Tell Me Everything

© 2011 Tiago Marques

“Curiosity killed the cat, but where human beings are concerned, the only thing a healthy curiosity can kill is ignorance.” ~ Harry Lorayne

Journal, 4-6 December 2011. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

HIGHLIGHTS.

The days in KL turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise.

Together with Piet, Cam and Tarynn, on Sunday we visited the Elephant Sanctuary outside the city as we found out it was possible for visitors to give baths to the elephants. We never made it in time for the baths but had a great day nonetheless, amid constant bantering and good humour.

(The group itself was quite the peculiar assemblage: a Portuguese, a Dutch and a Brit – the three nations that colonised Malaysia in the past – and Tarynn, a Chinese-Malaysian.)

On Monday Tarynn returned to Melaka, so the lads and I visited the Bird Park, which was just surreal… Not sure if animals have an ego, but some of those birds were plain cheeky – they know they own the place. In the evening we just mucked around in town.

Tuesday was my last day in KL, Cam left for Vietnam and Piet was *somewhere*, so I went to visit the Batu Caves by myself. On my way there I got a text from Li, a CSer, inviting me for coffee in the evening.

When we met, I literally picked her brain for every piece of information I could learn on Malaysia and KL. This is what I found…

SPOTLIGHTS.

Apparently a lot of people here are so hypnotised by the Western media that “white” people are immediately associated with money and wealth. It’s prejudice working positively on our behalf – “positively” being a loose term.

Even the CouchSurfing community in Malaysia is affected by this. Most Malaysian CSers don’t usually host other Malaysians, but they’re quite receptive to hosting foreigners. (Most of the CS community around these parts is Western, anyway.)

It’s taken me over a week to digest this idea, but it does explain a couple of things. In Singapore the overwhelming majority of advertisement resorted to Western photo models, and in KL I witnessed the same. In fact, they looked like any other billboard or poster from downtown London.

The other side of the coin is that people from India or African countries, or who seem to be from those corners of the world, are seen with a bit of social suspition. India is perceived as a poor nation, and there has been some cultural clashes with people from African countries – simple things like differing notions of personal space, or understanding that non-confrontation and being able to “save face” is very important here in Asia. (There was also some media attention on some drug businesses involving citizens from Nigeria, which must’ve added to the misperception.)

Another funny thing is the amount of whitening products one can find in regular drug stores – a wide enough selection for me to notice. Similar to what happened in Europe a couple of generations ago, people with fair skin are seen as upper class (potentially working in offices, sheltered from the sunlinght) while those more tanned are easily associated with working class, people working in markets and agriculture… Hence the whitening creams, face wash, shower gel, you name it.

In London we’ve gone past that stage and straight to its opposite: people with a tan are often seen as wealthy (can afford holidays in some place sunny) and whiter people as potentially working a lot but not getting anywhere. Add to that the selection of tan salons one can find in the city and you’ll realise we’re just as “programmed” as these people here, just differently.

Same same, but different.

INSIGHTS.

I then turned my attention to Lin and her story. She lived in Pulau Penang until eight years ago, when she decided to have a go at Kuala Lumpur.

Life in the capital was initially quite a shock. In Penang it’s not that extraordinarily easy to meet new people but relationships are strong, while in KL it’s very easy to meet people but harder to nourish those relationships… On top of that, KL is very money-driven: often what seemed to suggest a new friendship or romance turns out to be just someone’s attempt to network and expand their professional circle.

Big city syndrome. I’m speaking of KL but I could be addressing London, although I think Lin must have had some karma that drove her to meet some very strange people. That cycle of her life seems to have ended a while ago, and she’s quite enjoying the city now.

As we parted, she commented on how our talk felt like “a mix of Rhonda Byrne and Dr. Phil“. My conversations lately revolve around me learning about people, and people learning about themselves too in the proccess… Must be all that personal development stuff I’ve been reading, kind of brainwashed me in a good way.

Back to the guesthouse, I have a quick chat with the girl from the reception. I explain to her that I’m travelling the world after having saved some money for almost three years, and that now I’m investing in my personal growth.

She doesn’t understand how my “personal growth” constitutes an “investment”. I don’t bother trying to explain.

Sleep. Tomorrow, Pangkor.

GRATITUDE.

• Four fun days in KL, and a chance to overcome my first impressions of the place.
• The “wolfpack”! Tarynn, Piet and Cam.
• Lin, for letting me pick her brain.

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