Dec 17, 2004
|KL is a 5 hour bus ride north of Singapore.
Two weekends ago, Darlene went to KL with Michael, Shirley, Betty and other friends. In accordance with the usual entertainment agenda of Singaporeans, they stayed in a hotel downtown and shopped. Prices in many places are good, but in the downtown shopping malls, the stores were the same as in anywhere USA or Canada, and the prices were little different. Darlene wanted to go back. As she had to leave the country to get another visitor's Visa, we booked into a 5 star hotel at $100 CD per night, and traveled by bus for $50 each return.
KL is architecturally stunning. The Petronas Towers of glass and steel are, currently the tallest buildings in the world. The contrasts between poverty and wealth, between functional and disrepair are, for me, unprecedented (but I have not yet been to India). Some buildings are in stunning condition, and others are falling apart. What is most overwhelming is the contrast in architectural style of the new buildings. Just being present to see these structures makes me feel like I have arrived somewhere important.
The functional design of the city does not yet match the other beauty. Some of the downtown core roads are very overcrowded and do not function well. Although there is an efficient train and monorail system, there are too few escalators and elevators, and the stations frequently do not conveniently mesh together.
This is a Muslim Country. There is a National Mosque, across from the National Muslim offices. There are two justice systems - one for managing transgressions of Muslim (?moral) law, and one for secular (British system) law.
The Bumi Putra rule this country. A Malay who is third generation Muslim would be one of this group. Businesses must pay a 30% tax to this group. 99% of the government jobs are occupied by this group. If you are a member of this group, you get a discount for some things because you are Bumi Putra.
If you get stopped by a policeman, you are expected to pay. If you do not pay, the ticket will be written, and it will be $300 Malay. If you are Malaysian, you pay minimum $50, but Taxis can get a discount, because they are working. If you are Singaporean, you are expected to pay $100(ie $50 Singapore). If you were a member of the King's special guard, and you have ID, we were told that you may not need to pay. Even if the ticket is sent forward, you might be able to get it paid off at a reduced rate, provided you talk to the right person. Do not try this in Singapore. You will end up in jail.
The media is controlled in KL. If an article is written, it must be reviewed by an editor. If there is "questionable" material, it is sent to the government representatives for an opinion. The article may be changed or publication may not be permitted. While we were in KL, the Thai Prime Minister suggested that insurgents in Thailand were being trained in Malaysia. The reaction to this comment was swift, direct, and specific. The tone was, "If you have a problem such as this, use proper diplomatic channels, tell us about it, and give us a chance to address it. Without managing it in this manner, we cannot address this problem - as well, the activities which you allege are not taking place in this country." For the next day, there was more discussion, more expressions of contempt for what had been said about Malaysia, and more opinion in editorials.
There was a conflict between the Indians and the Hindus in one city - the Indians were too loud when the Muslims were praying, and the Muslims were disturbing the Hindus. This broke into open conflict. The government addressed the problem, and did not permit publication of the conflict - out of fear that this could start another major religious war, arising from the inability of these two groups to get along.
There was an article in the paper about religious tolerance and the desire of government to encourage and support different cultural celebrations. The Minister of Culture, Arts and heritage, Datik Seri Dr. Rais Yatim said that even the King is participating in Christmas (written Xmas) celebrations this year, so all Malaysians should do the same. "Religious tolerance is a term we accept and live by in the Federal Constitution. Although Islam is the official religion, the constitution recognizes the right to embrace and practice one's faith. By recognizing this, each person whether he lives in ....can live harmoniously with respect to each other's faith. ....There must be respect for each other's religion, culture, and race in a country like ours." "The Muslim call for Subah (dawn) prayer may disturb the sleep of non-Muslims, but the have accepted this as a fundamental part of Islam. But how loud the volume of the PA system in the mosque should be is another matter."
Sometimes religious tolerance has less to do with religion and more to do with respect for each other and for ourselves.
We hired a taxi driver to take us around the city for $15 per hour. Pictures of those places are included. Of most interest to us was the visit to the jungle. It was Sunday, and the Muslims were all there with their families, enjoying the water and each other. -- more than we do at home.
There is more poverty, but -- we were not "panhandled" like we are in US and Canadian cities. We definitely felt safer than we feel in San Franciso. There was a murder here before we arrived - and it was openly discussed in the newspaper. BTW -- there were 5 one year when we were in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
We did not see ugliness and fear in our travel here. Families with children were everywhere. The children are more interactive with us than they are in Canada - and we are the strangers, here. We did not feel as secure as we do in Singapore, but we felt no less welcome.
This place is very different, unique in its own way -- and it seems to work.