After spending 4 days in Kuala Lumpur, I have to say this has become one of my favorite cities. Nick and I arrived to KL by bus and were astonished by the modern bus station, which felt more like an airport. We saw familiar brands like Black Diamond, Garmin and Huka advertised outside of a small shopping plaza and for the first time in Asia saw tolls with “E-ZPass”. After getting off the bus, we took the train to Chinatown, which was where our guesthouse was located. The train ended up being our main mode of transportation as it was inexpensive, easy and reliable. Our guesthouse was decent, however we could have done without the 5 rats that visited us in the evenings.
We spent our first day in KL visiting Batu Caves, which ordinarily are caves with a Hindu temple inside, however on the day that we visited, we joined tens of thousands of Hindu devotees celebrating Thaipusam. Thaipusam is a festival where locals walk 9 miles (shoeless on hot asphalt) from a temple outside of Kuala Lumpur to Batu Caves. This festival involves various forms of sacrifices and burdens including piercing their cheeks with Vel skewers, hanging hooks with offerings (coconuts and limes) from their backs and bellies, and carrying large kavadis. The individuals, often in a trance, offer pots of milk to the war god, Murugan, once inside the cave. As we climbed the steps to the limestone cave, we watched those participating remove hooks and piercings and leave their offerings for Murugan on the ground. In the main temple, hundreds of metal vases holding milk were poured into a communal area. The pungent smell of warm milk filled the cave. After enjoying some fried Indian treats and sweets, we headed to the train station. Hundreds of people pushed and shoved their way to the station. The crowd was so packed, at points I felt it was hard to breath as there was so much pressure against my ribs. A woman and a child fell behind me and couldn’t get up without the help of others around her. For the first time, I understood how one could easily be trampled to death in a crowd. Overall, Nick and I were thrilled to participate in this celebration and it was a day full of chaos, colors, and smells. Hopefully, this helped prepare us for India!
After the Hindu Festival, we visited Masjid Jamek and Masjid Negara, the National Mosque. We took in the beautiful details and spoke with a gentleman about Islam. He answered all of our questions and made it clear that the commonly negative Western view on Islam was offensive. It is ridiculous that an entire religion is judged by it’s extremists. Imagine if one of the world leaders believed all Christians had polygamous relationships with forced children. In addition, he compared the hijab which many consider oppressive to a nuns attire which we call devoted. 2/3 of the woman I interacted with in KL wore hijabs or chadors and I grew fond of them. They are beautiful. I believe that a society that dresses more modestly could be positive and has made me rethink how I want to portray myself when I return to the states. I believe that there should be a balance between the Burka and nudity. It was hard seeing woman dressed in Niqabs (full cover with only the eyes showing) while their boyfriends wore cowboy hats with bright red Nike sneakers, as I wondered what the female wanted. I had a hard time accepting that woman had to dress modestly for man’s “love for woman, lack of control, thinking with their dicks, etc.” Why is the woman to blame? I was faced with a lot of interesting issues, however thankful our new friend was willing to share his religion with us. He invited Nick and I to watch the afternoon prayer which most foreigners are forbidden from and we got a deeper glimpse into their practice.
On our second day, Nick and I visited the Islamic Arts Museum and Merdeka Square. At the museum we saw collections of pottery, jewelry, clothing, and tile work. We saw models of various mosques around the world, many in Uzbekistan and a southern styled mosque in New Mexico, USA. We explored the old KL railway station with Islamic arches and spires. Later, we laid in the grass at Merdeka Square, where Malaysia’s independence was proclaimed in 1957. The final tourist activity on our list was to visit Petronas Towers, which formerly was the worlds tallest skyscrapers, however has since dropped to number 12.
On our last day in KL, Nick and I received a text from our Spanish climbing friends that we met in Yosemite and were reunited with in Laos. We found out that our trips would overlap by a few hours and we were beyond elated. After breakfast we took the train to meet them. While walking through the train station I noticed a woman give another woman begging a red Chinese envelope, hong bao. For Chinese New Year my parents would give me hong bao with money inside. I wondered if this was a simple act of kindness or if it had to do with Chinese New Years.
Nonetheless, we met our friends and enjoyed the afternoon together. While at a cafe, we experienced a Chinese Dragon Dance. Two dragons began to dance outside of the cafe and danced to the beat of drums. They entered the restaurant, ate some oranges that were waiting for them at the counter, went into the kitchen, and back outside the main entrance. They ate hanging vegetables over the doorway (which reminded me of hanging mistletoe). We were told that it was the last day of Chinese New Years (15 days total) and that on this day some homes and businesses pay for the dragons to come and dance. The dragon dance brings good luck and prosperity for the new year. Although I could see the children’s faces inside of the dragon costumes, the shop keepers face was joyous. It looked like he (the shop keeper) was seeing santa and he truly believed this would now be a better year. He mentioned that throughout Chinese New Years, people must demonstrate simple acts of kindness, such as charity. This may have explained the woman I saw giving a begging woman hong bao.
Favorite Local Eats:
Tg’s Nasi Kandar – delicious paneer curry and paper roti the size of my arm!