When reflecting on my experience in a new country, I tend to base my evaluation on whether or not I see myself living there. Singapore? For its warm people, unparalleled cleanliness, and electrifying cityscape, absolutely. Taipei? For its bustling streets, unapologetic great, and strangely-shaped-yet-tantalizing street food, hell yes.
Clearly I have a wide range of tastes. That is why Malaysia’s capital is somewhat of an enigma. Would I live in Kuala Lumpur? No way. I’ve been having quite a hard time writing this post for this reason. Don’t get me wrong – the city itself is beautiful, matching at times the same level or architectural elegance as its neighbor to the south. But perhaps because of its visual similarities to Singapore, it becomes easier to take notice of Kuala Lumpur’s stark differences.
At the heart of my dissatisfaction with Kuala Lumpur is the fact that beneath its technological modernity is a society deep within the trenches of orthodox religious customs and values which has led to some pretty unsatisfactory encounters. Look, I’m not expecting any special treatment or grand welcomes for being a white foreigner. I am not so plagued with any Eurocentric expectations that I expect the country I visit to conform to me – I am a guest and am lucky to even have the opportunity to experience life in this corner of the world.
But I will express my discontentment in my on space on my own blog when Jessie is too afraid to walk more than a few feet away from me because men like to stare at and shame her about her uncovered ankles, let alone her bare arms. When we receive nothing more than a grunt and an eye roll when we buy fruit at the market. When cab drivers would more eagerly rip us off rather than simply point us in the right direction. I felt like an annoyance more than a traveler; Jess more a target than a person.
On the bright side, being subject to this kind of treatment is eyeopening, especially when I realize that this so-called “plight” is nothing compared to what others must live with daily. More than anything else, I thank Kuala Lumpur for the lesson.
But don’t worry! I captured all the awesome times in Malaysia on camera so check out the video to see something very different from what you just read (i.e. monkeys, night markets, and happiness)!