Help! I got overwhelmed by the whirlwind of purchases.
It is truly a drug, now I understand all this great advertising Kuala Lumpur as the city of shopping.
rom 300 shopping centers to thousands of stalls in the markets, to streets dotted with more or less exclusive and more or less expensive shops. Dear, so to speak: yesterday I realized that I used my credit card (it works!) for 6 euros to buy a skirt and a top! In clothing and footwear stores you can't bargain but the stuff (of dubious quality but who cares) they literally throw it at you. In markets, on the other hand, bargaining is exhausting, especially with Chinese people. The checked price varies depending on the time. Towards the evening, everyone is tired and the prices drop further. I would love to get a cheongsam, the Chinese silk dress that actress Gong Li wore in the film "Chinese Box" but on balance it costs almost like in Italy so I will wait. Whenever I meet Chinese merchants, as soon as they hear I come from Venice they pull out Marco Polo and claim that’s why I’m so good at bargaining!
The quantity and variety of goods on display are impressive and prices are very low. This explains why at the airport you are taxed on purchased goods (unless you are willing to take the risk by not declaring it): here a wholesaler can fill up and resell the goods in Europe with a considerable mark up. Buyers come from all over the world and I am always intrigued by Arabs with their women covered from head to toe by a kind of burka that, however, lets see the eyes. The funny thing is that they buy very expensive bags, shoes and accessories and I wonder how they can enjoy them. In a particular moment I had a meeting of eyes with one of them: splendid eyes of a deep almost cobalt blue that mercilessly scrutinized me.
I was wearing a skirt (below the knee!!) and a t-shirt but also my black sun glasses: I thought the only thing she could not see was the only thing I could see of her: the eyes.
Strage nation Malaysia, relatively young and quite mongrelized, still subservient towards British people and pro-western world for my taste, but aren't we all by now? The population comes from three strains. The first to land here were a small group of Chinese who settled along the river (kuala means mouth and lumpur muddy) for tin mining (isn't tin an alloy though?). It so happens that today the Chinese contingent is the richest. Then there are the malay who most likely came from Thailand and Indonesia, are mild muslims and are much more considered by the government than the Chinese and Indians, who are in fact the poorest.
Nevertheless, the richest man in Malaysia is actually Indian, he's married to a Thai princess and is the owner of the Petronas Twin Towers. In Malaysia they are obsessed with "the largest in the world", "the longest in the world", "tallest in the world", etc. Well, these towers are the tallest in the world even before September 11th. They are impressive, they stand out bright from every part of the city and host a super mall (surprise, surprise) and various offices. However, I must say that they are really beautiful, I mean aesthetically, but I'm sure also an engineer or an architect would agree.
Going back to the origins, the Chinese, Malaysians and Indians, after having more or less barbarously chased the natives who had been here quietly for centuries, were in turn dominated by the Portuguese, Dutch and, of course, by the British. Independence from the British crown dates back to 1957 but these people give the impression of having no identity and of doing nothing to leave English rule behind. You see it everywhere and every day. From the ringing of the phone to the three-pronged socket, from the left hand drive to the Manchester United fan club. The aftermath can also be seen in the use of malay where ZIP (code) is written poskod but it's nothing more than the English word postcode, lazily adapted. Same thing goes with tiket kaunter which comes from English ticket counter.
But what makes me mad is how British people and tourists in general are treated compare to the locals. "Can I help you sir", "Have a nice day", "Come back again" and all this stuff from US job trainer that is so far from the trend of this visibly lazy, indifferent people, devoid of any hospitality attitude and good taste, sold to the highest bidder. Those who do not spend money are not worth of note. In fact, there are shops of all kinds, of all sizes and standards but above all with merchandise and shop assistants from all over Asia. From the Chinese shop to the Japanese, Vietnamese, Indonesian, Thai, Indian and so on. Labour costs nothing and every shop, bar, restaurant, bank and supermarket is full of Asians who stand with their hands in hand because there are too many of them. KL itself (yes, KL stands for Kuala Lumpur, like LA stands for Los Angeles: why does it not surprise me) is super modern and futuristic, big and fat buildings, bright signboards, mega screens and streets with four lanes in each direction, hellish traffic every hour of the day and all kinds of food and merchandise available 24 hours a day. I've never been to New York or Hong Kong (author's note: back then, in 2002 I hadn't, but in the meantime I visited them both) but I don't think there's much difference. Everything seems clean and working but as soon as you turn into a back street, the fumes from the kitchens, human sweat and garbage fermented by a heat never experienced in my life overwhelm anyone, so much to resign themselves to enter the first available bar surely equipped with full speed air conditioning.
KL is also the city of contradictions. It states to be Muslim so much that you can't find a restaurant that prepares pork, but alcohol flows freely every evening and not just among tourists. malay people comply to Ramadan but girls go around barely dressed or covered from head to toe in this steaming heat.
For instance on the plane they warn you that bringing drugs into the country is considered a very serious crime, everyone (does not) mention it as the devil itself and at the entrance of the disco clubs open until 7 am, pushers sell in daylight (or rather, neon) some very ordinary looking cigarettes duly emptied and filled with tobacco mixed with marijuana (seen it with my own eyes).
young people love very hard techno music and then in clothing stores you can hear shop assistants humming our Bocelli's melodic songs. Despite the profusion of cinemas, theaters and places for concerts (the musical Cats will arrive at the beginning of September directly from London and I will lose it here too) the only thing that seems to interest these people is shopping, carried out with diligence and constancy and I add with a patience and a resistance unknown and inconceivable to me.
The nice thing though, is that you don't need to be a careful observer to spot the old man on the sidewalk ready to replace your heels or keys and who displays a proud, toothless smile when he catches sight of my camera lens. Not to mention the peddlers of strange fruits with strong smells and colors and the Chinese experts in foot reflexology who pop up out of nowhere when evening falls and line up along the main street calling passersby.
Before I leave, I'd like to try one although I was advised against it. Apparently, if you're not used to it you might not be able to lay your feet on the ground the next day.