The KL-monorail serving commuters within the city centre (image from the web)
Ever flown a low-cost airline? I bet. Ever flown a low-cost airline over a distance of 10.000 plus kilometres? Try and you will gain a deep appreciation of serviced flights! The total travel time becomes forty-something hours instead of fourteen (this includes transits, delays, and arrival by two in the morning), your three-course meal platter will decrease to a simple take-away box and bottled water (additional drinks shall be charged directly), no individual screens to view the latest movies or play the updated games on –there is not even a major collective one for safety instructions display, no standard blankets and beauty cases, and no soap in the toilets! It is as basic as it can get, which is fine for short distances, although I am not sure whether I wish to be carried in this style again from Northwest Europe all the way to Southeast Asia.
But I have reached the capital of Malaysia safe and sound and restored my mental and physical distress I was suffering in the Netherlands after a few days, thank God. Time flies –as always: this is my fourth week already, and I have encountered a lot in between. As avid followers of mine know, I will not bore you with a chronological overview of events, but thematically capture my most remarkable experiences and contemplative impressions. I must add that I have so many impressions to reveal, but due to time restrictions I can only share a few. I will get back on more in the following posts. I must also confess that I am no longer keen on carrying a camera, but I will try to include more pictures next time. Here we go:
welcome to kuala lumpur. what brings you here?
I have come to this fascinating city to conduct a three-month research for my Master’s Degree in Children’s Rights at the University of Amsterdam. My research question is as follows: given the context of an increasingly competitive era, how is child’s play conceptualised, manifested and managed within the enculturation processes of middle-class Malay, Chinese, and Indian preschoolers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia? To put it differently: today’s world is changing at a rapid pace. People are going through a hasty, pressured life to anticipate the challenges of the global currents. Malaysia is among the middle-range and fast-growing economies: within its nearly 53 years of independence, the country has booked outstanding economic progress. The other side of the coin however, is Malaysia’s struggle to gain a solid nationhood. The population is characterised by racial segregation: the ‘native’ ethnic-Malays form the majority, totalling 60%, the ethnic-Chinese make up 25% of the society and some 7% is ethnic-Indian. The impact of the segregation is tremendous and further explained in my upcoming chapters. Meanwhile Malaysia officially aims to become an ‘advanced country’ by 2020 –following her neighbour Asian Tiger, Singapore. It is therefore in my interest to observe to what extend the pressure to excel has on child’s play and childhood in general among the three main racial groups of Malaysia. More on this in my next post!
… new home
I said upon my first visit six years ago, I re-uttered it during holidays in 2008, and now I can truly testify that I love KL, and I really do feel at home in this capital. I recall Hanoi as a very pure Asian city and not widespread polluted with billboards on Western brands while Singapore is too clinical and boring: KL is just a perfect meet between modernity and early cultures. The urban infrastructure is clean and well-regulated, but you can still find undeveloped alleys, hygienically seen questionable but taste-wise prominent food stands in this metropolitan conglomeration. I appreciate commuting from one place to other in a decent and humane manner –unlike in Jakarta, which is literally a concrete jungle where you either jump from one bus into the other three-wheel vehicle or remain stuck in the jams for hours. I enjoy driving to a seemingly remote part of the town, and discover a crowd of youth eating out on the parking lot annexed to a local restaurant, confirming that my friends and I were not the only ones seeking a midnight bite –just like in Jakarta.
Eateries by night in the hub of KL (image from the web)
… new housing
It is not the very city centre as I am used to, but I am content with my current housing in Sentul Timur, North of KL. It is right in front of the metro station, and surrounded by morning and night food stands, a buzzing Pasar Malam (night market) every Friday, Hindu and Buddhist temples, a mosque and some churches out of direct sight, representing the mixture of inhabitants in the area. I live in a massive apartment complex, just like during my previous research in Jakarta. From the thirteenth floor I enjoy an urban scenery and a first-class view on the renowned Petronas Twin Towers: the fourth largest building in the world, embodying modern and Islamic elements, reflecting the prestige of Malaysia today. I share the apartment with four Malay roommates of whom one is a Dutch-Malay, currently studying at the University of Malaysia. Our sisters are friends of each other, et voilá, that is the link behind my housing arrangement. My roommates are the sweetest, and (un)fortunately enough, all four of them are all-nighters just like me! We stay up late, or get up to fulfil our after-midnight cravings, cooking and hanging around in the living room, watching brainless American television via satellite.
An approximate view of the Twin Towers from my bedroom window (image taken from the web)
… new friendships
I already had some local friends I knew from work or through friends and family, but it is not too difficult to make new friends around here, especially not with Couch Surfing (CS), a concept originally about cultural exchange between locals and travellers. I have been an avid couch surfer during previous my travels, but I have learned that it is very useful to make local contacts too. The CS-community in KL is very active, and organises a lot activities, meetings, and dinners. I get to meet all kinds of locals, each providing my different insights on life in KL and Malaysia in general.
chinese new year
Gong xi fa cai!!! Chinese New Year is extensively celebrated in Malaysia. It is a public holiday for at least three days in general and a week for Chinese specific schools and enterprises. In total, the festivity takes fifteen days, ending with cap go meh, referring to the first full moon of the month of the new year. The whole city is completely furnished in red decoration, Chinese music jingles all the way and non-stop in popular shopping areas, and every night there are big fireworks and noisy firecrackers popped. On the first day I went to the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), where, at nine in the morning, a loud and traditional lion dance was entertaining the mixed crowd standing outside awaiting the arrival of the Prime Minister to officially open the festivity. The red carpet was set, as were the horde of media, making the entrance and approach to politicians very celebrity-ish. In the main hall cultural Chinese and Malay performances took place on stage, seated VIPs were served breakfast in the front, while the horde of people –Chinese, Malays, Indians and tourists, queued for the free –better (!) food in the back. I was with a crowd of local and foreign couch surfers, and we were captured on camera by the New Straits Times that appeared the following day (see picture). In the neighbouring province Selangor over an hour away from KL, there is a major Buddhist temple complex, with bigger and smaller statues, food courts, play ground for children (!) and even a ferris wheel. I was very impressed by the magnitude and artistic flavours of the gated temple complex, which by night sparkles even more! This time I enjoyed the privilege to sit at the appointed VIP-tables and enjoyed the most delicious vegan meal my taste buds ever encountered! Again, there was a big stage showing wonderful performances and different local authorities holding speeches on the beauty of Gong Xi Cai and how the fest is celebrated by all Malaysians –at least during such organised events…
New Straits Times feature on us
At the Buddhist Temple Complex
on being indonesian in malaysia
When in Rome, do as Romans do. Ethnically, I already look local, and in the past weeks I have put much effort to also take on the Malaysian accent as a way to truly localise myself. See, the Indonesian and Malaysian language share a common lingo root, and is thus very much the same. As in Dutch and Flemish, there are differences in pronunciation and common word use, but there are also phrases which in either language mean the complete opposite or have different implications. This has caused me quite some confusion, inefficient communication, late appointments, and impolite suggestions. For the know-how-ers among us: I use aku when referring to myself, rather than saya because the first is more gracious. Aku in Malaysia is however common among your peers, but considered impolite towards elderly! A meeting at 13.30/1.30pm in Indonesia would be pronounced as setengah dua, according to the Dutch order half twee. In Malaysia however, they follow the usage of their former colonisers, namely one thirty or half past one, in Malay satu setengah. It is very confusing and not convenient when you have a timely appointment.
And so, I have not yet succeeded to come as a local. Upon my first sentence, or even word, my encounterer will instantly ask in an implicit manner for my origin or straight away ask from which part in Indonesia I am from. This may seem normal or even a surplus for me for having such a thick Indonesian accent, but considering the background of Malaysian-Indonesian relations, it leaves misplaced feelings. It is as if Malaysia’s economic leap forward, which passed by the Indonesian like a flashlight, has made the people look down upon Indonesians –even though most, if not all, ethnic Malays descent from the Indonesian archipelago, ending up in the Malaysian peninsular as traders, migrants and settlers. There have been some tensions between the two countries, for example, on claiming the patent and originality of batik (the traditional wax-dyed textile), but meanwhile Malaysian enjoy music and movies from Indonesia
Chinese dragon dance outside the MCA