Coming to Malaysia, I had only a vague idea of what the country was like. My original research proposal finished with Myanmar, so the decision to go to Malaysia instead was a mid-semester switch, and as a result I was a bit under-informed about the country.
I definitely didn’t expect to fall in love with Malaysia almost as soon as I landed. There is a lot to love. One convenient factor is that most people speak excellent English, so meeting Malaysians is easy. Malaysians are also almost unbelievably friendly and warm. I’ve made several new friends just by sharing a table with them at a 7/11. When I traveled north for an interview, the couple I was visiting were shocked to learn I was only 21 and wandering around Malaysia alone. They temporarily adopted me, brought me out to dinner, and found me a “safer” hotel in Kuala Lumpur because they didn’t approve of the place I’d been staying before.
Last semester I met a Georgetown student who’d spent the previous summer working in Kuala Lumpur, and he told me it was underwhelming – “like any other city.” I couldn’t disagree more. Just by virtue of its ethnic diversity, KL is beautiful. 67% of people are Malay, either the majority Muslim Malay ethnic group or smaller indigenous groups in eastern Malaysia and Borneo; 23% are Chinese-Malaysian; and 7% are Indian-Malaysian, mostly Tamil.
Indigenous art from the island of Borneo, which Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brunei.
This combination has created what I’m convinced is the most ideal food epicenter of Southeast Asia and possibly the world. I wake up dreaming about what I get to eat next. I always thought I could handle spicy food, but here I’ve learned the definitive difference between “white person spicy” and “actually spicy” after spending a meal crying and sweating over a fiery bowl of Malaysian fish curry. I became a regular in the Chinese bakery down the street from my hostel in KL, who get my siew bao ready for me as soon as I walk in each morning. I’ve feasted on naan and tandoori chicken and a litany of street food that I couldn’t always identify, but that was always delicious. Spiky rambutan fruit is amazing, as is coconut ice cream, but I haven’t been able to convince myself to like durian.
These enormous piles of bacon are a common sight as a popular street food in KL.
Beyond eating, I’ve visited spectacular mosques, Hindu and Buddhist temples, and Chinese clan houses. I spent a day at a national park, ignoring the signs warning against swimming in the jellyfish infested water and getting up close and personal with monkeys. I was thrilled to have interviews on the island Penang because it gave me an excuse to spend several days in the province’s capital, Georgetown, which is altogether much cheaper and much more delicious than D.C.’s Georgetown.
KL is home to the largest open-air aviary in the world, a good reminder for me that Iphone cameras aren’t high-quality enough to capture wildlife
The Petronas Towers are the tallest twin towers in the world
Batik fabric dyed in traditional Malay style, and the gleaming national mosque complex
Batu caves, a series of Hindu temples built into the cliffs outside KL
Penang’s enormous Buddhist temple
Georgetown’s street art is protected as a UNESCO world heritage site
A very bold monkey who later stole my phone
Penang’s national park, with pristine beaches and giant lizards
I’m so grateful that Malaysia is my last stop, and couldn’t be more glad to have switched from Myanmar to Malaysia. My research has been very successful here and it’s gratifying to finish my circumnavigation in such a beautiful, warm, and delicious country.