Kuala Lumpur-A City of Contrasts

KL -A city of contrastsThrough my window, I could see the PETRONAS Twin Towers dominating the cityscape as usual. They were impossible to miss, as opposed to my humble dwelling that consisted merely of a single story with a few rooms, and that looked like every other house in this poor neighbourhood.

I had to be at the Twin Towers in about an hour to meet Samantha, or Sam, as she preferred to be called for short. I reflected that my traditional parents would never have allowed me to have such a boyish nickname. They had given me a Chinese name, Mei Hua, and they required me to be proud of it. My name meant ‘Beautiful Flower’, which was the type of name Chinese parents liked to give their female children. I knew that Sam had a Chinese name too, but she never took the effort to pronounce it correctly, find out its meaning, or how to write it in Chinese characters.

Based on experience with the city’s public transport, I knew I would be able to get to the Towers in time if I left immediately. I did not possess a BMW such as the one Sam’s parents had purchased for her on the day she obtained her driving license. If I continued saving most of what I earned, I may be able to buy a secondhand car sometime in the future. Sam advised me to take a loan and buy a brand-new car like hers, instead of saving up for what she referred to as ‘old junk’. She never understood how I could take public transport to work every day.

‘I mean, I understand that you had to take the bus to school in the past, but now you’re a working woman! Come on. Would you rather be packed in a tin of sardines on the train, or enjoying the air-conditioned comfort of your own car?’ asked Sam.

Sam didn’t realize that most people didn’t have it as easy as she did. She had a fashionable apartment of her own in a high-rise building near the Towers, with a view of the entire city, while I lived with my parents and helped to pay the bills. She wore designer clothing, while I shopped anywhere I could find affordable, modest attire. She had the latest iPhone model (and had been known to throw a tantrum if she had no Internet connection), while I was still using the same mobile phone that I had bought a few years ago.

Whenever Sam wanted to meet up, I would always go to her, like I was doing today. She had never visited my home in all the ten years we had been friends. It wasn’t only that she would have been horrified at the ‘squalor’ (or so she would think of it) of my living conditions, but my parents would probably have banned her from the house when they saw her in the tight miniskirts and cropped tops that were her signature style. I still remember the time I once tried to wear a pair of shorts to meet up with some friends. My mother sharply told me that that was as good as going out without any clothes on and forbade me to wear them ever again.

It’s so funny how two people can live such different lives, and yet be friends. It’s sort of like the view of the Twin Towers from my housing estate. On the one hand, you have those struggling to earn a living. On the other, you have those who have more money than they can spend; those who can afford to live in beautifully furnished homes above everyone else. And this is the reason why I find Kuala Lumpur so fascinating. It is a city of extremes. It is where East meets West, and where old meets new. It requires understanding of others because it is a mass of cultures and a juxtaposition of extremes. But above all, it is home. 

By: Boleh Blogger


A cultural reflection:  The above story demonstrates how within the same culture their can be such variation in values and behaviour.  The corporate world within Kuala Lumpur is an environment of contrasts much as the city itself.  Therefore, if you are planning a move to Malaysia we recommend a cross-cultural training program to help you enter the business community with a keen understanding of the contrasting cultures and to be able to navigate your relationship building journey with skill and engagement.  To learn more about our programs click here.