Kuala Lumpur – Unity in Diversity
A spontaneous decision took us to a country that could be described by the phrase Unity in Diversity. It was Malaysia, a country we have never been to before and only learned a few controversial things about. After spending a month in its capital city, Kuala Lumpur, we left it with a feeling that one day we may return to embrace this city and become its citizens.
Using Airbnb we found a room in a two levels house hosted by two European entrepreneurs in the district called Bangsar. The house was very close to the Bangsar Baru (literally New Bangsar) neighbourhood that consists of two shopping malls (Bangsar Village I & II) and several streets full of shops, restaurants and cafes.
Malaysia is a country whose identity may be described by the phrase Unity in Diversity. The main nation of the country, Malays, represents the half of the population of Kuala Lumpur. They are followed by a large Chinese community, Indians, Indigenous people and also a less numerous, but still present European-American community.
And since KL is the capital of the country, it is truly the melting pot of this unique multinational country. Here in Bangsar, we could feel it from the first time we walked through the streets. In the shopping malls and in the street shops one will find different international brands. And on the streets, there are European bakeries, Asian-style cafes, Chinese food stalls, Indian restaurants and of course all kinds of Malaysian shops. And finally, once a week, an outdoor market offers a great choice of fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs, as well as local specialties from all these main nations, mentioned above.
We lived near the Masjid Saidina Abu Bakar As-siddiq Mosque and the first morning we were woken up by a beautiful adhan (the Islamic call to pray performed by a human voice) at about 5:30 a.m. And actually, we got used to it so quickly that after a couple of days we slept through it.
Once after taking a breakfast at a local Chinese restaurant, we had the chance to speak with the owner, who told us even more about how important the preservation of culture is, even for small ethnicities. She explained that there is no united Chinese community in Malaysia, but several groups according to specific ethnicities. Hers, for example, was Teochew (Chinese: 潮州). Therefore she does not speak Mandarin, but only her dialect, and participates in the life of the respective community where the goal is to preserve the dialect, cuisine and specific customs by teaching it to the newer generations.
To be honest, we enjoyed our stay in this area so much that when it came to writing about it, I found out that we completely forgot to take photos. So here is just one more. As I mentioned above, the cultural diversity of Malaysia is represented, among other aspects, by the traditional cuisine. Below is the picture of us eating rice served on a banana leaf in an Indian restaurant. This dish is typical for both Southern Indian and Malaysian cuisines.
Another interesting thing is that advertisement, you can see on the cutlery holder on the photo below. It promotes a government campaign, called 1Malaysia. It focuses on the creation of national unity through common values such as culture of excellence, acceptance, meritocracy, education and integrity. The government struggles for years to create a national unity in such a multi-ethnical country, and while being in KL we rather felt that it works. We have often seen people of different ethnicities sitting on the same table in a cafe, talking in one language and enjoying the time together.
Here is another example.
Unity in Diversity in architecture
Speaking of diversity again, it is easily discoverable throughout Kuala Lumpur, and this time I am referring to the food, but to the architecture.
Not far away is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery, located in a 115-year old, colonial-style building. This free museum is great if you want to find out more about KL’s history.
It also works as a tourist information centre where you can take all the leaflets about Kuala Lumpur at the entrance. You can buy a special ticket to watch a light show.
After the tour is finished, you can use the ticket as a coupon to shop for a couple of souvenirs and redeem the same amount, you paid for the ticket.
Another beautiful example of the splendid architecture of KL is the old train station that is still used by commuter trains.
Safety for women
There are special train coaches dedicated to women.
If a man accidentally gets on this coach, he is asked to change on the next station by an audio announcement played after departure from a station.
There are also waiting areas, where women would feel safe and comfortable. Finally, the government recently launched a women-only taxi service (with female drivers only).
Going back into the city. Chinese characters, announcing their enterprises, colonial style little houses and islamic style skyscrapers…
There is also a very specific Chinese area in KL, the Chinatown (Petaling Street area). Chinese people originally came to this country to work at the tin mines. However, during a civil war (Selangor Civil War), the tin mines were temporarily abandoned. Chinese workers returned after the war, but found the mines destroyed. Yap Ah Loy, an influential Chinese figure at those times, had opened a tapioca mill on Petaling Street to persuade the Chinese to stay. Until today, Petaling Street is sometimes called ‘Starch Factory Street’, referring to its history as the centre of the tapioca flour production.
And there are very unique areas of Indian culture, as well. It the next post we’ll take you to a very special place!