I couldn’t believe how many women were in hijabs as I made my way through Kuala Lumpur’s Central (train) Station. As soon as I found wifi, I Googled Malaysia, to discover, to my surprise, the population was over 60% Sunni Muslim. I found that odd for an Asian country—this was the first Muslim country in Asia for me—and this intrigued me, since Buddhism and Christianity were the majorities in the surrounding countries. How had Malaysia become Muslim? It gave me incentive to study the country’s history in detail later.
Before you judge me for not doing the research ahead of time: this was by design. Of course I seriously study certain countries beforehand. North Korea, Libya, Venezuela, South Sudan: these are all places I’d researched ‘til my head hurt. I watched documentaries, YouTube videos, bought books, scoured the Internet, and even reached out to locals. Traveling to the aforementioned nations carry some grave risks, and you can’t arrive clueless.
However, for the safer countries, like Malaysia, I research very little on purpose: I like to be surprised when I arrive. I like to discover, explore and have my mind stimulated by things I weren’t expecting—like in Malaysia, Islam. I often leave with more questions than I had when I arrived, and this gives me motivation to go on to study the countries in-depth upon my return home.
My trip to Kuala Lumpur was actually one of my favorite kinds: an overnight layover. I arrived at 4:40PM from Thailand, and would be out the next afternoon headed to Cambodia. The KL Express train got me from the airport to Central Station, nonstop, in just 28 minutes. Then I grabbed a crowded, standing room only monorail, which dropped me off right in front of my hotel. It ran slow and I was squeezed in the car like a sardine, with my luggage in tow, but got me to my destination.
I ran upstairs to my room on the 38th floor just long enough to throw down my bags and take a picture of my gorgeous view of the city. Minutes later I was in an Uber with my American friend Jay Are, who now lives and works in Kuala Lumpur. He’d taken a high-profile job as the morning show host on Hitz FM and invited me to take a tour of the station.
The Astro Communications building was massive! It housed multiple TV stations, TV studios and over a dozen radio stations. Some of the radio stations were English language, others were Chinese, Indian and native (Malay); which brings me to my notes about the people of Malaysia: such an interesting mix. There are three main groups: the natives, the Chinese and the Indians. And many of the Chinese and Indian folks have been in Malaysia for generations. Then the weirdest part: most of them speak with a British accent. It all really played tricks on my mind and challenged my preconceived notions and generalizations.
Jay Are gave me the grand tour of the building and I was lucky enough to meet a dozen of his colleagues. Everyone was really nice to me and seemed genuinely happy to see me. I was proud to know that I was Jay Are’s first visitor from the US. Even his family hadn’t come to see him in Malaysia yet. I asked him a million questions during our time together: from how he found and got the job, to how the radio industry works in Malaysia, to how his social life was faring. As someone with a bucket-list dream of doing radio overseas one day, I am absolutely intrigued by Jay Are’s story. I found most interesting the rules and regulations of broadcasting in Malaysia. Fun Fact: You can’t even mention alcohol on the radio. The word “champagne” is even edited out of Bruno Mars’ That’s What I Like. Fascinating stuff.
After the station, Jay Are showed me his apartment, which was absolutely stunning and so very modern! Think The Jetsons. He had a dope three-bedroom pad on the 30th floor of a brand new building. The views were fabulous and the layout of the flat just so modern and cool. The building had multiple gyms, a killer sky deck, and two pools—one of them an infinity pool on the 40th floor overlooking the city. When he told me how much the rent was I nearly lost it. $850 for his gorgeous furnished apartment. My brain immediately began scanning the possibilities and logistics of making a move to Malaysia. Jay Are was living the dream and I wanted in!
Next stop was a restaurant in a cool little part of town where Jay Are’s co-host joined us for drinks and a meal. We all talked radio and travel until I finally tapped out. I’d had a long day and couldn’t keep my eyes open much longer. We said our goodbyes before I jumped in the world’s worst Uber. This guy couldn’t seem to comprehend his GPS and its instructions. I sighed multiple times as the voice repeated “re-routing” over 25 times. It’s like, dude, just go where the navigation tells you to go, this isn’t hard. At one point, muhfugga even asked me if I knew how to get there? Dude, this is your city! And you’re an Uber driver…with navigation! When we finally managed to arrive at my hotel after doing loopty-loops around the city for a half-hour, I passed out not 20 seconds after hitting the sheets. I was done.
The next morning I enjoyed breakfast on the 38th floor of my hotel before heading out for a quick visit to the Petronas Twin Towers. According to the travel websites, this was the number one attraction in Kuala Lumpur, and it was only about a mile walk from my hotel. The buildings are the tallest “twin towers” in the world, and as expected, the views were wonderful. I spent about 45 minutes touring the sky bridge and the observatory deck and then it was time to get the airport.
I decided to take a cab back to the airport. Don’t do that at rush hour (take the train), but midday traffic was all clear and we arrived at the airport in no time, even though it’s annoyingly far away from downtown. I did get dropped off at the wrong terminal though, and getting from terminal one to terminal two at the international airport is a hassle–it requires a paid bus or train–so do your research and know what terminal your flight is leaving from beforehand. You could seriously miss your flight just by getting dropped off at the wrong terminal.
And that was my Malaysia trip! 21 hours, and I was very happy with my experience there. 84 countries down.