The hot, nearly equatorial sun radiates down perpetually on the occupants of Kuala Lumpur, who are cooled by bursts of icy air conditioning as they walk briskly down the wide streets. Women in low-cut tank tops and daisy dukes scurry past women wearing niquabs, who text busily on their phones. Hawkers cry out to the people passing their food stalls in English – Cantonese – Malay in a single breath. A gilded mosque sits across from an Indian temple, adjacent to a church, while the native jungle fights in vain to take back the soaring skyscrapers. Faces of every color can be seen in this mad crush, from the pale businesswoman who clacks away importantly at her computer, to the coffee-skinned man who owns the restaurant she is working at.
Three main cultures are at odds here: Chinese, Indian, and the native Malays. These groups give Kuala Lumpur its vibrancy, its chaos that somehow comes together into a single, cohesive city that charms its occupants and visitors alike.
Naturally, the food helps. Dishes from the aforementioned groups can be found everywhere from fine-dining restaurants to hawker stands, and the native Malaysians can be seen eating at all hours of the day. Four distinct meals exist here: breakfast, lunch, dinner, and an extra, fourth, late night meal simply called “supper.” Eateries open to the elements are popular in this year-round tropical paradise, and sharing tables with strangers in a crowded restaurant is all too common.
Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant city whose mayhem makes sense, where opposites come together in harmony and people of all cultures work together to fuel their city. There’s no shortage of things to do, from luxury shopping to visiting any one of the temples or mosques the city has to offer. The people are welcoming to visitors, though they seem to know that it would take years for a foreigner to truly delve into the inner workings of their complex culture.
While walking with a Malaysian friend of mine through Central Market, and I stopped to look at a pair of minuscule shoes, mouth agape. I asked if they were for bound feet. She confirmed, and told me her own great-grandmother’s feet had been bound in her native China. But, she added, they began to grow again once she came to Malaysia.