The languidly tropical city of Kuala Lumpur, flanked by the Strait of Malacca and the impenetrable rain forests of the Titiwangsa mountains, is one of three enclaves within the state of Selangor. Malaysia’s seat of power is home to parliament and the royal palace (the Istana Negara).
Today, Kuala Lumpur’s (KL’s) iconic Petronas Twin Towers, the world’s tallest twin towers, are representative of the status quo. Economic growth and political stability prevail, and the city’s melting pot of cultures exists peaceably.
Indeed, the city draws its strength from a dizzying blend of Asian cultures; here you’ll find some of the world’s finest Asian and fusion cuisine in the city’s abundant food stalls and restaurants. If and when your palette tires of exotic flavors, KL’s large expat community, drawn primarily by the country’s oil and gas sectors, has given rise to a gratifying range of international supermarkets, specialty (including organic) food stores and restaurants.
Here, most expats opt to live in the city’s many high-rise condominiums, which generally include residents’ pools, gyms and minimarts. The other option is garden houses on the city’s more picturesque outskirts. However, most are discouraged by the proximity of the rain forest and the vividly exotic – and often deadly - bio-diversity it hosts.
In some places monkeys overrun the city. Children delight in seeing them hanging off playground equipment and dashing across the less busy roads. Monkeys simply add spice to the driving experience here, where it is not uncommon to see mopeds straining under the weight of three or more people, wobbling brazenly across eight-lane motorways, with the driver visibly mouthing "Inshallah!" ("God willing!").
If you tire of the heat and frenetic pace of the city, you can always retire up North to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, or hop across the border to Thailand. Kuala Lumpur is akin to living a snapshot of Asia, affording you a glimpse and a taste of the region’s many and varied cultures, against a backdrop of one of Asia’s most progressive cities.
What is special or unique about your city?
Kuala Lumpur (or "KL", as it is better known by the residents) is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city situated in Malaysia's Klang Valley. It is beautifully landscaped with many parks and green spaces. About four million people live in Kuala Lumpur and its surrounding municipalities, making it a relatively small city by Asian standards.
The population of Kuala Lumpur is diverse, composed primarily of three ethnic groups: Malay, Chinese and Indian. Such cultural variety contributes to the city's excellent cuisine and a wealth of year-round festivals.
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Newcomers are generally unprepared for and overwhelmed by both the driving methods and the traffic in the city. Motorcycles are abundant, and the rules of the road may seem to be rather open to interpretation at times. The volume of traffic continues to increase despite continuous construction of new infrastructure.
On the positive side, the eclectic architecture makes for a unique skyline and English is widely spoken, which is often a surprise to many foreigners. In addition, although Malaysia is an Islamic country, many foreigners are again surprised to see the progressive and urban nature that pervades Kuala Lumpur. A moderate Muslim society that embraces modernity and relative openness is apparent.
Are these impressions likely to change?
Most foreigners will find Kuala Lumpur very easy to get around in and will enjoy exploring the numerous cultural enclaves within the city. Even though traffic patterns will eventually become familiar, some may never feel comfortable driving, while others will adapt. There is also the option to take the light rail system. Taxis are also plentiful and cheap.
Construction is on-going, so more modern high-rises can be expected.
What is the local language?
The official language of Malaysia is Bahasa Malaysia. However, English is widely spoken, written and understood in the city as a result of the British colonial history. Many rural areas may have fewer people who are able converse well in English, so knowing a few words in the local language is always appreciated by the residents.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
The majority of the shopkeepers and owners of food establishments speak and understand English, so Bahasa Malaysia is not really necessary. Most taxi drivers understand English, but when a driver with limited English is encountered, some local phrases/directions would be helpful to know.
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Always take your shoes off when entering someone’s home. Do not point with your index finger.
Instead, use your thumb to indicate direction with your hand curled in a fist position. Also, do not raise your voice or get angry when trying to communicate with Malaysians.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
The weather in Kuala Lumpur is generally hot and humid throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from about 27 degrees Celsius (about 80 degrees F) in the morning to about 32 degrees Celsius (almost 90 degrees F) during mid-day. Afternoon thunderstorms are common. Most offices and modern shopping malls are equipped with air conditioning, as are the apartments and houses that expats live in.
While walking or shopping on the streets of KL, light cotton clothing and a hat are recommended.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Living in Kuala Lumpur is fairly relaxed, as most residents are pretty laid back. So much so, that one cannot expect contractors, for example, to show up at any particular time unless specifically arranged beforehand. Even then, there can be lots of ambiguity as to what has been scheduled.
To many locals, their “yes” to you may mean “no” as they don’t like to disappoint. Instead, they will always give you some answer rather than the wrong answer. When interacting with Malaysians, be firm but friendly with requests, and don’t point out their mistakes.