Edit Blog Post
Published: November 1st 2009
Islamic Arts Museum
Malaysia is a predominantly Islamic country, the only Islamic country that we'll visit on this trip. Given that, we've decided to take the opportunity to learn more about this religion that is so often vilified in the U.S.
Like most countries in SE Asia, Malaysia has a colonial past. The British ruled Malaysia from the 1800s through WWII. This has influenced many aspects of current Malaysian society: the architecture of many buildings, driving on the left, etc. Also, most of the people that we encountered in KL speak excellent English (a nice change from Japan). It is, however, very much a melting pot with so many different religions, ethnic backgrounds and languages. Not unlike the U.S.
~60-65% of the population are Malays (Islamic)
~20-25% are Chinese (Buddhist?)
~10-15% are Indian (Hindu and Muslim)
We were awake early again today (Adrian's still not 100% and has a hacking cough which, if it doesn't resolve itself soon, will get checked out in Bangkok). We tried to get tickets to zoom up to the sky bridge on the Petronas Towers but they were already sold out for the day. We were advised that tour groups often line up as
early as 6:00am to ensure tickets when they begin distribution at 9:00am. Right. Not us. Instead we wandered over to the mall for breakfast (yes, Starbucks coffee again) and browsed through a great bookstore. Many of the stores here are the same as in the U.S. - Calvin Klein, GAP, Banana Republic - although the department stores are unqiue to Asia.
One of the light rail stations is conveniently located under the Petronas towers and we took the light rail towards the Lake Gardens area, an extensive park where the Brits built their big beautiful houses many years ago. The KL light rail system is very easy to use - easier to figure out the fares and purchase tickets than the subways in Tokyo and Kyoto. But all similiarities between those two systems end there. The KL light rail system is not nearly as extensive as the Tokyo or Kyoto systems and it's a much grittier city all around. The City is not very pedestrian-friendly (e.g., cracked sidewalks, lots of pollution and garbage, a large homeless population, very few stoplights and crosswalks) and crossing the street was an adventure. We employed the Panamanian street-crossing system: look both ways and
run like hell!
The Islamic Arts Museum was our first stop. It's a gorgeous white building with beautiful tile work and a lovely large courtyard with a fountain. It's a great introduction to Islam with timelines showing key dates and events and one room filled with small replicas of important mosques throughout the world. Trivia: did you know that the Taj Mahal is a mosque?
We also really liked an impressive collection of scrolls, some dating from the 7th century and all on vellum (calf skin).
Just around the corner from the musuem is the Bird Park, an enormous outdoor feathery zoo under what looks like a very, very large mosquito net. Peacocks wander freely throughout the park - sometimes poofing up all their feathers when confronted by a rooster that it doesn't like the look of. The residents are mostly brightly colored tropical birds - parrots, macaws, tucans, etc. Angelique had the chance to meet two owls (her favorite birds). Adrian enjoyed being dive bombed by three different types of hornbills.
The clouds were getting dark and the wind picked up so we decided to make a run for the nearby National Mosque. We removed
Peacock at the Bird Park
our shoes, donned long gowns (men normally don't have to but Adrian was wearing shorts; women are required to cover pretty much everything except their faces) and walked up the stairs to the main prayer hall. A volunteer guide spent about 20 minutes telling us about the mosque and Islam. The national mosque (Masjid Negra) is a large white building with a 200+ ft minaret with a loudspeaker that calls muslims to prayer 5 times each day. On Friday afternoons, men (but not women) are required to come to a mosque to pray; at all other times, Muslims can pray either in a mosque or wherever you are at that time - you just need to ensure that you're facing the direction of Mecca (the holiest spot for Muslims, located in Saudia Arabia). Interestingly, instead of the usual onion shaped domes (think: Taj Mahal), this mosque has a bright-blue umbrella-shaped dome, which is the main prayer hall. Our guide had two theories: first that it's meant to convey a sense of community and even protection (as in "all under one umbrella") and second, that it's more effective at channeling rain water. Likely both. The prayer hall itself is very simply
Wonderful parrots and other tropical birds at the bird park.
decorated. In fact, it's almost empty; the only furniture is a high chair that the iman sits in to deliver the sermon (interestingly, the guide told us that these sermons are often more about practical issues - like global warming and materialism - than discussions of specific passages of the Koran, the Muslim holy book).
The rain was starting to fall, so we ran over to the light rail station and caught a train back to KLCC. The walk from the mall/towers/KLCC station to our hotel is about 1/3 of a mile but can be done almost completely indoors by walking through the main hall of the KL convention center. There was a big mobile device convention starting and iPhones, Blackberries and cute little geeky guys and gals were everywhere. We were reminded again of the high prevalance of the swine flu in this region: as we walked in, a person in a white lab coat aimed a device at our forehead to take our temperature. We passed and got an orange dot to wear indicating that we weren't a public health risk.
The rain continued to fall and we relaxed in the hotel with our free internet
Angelique making some new friends at the Bird Park.
access. For dinner, we hiked over to a traditional Malay restaurant at the mall. Malaysian food can be very spicy and generally consists of noodles or rice with chicken or seafood (no pork) and great spices: ginger, scallions, cinammon, cloves. It's a reminder of how areas of Malaysia were once major spice trading ports.
After dinner we decided to try out a trendy bar, the Skybar on the 33rd floor of our hotel, which had just won the "Best Bar in KL" award according the guy who checked us in. It's situated around the hotel pool and feels a bit like the Skybar in LA (but indoors). We didn't have a reservation (who knew?) but were able to get a table with a view of the Petronas Towers (but not close enough to the pool for good people watching). There was definitely a young, hip element but the patrons were mostly tourists (and really drunk guys from the convention) at that hour - it probably changes over later in the evening but we were sleepy and didn't wait around to find out.
Tot: 2.048s; Tpl: 0.051s; cc: 13; qc: 52; dbt: 0.031s; 1; m:saturn w:www (220.127.116.11); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.4mb