Sunday, March 21, 2010

Kuala Lumpur, a different perspective

Since my last post about my hosting city I got to know a few other places and a different perspective of the city life which I think is important to add.

Besides the big Chinese community there is also an Indian community which is concentrated in a place called “Little India”. So there I went to discover this other part of the city and I must say that I was really surprised to find so many Indian shops and restaurants as if I was back in India (maybe a bit more organized here, but just a bit more heheh).

After a few weeks here it’s noticeable that besides the huge amount of trees and grass in the roads sides, there are not so many parks and nature related infrastructures in KL. So Iga (Polish) and I the other day went walking in the hope to find the Lake Gardens of KL mentioned in touristic guides.

Once we got to the nearest location was very hard to discover how to get there as all locals would inform us that “It’s very very far” and that “You need to take a bus or a cab”. Not satisfied we went look for it on our own. And guess what? It was very near and there were even signs indicating the way :)

In the way we stopped to visit the National Museum and even with the heat, we manage to walk around the beautiful and delightful park (which was empty).

Back into the "normal" city we found the Independence square, Merdeka Square (for all Portuguese, please read it out loud ahahah) with Moorish architecture influence.

Then concerning nightlife, another important component of any city! Being Malaysia a Muslim country it doesn’t mean that there is no night life and parties. So, few weeks ago I went to a fancy and nice club for a birthday party. Of course the drinks here very expensive but the place was very nice, very opened and I had fun with my friends.

Also, I went with some other interns to a Brazilian party (and I’ve spend the entire night speaking in Portuguese) in a club, which was great! To hear such familiar music is really a comforting feeling when being so far from home.

Last, but not least, I also had the chance to attend a pool party! In KL condominiums are very common and basically all of them have pools. So a pool party I guess is also part of KL lifestyle. And with this heat, even at night, having a swim is perfectly normal!

All in all, I guess KL has a lot to discover and a lot to offer. But of course, it's crucial to be open-minded in any case :)
As for me, there is only one more month left to continue discovering it! But I'm sure I will make the best use of it ;)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Canopy Walkway :P

I would say I am quite lucky to have escaped the city life last weekend and went for hiking with 2 Malaysian friends.

They took me to the Forest Research Institute Malaysia where there is a walkway in the middle of the forest. I didn’t know exactly what to expect but I was missing walking and to be in the nature so it sounded great!

So I can say that my expectations were not even close to what Canopy walkway has to offer.

We started going up, and although it wasn’t long, we were all sweaty because of the heat!

Once we get up then I realized that the highlight of this walking was a few suspended bridges in the trees! The Canopy Walkway is 200m long and was constructed in 1992 for scientific studies of above ground flora and fauna. It was built 30m above ground level!

So to be clearer here it goes some pictures of my adventure J

Just like in the movies ;)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

First month, first reflections

After a month living in Malaysia I believe I already have an "ok" understanding of the country and culture and I think I’m having a pretty intense experience trying to get as much as I can.

Bottom line I think KL is a very easy place to live in, where a foreigner can easily adapt due to the English which is widely spoken, the development and access to information and goods. People are very nice and helpful, and after I month I know my way around, how to handle with taxi drivers, and so on. I feel pretty much independent.

I like living here, everything is new and quite exotic, but at the same time many things are just like at my home country. There is a mixture of adventure and comfort zone. I would still like to live more near the city center, but the conditions I have are also very above the average and more than I could expect.

I like my work a lot, the environment is very easy-going and people believe in what they do. That is for me the most important. I'm learning a lot about animal welfare and getting more and more interested in Non-corporate Sector. And aside that, I know now that I missed living with animals and I find a lot of comfort and companionship among them.

I’m becoming more adventurous with the food, but I don’t think I will ever “love” spicy/chili food. Also the meat always tastes differently from what I am used to. I imagine myself getting back and go straight to a restaurant where I can have a normal grilled beef. Nevertheless, there are some things which I like a lot! Their fried potatoes, the different noodles, the everyday different cuisine possibilities, some fruits and the price!

Almost everything is cheaper (impressively not the electronic stuff!) so I feel an urge to buy a lot of things. Specially shoes (which are stupidly cheap here), watches, bags and random stuff. Clothes are basically the same as in Portugal so not planning to get many heheh.

Then I believe I started to find some friends, some at my work and others that are interns here is KL like me. And I love the fact that I deal daily with Malaysian people because otherwise I wouldn’t get to know the culture, and on the other hand I have international friends with whom I can share freely my perceptions and experiences because they are going through the same.

The most difficult thing to get used to is definitely the weather :S I love nature and to walk but with this heat is so hard to find motivation for it. To imagine that it’s like this 365 days a year it’s too much for me! I would have to visit Genting more often. The rain I got used to pretty easily, always carrying an umbrella with me :)

Nevertheless, for me it’s still a bit confusing how some things work around here. Government and religion are still pretty attached to each other, and being a Muslim country by the constitution, there are some differences and rights between the population despite the fact that they were all born in Malaysia and based only in their religion. For me as a foreigner I am not affected, but it’s complicated to understand how it works and to cope with it.

At the end of the day I’m very glad to have this opportunity to get to know a Malaysian Culture and at the same time being exposed to many other cultures, languages, religions and traditions. At the same time I cannot stop thinking that there are so many things we take as granted and it’s something that over and over impresses me.

This is why these kinds of experiences are so important, and I wished more people would come to the same conclusion: we should appreciate more those small things we take for granted!

Genting Highlands, the city of entertainment

I have been a bit lazy (but also because I was busy - which I think it’s great!) to update my blog, so let’s see if I manage all this week :D

Some 2 weeks ago a college invited me to go to “Genting” which I had no idea about but of course I accepted.

Well, to explain it very simply, a Chinese guy decided to build a Hotel and Casino in the top of one mountain. Some people call him crazy, and guess what? Today is a huge success, more Hotels were built, there are many attractions, a theme park and I guess it is a small size Las Vegas.

So after going up the hill (which reminded me Madeira so much, it looks pretty much the same right?!)

we entered (which I believe it is) the oldest Hotel built there which had a huge casino but most impressively a huge space with so many random things that the eye cannot caught everything at once. It was a “world” which included a small Big Ben, a Eiffel Tower, a Petronas Towers, a Liberty Status, a roll coaster, electric gondolas and a bunch of restaurants, shops and so on! I was impressed and could not stop thinking to myself that I would never imagined there was such a place like this in KL and that it was too much for Europeans heheh.

A beautiful dragon at the entrance.

The electric gondolas conducted by a mannequin.

Some of the many random/impressive things they had inside that place.

I was also surprised with the amount of people, but as it was Chinese New Year so there were also more people than usual gambling.

Then we went to an amazing Vietnamese restaurant which I loved (despite the fact that the roll coaster was just behind us and every 2 minutes it would make a huge noise although I did saw it as a unique experience never to be happened in Portugal heheh).

This was a 4 meat course dish that included doing our own spring rolls in rise paper :)

But I have to say that what I enjoyed the most was ... the air of the mountain! Air-con is simply not the same, besides in KL the wind seems never to blow. It was a fresh, a bit cold breeze which I hadn’t felt since I arrived to Malaysia and that I had no idea I loved so much :)

Monday, March 1, 2010

Gong Xi Fa Cai*

Having in consideration the huge number of Chinese living in KL, of course that the Chinese New Year is given a lot of attention. Many malls are decorated, as well as, streets, restaurants, houses which make you feel a bit of the taste of being in China.

Probably you are wondering (as I was) what happens in the Chinese New Year. Well, as far as I understood, Chinese New Year is for Chinese more of less the same as Christmas for Catholics. Before Chinese New Year families buy new clothes, items for the house, arrange it, prepare a lot of food and the in New Year’s Eve they have a family dinner.
Normally family members, especially older family members give to younger’s, an envelope containing money which is called “Ang pow”. Also, in companies which have a Chinese background, the boss will give this envelope to employees which is a very expected moments both in companies and families.
My one and only Ang pow :)
It is also the tradition that every family thoroughly cleans the house to sweep away any ill-fortune in hopes to make way for good incoming luck. Windows and doors will be decorated with red color paper-cuts and couplets with popular themes of “happiness”, “wealth”, and “longevity”.

During the festivities is it very common to give and receive Oranges or Tangerines. The reason behind is related with the name of Orange in Chinese which is the same as for Gold, so offering Oranges and Tangerines is a way to wish a prosperous year.

Some families and companies invite a dragon/lion dance troupe as a symbolic ritual to usher in the Lunar New Year as well as to evict bad spirits from the premises.
A small example video of these dances:
These rituals, the fire-works, decorations and so, last for the first 14 days of the Chinese New Year in which each day as a particular tradition/ritual. Also gambling is a very common activity for Chinese during this period, both in Casinos and within the family.
My Chinese New Year Eve was very interesting, I was invited by a college to attend a dinner in a farm which has a lot of animals, as well as, children and teenagers who have a difficult family situation. I was very well received and joined them at the big table outside. There was rice, vegetables, chicken and pork, accompanied by cold Chinese tea.

After those 2 weeks of beautiful decorations and lion dances everywhere, I only wonder how it must be Chinese New Year in China itself, if here is already such a big event and occasion?!

*Happy Chinese New Year

Kuala Lumpur, a city of contrasts

By now it is more than fair to write about Kuala Lumpur (KL) as I have been living here for a month already. Nevertheless, I think much will be left unsaid for future posts :)

Kuala Lumpur (translate as "muddy confluence”) has an estimated population of 1.6 and the greater Kuala Lumpur, also known as the Klang Valley, is an urban agglomeration of 7.2 million. Quite bigger than any city I have lived until now heheh.

KL is a very busy city, there is a lot of traffic and even during the night there are many cars on the roads. Also, there are many places opened 24h a day, including street restaurants so you can eat any time you wish to.

It is a very tall city compared to the European cities I have visited and full of contrasts and disparity: in one hand it can be very new and modern and on the other hand, there are many traditional neighborhoods a bit old and dirty.

I’ve seen some nice parks and streets to have some walks but with this heat its hard to find motivation. Therefore, one of the most common things I find here is shopping malls, I mean with this weather, who doesn’t wants to go on a shopping mall once in a while with air-con?

Aside shopping, I found out something that Malay families also do: launch kites :) How nice is that?

Also, it is possible to find a lot of Muslim influence in some buildings, as well as, worship places for Indians and Chinese. Here are some which I have visited:

Batu caves, where there is a Indian Temple inside. At the entrance you can see a statue 43m tall of the God of War.

Inside the caves where a lot of monkeys live, as well as, some other animals...
With my friend and college Nicole with whom I went to visit Batu Caves.

The inside of a Chinese Temple in Chinatown where a worker places incense in the ceiling which gives it a great atmosphere.

Thean Hou Temple, the biggest Chinese Temple in Malaysia with my friend Inês, who is living nearby in Singapore.

Finally, the most important building of KL are the Petronas Towers, these were the world's tallest buildings before being surpassed by Taipei 101. However, the towers are still the tallest twin buildings in the world.

And of course, as any tourist in KL, here you go my picture with the famous towers :)