Monday, May 18, 2009

KL, my perspective

Every journey offers lessons to be learnt - the responsibility lies on us to see them as such and grab hold of the opportunity to reflect, learn and grow; and not simply to view them as a passing phase in life - what a waste that would have been!

My trip to KL this time round was short (2 days, 1 night) - but eventful and colourful nonetheless. It was a last minute trip planned for the weekend - for my husband, it was to be a time to rest and relax; for me, it was to seek the historical and cultural heritage of the city. I have read of 3 famous buildings in KL: the Old KL Railway Station, Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Masjid Jamek. I have only seen photographs of these beautiful structures on the internet, and would like to view them from a fresh perspective - mine. And so as we depart from Larkin Bus Terminal in JB for KL, I was like a school kid on an excursion, anticipative of an adventure. As far as I can remember, I have always been fascinated with KL - the capital city of Malaysia, the land of my birth. Although I was born in JB, I have an affinity for KL shared by fellow citizens, whether or not we agree with the political administration of the country.

It is a city messy and congested - crowds of city dwellers and migrant workers dot every street and corner like ants in their colony; roads, flyovers and highways intersect at all points and junctions like wire mesh; old low-rise buildings, new skyscrapers, paint-tattered shophouses line the streets and wide land mass on low lands and high grounds - all of which evokes a sense of chaos yet unexplained congeniality. Looking at KL in a glance - one would think the city planners probably did not put much thought into its urban planning. But take a harder look and you'll see some serious planning and accomplishments in certain, concentrated areas. The downtown KLCC (Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre) arena, for instance.

There is the jewel-in-the-crown, the magnificent Petronas Twin Towers. Seen from any angle at any time of the day, this behemoth of a structure is sure to leave you spell-bound as you marvel at the ingenuous architecture and engineering that goes into the design and construction of this impressive landmark that has come to be identified as the symbol of national and economic progress for Malaysia to the rest of the world. 

The Philharmonic Hall lies in the heart of the Twin Towers, making yet another statement - that it is both grand and cultured. Walk through the corridors and stairway of the Philharmonic Hall and observe its grandeur, made more poignant by the congregation of distinguished, international musicians, performers and artists. 

The huge shopping mall, Suria KLCC, attracts both locals and foreigners to its wide and diverse range of retail outlets that cater to both the middle and upper class shoppers. In front of Suria KLCC is a large park, lake and jogging track for urban dwellers to enjoy nature's beauty against the backdrop of the gigantic Twin Towers. The Aquaria KLCC and Convention Halls draws throngs of people to its many trade fairs and exhibitions of international class. I must say, I am impressed by the modernity of them all.

Now, back in the city, walking under a scorching, tropical sun was no laughing matter. My husband and I had a few moments of conflict over my taking too many pictures, rendering him hot, burnt and frustrated in the sweltering heat. But I had to see those 3 historical monuments - they were the reason I came to KL. My hair messy, my tee-shirt clinging to my sweat-drenched back, my skin burning from the immense heat, I braved the natural elements to capture their glory on film. These 3 structures share 2 common traits – they are slated for conservation under the National Heritage Act, and the architects who designed them were all British and inspired by the Moorish architecture of Muslim mosques in India.

Jason and I travelled around the city on monorails and LRTs - the best way to observe a city and its people. It is my personal belief that the best place to observe the lives of ordinary citizens of a city going about their daily routine is in the city's trains (monorails/LRTs). There you'll see sleep-deprived blue collared workers dozing off, students wearily making their way to and from school and a whole string of remedial classes and extra curricular activities, white collared workers clutching their briefcases and speaking into their mobile phones, mothers cradling their newborns while fathers hold the hands of toddlers or push the pram. Everyday people about their everyday lives - a city in motion. It struck me then that people anywhere all round the world are the same - we are all trying to survive in our respective environments; no matter how harsh or comfortable, backward or modern.

Now back in Singapore, sitting in my comfortable tall-backed chair, typing on my computer as I look out into the greenery outside my window, I reflect on KL with nostalgia. I do love the city, despite its chaos. I do love its people, despite its often high crime rate. I do love its history, despite its lack of proper upkeep. I do love its government, despite its many apparent flaws. I guess I can rightly conclude that I do love the land of my birth, no matter how imperfect and slow its national progress is.

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