
Will do thast as soon as i find time

Arun..

Anonymous said...

hey kiran... a really well written post... u have touched upon the different aspects very nicely...

hey u seem to be truly fascinated by malaysia.. hope u plan to com back... ????

n btw... Dont the roads there have names??? how come u dint mention tat then??? :D

-Resh

PN Subramanian said...

It was a kind visiting yourself reading your first post on Malaysian visit.