Kuala Lumpur, short 'KL', is the biggest city in Malaysia and the major economic and business center of the country. The center is at the confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers, the place where the first settlement was erected which grew over the time to become the present megacity.
The Petronas Twin Towers, a landmark of Kuala Lumpur - and the oil industry. Petronas is the biggest oil company in Malaysia. There are oil rigs offshore the country's east coast. Image by Asienreisender, 2005
The city of Kuala Lumpur is a very modern place, comparable to Singapore. The climate here, just 4 degrees latitude north of the equator, is pretty hot and humid all around the year. Actually it's a tropical rainforest climate here, although the rainforests on the Malay Peninsula more and more disappear. Degrees celsius of over 30 are not seldom, and it practically never goes below 23 degrees. There is also much rain in Kuala Lumpur, all over the year and particularly during the northeast monsoon; heavy thunderstorms who cause power breaks in whole quarters are not seldom. Floods appear, when the drainage system can't swallow the masses of water anymore. In the dry season heavy smog is produced not only by the masses of vehicles in the megacity, but also from the annually great forest fires on the neighbouring Indonesian islands of Sumatra and Borneo/Kalimantan.
Cars, cars, cars, motorbikes, lorries, busses... the blood cells of the mad economic system with it's noise, pollution and world destruction. Image by Asienreisender, 2005
The megacity is home to a number of significant industries, including electronics, computer industries (multimedia supercorridor) biotech companies, car industries (Proton), engineering companies, chemical and food industries, banks and finance industries and, to a part, also tourism. Surprisingly, Kuala Lumpur is the sixth most visited city worldwide.
There is a public transport system, consisting of many bus lines and railed vehicles. City railways run since years already without a driver, fully automatized. Though, it's not easy to find one's way as a stranger here, and it's not always clear where a certain bus stops. It's also annoying to realize that bus stops changed and one has difficulties to find the new stop. The fast train KLIA Espres is running frequently every 15 or 20 minutes to and fro the international airport in Sepang. The drive takes some 30 minutes; the airport is some 50km outside of Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur International Airport
There are two airports outside of Kuala Lumpur. This is KLIA where the flights to Europe come and go and which is connected to the inner city by the KLIA express train. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2007, 2015
The twin towers of the national oil company Petronas are in their cold, technological superiority a symbol of development and prosperity, like the Eiffeltower which was built for the world exposition in 1907. The twin architecture is a reminiscence to the former World Trade Center in New York.
Alltogether, the height of the towers is 452m, including the two 'needles' on top of them. Between 1998 to 2004 the twin towers were by many considered the highest building in the world, although they are, without the spires 'merely' 378m high and insofar lower than the Willis respectively Sears Tower in Chicago. In 2004 Taipei 101 replaced the Petronas Twins as the highest building in the world. Still they are the highest twin building worldwide.
The towers are connected by a skybridge in the 41st floor in 172m height. There are alltogether 78 elevators in the buildings. The spires can not be visited.
Inside the building is a concert hall for the Malaysian Philarmonica, the scientific museum 'Petrosains' a number of luxurious boutiques and hundreds of offices. A five-level underground parking provides 5,400 spaces for vehicles.
Inside the building, occupying the six lowest levels, is the big, Suria KLCC shopping center placed, one of the most favourite places in Kuala Lumpur for the rich, the wealthy and those who would like to be part of the exclusive social class. Here they can buy a great deal of luxurious status symbols nobody needs.
The image bottom left shows the surroundings of the towers at dusk.
Click the header to enter a photocomposition of the Petronas Twin Towers. Images and collage by Asienreisender, 2005, 2007, 2015
The one-dimensional crazieness of buying and selling as the central content of life reaches a boiling point in Kuala Lumpur. Malayan, Indian and above all Chinese traders push any potential customer to buy, buy, buy. They mean money, and they can get even angry if one does not want to buy. 'Only looking' is no option for them. 'Look quick, buy faster' seems to be their slogan.
Kota Raya, one of the big shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
Doesn't matter how much money they already have - they want more. When they grow rich, they buy houses, villas, cars, people, status-symbols of all kinds. Travelling is a status symbol as well. The trouble is just, that these people don't know what to do abroad. Even places like Borobodur and Angkor Wat are boring for them, because they have no idea about anything else but business. So, they happily go back home to continue their business and to boast with the places they visited.
Many of the storekeepers are quite aggressive and some become almost insulting if one does not buy somewhat in their shop. Remarkably, an American tourist told me on Java: "We are here to buy" - as though one would need such a justification to visit another country. The value of a person is seen in the amount of consumption he/she performs. Some people see it so, and many of the touts and shopkeepers are naturally among them. In Kuala Lumpur many Chinese businessmen are so hectically fixed to it, that they can not listen anymore. They talk, and if you want to reply what, they interrupt you and ignorantly continue talking, talking, talking. Sometimes I start a sentence two or three times and get always interrupted. That happens even in restaurants when I try to order - they know much better what I should order and don't care for my intensions. In such cases it's best to leave them alone and go elsewhere. But there are many of these kind.
Sometimes I watch Chinese groups at neighbouring tables in a restaurant; they all talk and nobody listens. Maybe it's an old, Chinese custom.
A fabulous insight into this mentality gives Anson Chi in his novel: 'Asian Culture Revealed'.
Chinatown is part of the city center. It's crystallized in the shopping grid around Jalan Petaling. This part of the city is crowded with masses of shops who sell cheap consumer goods of all kinds to tourists. Much of the stuff one get's here are counterfeited goods in various quality. When it comes to electronics, the quality is generally very low. The two guys in the cellphone shop (2) sold counterfeited smartphones, claiming they were original. There are many of these shops, and the pressure to sell must be strong for the salesmen.
The big lizard was for sale as a pet in a shop in Jalan Sultan. Animals like this are getting caught in the wilderness, particularly in regions where the rainforest is getting logged. They are the very few survivors of all the many victims of the forest destruction.
There is a great choice of good restaurants in Chinatown who serve food of different kinds as Malay, Indian and, of course, Chinese food (5).
The central bus station of Kuala Lumpur is just around the corner of Jalan Sultan (Pudu Sentral, 6). Different companies sell tickets for busses who go all around the Malay Peninsula as for example to Lumut (the pier to Pangkor Island is located there), to Penang, to Malacca or to Kota Baru. It's a great advantage to find the bus station in such a central location. Over the last years more and more bus stations who were ever placed central in the past have been replaced by new bus stations far outside the city. To reach them requires extra transport and makes the traveller loosing much more time.
There is of course no shortage of shopping occasions. For all kind of goods there are retailers. As usually in Southeast Asia, certain kind of shops are concentrated in certain parts of the city. Kuala Lumpur is also considered a good place to buy computers.
The central market is famous for clothes and jewellery as well as touristic stuff of better quality like wood carvings (8).
Coming around on the city highways one get's to see all the many satellite towns around Kuala Lumpur center. They all are coined by different, distinctive, and often quite bizzare architectures. More and more of these kind of modern planned towns are built all over the Malay Peninsula. This architecture is representative for contemporary Malaysia, and different from the buildings style in neighbouring countries like Thailand or Indonesia.
The historic city center is close by the new one with it's 'postmodern' skyscrapers. Image 19 shows the confluence of the Gombak and Klang rivers (in the background). Nowadays they are tamed canals, led through the inner city.
Restoration work is done at some of the historic buildings. At least part of the historic architecture is preserved (20), although in this case it's merely a facade. Behind a parking is placed. It's a big problem in many Southeast Asian cities that the old, grown historic city parts are getting demolished for the sake of contemporary, ugly concrete monsters. Phnom Penh, once considered being the most beautiful city in Asia, is a sad example of this development.
In the evenings a lot of street restaurants open their services. Masses of crowd go out for dinner.
Click the header to enter a photocomposition of Kuala Lumpur. Images and collage by Asienreisender, 2005, 2007, 2012, 2015
History and Population
Kuala Lumpur, or 'KL', as the Malaysians call it, is a quite new city. In 1853 it was founded as a tin miner's camp at the confluence of Gombak and Klang River. In 1896, with the founding of the 'Federation of Malaysia', the British colonial administration made Kuala Lumpur the federation's capital. Roadwork and the construction of all the representative colonial buildings was undertaken by the British. After the independence in 1957 the town remained the country's capital. 1972 the town received city status as the first place in Malaysia - it was still a small place, though. It started growing fast and rich from the 1980s on. Now it's a really modern city, comparable with western cities. And it looks in some parts really science-fiction like. Funny shaped skyscrapers everywhere, and around KL center there are many suburbs with mashroomlike looking skyscrapers in groups. Cyberjaya is a place to attract foreign high-tech investment, where new computer technologies are developed and marketed.
In 2001 the seat of the government was shifted to Putrajaya.
In KL itself are 1,5 million people living, but in the whole urbanized catchment area it's some eight million people. Some 40% are Chinese, another 40% are Malay, some 9% are Indian and the remaining 11% splits up between a number of Indonesians, Philippinos, Arabs and even Westerners (mostly working for international companies).
Wherever one goes, there is a lot of poverty. A free market society applies nothing but the law of the jungle on human society. The (economically) strong eat the weak. That's how the present for billions of people looks, and the future for many, many more as well, worldwide. Quite a contrast to the so admired Babylonian towers above. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2005, 2015
The primary language in Kuala Lumpur is 'Bahasa Malaysia', the Malaysian version of Malay in difference to closely relative Bahasa Indonesia. English is widely spoken as well, and many residents, particularly those with Chinese roots or academics, consider it their first language. Usually it's the staccato-like, hectically outspoken 'Manglish' of the Chinese dealers. Mandarin and Kantonese are also frequent among the Chinese, while the Indians usually speak Tamil or some other Indian languages.
In the German wikipedia (http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kuala_Lumpur) is a small list of meaningfull people from Kuala Lumpur given: four car race drivers, a businessman, a soccer player and a Chinese politician. In other words: KL produced no significant personality at all.
Downtown Kuala Lumpur, with the historic city center and the old, islamic style railway station. The old, yellowed photo hung in a hotel lobby. Images and photocomposition by Asienreisender, 2007, 2012, 2015
The most crowded part of Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown. From noon on until deep into the night masses of crowd pass through here. Image by Asienreisender, 2012
Among all the many small shop keepers in Chinatown are not only Chinese, but a number of sellers from other countries as Indonesia, Burma/Myanmar, India and more. Competition here is high, the atmosphere is hectical, unfriendly, respectless or sometimes grovelling (particularly Indian salesmen). The shops, including the street shops, are rent from the government or from other tenants, and it's not cheap and absolutely not easy to get a place here. Most of the buyers try to bargain; it's seems to be a sport for many people. Inclusive Westerners, who sometimes try hardest just to get anything they don't need anyway. There is much police around as well (with or without uniforms). Sometimes policemen demand goods for free or for a very small price or they demand plain money from the shopkeepers. They blackmail them in threatening to make them trouble. That's particularly bad for shopkeepers who have no proper papers as working permits or passports/visas.
An old, colonial time building in Chinatown. Image by Asienreisender, 2012