I knew this year would fly by but holy crap, this is my eighth city! This week was really defined by the Parea-bod challenge, a fitness competition amongst our group. For those who wanted to participate, we each contributed $10, got partnered up, and between the two of us have to get as many points for workouts as week can. I’m exhausted but this was the push I needed, Japan was not the best wellness month.
Anyywayyy, more importantly, Kuala Lumpur (KL) is proving to be very unique. Because of Malaysia’s location on the southern coast of Asia, it historically served as a stopping point for traders between India and China. As our city team put it: “these people would stop and just never leave”. Today, it is truly a melting pot of cultures and is hands down the most diverse place I have ever been. The primary 3 groups are Malays, Chinese, and Indians. But it doesn’t stop there; Malaysia was colonized by the Portuguese (woot woot!), Dutch, and British so there are populations of each of those, as well as immigrants from all over Asia. Despite some tensions, they seem to have found a way to all live harmoniously. Fascinating.
- Back in a Muslim country (Malays are Muslim) which means:
- Call to prayer can be heard three times a day through the city
- Alcohol not sold in grocery stores and drinking less part of culture. Not even a Malay word for cheers.
- Women dress way more conservatively, hard to find regular clothes in shops, it’s all hijabs, long sleeves, pants, saris, and so many granny panties
- Streets are male dominated, especially during the day. So yes, much like Morocco, I feel like a walking object for staring, honking, cat-calling, singing, and following. Not safe to walk alone as a woman late at night. Sooooo fun.
- LGBTQIA+ is illegal, although it’s much more accepted here than in Morocco.
- ENGLISH. About 75% of Malaysian’s speak (official languages are English and Malay). That’s not to say you will not hear other languages because I’m pretty sure they have them all but English is definitely the one that ties people together. It is really refreshing to be able to read street signs, food labels, and be able to communicate with the locals. This especially after coming from Japan where there was virtually none.
- KL feels like a city in the sky. Lots of high-rises. We live on the 31st and 32nd floors, work on the 19th and celebrated independence day on the 58th
- Accommodations this month are the best we have had. We are living in two bedroom apartments with swanky décor, huge living room/kitchens, and balconies overlooking the city. The building also has a convenience store, 3 restaurants/cafes, a gym, laundry, and a really nice pool.
- The workspace is a Wework coworking space. It takes up 4 floors of the building, has a game room, nap room, kitchens on every floor, large lounge areas, community events, and a large private area for Remote Year. Also the nicest we’ve had.
- We do our grocery shopping at the local hypermarket, Lulus. Ever heard of one?! It’s basically a once stop shop for everything you could ever need. Four HUGE floors for groceries, beauty products, household ware and appliances, clothing, I mean really anything except maybe cars. I spent two hours in there the first day. Between the quantity of food and the quantity of people, I needed to take it real slow to get what I needed.
- Random but I found it interesting the products you can find at Lulus. Like Annie’s Mac and Cheese? They have but only the gluten free kind and it is $4 a box. No dairy milk alternatives except mediocre soy. Back in the land of half gallon ice creams. 10 kg bags of rice. Produce all in individual plastic bags. Tons of salsa but NO CORN CHIPS.
- Cost of living has gone back down. Food is really cheap, like meals for $4 and a bunch of bananas for under $1. Grab (the Uber equivalent) can be as low as a dollar per ride. The currency is the Malaysian Ringgit and it’s about 4:1 USD.
- Because of the fusion of cultures, the food is where it’s at. Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese. I meeaann mango sticky rice is back, mochi ice cream is bomb, coconut ice cream is back, I tried squid, and they have Dominoes. Looking forward to trying Rojak (build your own salad) and Nasi lemak (coconut rice). Oh and the best news? Durian, the most vile fruit, is also back and smelling up all the streets!!
- KL has scooters! Throwback to Valencia where I drove these everywhere, I am happy to have access to Beam electric scooters this month.
- This week, Malaysia celebrated Independence Day or Merdeka! At midnight before 8/31, fireworks are set off around the city of KL. The country gained independence in 1957 from the British.
- Fun fact: there is no 4th, 14th, 24th, etc. floor in buildings. The Cantonese word for ‘four’ sounds too much like the word for ‘death’. Instead you have floor 3 and floor 3A.
Week in Review
- Sleep in after not going to bed until 5am from the flight
- Hit up the hypermarket and get thoroughly overwhelmed by the options and all the people. Oh and security is high in the store, they zip tie your backpack closed if you bring one from outside
- Chinese dinner on ‘food street’ with Remote Year and our new city team. We live a five minute walk from all the bars and street food places!
- RY City Welcome and first day in the new office. Place is seriously cool, though the walk is about 15 minutes and it is really more comfortable to do with someone else
- Malay Language Crash Course. This was unlike other because they do speak mostly English. BUT most people also speak one or two other languages, and it’s not uncommon for sentences to contain words from more than one.
- Take a stroll through my neighborhood and get a feel for the vibe. It was around lunch time, so business people were swarming the street vendors. KL really is a crazy juxtaposition of these high rise modern looking buildings, surrounded at the base by tents, street food, plastic chairs, and people of all different backgrounds.
- Stumble across Jalan Alor Street Art, an area with buildings covered in colorful murals. In some parts the city looks run down, in others it looks insanely vibrant.
- Wake up at 6am and taxi over to the Batu Caves Temple, maybe the most well-known attraction in Kuala Lumpur. Simone and I wanted to get there before the people…and we did, but it was also still dark.
- Walked through the temple at the base of the colorful staircase and get to watch some early risers actually practicing religion. Unlike Japan’s temples that seemed to just be for sure, even this well-travelled site was very active
- Walk to the top of the stairs after the sun comes up and explore the temple that’s inside the cave. Want to meet the person who was like: ‘you see this cave in the middle of a rock? Let’s build stairs up to it and then a temple inside that looks like it’s from Candyland’.
- Snap some photos and make friends with the roosters and the locals who come to the stairs for exercise (actually quite a few of them!)
- One guy spent a while chatting with us, then ate food beside us at the local vendor, paid for our food, and then gave us a free ride back to our place. It was all well and good except he kept ignoring the GPS so the thirty minute ride was an hour and fifteen. Least we learned a lot…
- Work all day before a fun night out to celebrate Merdeka
- Head to Vertigo bar for an hour of bottomless margaritas and unlimited tacos. If that doesn’t start a night right, not sure what will. I was more excited to see chips and guac than anything.
- Go up a few floors to 58, Altitude bar, in the same building. Here’s where the story begins:
My friend and I had already paid a cover downstairs, thinking it would get us into both, it didn’t. When we got to Altitude, we asked if we could just take a look to see if it was worth paying again. While we were looking, we caught the manager (who had already given us mojitos downstairs) and gave him a bit of feedback on the miscommunication. Meanwhile, this bartender comes over and summons my friend and I to this reserved area. We were greeted by three older guys who offered us food and drinks. Wanting to avoid the cover and curious about the whole thing, we obliged. Mind you, we were in a reserved area but still on a crowded rooftop. The guys were super friendly, and we were soon joined by more Remote Year people. Well, come to find out, one of them was a high profile dude in Malaysian politics (confirmed by a later Google search), one of them was a former Chief of Police, and the other was a rich dude from Australia. We had a blast laughing with them and oh by the way, we had the best view of the fireworks down below us at midnight. Theennn they invited us to another reserved party and we rode over together in their private van. We finished the night on beer street and closed down the bar. Welcome to KL!
- Lazy day. In bed until 3. Left the apartments only to go grocery shopping. Finished with a documentary and an episode of stand-up comedy. My kind of night.
- Long morning run and catch up on some writing
- Scooter to the Petronas Towers and check out the park around them. Let’s just say KL is not as scooter friendly as Valencia. Lots of potholes and the cars don’t exactly honor the bike lanes. Don’t be mistaken, I still had a BLAST.
- Jackbox and potluck dinner party with Parea to close out the week
So Malaysians are super friendly, right? Free food, free rides, free drinks….but like, when does that cross the line to creepy? Being cautious and aware for sure. Anyway, I’m soaking this city in for all its quirks!