Prejudiced or naive? A cultural and religious clash in Kuala Lumpur

Welcome to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia!

I wasn’t planning on visiting Kuala Lumpur at all! After Ko Samui, I intended to go to Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Tao, two paradisiac islands, famous for beach parties and scuba diving. But I changed my plans to attend an event with Prem Rawat, which would take place exactly that weekend in Kuala Lumpur. I realized I was so close (just a 2-hour flight!) and it’d be a shame to miss the chance to see him. So I changed my plans and sacrificed a couple of islands in Thailand to attend his event. And visit a new country, of course 😉

petronas twin towers kuala lumpur
Petronas Twin Towers

Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia and its main cultural and financial hub. It is a very diverse city, with gleaming skyscrapers contrasting with minarets and colonial architecture. But the skyline is dominated by the 451m-tall Petronas Twin Towers. With 88 floors, they are the tallest twin towers in the world and a landmark of modern Islamic architecture.

 

So close and yet so time consuming

Aljazeera Headquarters
View from my window of the Al Jazeera Headquarters in KL

I took the ferry from Ko Samui to Surat Thani (if you didn’t read about how I met the love of my life in Ko Samui, here’s the link to that story), and from there a 2-hour transfer to the tiny airport, from where I flew to Kuala Lumpur.

After spending pretty much all day traveling, I arrived in Kuala Lumpur at 8pm. A friend of mine who was based there picked me up from the airport and brought me to my hotel. It was in the heart of the business district, right in front of the massive and impressive Al Jazeera tower. I was so tired that I went straight to bed.

Too hazy to explore

sunshine_september_without_sun
Sunshine September. Wait, but where’s the sun?

The event would be on the afternoon of the next day, so I had a few hours in the morning to explore the city on my own (my friend had to work).

I left the hotel early in the morning and was flabbergasted by a gray, thick haze that covered the entire city. Locals told me it came from Jakarta, from the burning of forests and plantations in Indonesia. And they said that it was very “normal” at this time of the year.

HOW CAN SOMETHING LIKE THAT BE NORMAL? I couldn’t see the sky. I couldn’t see the sun! Not even the top of the famous Petronas Twin Towers! What a disaster for my pictures! Jokes apart, for me that was really an environmental tragedy!

petronas_towers_ana
Petronas Twin Towers – hard to see the top with all this haze!

Later that day I experienced for the first time induced rain. At that time, I didn’t know it was a common practice, so I got absolutely astonished to find out that they sent planes to disperse substances into the air to suppress the haze! I thought it was some kind of “Black Mirror Conspiracy”. But no, it is common practice… Talking to some locals, I found out that they could clearly distinguish the rain that was induced by such planes from “real rain”. According to them, the induced rain had much thicker drops.

Uncomfortable in my own skin

I must say that I didn’t feel very comfortable walking around in Kuala Lumpur. I felt like I was being stared at all the time, by both men and women, like I’ve never felt anywhere else in the world. And I wasn’t even wearing super appealing, short or tight clothes!

A public pool in kl
A public pool in KL with kids and veiled women bathing

In Kuala Lumpur the majority of the population is muslim and most of the women I saw were either completely or half covered. So maybe this is why when they saw a western tourist showing a bit of flesh, they made a big commotion..? Maybe it was just in my head, but somehow, I felt like they were eating me with their eyes.

Please, don’t get me wrong! I have many muslim friends and I have been to several muslim countries. I deeply respect their culture and religion. But in Kuala Lumpur I just felt like I was being observed and judged by everyone, all the time.

Words of Peace in KL

I went back to the hotel at lunch time and set off to the Kuala Lumpur Convention Center for the event with Prem Rawat. There, I met many acquaintances and people I had met around the world in previous events. Some of them spend all their lives (and money) traveling around the world to see him and listen to his message of peace.

modern_historical
KL – a mix of modern and historical architecture

The event was really beautiful and inspiring. His words made every penny spent and mile traveled worth it. As usual. (You can get to know more about it on the recently launched website and app TimelessToday!)

Batu Caves

Batu Caves Kuala Lumpur
A bit blurry, but that’s me in front of the magnificent entrance of the Batu Caves

On the following day I left the hotel early to visit the Batu Caves, a series of caves and cave temples in Gombak, a city near Kuala Lumpur. They are one of the main tourist attractions in Malaysia and house several Hindu shrines.

They were absolutely mesmerizing! Apart from being huge (in some parts more than 100-m high), they were richly adorned, with fascinating murals of mythic Hindu scenes gleaming behind stalactites. In addition to that, you’ll see hundreds of bats inside and hundreds of monkeys outside, which are an attraction apart.

Sightseeing with a stranger

Monkeys in the Batu Caves
Monkeys in the Batu Caves

When I was still in the hotel, I met a man in the elevator, who was a chemistry teacher at the University of Malaysia. His name was Ali and he came from Afghanistan. He had the day off and offered to accompany me in my visit to the caves.

I was a little suspicious, but he showed me his business card and I thought “why not?” Visiting the place with a local was (almost) always better than alone! Besides, this man wouldn’t be willing to harm his reputation as a university scholar…

Magnificent entrance of the Batu Caves
Magnificent entrance of the Batu Caves, Hindu deities and stalactites

In the beginning everything was really nice. We visited the caves, which were amazing, and had a really good time together. He insisted on paying for my train tickets and even my food. This was when my emergency alarm started to go off…

It is such a tricky question! On the one hand, I want to be able to trust people and believe that there are still good, altruistic people in the world. On the other hand, I should stay alert and safe, mainly being a solo female traveler! Where do you draw the line? Especially such a fine line!

Jamek Mosque Kuala Lumpur
Jamek Mosque

After visiting the caves, he took me to the main central market and then to the Jamek Mosque, one of the main mosques in Kuala Lumpur. There, he took the opportunity to say his prayers, so he stayed inside for about half an hour, while I waited outside. Because I was wearing singlets, I had to get a cloak to be able to stay inside the temple grounds.

Insistence and suspicion

Baby monkey with its mom in the entrance of the Batu Caves
Baby monkey with its mom in the entrance of the Batu Caves

So far, so good. But after that, he wanted to go back to the hotel and get his car, to show me more of the city. I tried to dodge him, but he began to be strangely insistent. Again, where do you draw the line? Was he just being nice or did he want something else? All the way through, he was respectful and courteous, so why was I resisting. Was I being naive or unfairly suspicious? Should I be aware not to fall into a trap or just relax and enjoy a free guided tour?

KL Tower, Kuala Lumpur
KL Tower

By this time, I was agitated and in two minds. I wanted to be able to trust him, but I also wanted to be safe. He hadn’t done anything weird, but that was no guarantee that he wouldn’t. I tried to listen to my intuition, but it didn’t tell me anything. I took the decision to trust him and accept the invitation.

He took me in his car to the KL tower, the 7th tallest telecommunications tower in the world. The tower stands at 421m and has a revolving restaurant with scenic, panoramic views of the whole city (or as much as the haze allows you to see).

While I was there, my friend called saying that we were going out for dinner and that I should stay wherever I was, because he’d come to pick me up on the way. However, Ali said he wouldn’t just leave me anywhere and insisted on taking me back to the hotel.

Suddenly, I had two men, one of whom I knew for a couple of weeks and the other for a couple of hours, trying to over-protect me, possess me and patronize me. That DEEPLY annoyed me.

Annoyance and frustration

batu_cave_inside
Inside the Batu Caves

There was a lot of traffic jam on the way back to the hotel and we were stuck for more than one hour! That car felt like a pressure pot! Ali grew stranger and more possessive. He just couldn’t accept the fact that I had spent all day long with him and wouldn’t have dinner or go out with him at night.

To make matters worse, he started to say repeatedly that I should convert to Islam, because it was the oldest religion in the world and the only one that could save me. That deeply annoyed me! (I’m not discriminating the religion here. It just annoys me when people try to convert me).

Monkey snooping around in the entrance of the Batu Caves
Monkey snooping around in the entrance of the Batu Caves

That car suddenly became suffocating. I felt like I was going to explode! I just couldn’t wait to get to the hotel and be safe there! But we were completely stuck in traffic!

After what seemed like forever we finally got to the hotel. I exited the car and felt immediately an immense relief! The two men met in the hotel lobby and there was kind of an awkward handover, after which I left with my friend. I couldn’t even enjoy dinner. The events of the day were clouding my head just like the thick haze from Jakarta.

A cultural clash?

opening_ceiling
An opening in the ceiling of the Batu Caves

I felt bad for “abandoning” Ali like that. But deep inside I felt a huge relief. My guts were saying that it wouldn’t have ended up well. At the same time, however, I was asking myself whether I wasn’t being unfair and judgemental.

I told my friend about my day and he started instructing me on how I shouldn’t talk to strangers or trust men like that. That deeply irritated me too! Why was everyone trying to patronize me?

monkey_baby
Baby monkey with mom (or dad?)

I wanted to be able to trust people! But I also understood that I couldn’t get into the car with any stranger I met in the street. Sometimes I could be lucky taking risks and find the love of my life (like what happened in Ko Samui). Other times, I could end up getting into real trouble (like what happened in Agra, India). I had to watch out and take care of myself, without losing faith in humanity. I think this was the first cultural misunderstanding of my trip – the first of many I had, mainly in India.

Time to leave – already!

impressive entrance of the Batu Temple
Another one from the impressive entrance of the Batu Caves

On the next day I had a quick breakfast and took the train to the airport, which is like a massive, modern shopping mall from where you can occasionally catch a plane. I would have liked to stay longer and explore other places in Malaysia. Rushing like this from city to city is not really my kind of tourism. But as I said, visiting Kuala Lumpur wasn’t even in my plans! So I added Malaysian beaches and islands to my extensive need-to-visit-before-I-die list and hopped on the plane.

I was going back to Thailand! But this time to the other side of the country! It was time to visit Krabi and the famous Maya Bay and Phi Phi Islands, probably the most iconic Thai postcards.

An (un)expected reconnection!

When I was already at the boarding gate, I managed to talk to Greg, the Kiwi guy I had met on the ferry to Ko Samui and with whom I had had my amazing travel love story.

He said he was leaving Ko Samui that weekend and moving to Ko Pha Ngan. He wrote I should go there with him, instead of going to Krabi. I answered I had planned that trip a long time ago and that HE should go to Krabi instead and spend three more days with me.

He answered, “OK, I will”

!!!

To be continued…

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2 Replies to “Prejudiced or naive? A cultural and religious clash in Kuala Lumpur”

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