Posted by: facetothewind | January 26, 2015

Kuala Lumpur: the good, the bad, the ugly.

I’ve been here in Kuala Lumpur for 6 months now. So this is my 6-month check up, check in, valuation of all things good and bad…

The Big Bad Things (what I truly hate about KL):

1. The gross disregard for pedestrians.
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Simply put, KL is not a walking city. It’s a driving city. And that leaves the streets noisy, congested, and the air polluted. But for those few of us weirdoes who do like to walk, it’s an endless obstacle course to avoid falling into a hole or having to go around cars and motorbikes left on the sidewalk with complete disregard for those on foot.

2. The garbage.

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People in KL are, frankly, pigs. (So are white trash in America in case you think I’m just picking on this poor country.) They throw their garbage everywhere which causes the city to smell like a giant vinegary turd. The rivers are full of garbage floating by on the way to the ocean. It’s unbelievable how people can be so disrespectful of their own environment. And it is why we have number 3…

3. Rats.

rats The rat population of KL is estimated to be 4x that of the human population. I’ve seen them jumping up on food stall counters. I saw a street food stall operator bonk one on the head with a pan and drop it into the sewer by its tail. Did he wash his hands after this? I doubt it. I’ve seen a rat go by my feet in a nice restaurant. In my opinion it’s because of the garbage that is just carelessly thrown on the sidewalk — it provides and easy and constant source of nutrition for them. In 2013, there were 3,000 cases of leptospirosis (rat urine disease) reported, and nearly 30 fatalities that year. A friend of mine was recently diagnosed and spent 6 weeks in the hospital where he nearly died. He will be on medication the rest of his life.

4. The bad food.

IMG_0893
That may not look bad but it’s frozen peas, frozen carrots, over-spiced, and fishy. And that’s the cheap food. The expensive food — well that’s a whole other category. Just last night I had a Norwegian salmon fillet that cost me 40 RM (about $13). That’s a fairly pricey meal in Malaysia. And within an hour I had a pretty significant case of diarrhea. Fine restaurants are staffed with foreign workers – mostly from Bangladesh and the Philippines. And they don’t speak English terribly well and are often untrained in hospitality. So my guess is someone didn’t wash their hands before placing my lovely piece of salmon atop a bed of greens which were probably also not washed. Grrrrr. Somehow just over the border, Thai people with the same ingredients came up with a world class cuisine that Malaysians seem to have bungled. And I’ve never been sick in Thailand. Chuan has worked tirelessly to find some decent restaurants for us to go to. There are a couple of them. But in a city of this size, only a couple is pretty sad.

5. The bad driving. car Malaysia has the distinction of being one of the worst in the world when it comes to annual road fatalities…24 per 100,000 vs 4 in developed nations. I am continually astounded by the driving horrors I see. Motorcyclists riding with no hands, or lying flat on their bellies with feet extended out behind them at high speeds,weaving recklessly, driving the wrong way on a one-way street, routinely driving through intersections and stop signs, driving on sidewalks. Unbelievable. It’s as if someone gave a bunch of monkeys keys to the car. I spoke to a trauma surgeon at a local hospital and he said you wouldn’t believe the road pizza he sees on a daily basis. Yes I would believe it.

6. Traffic congestion. ISARally-010809-Jam01
Because I’m primarily a public transit user, I have little right to complain about traffic. But it becomes my problem when I have to wade through it and inhale it and listen to it.

 The Little Bad Things (not deal breakers individually but they do add up):

1. People eating with their fingers (OK, it’s a tradition but it seems uncivilized for a nation trying to be world class.) IMG_1062

2. People who push onto a crowded subway before letting passengers off. It’s selfish and it’s the norm. I now just plow right through them and knock them out of the way. LRT

3. Unruly cigarette smokers. People will smoke right in front of no smoking signs. And where do you think the butts go? Of course. Into the street which end up in the river and then on the beach in a couple of days.

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This says it all about Malaysia. Little regard for law or decency – it’s every man for himself.

4. Saudis expats and tourists. By and large they are not friendly, they all smoke, and honestly I feel sorry for the women running around in full black burkas in oppressive tropical heat while their husbands walk around in shorts and flip flops. saudi

5. Broken shit. It seems Malaysians can’t fix anything. They can build things with amazing speed but when it comes to maintenance, it’s mostly just spraying a little air freshener or waving the dusting feather. And then comes the Out of Order sign. Truth in labeling, it should say ‘FOREVER’ at the bottom.

Malaysia-out-of-order

The machines in my gym have been broken for months. I’ve complained several times and I always get the same answer: “Oh will be fixed next week.” Yeah.

6. Fruit flies. I cannot get rid of them. 7. Hot and humid weather. Well, it’s the tropics. What do you expect? It is what it is.

The Big Good Things:

1. Chuan, my boyfriend. He’s why I came here and a good 75% of why I’ve stayed. His generosity of spirit and loving kindness toward me continue to humble me. He’s being a good sport putting up with my trashing his city. (But I think he agrees.) DSC04004 2. Excellent and cheap medical care…the remaining 25%. I thought Thai health care was excellent but Malaysia’s is even better. It’s a small fraction of what you’d pay in the US and I’ve never waited more than 3 minutes to see a doc at the state of the art hospital Tung Shin. Tung Shin has Western and Chinese medicine sides joined together in a full East-meets-West medical complex. Just walk in and be seen. Amazing.

Tung-Shin

A full comprehensive medical checkup at one of the premiere hospitals costs $108 USD and includes full blood and urine tests, ECG, ultrasound, chest x-ray and 2 doctor consultations.

3. English! Widely spoken with strong accent and a ‘la’ put at the end of most sentences. Still it’s mostly intelligible. 4. AirAsia’s hub at KLIA…because, the best view of KL is in the rearview mirror. I can walk out my door, jump on the train and be at the airport in 50 minutes and then I can get a $35 flight to Thailand for some good massages and great food. Or $150 to Hong Kong to see Sebastian and be among civilized urban dwellers for a few days. (Hopefully they will soon find the plane-gobbling monster that lives somewhere offshore of Malaysia.)

Not to mention the cute flight attendants!

Not to mention the cute flight attendants!

5. Tropical fruit. It’s cheap, abundant, and wonderful. My faves are passionfruit and pineapple. fruit 6. Alexis the jazz club bistro I insist on going to as often as possible. The music is almost always great. The service and atmosphere are excellent. The food pretty good and sometimes even great. It’s easy to forget what a hot mess it is outside when you’re seated in Alexis enjoying a drink listening to a late night jazz concert by candlelight. And smokers have their own section! IMG_9774 7. Our apartment on the 30th floor overlooking the city. How enchanting it looks from a distance with the windows closed and the aircon on. Distance does lend enchantment. So, off to Krabi, Thailand, next week and then back to the States. DSC04239

Weighing all things:

By becoming an expat American, I’ve gained affordable health care, a boyfriend, and proximity to some pretty exotic shores. What I lost leaving the US was decent sidewalks, cycling, clean food, blue skies, clean beaches, cheap alcohol, and the basics of (too much) law and order. So I’m on the fence about what to do. Seems that to survive here, I have to learn to be inured to the offenses that KL presents the minute I walk out the door…or just stay home and cook all the time. I could start by just accepting that it’s an undeveloped nation with a veneer of being developed. When you scratch the glossy surface of KL, it feels uncivilized and indecent — a corrupt country wanting a place at the international table of developed nations. But there’s a slothful and complacent mentality here that handicaps the people from attaining that. They’ll never speak up and demand anything. And so they just have to take what they get. The rich will remain corrupt and greedy and leave the poor to serve them. On the other hand, I can also remember being shot at in the States, my lackluster love life, the barking dogs, the white trash, and the exorbitant cost of health care. I’m very likely not going to return the States to live until something changes with health care and gun control. And that may not happen in my lifetime. And frankly, the United States is every bit as corrupt and rife with cronyism as Malaysia, just with the a much heavier hand of law but with the promise of ‘transparency’ and the hope to protest. And America’s got damn nice national parks. So what to do? Where to go? It’s hard being an idealist always searching for Utopia fully knowing it doesn’t exist. I’m considering re-considering Thailand as a more pleasant place to home base. I know it’s not any more organized or civilized. But at least the food’s better and the people are friendlier. Now that I have a partner, I can’t just pack up and hit the road — I have someone else to consider. Wherever and whenever I go next, I hope I can export the best part of Malaysia…my boyfriend. idealism

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Responses

  1. Hello dear David,

    I have been thinking of you,especially after viewing a video you made a few years ago about pai, ingdoi, pansa, a beautiful video, very professional. Jake sent it to a few friends.

    Now comes your latest, about kl, also beautiful. I don’t know that tland is any cleaner. Certainly it’s not any more pedestrian friendly. It’s filled mostly with ignoramuses. Its leader never tires of making more stupid and useless laws, latest banning alcohol sales after midnight.

    It looks like you’re not going to visit pai before your us trip. Do you know when you will visit next? A new restaurant when you return, very good judging by one meal.

    Air quality has been wonderful but tonight I felt heat coming off the mountain. Maybe time to get air purifier out of the closet.

    I hope all is going well for you and chuan.

    Miss you, Dianna

  2. Now now…calm down dear. I love eating using my (right) hand and in my opinion, there is nothing uncivilised about it. Of course it depends on where you are eating as well. I can’t be arsed to use cutlery if I’m eating at the street stall. Definitely would not do that in 5 stars hotel. But I do agree with the fact that some part of KL is dirty and it is full with inconsiderate bastards who just have no manners! Enjoy krabi. Don’t forget to go to emerald pool. It’s breathtaking!

  3. True bro!


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