PREFACE: this is a whirlwind post meant to give you the tiniest sliver of context for the accompanying photos which I hope you have a spin through. They are at the bottom of the post.
Back in about 2018 my wife and I started talking about living in a third country for a while. My kids had only ever known Canada and Japan (and a couple of trips to the US). We wanted to broaden their perspective. Initially I thought about doing a year in Central America, but with this 21st century being Asia’s, we started researching different options. We landed on Malaysia primarily because of its multiculturalism. With its mixed population of Southeast Asian, East Asian, and South Asian people groups, as well as the fact that it is an Islamic country, we thought Malaysia would be an excellent place to demonstrate the broad diversity of Asia to our kids who are of Asian heritage themselves.
In about 2019 I started looking for work in Kuala Lumpur. However, due to family reasons we decided to do our year abroad in Iki, and our Malaysian adventure was put on pause.
But after more than four years, we were finally able to make it to Malaysia!
As mentioned in my newsletter from New Year’s eve, we took advantage of the kids very long winter break and my ability to work anywhere and made the trip.
My kids have a long winter holiday this year. Rather than just having them sit around the house consuming YouTube for hours on end while I am at work, we decided to fly early to Kuala Lumpur. For the first week I worked remotely while my wife and girls relaxed at the pool, checked out the neighbourhood, and ate awesome Malaysian food. At night we would go out together. The second week I was on my holiday so we switched into full tourist mode. By then we were used to the temperature and daily life, and had a good headstart on our winter holiday. What a great benefit to working remotely!
Staying in an apartment hotel in the “Golden Triangle” right downtown Kuala Lumpur gave me the space to work from our rooms, and quick access to some major sights and food experiences. During the day the family shopped at nearby malls, close enough that I could meet up with them for lunch. In the evening we would go out. Walking through a series of slightly air-conditioned pedestrian bridges we made the twenty minute trek to the Petronas Towers one night to take in the light show. There we heard the iconic Tourism ministry song “Malaysia Truly Asia” (which you can listen to here with a nice slideshow). On the way home we could swing by Jalan Alor, the famous food street for some tapau (takeout) to bring home for a late dinner. Throughout those two and half weeks Malaysia lived up to its reputation as a food destination I every way!
Once I finished work for the year and started my winter holiday we shifted fully into tourist mode. The 2-hour open top bus tour gave us a better sense of the geography of the city. We had some good views of Merdeka 118, which will be the world’s second tallest building after the Burj Khalifa once it is finished later this year. We used the hop-on-hop-off bus to visit both the KL Bird Park and the National Museum.
There was a lot of sightseeing and museums. Merdeka Square is where Malaysia declared its independence in 1957, replacing the Union Jack with its own newly created national flag. Right across the street is the Textile Museum where you can see the traditional clothing of not only all the different people groups of greater Asia that live here, but also of many of the indigenous peoples of Malaysia from both the peninsula and Malaysian Borneo. There are many sights in that area of town, including the Islamic Art Museum which we almost gave a miss due to time constraints, but I am very very glad we went to. It collects art from all over the Islamic world, and you can even see one of the coverings of The Kaaba in Mecca.
KL was warm, but not as hot as we expected: about 27 degrees celsius with many cloudy skies, but only a couple of days of rain. December is a great time to visit if you are thinking of going.
As Christmas approached, we moved to The Hilton where we could enjoy the swimming pool, turkey dinner, and get to meet Malaysian Santa Claus! (seriously, check out all the photos to see some gems in there. Malaysia loves Xmas.) We drove out to Putrajaya to pay our respects at the Pink Mosque, and took a train to see the Batu Caves, an important complex of Hindu temples (and home to tons of monkeys!). Seeing that massive limestone formation jutting out from an otherwise flat plain I instantly understood why this was chosen as a holy place.
KL is a major metropolis and the economic hub of young and energetic country. It has all the modern conveniences of any global city, and many of the same drawbacks: urban sprawl, gentrification, and stroads are everywhere. I could not believe how many cars were there. It reminded me of the 8 lanes of constant traffic I saw in Tehran, another oil power with extremely cheap petrol prices. I felt lucky to have spotted a single Nissan LEAF, but never once in two weeks did I notice a single Tesla (but that sounds like that is down to the National Auto Policy).
I had a really good experience in KL. The diversity and cosmopolitanism makes it seem like in many ways it would be an easier place to live compared to Japan. But I certainly understood that it is not representative of the whole country. KL probably has more in common with other Asian cities than Malaysia’s own hinterlands. That is why I was very glad we were able to get on the road and head a couple hours south to Melaka, where the Malaysian story really began. That will be the subject of my next post. Now, check out all the photos from Kuala Lumpur!