Malaysia is a nation situated on the Malay Peninsula, a smaller peninsula on the larger Indochina Peninsula, controlling the historical and strategic buzzing Strait of Malacca, the inevitable passing port for on-sea boats and ships passing through Southeast Asia, with breathtaking Thailand to the north, the fun island of Singapore laying just south, the vast, large Bay of Bengal to the west, and the sparkling waters of the South China Sea to the east.
Why is Malaysia "Truly Asia?" Well, we've got to talk about a characteristic that it possesses, whether good or bad - diversity with a mix of races, ethnicities, religions, and cultures. Islam is the main religion of Malaysia, very obvious from entry.
As I walked through the immigration customs gate of the KLIA, I was greeted by a baggage claim with the sign 'Islam prayer room' or 'ruang solat Islam pointing in the opposite direction. From books and podcasts I've seen throughout my life, I knew Muslims prayed five times daily. But that never hit me as to what it truly means. Now that I am in the first Muslim-majority country I've ever been to, I really feel it. Let's take the Dhuhr, or midday prayer, as an example. It is supposed to be performed after the sun has passed its zenith. But what does that mean? That might mean going out to eat and the whole restaurant, including staff, kneeling, facing the same direction (Mecca), and reciting a part of the Quran, the holy book of Islam, in unison. Or chasing a flight at an airport but purposefully stopping by one of the many prayer rooms Malaysian airports consist of to pay their respects to Allah, their God. As you can already tell, an exciting country is ahead of us.
The next few days were filled with work, and it was already sunset when I was finally done. And we needed a place to fill our tummies. Luckily, we discovered one of, if not my favourite, shopping malls of all time- Pavillion. Call me biased, but who doesn't love a shopping mall where they HAVE to go, at least for food, for a consecutive week?! Well, at least I certainly would fall in love with it. To give you some context as to how diverse the place is along with the KLIA, which I mentioned previously, there's a Hong Kong milk tea stand, a Lebanese restaurant, a little Tokyo, celebrations for CNY throughout the perimeter and interior, a Korean barbecue, and a Cantonese restaurant named after a Chinese city owned by a Singaporean company. If that isn't truly Asia, I don't know what is.
After a dreadful week of working while travelling, I had a few days to relieve myself, so I decided what better to do than to book a one-day tour around KL (I will call Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, by its common abbreviation KL from now on)! Well, a no-guide double-decker bus day tour, to be specific. (This is not sponsored, but I would like to shout out Ronda Ronda Tour Buses for providing us with such a great experience tackling all KL's landmarks in one day.) Basically, we went to one of their stops. By the way, the staff was accommodating and friendly. We bought a ticket, went on the bus, and then a driver drove the bus around, and a guide explained all the landmarks to us. And they would stop at their stops around the landmarks, and we could choose to tour or go to the next landmark. Simple as pie. We enriched our minds with some colonial and independence history in the national museum, Fed ourselves in an ice cream stand making ice cream hot dogs and burgers, then fed the birds in a bird park where you actually get to interact with the birds without a cage separating you from the adorable creature and went to the Petronas Towers, which, fun fact was the world's tallest building for some time, and were denied entry because apparently it was fully booked (although I don't understand why you can't purchase a ticket and still go to the top), then finally, found the next best thing - KL Tower, and took a Grab there, in which the driver was so lovely, allowing us to pay less Malaysian Ringgits because the fare was 10 ringgits, but we only have 7 ringgits plus a 100 ringgit bill. He couldn't afford change for the 100, so he stepped down and took the 7. Then took some photos in a glass enclosure with the KL skyline in the background. What a fun, fulfilling, and perfect day. Or so I thought...
That day of touring and playing was so close to being perfect, but all came crippling down, as I show you, the less shining side of diversity and the current mindset of some Malaysians. After an enjoyable photo shoot on top of KL Tower, we took another Grab back. Everything was going normally until he heard the word hotel. We lived in a hotel. Smelling an opportunity for a scam, as transports like taxis and Grabs in Malaysia still didn't have meters to precisely calculate the fare, which made it easier for taxi and grab drivers to take advantage of that. He asked a casual question, where are you from? Had we said Thailand or any other Southeast Asian country, we would probably have been fine. However, we said Singapore, Cantonese majority Singapore, which, in a long, almost forgotten separation, got independence from Malaysia and formed Singapore. The Malaysians we've met are outgoing, talented, diverse, and kind.
Seemingly forgetting, or at least moving on from the separation, but some money-driven and radical people will never forget it like they would never forget a mosquito biting them and make it their life goal to use a cannon to kill the mosquito, do whatever it takes to get revenge on Singaporeans or any travellers in general. Even when we noticed it was dinner time and our bellies were grumbling again and changed the destination to Pavillion, he wouldn't forget it, charging us a whopping 20 RINGITTS for 2 kilometres! What?! That's 4 dollars for ONE SINGLE MILE!!! But what could we do? We were travellers in a foreign country, completely unaware of the legal system and not having the time and effort to sue someone for 4 dollars. And that's precisely the point. They are willing to trade a slim chance of someone suing them for more money daily. Ugh, now let's just have dinner and head back to our room.
I wish things in life were as simple as that, but unfortunately, it's not. One wrong decision often leads to multiple consequences. Life tends to overjoy you with a bag of good things, but go to a quiet spot, change into a masked black outfit, and give you ten briefcases full of trouble. That's precisely what happened to us. If one scam wasn't enough, we've already got another brewing. We sat down in a famed restaurant across Asia with top-class food and service, or so we thought. We ordered a pretty filling but not extra meal consisting of two strips of baby sea cucumbers. However, after being informed it was sold out by the waitress of our table, who also happens to be the manager. She recommended a 300g steak, about 280 grams more than I originally suggested. We were skeptical about the price and the amount of food she recommended, which was about 120 ringgits or 26 dollars more than I originally ordered. Now, keep in mind that two small sea cucumbers, plus the other foods I ordered, were already enough to fill two grumbling tummies for the night. Eventually, we decided to ask the waitress, which, again, keep in mind she wasn't a college student, but the manager of the whole restaurant, also seeing an opportunity for a scam, she waited for me to go to the bathroom, then recommended the 300g steak to my 9-year-old, when I got back and heard we were ordering a 300g steak, I naturally asked if it was a little bit too much, she said, oh no, it's just enough for you guys. So we hesitantly, after some more aggressive convincing and persuasion from the manager, confirmed our order. We quickly finished the other food and told them to hurry to make the steak because there was a good ten minutes after we finished the other foods when the steak decided to appear. And by that time, we could only eat two more stripes of the steak before realizing all the manager had said was a scam. We only ate the amount relatively equal to the two sea cucumbers I originally ordered. After those aggressive customer service tactics and scams, we even forgot the dessert, which could've been a perfect replacement for the two sea cucumbers. After the dinner and another scam, we dragged our exhausted bodies out of the restaurant and confronted the manager, which, again, I have to remind you, was our waitress, who definitely knew very well about the difference between a 300g steak and two sea cucumbers, she blamed everything including me, the person who ordered the food even though she aggressively recommended and proactively assured after our hesitation that the food wouldn't be more than we can fit in our tummies, but lookie here, what do ya see, a 280g steak that can be served to other customers without them suspecting it was eaten. Yeah, that was how much she scammed us and how much we actually were able to eat, even when using all methods imaginable to regain our appetite. But again, no one would bother to hire a lawyer for $20,000 to earn back their $20, and unfortunately, we were unable to as our body and time could not allow an extensive legal battle after that long and dreadful day. And ultimately, surprise, surprise, she got away with no punishment whatsoever.
At the end of the day, what is Malaysia? It is the land of breakaways, colonies, races, trades, religions, and wildlife, all fitting together as their piece of the puzzle, unfazed, putting aside their differences, bird or human, Muslim or Hindu, Chinese or Thai, they all gather up in a still developing, but nonetheless beautiful collage of Asia, Truly Asia, in unison as Malay, in a place called Malaysia - their home.