Day 7: Kuala Lumpur (Port Klang)
ABOARD OCEANIA’S NAUTICA — We were taught in school that Asia is part of the “Old World.” But Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, is younger by a few years than our hometown of Sacramento. And like Sacramento, “KL” (Kuala Lumpur’s nickname) got its start as a mining town, although for tin rather than gold.
But as one would expect, the contrasts are more noteworthy than the parallels. With a population of around two million, KL certainly feels much more urban with arguably worse traffic than Sacramento. Our first majority Muslim city impressed us with its modernity and its diversity. Many high-rise buildings dominate the skyline, especially the Petronas Towers, a magnificent building that would do any city, including New York or Chicago, proud.
We docked at Port Klang on the Straits of Malacca right on time at 9 a.m. and, although it took maybe 15 minutes for local authorities to clear the vessel, those of us on excursions were able to depart more or less on time. The ritual is the same whenever we’re in port: show up at the time printed on your excursion ticket, stand in line for a bus or tender assignment, then wait for your number to be called. It’s quite an efficient system, dispatching perhaps hundreds of passengers in an orderly, brisk manner but without any stampedes or even much queuing save for the initial line. It also seems that most aboard take breakfast at the Terrace Café buffet — it takes less time and the food choices are varied including fruit, yogurt, porridge, all kinds of pastry and bread, plus cooked breakfast, including made-to-order omelets. It can get crowded on mornings in port.
Mrs. Ning, our tour guide for KL, proved perhaps the model of the modern Muslim woman. She was authoritative, self-assured, fluent in English and conversant in several languages, including German. She was frank and direct, telling us that her mother was on husband No. 6, but that she had one husband and five children. She talked about law enforcement in Malaysia, including some harsh punishments, and spoke candidly about her country’s social problems, its politics and government. She seemed proud of her country while acknowledging its imperfections.
Titled “The Best of Kuala Lumpur,” our excursion took in the National Monument dedicated to soldiers who sacrificed to defend the country during a communist insurgency in the 1950’s. The heroic-sized bronze statue was designed by Felix de Weldon, who also did the Iwo Jima Memorial. Mrs. Ning pointed out that the faces of the soldiers in the monument didn’t look Malaysian and wondered if Mr. de Weldon had ever seen a Malaysian.
Brief photo stops at the modern National Mosque, the old Railway Station, and near the Petronas Towers, were followed by a visit to the Central Market where we had about 40 minutes to shop for handicrafts, clothing and souvenirs. Then another photo stop at Independence Square where, Mrs. Ning said, the young people used to hang-out until Petronas Towers with its air conditioned mall opened. We then had a buffet lunch at the Federal Hotel’s Veranda restaurant. We sampled tasty dishes from Malaysian, Chinese, Indian and Western cuisine.
We ended the tour at the Royal Selangor Pewter Factory and Visitor Center where we learned about the history of tin mining in Malaysia (pewter is 97 percent tin) and the manufacturing and crafting process. With only a few minutes to browse in the gift shop, we were a bit disappointed not to have enough time to select one of the beautifully crafted pewter artifacts to take home. Still, the pewter factory, like Kuala Lumpur, and Mrs. Ning, will leave an indelible impression.
April 11, 2013