Moving cities can be challenging. Moving between adopted countries throws even more elements to manage in to the mix. When you have little first-hand experience, connections, or knowledge about the place you’re moving to, that amps things up yet again. Leaving a city and country you have called home for a long time and love (Bangkok, Thailand) for one you’ve only visited nearly two decades ago as a backpacker and have received mixed reviews of (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), makes the prospect a bit uncertain. I certainly felt all these things just over one year ago, on July 12, 2013, when my wife and I made the above-mentioned move after more than 13 years living in the Land of Smiles.
Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a city that conjures few mental pictures, emotions or assumptions for people prior to a visit. The name sounds foreign and potentially exciting but that’s about where it ends. Spend some time here and you’ll have a decent enough time. Tasty food, an interesting mix of shops, some pretty sites, but on the surface it lacks the obvious electricity and exotic flair that a city like Bangkok has. That said, stay a while, establish a routine, and like most places in the world a city becomes what you make it. KL is a metropolis that doesn’t necessarily excite out of the gates, lacks obvious world-class highlights, but it’s also a pretty comfy and easy place to exist. And with a bit of effort and digging, highlights emerge.
After living for a relatively short time in this city of five million that call the greater Klang Valley home, here are some things I’ve really come to appreciate and enjoy:
One of KL’s largest green spaces, this reasonably expansive, not-quite-a-mountain, offers an impressive network of dirt paths in thick jungle. Horseback riders frequent some, hikers rejoice and mountain bikers rip along most trails daily. It’s pretty steep and challenging terrain, there’s little coasting here, it’s up, then down, right back up again, with a health smattering of roots, rocks and other technical bits liberally thrown in. The dirt tracks start 1.8km from my condo which makes getting out and in to it a snap.
While it has quite a way to go compared to what we breathe in the west, KL’s air is generally a step up from most teeming SE Asian cities. The city’s greenery no doubt plays a roll and it’s a real treat to not breath in thick car exhaust while strolling city streets. The exception is a few weeks per year when smoke blows over from fires in Indonesia, rendering things borderline toxic. You can’t have it all, all the of the time I guess.
Ethnically Rich Workforce
Labor is imported in abundance here. Security guards tend to be from Nepal, many restaurant staff are from Myanmar and Indonesia, maids tend to be from the Philippines and there’s even a sizeable Iranian population. Mix it all together and you meet a lot of people from around the world on a daily basis.
While not Singapore in terms of overall green space, KL has done a pretty decent job of maintaining trees, shrubs and even thick jungle within its city confines. Compared to almost any other capital or large city in SE Asia, KL’s got some pretty rich and easy on the eyes green spots. It has an impact on your outlook everyday, leaves you feeling a bit more closely connected to nature and certainly doesn’t hurt air quality.
Yes you can get a pint in most major cities in the world, but it used to be brewed here and locals have a real taste for it. Most pubs have it on offer; it’s comparatively well priced and super tasty. Seeing Asians enjoy a thick, creamy pint brings a warm feeling to my heart and admiration for the Irish who concocted this unique and tasty creation that spans cultures and international borders.
There’s a rich mix of expats living here, they seem to be quite well received, accepted, and generally viewed as an addition rather than perceived as taking over and getting in the way. Some countries and cities in the region, while welcoming, have an overriding sense of locals thinking it would be better to not have expats around. Not the case in KL.
Greater KL is surrounded by lush, rolling mountains that top-out at nearly 2,000m in spots. Having these as a backdrop is a welcome site after living in a very flat place for more than a decade and originally coming from Calgary, Canada, a city that has the Rocky Mountains as a stunning backdrop.
Many SE Asian cities and countries lack a true multicultural vibe. Sure there are some indigenous people scattered among a base, but few cities and countries in the region have a blend of cultures living in relative harmony like Malaysia and KL does. There’s the ethnic Malay majority, living side-by-side with a large Chinese population, then a sizeable Tamil community that rounds things out nicely. This mix brings with it interesting holidays, customs, buildings, places of worship and of course a delectable variety of food.
There’s a vibrant market for large, upscale condos at reasonably decent rental rates here. We’re lucky enough to live on the 19th floor in a 2,000sqf unit that boasts indoor and outdoor gas stovetops, an oven (a rarity in SE Asia), huge kitchen with an island, two swimming pools, squash court, gym, tennis court, hot and cold tubs – you get the picture – almost a resort at home.
Roti Canai & Dahl
Tamils crank out one heck of a simple, yet tasty dish: Roti Canai. This light, fluffy, pastry of sorts is pulled while being heated on a skillet until it’s warm, a bit toasted, yet very pliable. Tear at it with your hands and dip it in a variety of curries and best of all Dahl, and you’re in food heaven.