The first two days I didn’t get it. This city, it was one crazy construction site with big roads and no pedestrian crossings. A few beautiful buildings scattered here and there. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital city, didn’t charm me and I felt like I wanted to get out.
Kuala Lumpur explorations
We first wandered through Chinatown where the main streets are one crowded chaos and an explosion of colours and sounds. Cramped in the streets are stands with all kind of things for sale, mainly cheaply made rip offs of the big brands. Handbags, clothing, jewellery and a whole lot of other things one does’t actually need. Around the stands are men and women trying to sell you their wares, asking exuberant prices followed by a “how much you wanna pay?”. Along the side of the street, behind all the stands are prostitutes waiting for business and the occasional homeless person napping in between it all.
After Chinatown we saw the Golden Triangle, the modern part of Kuala Lumpur where busy traffic crawls along big roads pasts high rises and shopping malls. The hot air was filled with the noise of building sites and traffic and the sun was beating down on the concrete. Air conditioned shopping malls gave a short relief from this manic city life.
We explored Little India at night when we had a craving for Indian food. We sat down at a plastic table in a dark street, in front of a food stall. Meat was grilled over charcoal and naan bread was freshly baked. While we were waiting for our food we suddenly heard a loud squeal as a big rat popped out of the sewer about 30 centimetres from our feet. After the initial scare we couldn’t help but laugh. And compared to that rat, all the cockroaches that wandered around didn’t seem that bad. I started to feel that maybe we had picked the wrong place to have dinner but once the food was on the table the doubt disappeared.
A change of heart
On our last day in Kuala Lumpur I changed the way I was looking at this city. I was not annoyed by the ugliness around the beauty. I took it for what is was. This change of mind made Kuala Lumpur interesting. A city in limbo. With old and new and in between and with plans for the future. I was amused by the severe lack of pedestrian crossings and weird ways of building things and by roads leading you nowhere and back to where you started. I loved visiting the Masjid Negara mosque where a lovely lady helped me with my headscarf and where the floors felt cool and smooth under my bare feet. In this concrete city full of activity I found peaceful places, friendly people and new experiences. After a bit of a shaky start Kuala Lumpur started to grow on me.
Between the hectic traffic and the building sites, Kuala Lumpur has a dirty and sweaty charm mixed with air conditioned modern city vibes. If you want cocktails on a rooftop bar and shiny shopping malls, no problem. If you want the grid and the grime, it’s there too. It might not be the prettiest city but it sure is a city with many different faces.