I’ve been here for a week now and I haven’t said a word about Malaysia or KL, so I should probably take the time to describe the what has been happening.
I’m staying at a great little hotel near the biggest shopping area in KL, Times Square. Times Square is a giant mall with a giant amusement park inside. The roller coaster they have puts the Mall of America to shame. The prices in KL are, if not the cheapest I’ve seen, certainly be best value I’ve seen on my trip. I got a single room here, free wifi, my own bathroom and hot water, and a nice bed with nice sheets, for $30/night. A high end hotel room is about US$100/night. I really have no complaints. Food is cheap. The exchange rate is US$1 = RM$3.3 (Ringgit Malaysian). I have to constantly remind myself that the 50 ringgit notes I’m carrying around are really like $15. A monorail trip is less than US$0.50. I can eat a very large sushi meal for under US$15, which is hard to do anywhere else.
Indonesia or the Philippines might in some sense be technically cheaper, but things in KL are much nicer than what you’ll find in Manila or Jakarta. Much. KL is a full blown modern city. It is very easy to get around here. English is widely spoken and many of the signs are in English.
I’m finding Bahasa to be one of the easiest languages to pick up that I’ve experienced on my trip. Many of the words come from English, but are just spelled or pronounced differently (Bas = Bus, Polisi = Police, Teksi = Taxi, Sentral = Central) Because they use the Roman Alphabet, it is easy to pick up words which aren’t based in English, because the words are often in context, or are next to an English translation . (Keluar = Exit, Masuk = Entrance). Pretty much everyone I’ve met in Malaysia, including my time in Sabah and Sarawak in January, speaks passable English.
The ethinic make up on Malaysia is sort of the mirror image of Singapore. Malaysia is mostly Malay, with a significant Chinese minority, and a smaller Indian minority. Many, but not all women wear Islamic head scarves. It is an Islamic country, but very moderate and freedom of religion is the law (in fact, the government will provide land for non-Muslim churches to be built for free).
One thing which sort of surprised me was seeing women in full blown, eye slot only, black burqas at the mall near my hotel. I had not seen a single woman dress like that in Brunei, Sabah, Sarawak or Indonesia. I figured there was just a conservation group of Muslims in KL. It turns out that they are tourists from the Middle East. I just had no clue because…..well, you can’t see anything under a burqa. KL has become a big tourist destination for Arabs since 9/11. It’s cheap, modern, and you can find halal food everywhere.
I have to say I’ve been surprised by KL. I’m not exactly sure what my expectations for KL were before I arrived, but I think they’ve been surpassed.