A few days ago I was nominated for the Liebster Award by sportsdiva64. A very warm thank you to sportsandtravelblog.wordpress.com for nominating me and an acknowledgement of her great content. She explains what the Liebster Award is here: sportsandtravelblog.wordpress.com/tag/liebster-award/ better than I could so check it out.
Here are my answers to sportdiva’ s questions:
If I could chose where to live anywhere in the world that place would be London. I love the energy that city transmits
My biggest fear would have to be moths. I hate them
What I love about blogging is what I love about free online sharing platforms in general: the direct simple way a creator and a reader can communicate in way that in television for example is impossible.
There are too many situations in which I would have liked to give advice to me in the past to list them
I rather enjoy reggae and soul. Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff are personal favourites.
My goal for 2017 was to get a full pass in all subjects at school. Fortunately, I succeeded.
I have no favourite team in any particular sport.
If I one the lottery I would use the money to go on a gap year and take a train from Europe to Beijing.
As we reached the end of our journey we decided to spend the last four nights available in Kuala Lumpur in an AirBnB flat near KLCC. Since I had last been to Kuala Lumpur I could notice some significant change such as the construction of a series of new buildings, which I had expected from a thriving financial hub such as Kuala Lumpur.
I must confess that I find this city extraordinarily appealing. I really enjoy the way it fully embraces the challenges and opportunities lying ahead for Malaysia, the chances it holds in playing a more prominent role in South East Asia and in the world in general and the cosmopolitan prospect these wishes inevitably bring with them, while remaining distinctly Malay in feel.
I believe the energy and reserved optimism, characteristic of Malaysians in general are particularly evident here; perhaps it is somewhat part of Malaysia’s tradition itself to be prepared to sacrifice absolute cultural integrity and a part of their tradition in order to achieve greater social and economical ends. In this Kuala Lumpur, and Malaysia in general, stands as a model for many other developing countries.
Another major achievement lies in Kuala Lumpur’s ability to maintain its historic multiculturalism, for example the significant Hindi minority living there, while also ensuring integration and equality.
A major expression of Hindu culture can be undoubtedly found in the stunning religious sites of Batu Caves, which I warmly suggest to visit. But Hindu and Buddhist temples can be found all around KL. I thought I grasped the effective depth of Kuala Lumpur’s mutual respect and unity amongst minorities when I saw Hindu tourists in Buddhist temples and Buddhist tourists in a Hindu temple called Sri Maha Mariamman, which again I highly recommend a visit to.
The Hindu god Ganesh
Sri Mahamariamman Temple in KL
This is not to say that the capital of Malaysia is flawless, far from it. Heavy immigration from the surrounding rural areas is making its infrastructure inadequate and it is putting a strain on its housing. It is Kuala Lumpur’s mission not to let the city become an overpopulated centre such as many in the area and avoid an all out housing crisis. Still, the city boasts the best infrastructure in Malaysia and one of the best in SE Asia and also serves as an example of the possibility of implementing consistent and at the same time sustainable growth, which is often overlooked in rapidly developing economies around the world.
(There are lots of monkeys here)
The staircase leading to Batu Caves
All in all, Kuala Lumpur’s energy and vibrancy, but also its distinct cultural traits, which make it a unique ethnic, social and even political centre, kind of remind me of London. Samuel Johnson once said “when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life”, I would say “when a man is tired of Kuala Lumpur, he is tired of South East Asia”.
As I reach the end of my wonderful trip to Malaysia, from revisiting the places of my childhood, to travelling to remote villages in the interior, there is little I can do apart from looking deep into this country’s future and trying to imagine what the next decades have in hold for Malaysia. What I see is many of its ambitions coming true, from a more important geopolitical role in the region, to better and more advanced infrastructure thanks to greater investment.
All things considered, I think we’re safe to say that Malaysia’s future is indeed, looking very very bright…
As hard as our taxi driver tried to convince us to hire his car to travel to the heart of Malaysia and down to Kuala Lumpur, he could not move us from stubbornly wanting to go by train. Thinking back at those slow, stressful twelve hours we spent getting to Jerantut, a small city in central Malaysia with a curiously sizeable Chinese minority, I can’t help feeling happy I did it, but being there was whole different kettle of fish. How stubborn westerners can get in wanting to be “adventurous” and “blend in” with the locals!
For starters, one must bear in mind that Malaysia, as modern and financially expanding as it may be , is still a developing country and its public services, especially in the most rural areas like the one we were visiting, can still do with investment. Of course, huge change and progress has taken place in the past fifty years and undoubtedly more will occur.
To reach Jerantut, we chose to take a three-hour ride on a regional train to Dabong one hundred and fifty kilometres away, then wait four hours for the next three-hour train to Jerantut, this second one being an Express and covering distance more quickly.
When on the train we went through north Malaysian countryside and crossed many muddy rivers, so typical of south-east Asia. Also, because it was a regional train we stopped in many small villages apparently entirely cut from the rest of the world. However this was clearly not the case, as we could see by the excellent mobile data connection and decent infrastructure. As we penetrated deeper and deeper into the Malaysian wilderness a perhaps quite natural yet unjustified feeling of uncertainty emerged in me at times; the feeling of, well, being in the middle of a sparsely inhabited and uncontrolled landmass, this feeling was later on to be summed instead to a very real fear.
When we got off the train the usual wave of sickeningly hot, sticky air encapsulated us in its revolting embrace, so much stronger because of the contrast between it and the exaggerated air conditioning at 16c° which is always found in closed spaces in south-east Asia. We sat down on a bench in the station and thought about what to do with the evening, as all the passengers got off and walked away, quickly leaving us alone. We decided to take it turns to go for a wander because of our heavy luggage, so as I left the station and headed for the central square I was greeted by a series of large posters with the writing “AWAS DENGGI” (or “Danger Dengue” in Malay) written in large red capitals and a large picture of a mosquito. The posters were written exclusively in Malay, the English translations not succeeding in reaching much away from the major urban centres, but one could easily understand from the bits and pieces what they were all about.
A child on a bicycle who had been following us for the past ten minutes after we had given him a sweet stared at us as we looked at the poster.
Later on, we noticed an intense grey smoke coming from a household and we got closer. We could see a man powerfully spraying what looked like disinfectant on a house and people walking quickly in the opposite direction with cloths over their mouths. A few minutes later we confirmed our thoughts: “Excuse me, what is the smoke for?” we asked a middle aged man sitting in the square surrounded by cheerful playing children “Disinfestation for the Dengue” he said and smiled peacefully as Malaysians do.
When we returned to the station we put on long sleeves and long trousers, and at least partially thought we understood why Malaysians dress like this even in such humid and hot weather. Since I am a bit of hypochondriac, I found myself at this point virtually on the verge of freaking out. But eventually these four hours past and what seemed to me as the most beautiful of trains arrived on schedule.
At five I moved to Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia. I’d lived in Rome for the previous years of my life, I hardly spoke any English and I’d just gone through little-brother-steals-the-show-after-being-an-only-child trauma.
To say I was unprepared would be an understatement. However, the months went by, my English improved, the relaxed international environment of the school ensured that I quickly blended in and soon my life had become a cheerful series of cheerful events amongst, at least in part, cheerful people. But it couldn’t last forever and, thinking back at it, it shouldn’t have.
Seven years later I returned to this place with my family. Here are some impressions, memories and observations…
First and foremost, Miri is objectively an unappealing, industrial, peripheral city in the state of Sarawak, on the northern coast of the island of Borneo. Its history cannot be traced back very far, no further than one hundred years and it can be summarized in one word: oil.
Coming backto this place was a very interesting experience to say the least. One physical barrier in the city, a rusty bridge connecting the city to what is now “Piasau Nature Reserve”, must have had a much stronger impact on an eight-year-old than I would have thought, so much so that it must have in some way entrenched itself in my way of looking at Miri. This was very evident both in how the two banks of the river had changed, and also in how I now looked at the way they’d changed. Whilst walking in the city consisted in filling the gaps in my memory of it and creating a somewhat needless mental map of Miri, visiting the Shell camp was a much more emotional experience.
On the northern edge of Miri, squeezed between the river and the coast lies the narrow strip of land formerly occupied by the Shell camp, with its equally spaced and standardized houses.
The place was abandoned a few years after we left, scattering Shell expatriates around other areas of Miri or in other cities entirely like Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia. Interestingly enough, behind an apparently trivial event such as the abandonment of the camp, lies a broader political process, Malaysia’s wish to cast itself on the international stage as a modern, independent, dynamicnation,mature and self-confident enough to disentangle itself, at least apparently, from its historic agreements on the European giants of the past, which still somewhat links the country to its stagnant colonial years. Visiting the camp, now a ghost of its former self, had a stronger emotional impact on me than I would have thought. While a rational, self-aware, perhaps even politicized approach prevailed most of the time, an emotional attachment to these places at time crept in, often prevailing upon the idea that “it is only right for Malaysia to be able to finally call itself independent” and embark upon the arduous task of nationalization.Perhaps it is good that at the time of writing this internal conflict has not yet been solved.
After visiting Miri, we rented a car in order to drive to Kota Kinabalu, the capital city of the region of Sabah, the northern and second-in-size region of Malaysian Borneo, with a two-night stop in Brunei along the way. When we arrived in KK, I was positively surprised by how the city had transformed itself in the past seven years, when I last visited it. I found it appealingly matched industrial and commercial elements with a certain picturesque touch, which can be especially found on the lively waterfront.
After spending a night here, the following day we took a flight to Kota Bharu, the capital city of the north-eastern region of Kelantan. If you browse on tourist websites you’re likely to encounter semi-negative reviews by disappointed visitors about this “mid-sized” city, whilst it appeared to me that Kota Bharu actually demonstrated all the charm of the truly Malay, Islamic city, without stunning buildings, sprawling shopping centres and bright lights.
Naturally, for a good start you will need to visit the market with its colours, smells and shouting. Just make sure you’re there well before five or you will end up with a beautiful view of lowered portcullis, as the market will be pretty much dead very few minutes after hearing the muezzin, whose powerful voice will boldly spread through the market thanks to large megaphones attacked to the walls (a detail which ominously reminded me of Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four).
The speed with which this happens helps understand how truly Islamic Kota Bharu is, also known as, well, the Islamic capital of Malaysia. For example, we had to change the taxi we had called because the time we needed him coincided with his prayer schedule. The ruling PAS, or Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, has enacted some Islamic laws that however, in line with Malaysia’s history of multiculturalism and respect towards religious and ethnic minorities, only apply to Muslims.
Kota Bharu expresses its religious conservatism, conservatism for Malaysia’s liberal standards that is, and proud Malay traditionalism in many ways, such as the presence of the Jawi script on insignias, which consists of an enlarged Arabic alphabet to suit the Malay language, which I had previously found nowhere outside Brunei. Kota Bharu may not be the tropical paradise you’re seeking but if you want an authentic Malay experience come to this place and appreciate it.