How to describe Kuala Lumpur? It's not easy. First though, we have to start call ing it KL, just like everyone else.The ideal introduction to KL would probably happen at the top of Menara KL, or KL Tower. From the 1,000 feet high vantage point, the city has nowhere to hide. It stretches into the haze like a gigantic hedgehog of high-rise towers. They are the most distinctive feature of the city, and, once you come back down to earth, they provide invaluable navigation aid.
When you visit the tower, make sure you go to the highest deck. The view is unimpeded by glass, and there are no concession stands up here. Just the dizzying display of the city, and the wind.
Before you head down take a few minutes to consider the variety of skyscraper roofs; more often than not they paraphrase traditional architecture patterns.
Back at ground level, the picture is more complicated. The organic sprouting of old KL is fighting a losing war with the the inexorable advance of skyscraper geometry. Here, in the gritty underbelly of the city, is where I find the beauty of this place. It is rooted neither in prettiness nor order. It comes from vitality, from the energy of this brew that is 3 parts Malay, 2 parts Chinese, and 1 part Indian.
The traditional shops fill the gap between malls. Here you can probably buy anything, but the muslim and hindu silks and accessories catch the eye. Street food is everywhere, almost always prepared under your eyes by cooks so deliberate and precise they remind you of sushi chefs. On this particular day we duck into a back alley and choose a mix of curry dishes. It’s self-serve, so we load our plates, submit them to the keen eye of the lady who gives us a price. No scale or price list here. We’ve chosen our food by its visual appeal. The taste does not disappoint. It is spicy, pungent, delicious, filling. As we finish our icy cold water we nod to the friendly faces around us. Our empty dishes are whisked away and given a quick rinse in a vat a few feet away. Dripping, they now wait for the next customer.
We are lucky to have two sets of friends in this city, and they treated us to dinner and breakfast respectively. They were wonderful yet different experiences. The stylish and sophisticated Cantonese dinner contrasting the lively market breakfast in every way except the deliciousness of the food. On the way to the airport, as the city slowly surrendered to palm and banana plantations I had the epiphany that our previous dinner and breakfast are not two opposites of a spectrum. They are complimentary, necessary to each other. They are the perpendicular threads that make the fabric of this amazing city.