Auntie Soo grew up in Malaysia and Uncle Charles has lived in Kuala Lumpur for the past 12 years, so while staying with them in KL we’ve been able to get the inside scoop and juicy gossip on the locals. They have also been extremely gracious hosts, giving us the royal treatment by chauffeuring us around town, taking us on road trips and giving us help with planning the next phase of our trip through SE Asia.
KL used to be entirely jungle, but is now overrun with palm oil plantations and large apartment complexes. We are taken back with how many high buildings and apartment complexes there are here, but with speculation and investments going sour we were told that the vacancy rate is about 50% with some apartment buildings obviously vacated. There is a stark contrast between vacated buildings and the tallest twin structures in the world (The Petronas Towers).
Malaysia is a melting pot of Chinese, Indian and Malay. With the Muslim Malay in control of government, there is an eerie call to prayer broadcasted 5 times a day throughout the city. We learned to avoid the Malay restaurants if we wanted a beer with dinner and were impressed to see prayer rooms available at gas stations and in the middle of jungles. We spent some time visiting a Hindu Temple in Batu Caves, the Jamek Islamic Mosque and a Chinese Tao Buddhist temple to get a closer look at the local religions.
In order to reach the Temple in Batu Caves, visitors must climb 227 stairs that are guarded by cheeky monkeys that attack tourists for food. We of course came in appropriate running attire and ran multiple sets past the ‘normal’ tourists still trying to get up for the first time.
We also ran through the KL Lake Gardens, and visited the butterfly and deer parks, which were okay for a run but glad we didn’t go there for a tourist walk since they weren’t of much interest. As with many places in Malaysia there is a huge problem with littering and the overcast sticky heat makes all the buildings look old and weathered, but not in an interesting/historic sort of way. We took a short trip out of town to the FRIM (Forest Reserve Institute Malaysia) where they built a jungle canopy walk where you could see the contrast between the untouched beauty of the jungle and the sky scraping city in the distance.
For Robin’s birthday, we went up to the revolving restaurant at the top of the KL tower for afternoon tea. Although it started to piss with rain right when we got there, we still managed to get some great views and took this panorama to point out where we were staying with Uncle Charles and Auntie Soo.
In addition to tea at the top of the KL Tower, Kevin surprised Robin with an Authentic Malay Cooking Class that was taught out of a home in KL. In the class we made prawn fritters, beef randang, spicy cucumber salad, and XXXX. It was our first cooking class and we had a blast with the mini woks and personal sized stoves.
This Lunar New Year has been a special one with the turn to the year of the dragon b/c it’s the only mythical creature in the zodiac. The Lunar New Year decorations have been quite spectacular with all the towns dressed in red lanterns, dragons and slews of special tidbits (cookies, snacks and soft jerky) being sold. The hashers lit off books of fire crackers to start their runs and hosted gigantic feasts afterwards. All the shops offer free ‘gung hay fat choi’ oranges and the malls are done up with extravagant details with special performances of traditional drums and dragon dances. The amount of decoration, folklore and tradition is equivalent/comparable to the Christmas efforts we are used to in the U.S. and spending time with family is a big part. We were fortunate enough to attend a New Year dinner with Soo’s entire family who were all in town for the holiday.
The Malaysian Chinese have a fun confetti like way to kick off the meal; it’s a dish called Yee Sang (which translates to Raw Fish) that was an exciting treat for us. It is a raw fish salad with colorful sweet noodles that is tossed on the table by everyone using their chopsticks. We were told that the higher you can drop the food onto the plate, the better fortune you will have in the new year (+1 for being tall with long arms).
We are now headed out for a road trip to the highlands and are looking forward to some low humidity mountain fresh air :-)