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Where West Meets East

By Jacqui Menard

July 17, 2008 

Charred naked chickens and crispy red ducks dangle carelessly from amidst butcher shop windows. Locals pile out of McDonalds, Starbucks and Nando’s chicken. Business men suck back noodles outside dingy looking hawker stalls, school children weave in and out of crowds with their afternoon cakes, and half dressed westerners barrel their way through crowds of pedestrians with their latest edition of the Lonely Planet, while the call to prayer blasts throughout the city.

“Apple? Durian?”

A fruit vendor holds a green spiky fruit out in front of me. He smiles wide and beckons me over to his stall.

“Yes, DVD? Hello?”

Tent after tent, table after table, the latest cinema releases, or limited edition apparel from some of Europe’s most respected designers’ bombards  Petaling Street, Kuala Lumpur’s most infamous hot spot for boot legged goods and pirated products.

“Best price madam, I give you only best price… sixty five.” A purse vendor sporting a Jon Bon Jovi hair cut, tight jeans and leather cowboy boots says to me the minute he sees me make eye contact with one of his products. “Only the best quality madam.”  He picks up his lighter and waves a flame over top of the bag. I shake my head no and make a quick getaway back out into the crowd of people who’ve flooded out onto the street.

“Madam, madam…madam please!”

Malaysia’s lively capital city of Kuala Lumpur, or KL as it’s more commonly referred to, is always beaming with life. Located in the heart of South East Asia, KL is full of ethnic diversity, and is home to more then 1.3 million residents all ranging from various Asian backgrounds. In a city full of culture, Kuala Lumpur serves as the perfect starting point for any first time visitor to Malaysia, for it showcases some of the countries finest national treasures and diverse cultural attractions amidst a clean and comfortable modern city landscape.

The smell of diesel fumes and outdoor cooking engulfs me. The city’s bumper to bumper with traffic and it’s only eleven am. People have overflowed from shop lots, markets, temples, restaurants, hotels, schools and bus stops.

The cross walk sign begins its countdown. Pedestrians scramble across the street. Motor bikes carelessly disregard the red light. Unsuspecting locals and tourists latch on to one another, make a mad dash for the safety island in the middle of the intersection, the light turns green and than exhaust fumes explode through the air. Dismayed, I find myself still standing amidst the safety of the congested city sidewalk, intrigued and baffled by such organized chaos that truly is, KL.


A red and yellow taxi pulls up alongside me. Its windows are plastered over with stickers that say, ‘Visit Malaysia 2007’ while the countries national flag lies proudly displayed in the upper right hand corner of the driver’s windshield.

“Yes, hello taxi?”

The driver cleans his teeth with his tongue, spits out the window and beckons me inside his car.

“Petronas Towers?” I yell above the automotive roar.

“No problem.”

I open the door and climb aboard his air conditioned Hindu like temple on wheels. It smells of exotic spices, curry and fragrant jasmine flowers. The almighty Shiva overlooks our journey from amidst his golden dashboard shrine, while Ganesha, the elephant headed God and renowned remover of obstacles, sways back and forth from below the driver’s rear view mirror. He switches on his meter, puts on his traffic signal and we slowly inch our way out into the growing sea of traffic.

Known to many as the world’s tallest twin towers, the Petronas towers of Kuala Lumpur over look the city at a staggering 452m (1483feet), an architectural masterpiece to say the least. The towers were built in the mid 90’s by architect Caesar Pelli and they serve as a symbol of Malaysia’s national pride. Located along the city’s major junction of Jalan Ampang and Jalan P. Ramlee, KL’s Petronas Towers not only house state of the art offices, a symphonic concert hall and a modern city art gallery, but next door there’s SURIA KLCC, a high class shopping haven that caters to every shopper’s needs and wants.

We’re engulfed in a sea of diesel and city smog. The sun beats down through my window shade in the back seat at an almost unbearable temperature. Static ridden messages scrape through the taxi’s PA system, and the radio fades in and out of comprehension, while the taxi’s air con struggles to emit the faintest breeze of cool air.

As we slowly approach the towers, I look out to my left. Guardian’s of  KL and keepers of the country, the towers seem to radiate an aura of  power and prestige, they sparkle like two oversized industrial colored crystals and I find I can barely contain my excitement by the time we pull up out front.

“Yes, hello.” We come to an abrupt halt out front. My driver points down to the meter that’s flashing 10 Ringit, local Malaysian currency.

Infatuation and awe consumes me as I take a few moments, straining and struggling to take in all 88 floors of this mega structure.

Constructed and designed with reinforced concrete, steel and glass facades, the creativity behind this architectural masterpiece was primarily inspired by reoccurring designs and motifs as personified in Islamic art, a true reflection of Malaysia’s national religion.

“Madam?” The driver taps on the meter and looks up at me from his mirror.

“So sorry.” I hand him a fist full of crumpled bills, open my door and tell him to keep the change.

 A well presented security guard helps me out of the taxi.

“Welcome madam.”

 I smile, take a few moments to relish in my celebrity like treatment and head towards the door.

“Good afternoon.” Another security guard holds open the door to SURIA KLCC, my getaway from the scorching afternoon heat, a true shopping paradise complete with food courts and endless floors of shopping.

“Thank you.” I step inside. Far from any dingy shopping mall or outside open aired market, the intricate interior of SURIA KLCC astonishes me. No form of piracy here, pesky shop vendors, weird market delicacies or cut throat bargaining tourists. Classy looking shoppers dressed in this season’s latest fashions and doused in expensive bottles of designer fragrances own the place. I look down at my sweaty appearance, worn out flip flops, faded jean skirt and wrinkled t-shirt, and I suddenly can’t help but to feel underdressed.

SURIA KLCC offers KL shoppers and tourists alike a diverse shopping experience. From major fashion retailers to state of the art dining and entertainment, SURRIA KLCC is the perfect getaway from the outside rush of KL and is guaranteed not to disappoint.

“Hello, welcome.” The employees at British India greet me with warm smiles as I walk through the door.

Headless mannequins sit erect on top of a table top dressed in fine linens and brightly colored cottons, while gem stone encrusted necklaces glisten beneath the florescent lights hanging over top of the cash register.

“Okay, that’s an even 1500 Ringit.” A young employee folds up a long sleeved white blouse and kaki colored pants for a smug looking westerner who’s decided to sport a pair of oversized DIOR glasses indoors.

My eyes go wide as I walk by them. I gravitate towards a rack full of Indian styled blouses. I pick up a bright yellow one, walk towards the mirror, hold it up against my chest and pretend I’m worth it, 250 Ringit that is.  I smile at myself in the mirror.

“Can I get you a size?” A male employee walks towards me.

I smile at him, put down the blouse and make a quick getaway for the door, “Not today thanks.”

I squeeze my way through the busy food arena. The place is full of people. Office workers winding down after a rough day, wide eyed tourists with plates full of local food and hormonal crazed school children just hanging out at the mall, another Friday night.

I carry my food to the table, my stomach growls and my mouth salivates like a starving street dog. I put down my shopping bags set down my tray, sit down, take off my shoes and vigorously rub the souls of my feet. The clean presentation of hawker food, combined with the cool and inviting environment of a shopping mall makes it that much more inviting. I pile a heaping helping of rice onto my spoon, mysterious flavors and unique spices, unbeknownst to my taste buds, explode in my mouth and dance up my nose as I make a mad dash for one of the many commonalities this country shares with my own, an ice cold glass of Coke.

Kuala Lumpur proves why the world is so small. In a city that seems to never sleep, there’s absolutely nothing you can’t get here. From the hottest in store fashions, to the latest cinema releases, this city not only showcases some of Malaysia’s most prized national treasures, but it’s nothing short of a cultural mosaic spanning from west to east. The perfect base for any visitor wanting to scale the vast wonders of Malaysia has to offer, the diversity in KL promises not to disappoint.

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