After the cave tour, we went to our hotel. Just a brief note. Every one of our hotels, without exception, was at least 20 stories tall. Our rooms were all in one of the middle stories with a view over the city or of other high rise hotels. Each had air conditioning and a pool, which we always took advantage of. And each had a complimentary international breakfast buffet. The food was consistently delicious with lots of fruit and variety. They were all on ground floor except the hotel in Pataya, which was on the top floor, allowing us a view over the entire Thai peninsula.
In each of the hotels we saw lots of people from Asia, not too many from Europe or America. In Thailand we saw mostly oriental looking people - mostly Thai but lots of Japanese. In Malaysia we saw less Orientals and many more Hindus and Moslems, but still very few Caucasians, with hardly any Japanese.
Sitting watching this international melange of costumes, from the red dotted foreheads of the sarong wrapped Hindus, to the gorgeous turbans of the Muslim women, to the international business men, all dressed the same, no matter what culture they belonged to - suit and ties, no matter what the weather, to the East Asians, inconspicuously dressed.
Me: “The international diversity is astounding.”
Serena: “Yeah. It reminds me of Berkeley.”
Ah well. No matter how far we travel some things remain the same. Indeed these international hotels were so similar that inside our rooms we would have had a hard time differentiating one from the rest without a view outside. With just small variations, the toilets, beds, and amenities were almost identical in each. The international airports were also nearly identical. Each was organized similarly with Western style bathrooms and a Duty free Zone with the same products. Further in virtually each of these international locations instructions were consistently written in English as well as the native language. Mac Donald’s fast food and 7-11 convenience stores dotted the landscape. And Malaysia, at least, was sprinkled with Western style coffee bars - not Starbucks, but the Coffee Bean. And despite the fact that we took China Airlines to Bangkok, all of the movies were Hollywood made with subtitles in Chinese. They always offered American meals as well as Chinese on the flights. It’s easy to see that Western culture dominates international culture.
Danna: “Hope you all slept well. Today we have a busy agenda. First I’ll take you on the city tour of Kuala Lumpur, then we’ll drive to Malacca for lunch and more sightseeing. And yes ladies, there will a place to shop.”
Anna: “Oh goodie. I love to window shop if nothing else.”
Elizabeth: “Get the money ready, dear. Have you converted some dollars to Malaysian ringgits?”
Ernie: “I hate all this shopping.”
Serena: “I hope he’s not referring to us.”
Laurie: “I doubt it.”
Danna: “Better here than Singapore. Everything is very expensive there. Here it is 3.8 ringgits per dollar. But there it’s only 1.5 Singapore dollars to the American dollar.”
Elizabeth: “But it’s 40 Thai baht to the dollar. We should have bought more there.”
Ernie: “You did just fine dear. After we left there was a newspaper article saying that there was a sudden unexplained jump in the Thai economy.”
Elizabeth: “He’s just teasing. I didn’t spend that much.”
Ernie: “We’re just a little into our child’s college fund.”
Miranda: “Singapore calls their money dollars?”
Miranda: “I hope they haven’t been infected by American culture as well.”
Me: “Property rights over citizens rights. Free enterprise over social welfare. International business dominates small business. Fun over tradition. I guess Singapore has been infected by American culture.”
Danna: “Here’s the King’s Palace. You can only see it from the outside because, unlike Thailand, the King actually lives here - but only for five years, at which time he is replaced by another king. The property was previously owned by a wealthy Chinese businessman. When he went back to China to die, he donated it to the country of Malaysia. Because by law our government can never accept something for nothing, we paid him one dollar for the land. Because the grounds and building are so beautiful, we decided to house our kings there.”
Me: “It’s against the law for your government to accept gifts or money from anyone?”
Danna: “Anyone or anything. It prevents bribery.”
Me: “So no grants or loans from other countries?”
Danna: “Exactly. We have to do it on our own. It’s better that way.”
Me: “No strings attached. No dependency.”
The man at the bar wants to buy a girl a drink for favors.
She turns him down although she is thirsty.
The businessman offers a politician campaign money for favors.
He turns him down although he could use the money.
Communist and Capitalist countries offer Malaysia aid for favors.
She turns them down even though she could use the help.
Danna: “Now we’ll see the War Memorial. It’s not far.”
We wander around the fairly simple fountain which surrounds a large bronze statue of Malaysian soldiers, evidently fighting for freedom. It praises the soldiers who have lost their lives fighting during three time periods. The first corresponded with World War I, the second World War II, and the third from 1948 -> 1960.
Me: “I noticed three different time periods when your soldiers lost their lives. I understood the first were related with the world wars. But what did the third relate to.”
Danna: “The war for independence.”
Me: “From Britain?”
Me: “12 years. That’s a long time. You must be grateful to be living in a time of peace.”
Danna: “Yes I am. But I was born in 1973 after we had been independent for quite some time.”
Me: “Your parents must be relieved they could raise you in such a pleasant country after all they went through.”
Danna: “They are.
Danna: “On to Kuala Lumpur’s Twin Towers. Made entirely of glass and polished steel, they are the tallest buildings in the world - presently. They were constructed by Malaysia’s oil company, Petrona.”
Laurie: “Amazing. Certainly a modern architectural wonder.”
Me: “Why do you say that?”
Laurie: “With its patterned brushed stainless steel combined with its roundness, it’s almost more of a sculpture than a building.”
Danna: “Because Malaysia produces its own oil gas is very cheap here, just a little more than $1 a gallon. We also produce our own cars.
Me: “To further reduce your foreign dependence.”
Danna: “Right. We have one of the most stable economies of Asia.”
Me: “What kind of cars?”
Danna: “Since the late 80s we have produced a small, medium, and large car. There’s the smallest over there.”
Serena: “That’s smaller than any car in the US.”
Danna: “There’s a medium sized one.”
Miranda: “About the size of our sub-compact.”
Danna: “There is our large car.”
Laurie: “That’s the same as our small BMW.”
Me: “Any SUVs or mini-vans?”
Danna: “I don’t know what you mean. That’s all we make. Almost 80% of the cars on the road are made here. And the percentage is growing. Here on the left is our national mosque. On Fridays you can’t get close to this place. Muslims from all over the country come to pray here.”
Me: “All together.”
Danna: “Every Friday. The rest of us know to stay away because it is so crowded.”
Me: “And today, Thursday, it is almost empty.”
Miranda: “And how austere.”
Serena: “Especially after the Thai temples and the Batu caves.”
Laurie: “I’ve never seen any religious building anywhere, which have been as plain.”
Me: “The Muslims are not allowed to represent any living thing in their art - it distracts from one’s devotion to God. Just like our ancestors, the Amish, in Pennsylvania.”
Serena: “What do you mean?”
Me: “As late as the 1950s one of the branches of our family would not accept a piece of paper with our lineage on it, because the names were put into the branches and root of a tree, which had been sketched in to accommodate everyone.”
Danna: “On the right is the British made administration office.”
Me: “Is that local architecture?”
Danna: “No, British.”
Miranda: “It looks like a castle.”
Laurie: “Combined with Moorish architecture, especially in the windows.”
Serena: “Strange but beautiful.”
Me: “Do you think the British confused the Moorish Muslims of Africa with the Malaysian Muslims?”
Anna: “When are we going to get to do more shopping?”
Danna: “After the Chinese Temple, when we get to Malacca. We’ll go to antique road. It is filled with shops selling antiques. You’ll love it there.”
Ernie: “I won’t.”
Elizabeth: “I will.”