On the west coast of Peninsula Malaysia lies the hub of Malaysian life - Kuala Lumpur, the bustling business capital.
The weather there is always humid. There is a short dry period during January and February when the monsoon season on the west coast has ended and the one on the east coast has begun. These dry periods also herald the infamous 'haze' caused by forest fires in nearby Indonesia, and Kuala Lumpur's own pollution. It reduces visibility dramatically and puts public officials into discussions with the Indonesian government. Over one-and-a-half million people live in this city of many races, some history and a lot of activity.
Kuala Lumpur means 'muddy estuary'. The Kelang and Gombak rivers that meet in the city are still the murky brown that they were in 1857, when Chinese tin prospectors discovered tin nearby. KL, as it is known to its inhabitants, then quickly became a noisy, busy town as tin was in huge demand throughout the British Empire and America. There were soon claim disputes over the tin mines and fights erupted between prospecting clans that were formed.
To halt the fighting, the local Sultan elected a man called Yap Ah Loy as the leader of the Chinese community. He managed to establish order in KL and could even be considered the unofficial founding father of the city.
British involvement in Malaya began a few years later after merchants encouraged the British Empire to become involved in ending the Malay Civil War as the conflict was harming their profits. KL was chosen to be the administrative centre and then the capital of Malaya. It 1974 it was designated as a federal territory. However, in 1999, the administrative capital was moved to Putrajaya.
KL-itesThe people who live in Kuala Lumpur are a mixture of the three ethnic groups - Malay, Chinese and Indian. They are typical 'city' people who enjoy fast-paced life (or just put up with it). Life revolves mainly around work and eating out. Distinct cultures have become slightly blurred in the city. Do not be surprised if you hear an Indian speaking fluent Cantonese to a Chinese woman. The city has grown busier through the years and peoples' tempers have become frayed resulting in increasing road rage incidents.
Food, Food, Food
Many lives in this region revolve around food. This is not surprising as the food is both delicious and varied. Among the main meeting places in the city are the roadside stalls and hawker centres. It is at these fluorescent light-lit places that many friendships are forged and many business deals brokered.
Food is as varied and each of the city's cultural groups offers a little of its own to the masses. On Malay stalls you'll find satay and nasi lemak. Nasi lemak is rice cooked with coconut served with fried anchovies, fried peanuts, a boiled egg, slices of cool cucumber and sambal.
A favourite Chinese dish is char kuey teow: flat noodles stir-fried with soy sauce, prawns, egg and chilli. This dish is best ordered from one of the many hawker stands as even the best restaurants cannot recreate the taste of a dish that has been cooked outdoors and in a well-used wok. Hainanese chicken rice is also widely available and is well worth a try.
Most Indian food in Malaysia is of the South Indian variety and food comes served on a banana leaf. Try fish or chicken curry, dhal, rice and vegetables of your choice. Or if you're making an early start, give roti canai a go, it is a wheat-flour pancake peculiar to the Indian-Muslims of Malaysia and is a huge breakfast favourite.
Sites and Sounds
A very visible landmark in KL is one of the world's tallest buildings - the Petronas Twin Towers. The two towers are based on an Islamic geometrical design and are connected by a sky bridge, which is open to visitors during the day. It houses many offices and a very popular shopping centre. You may recognise the towers from their appearance in the film Entrapment which starred Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones.
Merdeka Square is the field where Malaysian independence was announced on 31 August, 1957. The tallest flagpole in the world can be found there standing tall. On one side of the field is the Selangor Club: a club with a Tudor design that was built and patronised by the British. It was a whites only club. Cricket was also played in the square on those balmy, imperial afternoons.
Pasar malam (meaning 'night markets') are an experience not to be missed in KL. The stalls are mainly on the roadside pavements, but as they spill out into the streets, these roads are considered pedestrian zones for the night. Everything can be found at pasar malam including food, clothes, accessories, CDs, pirated or mock branded clothes and souvenirs. Armed with your bargaining skills you can get many things at competitive prices. A famous pasar malam in KL is the one along Petaling Street. It sits in the heart of the Chinatown of KL. During the day, you'll find old Chinese medicine shops on this street.
The Little India of KL can be found in the older section of the city. Masjid India Street is lined with shops offering saris of a multitude of colours, Indian eateries, sweet shops selling delicious snacks and shops offering Indian accessories such as bangles and scarves.
KL is no longer the capital city of Malaysia, but long into the future will be the bustling business capital and the melting pot of the country. The city has progressed from a muddy mining town to one of the more prestigious cities in South East Asia.
Picture of the Petronas Twin Towers.