Second World Cusping On First And A Half


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January 6th 2015
Published: January 6th 2015
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Petronius TowersPetronius TowersPetronius Towers

For six years, the world's tallest structure
Third world status is slippery to define. There's probably an official line of thinking centred around GDP, literacy rates and costs of living v average incomes. But as a layperson I run off a few more overt though less tangible stats.

My last visit to Kuala Lumpur was way back in 1994. In that era I had Malaysia firmly planted in the third World. Yet simultaneously it boasted enough green shoots to suggest life was on the up and up.

Fast forward to today and I'm fuddled as to where I might pigeon hole contemporary Malaysia. There is plenty to suggest it has morphed beyond 3rd world but is still hungover with sufficient earthy telltales to remind us 1st world brotherhood remains at arm's length. Let's take a peek at some of my sketchy criteria:

RATS: the ubiquitous fauna brazenly traipsing the confines of any developing nation. There's nowhere near the numbers roaming the streets of KL these days but those that still linger display an ambivalence to human proximity to suggest they co-exist with a degree of familiarity.

TRAFFIC: sure it's thick but that's the same beast as any modern city. What has evaporated is the background soundtrack of honking horns and the chaos level has been ratcheted down a notch or two. In fully-fledged 3rd world countries, red lights are either totally ignored or at best moonlight as a suggestion. In KL the fundamental principle of RED/STOP is at least generally adhered to. There's still the option of RED/GO but the humble pedestrian has morphed from the bottom of the food chain.

BEGGARS: there's a few but seemingly no more than in the centre of Sydney circa 2015. One thing the KL beggar has over our version is they are mobile. "Beggars a la Oz" just sit behind a cardboard sign and wait for the coins to fall in. My default option with beggars, by the way, is to not give (absolutely never to children) but rather donate to a social charity. Having said that, it's easy to fall off the wagon with the old and/or ailing with no means of earning an income or social services safety net.

THE ICE CREAM SANDWICH: the culinary invention taking KL into the next century. Bread rolls and ice cream together at last. UURRGGHH!

SMELLS: the gamey odours of raw sewerage still waft out at
ChinatownChinatownChinatown

Handy if it rains
regular intervals. A zephyr of eau-de-drainage can quickly dissolve the fantasy of your prawn laksa at that back street al fresco eating establishment.

TAP WATER: safe to drink, even if I didn't. Way too chlorinated.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Asian efficiency was something of an oxymoron here a generation back. Not so today. The LRT metro, bus system, monorail and airports are unanimously clean, comfy, cheap and efficient. Take note my home state.

STREET VENDORS: you won't spot them at upscale restaurants but they still lurk, spruiking to tourists among the tables at roadside stalls. What hasn't altered is the overall kitsch of the articles they attempt to offload. This year's big ticket item is the selfie pole.

For the complete juxtaposition of social standards in KL, first take a wok on the wild side at any one of the crusty street side tables in Jalan Alor. Polish off your finger lickin good mee curry in the gritty surrounds then don the walking shoes. A click over the hill and KL's postcard pin-up boy rears into view.

Petronas Towers and the surrounding high-end apartment blocks are a much sought after postcode in this city. To be really
BirdlandBirdlandBirdland

just because someone has a long neck doesn't make them a goose
convinced this is an enclave where a different sun shines, mosey on into the mall below the towers. Welcome to a sterile mercantile realm where capitalism is king. Every mega name brand sprouts an outlet in an air conditioned environment where you could eat off the floor. This is the 1st world and then some, where tourists and well-to-do locals swarm to offload dollars big time.

The blueprint of the Petronas visionaries, I imagine, proscribed to the ethos; "If you build it they will come". They were right.

Down the road a pair of hours by bus and fully justifying a couple of your travel itinerary days, is a town devoted to a philosophy of an alternate tangent; "If you spruce it up they will come". With an influx of World Heritage funding, Melacca's Chinatown has been gifted a nip and tuck, where the traditional shines through a new lick of paint. Embed a hit of chic, the type that causes real estate prices to surge, and the result is a winner. There is still a heavy dusting of 3rd world "charm" (watch your step with the open drains) but Melacca is a modern day tourism honey pot.
Jalan Alor stall.Jalan Alor stall.Jalan Alor stall.

I'm sorry, I was hoping you had some large prawns


So weighing up all my shallow evidence, where is KL/Melacca (and while I'm using a broad brush, all of Malaysia) sitting in respect with 1st world/3rd world status? Well I've invented a new pigeon hole: Malaysia - King of the Second World and Cusping on First and a Half.

more images at www.colvinyeates.zenfolio.com

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6th January 2015
Birdland

Love the juxtapositions (always my fave)!
How great that there's something for everyone! I hope the wild, crusty streets of Jalan Alor never disappear though a proper sewage system is always a plus. Glad that Melacca's charm remained intact under the upgrades though I'm sure lots of Chinese who roots go back generations have been displaced--ah, that sweet/sour gentrification. On the other hand, though I poo-poo the upscale, commercial malls, I can imagine heading there for a film in an air-conditioned theater some hot day. And I'm thrilled that even poor people can drink the water, even if it's too-chlorinated for some tastes. Excellent photos!
6th January 2015
Birdland

Hi Tara
Long time no hear. But then it's long time no publish an entry. Lovely to see you are still tuning in. Thanks for taking the time to read, really appreciate it.
6th January 2015

Welcome back on the road...
I've been looking forward to the blogs of your next trip.
6th January 2015

Nice to be back.
Great to hear you guys are still out there and tuning in. I actually had a stint writing for a few magazines in the interim. Problem is the money is miserable and 95% of the work has nothing to do with writing. So much more palatable being your own editor and not having to please anybody but yourself. Thanks for reading. The images are from Penny but she's having some teething issues with her new Xmas gift.
6th January 2015

Nice to be back.
Great to hear you guys are still out there and tuning in. I actually had a stint writing for a few magazines in the interim. Problem is the money is miserable and 95% of the work has nothing to do with writing. So much more palatable being your own editor and not having to please anybody but yourself. Thanks for reading. The images are from Penny but she's having some teething issues with her new Xmas gift.
6th January 2015

On Your Way
Hi Pen and Gaz, thanks for your first blog entry for his trip. Love the descriptions and photos. Cheers!
6th January 2015

No probs
Thanks Jeanette. The photos are Penny's but she's having a few teething issues with the new Chrissy present.
7th January 2015
Chinatown reverence

KL
Very cool photo
7th January 2015
Chinatown reverence

Thanks guys.
Long time no speak. Thanks for tuning in once more. Back to TB where it all began.
7th January 2015

On the cusp!
Firstly, don't shoot the messenger, though as an economics/geography teacher, I am contractually obligated to comment. Back when these terms were first coined during the Cold War "First World" referred to 'us', or the Capitalists; Second World referred to those with planned economies, or the Communists; and Third World referred to those who were non-aligned. Of course, with time "Third World" became synonymous with poor and First World with rich. Though Second World was always the Eastern Bloc. These days the terms "developed" and "developing" are more widely used, though even then this assumes that everyone is pursuing a path to 'development,' yet still certain former Soviet Bloc countries would continue to insist they were pursuing their own track and are therefore not 'behind', or playing 'catch up', at all. On a separate note, every time I buy a new camera my photographs drop from First to Third World, without passing Second.
7th January 2015

On the cusp!
Firstly, don't shoot the messenger, though as an economics/geography teacher, I am contractually obligated to comment. Back when these terms were first coined during the Cold War "First World" referred to 'us', or the Capitalists; Second World referred to those with planned economies, or the Communists; and Third World referred to those who were non-aligned. Of course, with time "Third World" became synonymous with poor and First World with rich. Though Second World was always the Eastern Bloc. These days the terms "developed" and "developing" are more widely used, though even then this assumes that everyone is pursuing a path to 'development,' yet still certain former Soviet Bloc countries would continue to insist they were pursuing their own track and are therefore not 'behind', or playing 'catch up', at all. On a separate note, every time I buy a new camera my photographs drop from First to Third World, without passing Second.
7th January 2015

Point taken
Hey who said TB wasn't an education. In my defence, there wS a heavy element of tongue in cheek in the piece.
7th January 2015

Enjoyed the read
Malaysia looks a very interesting place.
7th January 2015

Tear-up-my-car-seat
Keep the stories and pics coming please P & G!
11th January 2015

Tear up your car seat?
I thought it was Terry McKenzie
10th January 2015

Ships in the night?
We too passed through KL on our way to Laos at the end of December. Just about to post about my impressions of KL too. This was my first time so no comparisons to draw on. Lovely to hear you are travelling again as are we but only until the end of January then back to work. Our year will be 2016! Meryl
11th January 2015

Good to hear from you
Will be interested to see what you think of KL. What exactly are you plans for 2016

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