Malaysia delivered the goods yet again. In the last three weeks, we’ve seen orangutans in the rainforest of Borneo, looked down on Kuala Lumpur from the top of the glittering Petronas Towers, wandered through the serene national mosque, explored the street art of Georgetown and marvelled at the kitsch cat museum. If that was too much culture, we’ve also been to the movies, eaten a lot of sushi and watched two full seasons of iZombie.
So, on our final night in Malaysia, we reflect on what we will miss (and what we won’t).
– The food – The sheer variety is dizzying. Whether you fancy Malaysian, Belgian or Peruvian, it’s probably available. The quality is far higher than almost anywhere else we’ve been (perhaps bar Melbourne) and standards of hygeine are much more reliable. This all comes with a low pricetag. As much sushi as you can order? About £10 a head. A big bowl of Assam Laksa, the sour fish broth with fresh herbs and thick noodles? £1.25. We also celebrated Allan’s birthday in one of KL’s best restaurants for under £50 each (including cocktails and wine).
– The diversity – The moment we stepped out of KL Sentral train station, we realised how much we’d missed being somewhere where everyone is not the same. The easiest to spot is obviously race: there are people living there from every corner of the planet. It was the first place where women driving taxis was unremarkable. It was also the first place in SE Asia where we saw gay couples out and about, holding hands (but given Malaysia’s appalling record on LGBT rights, they were probably tourists).
– The street environment – Call us urban snowflakes, but there’s a lot to be said for safe places to walk, an underground sewage system and traffic lights. The last time we were here, seven years ago, we got chatting to a woman in Penang who asked us what we had liked about Malaysia. ‘Pavements’, we both said in unison. Still true.
We won’t miss:
– Walking etiquette – There is something unspoken about how you share space with others in any culture. In Malaysia, we just haven’t managed to wrap our heads around it. Walking very slowly is obviously de rigeur but, here, large groups will think nothing of walking four abreast across a pavement or hallway. Where foot traffic flows in both directions, generally a complicated and inexplicable eye contact-based negotiation should occur that allows both parties to pass each other without incident. Either we don’t know the unspoken rules or the norm is simply pedestrian chicken.
– Open-mouthed coughing and spitting – Again. Not unique to Malaysia but, based on our own cultural expectations, we find it horrible. What’s most bemusing is that there are great reasons not to do it. So why has covering your mouth when you cough or refraining from gobbing in the street not made it into general etiquette while ‘no head touching’ has?
– Air Asia check in – Oh. My. God. Queue at a machine to print your boarding pass (thank the member of staff whose job it is to help you use the machine). Queue at a machine to print out your luggage tags (thank the member of staff whose job it is to help you use the machine). Join the queue for the actual check-in desk once you have shown the two people at the entrance that, yes, you have printed your boarding card and luggage tags. Get to desk but discover you have failed to queue for document check. Queue for document check. Queue at check-in desk again to show boarding pass to one member of staff, while another attaches your luggage tag. Wonder how much quicker and less stressful this would be if the five staff you encountered before you got to the desk simply each ran an extra check-in desk of their own, at which one person managed to check your passport, print your boarding pass, and tag your luggage. Gaaaahhhhhhh!